The Super-Duper MLS preview, 2013 edition By Steven Sandor Posted on February 28, 2013 0 0 628 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Philip F. Anschutz Trophy. PHOTO: German Alegria/MLSsoccer.com With the MLS season moved up to its earliest start ever, forgive us if we don’t feel 100 per cent totally prepared for First Kick. Judging by the way many MLS teams finished preseason, with tentative matches and still looking at trialists with a week to go before the games count in the standings, a lot of coaches aren’t quite ready for the early start, either. And that could be telling. The teams that got the jump and have their ducks in a row could have a real advantage in these March matchups; and they could find some bonus points that could help them in the fall. Steven Sandor, Editor of The 11 and contributors Randy Davis, Aman Dhanoa, Mark Polishuk and Gavin Day all submitted their picks. We tallied the scores and we present our picks below. MLS Cup Winner: This is the year that Seattle finally breaks the jinx of being the regular-season giant but the post-season minnow. Seattle got the majority of “who will win MLS Cup?” votes. We don’t think the loss of Fredy Montero will hurt the Sounders at all. Graham Zusi MLS MVP: We didn’t pick Chris Wondolowski to repeat. The majority of votes went to Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi. But, heck, maybe Wondo scores 27 goals again and the MVP race isn’t even a race, like last year. EASTERN CONFERENCE 1. Sporting Kansas City Canadians on the roster: Teal Bunbury (born in Canada, represents the U.S) Soccer isn’t different than the other major sports — defence wins championships. And SKC has the best backline in the league, with Aurelien Collin and MLS Defender of the Year Matt Besler. That alone will make SKC a contender. If new Designated Player Claudio Bieler can score 12-15 goals, not a huge ask, this team is a definite contender for the title. Benny Feilhaber and Graham Zusi in the same midfield could be very, very potent. 2. Houston Dynamo Canadians on the roster: None This team doesn’t lose at home. The Texas heat and humidity in July and August is just too much for road teams — it’s almost as unfair as the advantage the two altitude teams have. With Brad Davis, Houston always has a go-to set-up man, and coach Dominic Kinnear always preaches a system based on a sound defence. We like Tally Hall in goal. Would it surprise us if the Dynamo went to its third straight MLS Cup game? Not at all. But this time, it might win — especially if it can get the game at home. Dejan Jakovic 3. D.C. United Canadians on the roster: F Dwayne De Rosario, F Kyle Porter (confirmed by agent, not by club), D Dejan Jakovic With defender Dejan Jakovic, the ageless Dwayne De Rosario and former FC Edmonton man Kyle Porter all on board, this is Canada’s team, sort of. D.C. United will score goals, but can it keep enough of them out? Bill Hamid is a young keeper and still makes mistakes, and the backbone of the team isn’t solid. Still, going forward, this team has enough to win enough 3-2 matches to make the playoffs. 4. New York Red Bulls Canadians on the roster: None If Thierry Henry can play an injury-free season, he still has the ability to find the net 20 times and help create even more goals. He’ll need to, because it’s hard to see the Red Bulls posting too many clean sheets. The team added two very nice defensive pieces in fullback Heath Pearce and centre back Jamison Olave, but after that… well let’s just say that Red Bull didn’t spend a lot of cash on depth. When the schedule gets compressed, when the games come fast and furious in the summer, it’s hard to see this team coping. 5. Chicago Fire Canadians on the roster: None For years, the Chicago Fire have had the same problem: Scoring goals. Chris Rolfe led the team last year, with eight. Now, with playmaker Marco Pappa gone, it’s hard to see Chicago improving in the goals-for category. Yes, Designated Player Sherjill MacDonald will be around for a full season; Rolfe will be good for a few goals. But, there’s no one in this lineup who terrifies an opposing manager. 6. Montreal Impact Canadians on the roster: M Patrice Bernier, D Karl Ouimette, D Maxim Tissot, M Wandrille Lefevre (born in France, Canadian resident) Sandor: Montreal finished preseason with a fairly settled startng XI, which looked comfortable in new coach Marco Schallibaum’s 4-1-4-1 system. Look for the Impact to get off to a solid start, because it seems pretty organized going into the March 2 First Kick. This system should be able to play up the central defence’s experience and play down its lack of mobility. Could very well be a playoff team, but look for a swoon in July and August when the heat and number of games will get to a team that still relies too much on players on the wrong side of 30. It’s clear that the Impact’s age issues divided the panel. Two of us picked the Impact to be a playoff team while the three others picked the club to finish well down the standings. 7. Columbus Crew Canadians on the roster: D/M Drew Beckie, F Ethan Finlay (father is Canadian) One thing about Columbus: With Chad Marshall in the middle of the defence and a no-nonsense style of play, the Crew won’t give up a lot of goals. Last year, this team was transformed when Federico Higuain arrived to kickstart the offence. This season, with Higuain being there right from the start, Columbus just might find enough goals to make a real charge in the East. Maybe. 8. Philadelphia Union Canadians on the roster: None The Union’s French pieces should provide a few goals; have a lot to like about Antoine Hoppenot’s game, and Sebastien Le Toux should be reinvigorated now that he’s back in the city where he scored bunches of goals. But can Conor Casey remain healthy enough to be the target man? And, without Carlos Valdes, can this team fill a massive defensive gap? Make no mistake, Valdes was the most important part of the Union team, and with the All-Star gone, can’t see this team being a playoff contender. 9. New England Revolution Canadians on the roster: None If Toronto FC didn’t exist, the New England Revolution would take a lot more heat. Playing games on the league’s worst surface in the league’s most cavernous stadium. A ridiculous amount of roster turnover. But, if Juan Toja, an MLS All-Star before he went to play in Romania, can play like he did a half-decade ago for FC Dallas, and DP Jerry Bengtson and Saer Sene can each come in with 12-15 goals, well New England might sneak up on people. Still way too many “ifs” to think of the Revs as a playoff team. 10. Toronto FC Canadians on the roster: M Kyle Bekker, M Terry Dunfield, D Doneil Henry, D Ashtone Morgan, GK Quillan Roberts, D/M Matt Stinson, F Emery Welshman, F Ashton Bennett (at camp, not confirmed on roster, Canadian resident born in Jamaica) The backline has improved a bit, but is still below average. Worse yet, it is still razor thin in terms of depth. Darren O’Dea and Danny Califf will be a little better than some of the tandems the Reds used after that, but if either gets hurt or needs to be rested, there is little else at MLS level to go in that position. Gale Agbossoumonde is still a long way from being ready for the step up from NASL to MLS. And, the team starts the season without any proven strikers. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility for this team to be bad enough to start the season with ANOTHER nine-game losing streak. But it’s not all bad. Two of our five contributors DID NOT pick TFC to finish last in the East. These brave souls picked the Reds to finish ninth. And what’s scary is one of them thought he was really sticking his neck out. WESTERN CONFERENCE 1. Seattle Sounders Canadians on the roster: F Babayele Sodade Always so good in the regular season. Always so disappointing in the playoffs. Will it change this year? Eddie Johnson takes over as the undisputed No. 1 striker, and this team has all the tools to challenge San Jose for the Western title. Osvaldo Alonso dominates the middle of the park and Sigi Schmid remains one of the best coaches in the biz. What can a 34-year-old Shalrie Joseph add to the team, especially when he takes up a DP slot? So many questions, but this is for sure — another early playoff exit will lead to some major renovations at the end of the season. Chris Wondolowski PHOTO: NOAH SALZMAN 2. San Jose Earthquakes Canadians on the roster: D Nana Attakora Will Chris Wondolowski score 27 goals again this season? Probably not. But, with the likes of Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon each able to chip in 10 goals apiece, the Earthquakes are deep. Solid in the middle, good in the back, the Earthquakes will want to avenge that playoff loss to the Galaxy last year. And this team is deep enough that it should be able to handle the demands of the CONCACAF Champions League without sacrificing much on MLS side of things. 3. Real Salt Lake Canadians on the roster: None GM Garth Lagerwey made a lot of bold moves in the off-season, sending second striker Fabian Espindola and central defender Jamison Olave to New York, and Canadian Will Johnson to Portland. He’s stripped down a team that should have more than one MLS Cup in its trophy cabinet — but can Robbie Findley be a force in this league after a long absence? Who picks up the Olave slack? Still a good team, but it’s taking a step back this year before it moves forward. Robbie Keane 4. Los Angeles Galaxy Canadians on the roster: D Kofi Opare (born in Canada, represented U.S. art U-20 level) Landon Donovan is coming back to play soccer in plenty of time for the Galaxy to make a run for the playoffs. And, as the team showed us last year, finishing fourth is A-OK as a pathway towards MLS Cup. David Beckham is gone, but with Robbie Keane up front and a defence that includes Omar Gonzalez and A.J DeLaGarza, it’s not like the Galaxy is suddenly a bad team. 5. Vancouver Whitecaps Canadians on the roster: M Bryce Alderson, F Caleb Clarke, D/M Russell Teibert, GK Simon Thomas, D/M Alain Rochat (born in Canada, represented Switzerland) M Gershon Koffie (born in Ghana; Canadian resident) The Whitecaps have added English midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker, Honduran defender Johnny Leveron, drafted the exciting Kekuta Manneh, who could maybe team with Darren Mattocks to make the fastest striker combo in MLS. But we still pick them fifth! That speaks more to the depth of the Western Conference than the Whitecaps. A very solid defence led by Jay DeMerit will keep the Whitecaps in everu game they play. If DP Kenny Miller can find some goals, any goals, well this team could climb the Western ladder. We had some pick the Caps as high as third, and one of us picked them second-last in the West. The uncertainty over Miller has a lot do with that. 6. FC Dallas Canadians on the roster: D Ugo Ihemelu (grew up in Winnipeg, but has represented U.S.) Kenny Cooper is back where he belongs, at the club where he was one of the most dominating forwards in MLS. With Eric Hassli also at the top of the 11, that’s two large forwards who both have a knack for scoring goals — and getting injured. If the two stay healthy, Dallas competes for a playoff spot. If Dallas is forced to look at other scoring options, it could be long season. 7. Portland Timbers Canadians on the roster: M Will Johnson The Timbers made lots of moves in the off-season; the most notable for our readers is the acqusition of Canadian minute-eater and new team captain Will Johnson. But any Portland renaissance will depend on the keepers. Donovan Ricketts gave up lots of soft goals and had trouble taking command of the box on set pieces in Montreal before being traded to the Timbers. And Milos Kocic, as TFC fans will attest, also has a history of tempering great saves with soft goals. Goalkeeping keeps this club from being a playoff threat. 8. Colorado Rapids Canadians on the roster: None How quickly has this team fallen since winning MLS Cup back in 2010? Gone is the once-feared scoring duo of Conor Casey (Philly) and Omar Cummings (Houston). The only reason I don’t have the Rapids to finish last in the West is because this team is always available to take advantage of its altitude at home, which allows it to get a few bonus points in the Rockies. 9. Chivas USA Canadians on the roster: D Ante Jazic Under the guidance of El Chelis, and a new ownership mandate to return this team to its Mexican roots, Chivas features a lineup that’ll have keeper Dan Kennedy — one of the best in the league — and a bunch of players who will force you to abuse Wikipedia if you want to find out anything about them. Chivas USA has received a bunch of prospects from its parent club in Mexico and what strikes you is how many of these players are 25 and under. Heck, how many are 22 and under. Truth is, no one really knows what to expect from Chivas anymore. It’s the only team not participating at all in the new alliance with USL; it marches to its own beat. Still, based on how far this team has to go, hard to see it being anywhere near playoff contention.