Author Archives: onlylovesoccer

… And we barely squeaked by again

Yep, that's about right. (Mirror)

Yep, that’s about right. (Mirror)

Thanks to Arsenal’s 4-1 victory over FA Cup winner Wigan, Aston Villa get yet another reprieve from a possible relegation from the Premier League. I’m actually a little sad to see Wigan go (and not just because they’re this guy’s favorite team.) Along with playing a fairly attractive style of attacking soccer, Wigan have long been one of the smallest budget teams in the Premier League. Unfortunately, it’s likely that they’ll be replaced by one, if not two teams that could potentially play the boom (Manchester City) or bust (Queens Park Rangers/Portsmouth) strategy of throwing money at the club ’til they either finish in a European place or go insolvent. Meanwhile, Wigan will try to hang onto Roberto Martinez as manager, and failing that, will likely become one of the other clubs to fall under the spell of journeymen managers such as Steve McLaren or Alex McLeish and watch their fanbase shrink amid mediocrity, away trips to the likes of Brighton and Barnsley and long-ball football. Sorry, Dorian, but at least you won some silverware.

So where does that leave Villa, who haven’t been shy about throwing money at the team in the hope of success (some of which we got, middlingly) before gradually the well spring dried up? Well, hopefully better off. Now that our sky high wage bill has been trimmed significantly and the team has begun to cultivate its much-ballyhooed academy into actually producing some starters, I feel like we could see our first mid-table finish in three years in 2014. This will obviously depend on the club holding onto the likes of Christian Benteke, who won’t be short of suitors, but might cost a bit too much for a player that could still be a flash in the pan (though I don’t think he is.) A couple positions need to be strengthened – Shay Given is almost certainly on the way out, so we need a new backup keeper or someone to challenge Brad Guzan for No. 1. Joe Bennett has either been horrendous or just not very good, depending on how optimistic Aston Villa fans are. Regardless, he, nor Eric Lichaj, seems quite ready to be a day-in-day-out starter, so someone new should be coming in. And with Benteke unlikely to stay with the club beyond 2014 unless Villa make a serious push for Europe, reinforcements in attack won’t be a bad idea. A bit of deadwood needs to be chopped as well. Richard Dunne will leave after not playing a match this season, no doubt to suddenly be healthy enough to play for a club like Stoke or Sunderland. Charles N’Zogbia and Stephen Ireland showed flashes of brilliance in the last two season, but neither did often enough to really justify paying their wages. And a few (though only a few) of the new signings weren’t quite up to snuff – meaning Bennett, Karim El-Ahmadi, Brett Holman and Simon Dawkins. So at least a couple of those will likely hit the road. And of course, Darren Bent is gone, though most Villa fans won’t miss him.

As for the good, the attacking trio of Benteke-Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann was certainly exciting at times. I think the midfield trio of Fabian Delph, Ashley Westwood and Yacouba Sylla (plus the returning Gary Gardner) looks to have a bright future. And Matt Lowton and Nathan Baker could end up getting calls up to the England squad if they continue to progress. Like I said, there is hope. I don’t want to speculate on who Villa might bring in – based on Lambert’s first transfer window, probably a couple unknown young players from League One. I wouldn’t be disappointed to see Norwich’s Wes Hoolahan join the club as an attacking midfielder. We might not challenge for a Champions League spot … again, but a return to being a solid midtable side – best of the rest, if you will – wouldn’t be a bad thing to look forward to.

What We Learned This Weekend In The MLS

1. There is no great team in the MLS this year. At least, not yet. Probably the best team so far has been Kansas City, but they were predictably thumped in LA by the Galaxy in their second match this week and just aren’t scoring as many goals as their domination suggests they should. The Galaxy will be helped out by Landon Donovan’s return to fitness, but don’t look as dominant as last year yet. Dallas and Montreal are probably the two surprises of the season so far, but does anyone expect either to win the MLS Cup this year? That’s what I thought. Houston are as bad away as they are good at home. Meanwhile, last year’s playoff teams like New York, DC United, Chicago, Seattle, San Jose, Vancouver and Real Salt Lake are all off to less than convincing starts. Will anyone step up?

2. Jack McInerney and Robert Earnshaw are the two best forwards in the league. It remains to be seen whether they will keep this up all season long, but McInerney (6 goals in 7 matches) and Earnshaw (5 goals in 6 matches) are scoring goals in bunches for teams that don’t necessarily create a lot of chances. Earnshaw in particularly has been a revelation (or as much as a guy who has scored double figures in the Premier League and has 164 total in England can be a revelation) in his ability to create something out of nothing for Toronto. Meanwhile, Robbie Keane and Chris Wondolowski, who combined for 49 goals in all competitions last year, are blowing chances more often than they’re scoring, and their teams are struggling in attack as a result.

3. Ben Olsen could be the first coach to lose his job. Do I think he will? Well, MLS teams tend to be a bit more patient with their managers than their European counterparts (See Toronto and Winter, Aron). However, with United’s start this season – 1 win in 7; 17th in goals scored; but perhaps more importantly, a string of dreadful performances to go along with their results – it wouldn’t be too shocking to see Olsen either get dismissed or just resign. It’s hard to say what’s wrong with this team. The defense is experienced; they have experienced stars in Dwayne DeRosario and Chris Pontius; and they were one of the best teams in the MLS last year. Clearly the blame for the start can’t be laid solely at the feet of Lionard Pajoy – as terrible as he has been, he is the team’s leading scorer. If something doesn’t happen too soon, the Olsen tenure could be over in DC.

MLS Power Rankings: March 25

1 (4) Montreal (4-0-0, 9 points). Beat New York 1-0; Beat Toronto 2-1. Montreal No. 1, really? Yeah, I know, but they’re the only team that has performed in every match so far this season.

2 (16) Dallas (3-1-0, 9 points). Beat Real Salt Lake 2-0; Beat Houston 3-2. Until the win over RSL, Dallas hadn’t been exactly convincing, but as the second 3-win team in the league, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

3 (1) Los Angeles (2-0-1, 7 points). Beat Colorado 1-0; Drew 1-1 with Chivas USA. Two sluggish performances kept the Galaxy undefeated, but just barely. They need to put teams away, though.

4 (2) Houston (2-1-0, 6 points). Beat Vancouver 2-1; Lost 3-2 to Dallas. A nice comeback against Vancouver kept the Dynamo’s long home undefeated streak going and also ended a bad stretch of results.

5 (15) Chivas USA (2-1-1, 7 points). Beat Chicago 4-1; Drew 1-1 with Los Angeles. A crushing win at Chicago hopefully will be enough to get by far the lowest-attended team in the league to start drawing a crowd.

6 (3) Vancouver (2-1-0, 6 points). Lost 2-1 to Houston. For about an hour, the Caps were the best team against Houston. Then Darren Mattocks failed to score on a break away and the Dynamo scored twice. Still, the Caps are pretty decent.

7 (11) San Jose (2-1-1, 7 points). Beat Seattle 1-0; Drew 1-1 with Columbus. Like Dallas, San Jose haven’t been exactly convincing so far, but a good win against a quality team should be enough.

8 (8) Columbus (2-1-1, 7 points). Beat DC United 1-0; Drew 1-1 with San Jose. The Crew’s win at DC might have been mostly down to good goalkeeping and some luck, but they have to feel like a solid playoff team.

9 (12) Philadelphia (2-1-0, 6 points). Didn’t play; Beat New England 1-0. The Union have only shown glimmers of their potential this season but have been eking out results against so-so teams while their new players try to gel.

10 (6) Kansas City (1-1-2, 5 points). Drew 0-0 with New England; Drew 0-0 with Chicago. Two matches, two excruciating goalless draws. KC were the more dominant in both matches, but aren’t creating – or scoring – chances.

11 (5) Real Salt Lake (1-2-1, 4 points). Lost to Dallas 2-0; Drew 1-1 with Colorado. We’ll probably give RSL a pass this week with so many internationals not playing, but they haven’t looked like the same team so far this season.

12 (7) DC United (1-2-1, 4 points). Lost 1-0 to Columbus; Drew 0-0 with New York. Good defense, virtually no attack whatsoever. Not sure what’s wrong in DC, but they need to get it right before they’re far back of the playoff pack.

13 (9) New England (1-1-1, 4 points). Drew 0-0 with Kansas City; Lost 1-0 to Philadelphia. No shock that the Revs didn’t score against the league’s best defense and minus Jerry Bengtson and Saer Sene. Still waiting for Lee Nguyen and Juan Toja to get on the same page, though.

14 (14)  Toronto (1-2-0, 3 points). Didn’t play; Lost 2-1 to Montreal. I’m enjoying Toronto, who probably have the worst squad – on paper at least – in the league, but seem hungry. The two signings from England are looking good as well.

15 (18) Portland (0-1-2, 2 points). Didn’t play; Drew 1-1 with Seattle. Well, Portland looked better against Seattle, though they gave up the first goal for the third straight match. Now if they can equate dangerous play with goals.

16 (10) Seattle (0-2-1, 1 point). Lost to San Jose 1-0; Drew 1-1 with Portland. It’s great that the Sounders advanced to the Champions League semifinals, but are they doing it at the expense of their league position?

17 (13) New York (0-2-2, 2 points). Lost 1-0 to Montreal; Drew 0-0 with DC United. Another scoreless match, though at least in this case it was because Thierry Henry refuses to play on turf was injured. New York have been desperately poor, though.

18 (17) Colorado (0-3-1, 1 point). Lost 1-0 to Los Angeles; Drew 1-1 with Real Salt Lake. Two decent performances (three if you count the loss to Dallas) have only resulted in one point for the Rapids, who, predictably, are still missing Martin Rivero and Edson Buddle.

19 (19) Chicago (0-3-1, 1 point). Lost 4-1 to Chivas USA; Drew 0-0 with Kansas City. On the bright side, it can’t get any worse for Chicago. Can it?

MLS Power Rankings: Birthday Edition

1 (1) Los Angeles (1-0-0, 3 points). Didn’t play. The Galaxy got a week off for Champions League matches, though that now means they have a three-day window between that and the Chivas match. Up next: Chivas USA on Sunday

2 (2) Houston (1-0-0, 3 points). Didn’t play. With Seattle’s Champions League win, the pressure is on Houston, sort of, to get a result at Santos Laguna, which seems a bit unlikely. Up next: At Dallas on Sunday

3 (7) Vancouver (2-0-0, 6 points). Beat Columbus 2-1. Vancouver were occasionally dominant against Columbus, but their finishing was poor. Also, Darren Mattocks is still 20 goals shy of his 20 goal prediction for this year. Up next: At Houston on March 23

4 (6) Montreal (2-0-0, 6 points). Beat Portland 2-1. There isn’t really a question that Montreal is pretty good. The question is more whether they can keep this up all season. Up next: Toronto on Saturday

5 (4) Real Salt Lake (1-1-0, 3 points). Lost to DC United 1-0. It was an uninspiring – if a little cruel – defeat in DC this weekend. Nonetheless, Real looks playoff-quality. Up next: Colorado on Saturday

6 (3) Kansas City (1-1-0, 3 points). Lost to Toronto 2-1. For the second consecutive match, KC gave up an early goal in a road game, except this time they couldn’t come back to win. They can’t keep doing that if they want to stay among the elite. Up next: Chicago on Saturday

7 (11) DC United (1-1-0, 3 points). Beat Real Salt Lake 1-0. It was a mostly mediocre performance against RSL, but three points are good, and they’re bound to figure out their striker situation at some point. Up next: At New York on Saturday

8 (5) Columbus (1-1-0, 3 points). Lost to Vancouver 2-1. The Crew were less convincing against Vancouver than they were against Chivas, but still could’ve gotten a point. Up next: San Jose on Saturday

9 (14) New England (1-0-0, 3 points). Beat Chicago 1-0. Well that was a nice way to open the season, wasn’t it? Sure, the Fire were better early on, but the Revs grew into the match and could’ve won by multiple goals. Up next: At Philadelphia on Saturday

10 (8) Seattle (0-1-0, 0 points). Didn’t play. The Sounders became the first MLS team to beat a Mexican team in the Champions League quarterfinals. And apparently Obafemi Martins is on his way. Up next: Portland on Saturday

11 (13) San Jose (1-1-0, 3 points). Beat New York 2-1. For 80 minutes, it looked like the Quakes were going to go goalless and lose again, then they rallied and grabbed a crucial three points. Still, they really need their wounded players to get healthy. Up next: At Columbus on Saturday

12 (17) Philadelphia (1-1-0, 3 points). Beat Colorado 2-1. It’s debatable whether the Union deserved three points against Colorado in terrible conditions, but the Union will take it. They have a winnable match at home against the Revs up next. Up next: New England on Saturday

13 (12) New York (0-1-1, 1 point). Lost to San Jose 2-1. The Red Bulls are still all over the place defensively, but they look decent in attack and get to play at home next. Up next: DC United on Saturday

14 (18)  Toronto (1-1-0, 3 points). Beat Kansas City 2-1. Wow, that’s probably the best Toronto has played in a year, at least. They probably still won’t win much this season, but their fight is encouraging. And Robert Earnshaw could score 15 goals this year. Up next: At Montreal on Saturday

15 (19) Chivas USA (1-1-0, 3 points). Beat Dallas 3-1. OK, so is Chivas the team that were hammered by Columbus at home or the one that wore Dallas out at the end to romp to an easy victory. Will anyone watch? Up next: At LA Galaxy on Sunday

16 (9) Dallas (1-1-0, 3 points). Lost to Chivas 3-1. You could certainly make the argument that Dallas are still better than Chivas, but nonetheless, falling apart as they did late is worrying. Up next: Houston on Sunday

17 (15) Colorado (0-2-0, 0 points). Lost to Philadelphia 2-1. The Rapids desperately need Edson Buddle, Jaime Castrillon and Martin Rivero back. And some decent goalkeeping. Up next: At Real Salt Lake on Saturday

18 (10) Portland (0-1-1, 1 point). Lost 2-1 to Montreal. I still think the Timbers will get it going at some point this year. It might not be enough to get them into the playoffs, but it’ll happen. Up next: At Seattle on Saturday

19 (16) Chicago (0-2-0, 0 points). Lost to New England 1-0. Arne Friedrich is out for at least a few more weeks, if not longer. Sherjill MacDonald is a disappointment. The midfield isn’t working. Am I missing anything, Fire fans? Up next: At Kansas City on Saturday

Three Things I Want For My Birthday

Great player, but man is his team dull

Great player, but man is his team dull

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood | Only Love Soccer

It’s Thursday, by the way. Send gifts.

1. Aston Villa beats Queens Park Rangers this weekend. I’ve sworn off watching Aston Villa matches for the rest of the season, but I can still cheer for them. A win in this match could potentially put Villa 6 points clear of the relegation zone with 8 matches to play. It would also be doubly successful in that QPR would be 7 points behind Villa and would need to win roughly half of their matches even to have a chance. They wouldn’t be safe from relegation, but it would require the bottom clubs to improve significantly the last couple months.

2. MLS teams to beat Mexican teams in the CONCACAF Champions League this week. Unlike many American fans, I have no ill will toward Liga Mex fans – I remember cheering for Pachuca in the SuperLiga a few years back. But with that said, MLS teams winning in the Champions League – and as I type this, Seattle looks on the verge of knocking Tigres out, will not only improve MLS’s standing on the continent, but the world stage as well. Which means better players will come in. And Mexican teams will quit so obviously playing B teams when they play MLS sides in these types of matches. Win-win. And Pachuca isn’t competing, so no harm done.

3. A Champions League final that isn’t Barcelona vs. Real Madrid. There are plenty of fun, quality teams left in the Champions League – Bayern, Dortmund, PSG, Malaga (if they beat Porto, or Porto if they win), Galatasaray. Clearly Barcelona and Real Madrid are probably favorites for this along with, I don’t know, Bayern and PSG, but I’m bored to death by El Clasico. And Barca in general. Sure, great players, mostly great team, but other teams have long ago figured out how to play them – sure, it might not work most of the time, but their matches are guaranteed to have one team passing the ball endlessly through the midfield and along the backline. Probing, then passing back. It’s dull. Without a serviceable, direct attacking forward, Barca are horribly predictable, whether or not they have three of the best players of the world. And it does not make for good watching. I’d much rather take, say, Bayern-Dortmund or Gala-Bayern. Yes, please.

MLS Weekend Preview: March 8

All times Eastern

Saturday

Toronto vs. Sporting Kansas City, 1:30 p.m. Toronto looked considerably more organized and solid against Vancouver than they have in years. Sporting got off to a slow start and then thumped Philadelphia on the road. Prediction: Kansas City is probably just too good for a Toronto team lacking creative players.

Colorado vs. Philadelphia, 6 p.m. For me, the two key items about this match are: 1. It might be snowing and awful in Denver, which could make for an interesting match. 2. Referee Ismail Elfath has given four red cards and six penalties in eight matches. Expect him to affect the game too much. Prediction: Both teams are struggling, but expect Colorado to be the better team.

DC United vs. Real Salt Lake, 7 p.m. DC defended solidly and offered little attacking threat in a loss in Houston. Dwayne De Rosario will miss this match. RSL were better than expected against San Jose. Prediction: Draw

Chicago vs. New England, 7:30 p.m. Chicago were hammered at the defending champs last week. The big question is: Will they come out looking for blood against a youthful Revs team with a lot of new players who will be playing their season opener? Prediction: Chicago wins

Vancouver vs. Columbus, 7:30 p.m. Despite the loss of captain Jay Demerit to a serious injury, the Whitecaps were comfortable in shutting down what is an admittedly woefully weak Toronto attack. Columbus crushed Chivas on the road, though the disorganized state of the home team played into that. Prediction: Draw

Portland vs. Montreal, 10:30 p.m. On the bright side, Timbers defender Mikael Silvestre can’t possibly get any worse than he was in the season opener. Also, the Portland attack looks bright. Montreal upset Seattle on the road and should be a tough bet for any team, at least til the oldies run out of steam. Prediction: Portland gets its first win

Sunday

Chivas USA vs. Dallas, 5 p.m. Chivas added a couple more players without MLS experience after the debacle against Columbus. No one went to that match. This could be another horror show. Dallas barely, barely held off a mediocre Colorado team. If the attack ever gets going, they could be a good team. Will it happen in this match? Does it matter? Prediction: Dallas wins or a one-sided draw

San Jose vs. New York, 10 p.m. This match has San Jose blowout written all over it, except the Quakes could be missing yet another forward. If Chris Wondolowski’s finishing is up to his customary level, they should win. If not, it could be another long and disappointing night. New York’s defense is a mess, but they have options in attack. Prediction: Draw

MLS Power Rankings: March 4

1 (1) Los Angeles (1-0-0, 3 points). Beat Chicago 4-0. Mike Magee and the Galaxy announced they wouldn’t be pushovers sans Donovan and Beckham by thrashing the Fire. Now they deal with Champions League matches. Up next: Chivas USA on March 17

2 (2) Houston (1-0-0, 3 points). Beat DC United 2-0. Houston did what they were supposed to, beating a surprisingly defensive DC United. Next up is the Champions League. Up next: At FC Dallas on March 17

3 (3) Kansas City (1-0-0, 3 points). Beat Philadelphia 3-1. KC was a bit shaky initially against Philadelphia, but cruised in a dominant second half. Up next: At Toronto on Saturday

4 (6) Real Salt Lake (1-0-0, 3 points). Beat San Jose 2-0. RSL might have been a bit lucky that San Jose’s finishing was so poor, but the attack – particularly Joao Plata – looks good. Up next: At DC United on Saturday

5 (5) Columbus (1-0-0, 3 points). Beat Chivas USA 3-0. Since Chivas were arguably the worst team in opening weekend, it’s hard to give the Crew too much credit. They were very good, though. Up next: At Vancouver on Saturday

6 (17) Montreal (1-0-0, 3 points). Beat Seattle 1-0. The Impact could’ve been three goals up against Seattle in the first half, but will have to just settle for three points on the road. Up next: At Portland on Saturday

7 (11) Vancouver (1-0-0, 3 points). Beat Toronto 1-0. It wasn’t a vintage display from Vancouver against Toronto, but this still looks like a fairly solid team. Now for Kenny Miller to start scoring. Up next: Columbus on Saturday

8 (4) Seattle (0-1-0, 0 points). Lost 1-0 to Montreal. Perhaps their opener wasn’t a true indication of Seattle’s quality, but it was still disappointing. Up next: Portland on March 16

9 (12) Dallas (1-0-0, 3 points). Beat Colorado 1-0. A win is a win, but Dallas’s inability to put Colorado away in the second half was a warning sign. Up next: At Chivas on Sunday

10 (13) Portland (0-0-1, 1 point). Drew 3-3 with New York. Based on one match, the Timbers will be a fun attacking team that can’t stop anyone. Mikael Silvestre in particular had arguably the worst MLS debut EVER. Up next: Montreal on Saturday

11 (9) DC United (0-1-0, 0 points). Lost 2-0 to Houston. United were perhaps a bit unlucky to not leave Houston with a point, but they were surprisingly flat. Up next: Real Salt Lake on Saturday

12 (8) New York (0-0-1, 1 point). Drew 3-3 with Portland. What’s worse, giving up 3 goals at home or blowing a 2-goal lead on the road? Not sure, but the Red Bulls look all out of sorts on defense. Up next: At San Jose on Sunday

13 (7) San Jose (0-1-0, 0 points). Lost to Real Salt Lake 2-0. Uncharacteristically poor finishing from Chris Wondolowski and Mike Fucito … well, Wondolowski, anyway … was mostly to blame for the Quakes loss. Up next: New York on Sunday

14 (15) New England (0-0-0, 0 points). Didn’t play. Chicago on Saturday will either be a rude awakening for a young team or a good opportunity to take advantage of a struggling one (Chicago). Up next: At Chicago on Saturday

15 (14) Colorado (0-1-0, 0 points). Lost to Dallas 1-0. The Rapids were probably a bit unlucky against Dallas, but were sorely lacking a creative presence in midfield with Martin Riveros injured. And decent goalkeeping … Up next: Philadelphia on Saturday

16 (10) Chicago (0-1-0, 0 points). Lost to Los Angeles 4-0. The Fire probably aren’t as bad as this scoreline indicates, but wow, when you say “At least it wasn’t 5-0!” that’ s not the way a playoff team wants to start. Up next: New England on Saturday

17 (16) Philadelphia (0-1-0, 0 points). Lost to Kansas City 3-1. After a very good start against Kansas City, the Union were steamrolled. But, all things considered, they looked mostly OK. Up next: At Colorado on Saturday

18 (18)  Toronto (0-1-0, 0 points). Lost to Vancouver 1-0. As lacking as Toronto is in the squad department, they were well-organized against Vancouver. Not a playoff team, but maybe they’ll fight their way out of last place. Up next: Kansas City on Saturday

19 (18) Chivas USA (0-1-0, 0 points). Lost to Columbus 3-0. Well, based on one match, the Chelis’ experiment is an unmitigated failure. Let’s hope it gets better. Up next: Dallas on Sunday

MLS Power Rankings: Feb. 28

1. Los Angeles. As defending champs, the Galaxy get their spot here. Don’t expect them to stay, at least not for the first month or two.

2. Houston. I didn’t just put the Dynamo here because they were runners-up – they do have the pieces to be a top team. I think.

3. Kansas City. Despite some offseason changes, KC has enough talent on the roster to continue their domination of the East.

4. Seattle. How Seattle replaces Fredy Montero will mean the difference between this team being an MLS Cup contender or just a playoff team.

5. Columbus. Can Higuain and Arrieta duplicate the form they showed at the end of last season? I guess we’ll find out.

6. Real Salt Lake. RSL cut a lot of players from their staff in the offseason, but still have a solid core.

7. San Jose. Can lightning strike twice? It’s hard to see the Quakes challenging for the Supporter’s Shield again if it doesn’t.

8. New York. The Red Bulls were brutal in the preseason, and not the good kind of brutal. A team with Henry should be a playoff team, though – they just might take a while to gel.

9. DC United. DeRo will miss the season opener and possibly a few other matches. The defense hasn’t been fixed, and there are some new faces in attack.

10. Chicago. The Fire are younger and more mobile in midfield, but a lot depends on Sherjill MacDonald’s ability to score goals.

11. Vancouver. The Whitecaps should be higher, but after their fade at the end of last season, we’re a bit hesitant to place them there.

12. Dallas. Kenny Cooper, Eric Hassli and David Ferreira and Blas Perez healthy could make this one of the top teams in the West. Could.

13. Portland. Tons of changes for the Timbers, but after the struggles of last season, that’s a good thing. Question is: Can they win on the road?

14. Colorado. Oscar Pareja finally has closer to the team he probably wants, but it seems woefully thin in attack and lightweight in defense.

15. New England. The Revs should be better, but don’t quite look ready to challenge in the East.

16. Philadelphia. The Union are stocked with young talent, but the Freddy Adu saga and lack of veteran presence could hinder them.

17. Montreal. Montreal could very well be a playoff team, but a lot depends on the old guys still getting up for games, which is a big if.

18. Chivas USA. Hard to tell what will happen with Chelis’ new Chivas team, but they don’t seem to be ready to be a contender this season. Will he be given time?

19. Toronto. It’ll be a long season for Ryan Nelson and co., but at least they should be fighting in games and not quite as bad defensively.

MLS 2013 Season Preview, Part 2

New York's Juninho, oh, 15 years ago or something.

New York’s Juninho, oh, 15 years ago or something.

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood | Only Love Soccer

Part 1 here

New England Revolution: Last year’s record: 9-17-8, 35 points.
The Good: The Revs had one of the most positive offseasons of any MLS team, getting rid of Benny Feilhaber, who was never a good fit and was quite expensive, and therefore handing the playmaking reins to Lee Nguyen and Juan Toja, which should work a lot better. Andy Dorman and Kalifa Cisse should bulk up the midfield, and Jose Goncalves, Andrew Farrell and Billal Duckett could all be starters for what was a far-too porous defense last season. Will their additions allow AJ Soares to step up and become the star many have been waiting for him to become? Jerry Bengtson has the skill to be among the MLS’s top goalscorers, though he didn’t score much last year.
The Bad: Bengtson aside, the attack is underwhelming, and we’re singling out a guy that scored twice in 13 matches last year. Saer Sene was better than expected last year, but lacks consistency. Diego Fagundez has lots of potential, but is still just 18. Chad Barrett is a black hole of missed chances. And Dimitry Imbongo? Pfft, don’t even get me started. Until the defense actually shuts someone down, it’s hard to be too optimistic.
We’ll say: The Revs will be better, but whether better is enough to actually make the playoffs is hard to say. If Bengtson starts scoring like he should, Nguyen builds upon a strong first year and the defense is somewhat solid, this could be a very pleasing team to watch.

New York Red Bulls. Last year’s record: 16-9-9, 57 points. Lost to DC United in the playoffs.
The Good: The MLS’s perennial nearly men occasionally looked like one of the best teams in the league last year, then predictably self-destructed in a hail of Rafa Marquez-tinged madness in the playoffs. Their solution was virtually rebuilding the entire team, from new head coach Mike Petke to new forwards Fabian Espindola and Josue Martinez to ageless (hopefully for Red Bulls fans) Brazilian midfielder Juninho to defender Jamison Olave. Gone are Marquez, midfield stalwarts Joel Lindpere and Teemu Tainio and “defender” Jan Gunnar Solli. Based on what I saw of the team in Tucson for the Desert Diamond Cup, the new lineup is capable of sweeping, effervescent attacking play, led as always by Thierry Henry. Juninho’s skill in dead-ball situations will cause even the most ardent David Beckham fans to blush. But …
The Bad: New York lost all three matches in Tucson, convincingly. The defense is all out of sorts, no surprise considering it’s a virtually brand-new lineup with probably a keeper who has hardly played, particularly in the MLS (Luis Robles). For all the grace and finesse of Henry, Juninho, Tim Cahill, et al., you can’t say that an offense that isn’t scoring is clicking. It’s hard to see Espindola and Martinez as upgrades over Kenny Cooper and Sebastian LeToux. That’s because they’re not. Over-relying on aging vets who don’t want to play on turf (cough cough, Henry, cough) and then packing the rest of the team with mediocre-at-best filler around the edges is arguably not a recipe for success.
We’ll say: A team with this much talent should make the playoffs, but don’t bet on them to make a run to New York’s first ever MLS Cup.

Philadelphia Union. Last year’s record: 10-18-6, 36 points.
The Good: The further the Union get from Piotr Nowak’s bizarre breaking apart of a playoff team the first half of the season, the better. The return of Sebastian LeToux, for all intents and purposes the face of the team the first two years, should be a plus for both the player and the team. The Union squad is perhaps one of the most potential-laden ones in the MLS. The addition of LeToux, Jeff Parke and Conor Casey adds a wealth of experience to a team that was desperate for it last season. Some of the fringe players that Nowak stuck the squad with are gone, which is good too. The fan base, one of the best in the league, seems to be back on board with manager John Hackworth.
The Bad: For all their potential, if the players don’t start to live up to it, and soon, this could be another playoff-less season, particularly in the ultra-competitive East. The Freddy Adu saga (Hackworth wants him gone, but needs another team to make it happen) could end up disrupting the team somewhat the longer it drags on. Losing defensive leader Carlos Valdes has to hurt. Casey is a talented forward who can’t stay healthy, and in the preseason, he and LeToux haven’t clicked at all. LeToux aside, no one on this team has stepped up to be a star.
We’ll say: The Union are certainly better off than last season, but still look another year away from being a playoff team.

Portland Timbers. Last year’s record: 8-16-10, 34 points.
The Good: After a good first season, hope was high for the Timbers Army, thanks to some high-profile signings, chief among them Kris Boyd, the all-time Scottish Premier League top scorer. Boyd, however, was slow, uncommitted and disappointingly poor with his shooting. The other signings either disappointed or were injured, and the team couldn’t win on the road. So the Timber sank and were among the worst teams in MLS. But head coach John Spencer was fired, and the team brought in highly-regarded Akron coach Caleb Porter, who installed a new system and weeded out some of the chaff (Goodbye Kris Boyd). New signings Will Johnson, Ryan Johnson, Michael Harrington, Ryan Miller and Mikael Silvestre all should stabilize a team that played naively at times last year. New midfielder Diego Valeri looks like a game-changer. As likeable as Spencer seemed as coach, his tactical approach seemed schizophrenic at times, and Porter’s system is a bit more defined. Forward Jose Adolfo Valencia looks good after missing all of last year through injury. The fans are great, as always.
The Bad: For all the appeal of the new signings, the team has still not fixed the center of the defense, which was quite poor last year. Donovan Ricketts can be great in goal, but he’s also prone to glaring mistakes, something that can also be said for new backup Milos Kocic. The loss of Bright Dike and Brent Richards to injury hurts what is an uncertain forward line. There is a lot more pressure on Darlington Nagbe to take the step up into superstar status, but if it doesn’t happen, the team might struggle to score again. Danny Mwanga has yet to produce in a Timbers jersey.
We’ll say: The West is a little more open than the East, and if the team gels with Porter’s system relatively early, they have a good shot at slipping into the playoffs as a four or five seed.

Real Salt Lake. Last year’s record: 17-11-6, 57 points. Lost to Seattle in the playoffs.
The Good: Despite having to do some heavy salary-dumping in the offseason, RSL still has four of the top players in the MLS at its core – goalkeeper Nick Rimando, midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales and forward Alvaro Saborio. Despite bringing in cheaper options in some positions, if you look at the signings – Joao Plata and Olmes Garcia among them, they could turn out to be very capable replacements. And there is still a lot of solidity in the team in the form of players like Ned Grabavoy and Chris Wingert and Nat Borchers. Manager Jason Kreis is very good at getting his team prepared for matches. In Plata and Robbie Findley, RSL has more speed in attack than they have in a long time.
The Bad: For all the experience left in the squad, its inevitable that more than usual changes will have some sort of effect, at least initially. The result of all the wage-cutting has been the team is less deep than usual as opposed to being poor as a starting 11, which is still very good. But with Saborio inevitably going to be gone for international matches a lot (as might also Rimando and Beckerman depending on the US schedule), the newer forwards will have to perform. With Jamison Olave now in New York, it’s vitally important that Chris Schuler – a potentially very good defender – stays fit, which he didn’t last year. Rimando is starting to get a bit old too.
We’ll say: RSL should make the playoffs, but it’s doubtful they’ll challenge for a No. 1 seed again this year.

San Jose Earthquakes. Last year’s record: 19-6-9, 66 points. Lost in the playoffs to the LA Galaxy.
The Good: The Quakes had an amazing regular season after struggling in 2011, cruising to the Supporter’s Shield trophy and leading the league in goals scored. Chris Wondolowski tied the record for goals in a season, and Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon proved adept at late-game heroics. The defense was also vastly improved, and there is much excitement about the new stadium.
The Bad: It seems weird to have limited to say about such a good team in “The Good” section, but they didn’t sign much quality, winger Simon Dawkins is not returning and they’ll be under pressure to replicate last season’s success while also dealing with Champions League matches. For a team competing on three fronts, you expect signings of a better standard than Dan Gargan, Ty Harden and Bryan Jordan. The team will also miss Ike Opara, Khari Stephenson and Joey Gjertsen, who all contributed at least a little last season. Wondolowski, Lenhart and Gordon could all have very good seasons yet score 15-20 less goals combined than they did in 2012. With Wondo now 30, a move to Europe pretty much has to happen this season, doesn’t it?
We’ll say: San Jose shouldn’t fall out of the playoff picture, but don’t expect another Supporter’s Shield trophy this year.

Seattle Sounders. Last year’s record: 15-8-11, 56 points. Lost in the playoffs to Los Angeles.
The Good: The Sounders have been one of the best teams in the league virtually since coming into the MLS, but face probably their first big test with Fredy Montero curiously returning to play in Colombia. Who emerges as the team’s goalscorer to accompany Eddie Johnson in his absence will probably be what decides whether Seattle is merely a good MLS team or a great team. The Sounders had a ton of trialists in camp, so the roster could change a bit, but they already signed up some veteran leadership in Shalrie Joseph and Djimi Traore. Joseph’s signing probably signals the end of the disappointing Christian Tiffert era as well, which probably won’t hurt too many Sounders fans. In preseason, Mario Martinez, who scored the goal to beat RSL in the playoffs, but seldom played besides, has been outstanding. Will it carry over into the regular season? Having a hopefully healthy Steve Zakuani all season will be a plus as well. Midfielder Mauro Rosales continues to be among the best playmakers in the league.
The Bad: Questions still remain over Zakuani’s health. If he’s back to at or near his previous level this season, he’ll add a speedy dimension that was lacking last year. If he’s not, the team isn’t one of the quicker ones in the league. You can’t discount the loss of Montero, who has been the team’s ex-factor for several years. Unless Sammy Ochoa or David Estrada (or an as-yet unsigned forward) turn into reliable goalscorers this year, opposing defenses will focus on Johnson.
We’ll say: The Sounders will compete for the top spot in the West, but will fall just short unless a goalscorer steps up or Zakuani returns to form.

Sporting Kansas City. Last year’s record: 18-7-9, 63 points. Lost to Houston in the playoffs.
The Good: Last year’s top team in the East has one of the best lineups in the MLS, rarely gives anything away on defense and has some of the best fan support in the league. The loss of midfield dynamo Roger Espinoza should be covered up by the acquisition of Benny Feilhaber. In Teal Bunbury and CJ Sapong, Sporting has two of the best young forward tandems in the MLS, and midfielder Graham Zusi is a burgeoning star in the MLS and on the US National Team. The defense, led by MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Jimmy Nielsen, Defender of the Year Matt Besler and Defender of the Year finalist Aurelien Collin, is probably the best in the MLS. DP signing Claudio Bieler has been prolific in South America and should make up for the loss of Kei Kamara.
The Bad: For all their domination, Sporting didn’t create a ton of chances last year and were disappointing in the playoffs. Bunbury and Sapong are athletic and brimming with potential, but neither has scored double-figure goals yet, and losing their top scorer in Kei Kamara could really hurt, particularly if Bieler doesn’t cope with the physical nature of the MLS. Feilhaber has flattered to deceive (that’s British for “been disappointing) for much of his career, and the leadership of Espinoza will be sorely missed. For all Collin’s skill and quality, he is prone to the rash challenge far too often.
We’ll say: If the new signings bed in well, this team should once again be the top team in the East. It’s pretty imperative that Bieler scores goals, though, if they’re truly going to be among the MLS’s elite.

Toronto FC. Last year’s record: 5-21-8, 23 points.
The Good: The troubled Aron Winter reign ended last summer, and Paul Mariner was dismissed in the offseason after winning even less matches than Winter. With Winter gone, two years of roster insecurity and weirdness are hopefully over. New manager Ryan Nelson was an established veteran star in the MLS and in the English Premier League, and will command the respect of his players. New president/GM Kevin Payne has done a good job cutting the chaff from the roster, even if he’s angered some people in the way he’s done so. In terms of player personnel, Danny Koevermanns is one of the league’s elite strikers when he’s fit, new defensive signings Danny Califf and Gale Agbossoumonde should help solidify the league’s worst defense a few year’s running, and Luis Silva looks like one of the better young players in the MLS. In KC’s Julio Cesar, Toronto have signed an imposing, veteran presence in midfield.
The Bad: For all of Payne’s roster upheaval, this team might be worse than last year’s. Koevermanns has yet to stay fit for a whole season and probably won’t play until a couple months in. Aside from Silva, the attacking corps consists of the likes of the streaky Reggie Lambe, Justin Braun, who didn’t score a single goal last year, and Andrew Wiedeman, who scored two. Nelson has never managed at any level. Torsten Frings, who was considered key to what little hopes of success Toronto had this season, just retired due to recurring injury.
We’ll say: Toronto will be bad this year, but at least the team will be full of young, hungry players doing their best to win. This will certainly be a better defensive team, but they might be one of the weakest offensive teams in league history. There is a possibility of a DP coming in, but Toronto doesn’t seem too concerned with that, and good for them if that’s the case.

Vancouver Whitecaps. Last year’s record: 11-13-10, 43 points. Lost to Los Angeles in the playoffs.
The Good: Last year was a weird one for the Caps, who looked like one of the best teams in the league, then completely fell apart after bringing a few expensive European signings who failed to shine. This year (hopefully for Caps fans) there should be a little more roster stability, and some of Vancouver’s young talent should take a step up. Darren Mattocks, who was probably the league’s best rookie, but didn’t win the award since he played seldom the second half of the season, looks to be one of the league’s best forwards. He said he can score 20 goals, which might be a bit high, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he scored 15. The team has one of the most experienced backlines in the MLS, and in Johnny Leveron, they have a new defender who should be a good MLS player. New signing Daigo Kobayashi has been on fire in preseason in midfield and Nigel Reo-Coker looks like a player cut out perfectly for MLS play.
The Bad: The Caps have 10 (!) forwards on the current roster. How does that even happen? Outside of Mattocks, though, there are a lot of questions about all 10. Kenny Miller is paid a a ton of money and rarely looked like scoring in his first year in the MLS. I thought he’d be gone in the offseason, but if he doesn’t score – and often – he’ll probably be cut loose this summer. Omar Salgado has a lot of potential but has yet to put it together. Camilo has moments of class but disappears from matches often. The rest of the forwards are either rookies or have yet to make an impact in the MLS. There has to be changes here.
We’ll say: I suppose it’s a good thing that everything on “the bad” part of this entry has been about the forwards. The defense seems solid. The midfield looks good. Those two elements should be enough to have the Whitecaps competing for a playoff spot. But if the team is going to make a serious impact in the wide-open West, they need their stable of forwards to do something.

MLS 2013 Season Preview, Part 1

Getty Images, I thinkRich, don't go!

Getty Images, I think
Balchan: A nation waits with bated breath …

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood | Only Love Soccer

The offseason after the Galaxy’s second consecutive MLS Cup has yet to produce the huge designated player star to replace David Beckham (though New York’s Juninho is of similar quality, just not as worldwide famous). Nonetheless, there has been what the Queen Mother would refer to as a “crapload” of offseason moves by many teams in the league, so we could see some definite improvement by some of the traditionally terrible clubs and perhaps a couple old standbys returning to Earth a bit. Should be fun. Now here is my/our alphabetical team-by-team preview. One thing to always keep in mind is, thanks to MLS clubs penchant for signing players right up until opening day (excuse me, “First kick”), there could be changes to teams that could heavily impact where they finish this season. But we’ll deal with that in the weekly rankings, as usual.

Chicago Fire. Last year’s record: 17-11-6, 57 points, lost in playoffs to Houston.
The Good: The re-signing of Chris Rolfe turned out to be a master stroke, as he scored 8 goals in 2/3 of a season to spark Chicago’s run into the playoffs. Rookie of the year Austin Berry had a fine season in the center of defense, and Sean Johnson looked a little less shaky in goal. In the offseason, the Fire added some experienced MLS vets, while jettisoning dead wood like Dominic Oduro and Dan Gargan. Also, the retirement of Pavel Pardo and Guille Franco guarantees that if nothing else, the team will be quicker. The team has Rich Balchan on trial, and the soccer gods are praying that he ends up in red and white. I mean, come on, they had Gargan on the team last year!
The Bad: The absence of Oduro, Sebastian Grazzini and Alvaro Fernandez means that the team will rely heavily on Rolfe, DP Sherjill MacDonald (4 goals in 14 matches) and (Ugh) Maicon Santos for goals. The Fire also seem light in defense if some combination of Berry/Arne Friedrich/Jalil Anibaba get injured.
We’ll Say: The Fire seem to have the parts of a playoff team, but with the East as competitive as it is, it’s important that MacDonald and Rolfe are a productive partnership up front.

Chivas USA. Last year’s record: 7-18-9, 30 points.
The Good: New coach Chelis has at least had people talking about Chivas, which is more than you can say for anything related to the team in a long time. There is quite a bit of young talent. Oh wait, he traded it all away while I was typing. Oops! I’ll be here all night folks. But seriously, Juan Agudelo is bound to have a breakout year at some point, right? And Dan Kennedy is a very good goalkeeper. That’s all I got.
The Bad: Chelis has brought in nine new players, three of which have combined for a total of 44 MLS appearances. The fourth is Eric Avila, who has always been highly thought of, but has seldom produced or played regularly. The rest are signings who have no MLS experience. Meanwhile, departing players take over 1400 MLS appearances with them. I didn’t make that up. I mean, sure the team was terrible last year, but getting rid of that level of experience? It’s going to be a rough season. Agudelo seems eager to head to Europe – could he be gone by July?
We’ll Say: A team with so many new pieces should probably struggle – on paper, Chivas are the worst team in the West. Without knowing what Chelis has up his sleeve, though, who knows? At least getting rid of fan apathy would be an improvement.

Colorado Rapids. Last year’s record: 11-19-4, 37 points.
The Good: The Rapids wisely (we think) elected to give the rebuilding process under Oscar Pareja another year, and now that he’s largely changed the team to what he probably wants, this season should be a fairer gauge of his ability as a coach. Martin Rivero is one of the best young attacking midfielders in the league, and an influx of new signings has to be exciting for Rapids’ fans. Getting rid of the Conor Casey/Omar Cummings forward combo is a definite plus.
The Bad: Getting rid of Casey/Cummings means that the team will rely heavily on new signing Edson Buddle, who scored 3 goals last season but has 93 in his MLS career. If Buddle can stay healthy and isn’t, well, past it, he’ll be an upgrade. If not, they’ll struggle in that area again. A mostly new defense will be kind of scary, but they can’t be any worse than last year in that department, can they?
We’ll Say: Last year’s injury woes and changes resulted in a season probably not an accurate reflection of the quality on the roster. However, with so many new faces and with Riveros injured for at least the first month, the Rapids could be far down in the playoff race early on.

Columbus Crew. Last year’s record: 15-12-7, 52 points.
The Good: Emilio Renteria, Olman Vargas and Tom Heinemann, who combined for four goals all season, are gone and probably pretty easily replaced, though Renteria was at least a physical presence. The late season fireworks of Jairo Arrieta (9 goals in 18 matches) and Federico Higuain (5 goals, 7 assists in 13 matches) nearly pushed the Crew into the playoffs, and they’ll both be there from Day 1 this year. Josh Williams and Chad Marshall are a decent combo in the center of defense, and Andy Gruenebaum was good enough to claim the starting goalkeeper spot as his own.
The Bad: Milovan Mirosevic, one of the Crew’s better players last year, though maybe not quite as good as he was supposed to be, is gone, though Higuain/Matias Sanchez will probably take over his role. The departure of several experienced players is always worrying, until we at least see the new guys in action. If Greunebaum goes down with injury, his replacement is probably Matt Lampson, who has one MLS cap in his career. Arrieta and Higuain are probably expected to combine for 25 goals and 20 assists this year. What if they don’t? Last, but certainly not least, the team released Rich Balchan. Wherefore art thou, Rich Balchan?
We’ll Say: Similar to the Fire, if the forwards score and key players stay healthy, the Crew look like a playoff team. A couple bad injuries or less convincing second seasons from Arrieta and Higuain could see them back where they finished last year. If they stay relatively injury free – a big if for Columbus, they could compete for first in the East.

FC Dallas. Last year’s record: 9-13-12, 39 points.
The Good: New signings Kenny Cooper and Eric Hassli join Fabian Castillo, Jackson, David Ferreira and Blas Perez to give Dallas one of the potentially most dangerous attacks in the league. Brek Shea finally heading to Europe removes the uncertainty of that situation and should enable Castillo to have the left flank all to his own, where he could be one of the breakout stars this season. Re-signing George John is also a good thing.
The Bad: Ferreira is now 34. How many good seasons does he have left, particularly with his injury record? Further more, can Perez stay healthy? The decision to release Kevin Hartman now leaves either Raul Hernandez or Chris Seitz to establish themselves as the team’s No. 1 goalie, and neither has in the preseason. The retirement of Daniel Hernandez and absence of Hartman leave Dallas with something of a leadership vacuum.
We’ll Say: The talent, at least offensively, is certainly there. As is often the case with this team, their success resides with Ferreira and his health. If he plays the full season, Dallas should make the playoffs comfortably. If he doesn’t or starts to show his age, they might finish as one of the more middling teams again.

DC United. Last year’s record: 17-10-7, 58 points. Lost in the playoffs to Houston.
The Good: After a bad couple years, United were one of the more exciting, fun teams to watch in the league, cruising into the playoffs before getting beaten by Houston. In the offseason, they managed to dump a lot of highly paid, poor-performing players (Branko Boskovic, Maicon Santos, Hamdi Salihi). Another year of experience will only help the likes of Brandon McDonald, Ethan White, Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen, Bill Hamid and Chris Pontius. Dwayne DeRosario should be fit again for at least one more season, which is always a good thing.
The Bad: Despite getting rid of Salihi, Maicon Santos and Long Tan, the team still has EIGHT forwards on the roster. How does that work? The defense is still certainly the shakiest part of the team, and none of the new signings have addressed that. DeRosario has to break down and become an average player at some point. Will it be this year? Carlos Ruiz is an established scorer in the MLS, but he’s old, not very mobile and controversial. You could say he wasn’t needed on this team. The loss of Andy Najar leaves the team a bit one-dimensional on the wing.
We’ll Say: This is one of the better teams in the league, but still seems a step below the likes of Houston, Kansas City, LA and Seattle.

Houston Dynamo: Last year’s record: 14-9-11, 53 points. Lost in the MLS Cup final to Los Angeles.
The Good: The Dynamo’s swanky new stadium opened, and the team was pretty much unbeatable there. Despite consecutive up and down regular seasons, Houston has reached the final in back to back seasons, showing they know how to win when it counts. If new signing Andrew Driver discovers the form that made him once one of the most highly sought-after players in Scotland, he could be among the best players in the MLS. In Will Bruin, Brad Davis, Oscar Boniek Garcia and Tally Hall, the Dynamo have four players who could all be called among the league’s best at their position, and the addition of Omar Cummings adds some speed. The defense didn’t implode after the departure of Geoff Cameron, which was a good sign.
The Bad: For all their talent and experience, the Dynamo are noticeably worse on the road. If they could learn to grind out some results there, they could finish first in the East. If they don’t, they’ll be stuck fighting through the early playoff rounds again. A heavy Champions League schedule could exact a toll by season’s end, though it didn’t seem to make much difference last year. There are no standout performers in defense.
We’ll Say: As like last year, Houston should have the talent and experience to be one of the, if not the, top teams in the MLS. They have struggled to produce the goods consistently in the regular season, though.

Los Angeles Galaxy. Last year’s record: 16-12-6, 54 points. Won the MLS Cup.
The Good: Player-for-player, the Galaxy are the best, most experienced team in the MLS. Robbie Keane was excellent in his first full season with the club. Landon Donovan’s ongoing “Will he retire? Won’t he?” antics didn’t keep him from performing on the pitch. Juninho was signed permanently and is becoming one of the best players in the league. In Brian Perk and Carlo Cudicini, they should have a starting goalkeeper who is, at least, less chaotic than Josh Saunders. With David Beckham gone, you can probably expect either Kaka or Frank Lampard to join the team in midseason, and both would most likely excel in the MLS.
The Bad: Donovan will miss at least the first month of the season, and doesn’t seem too committed about the rest. His soap opera caused the team to struggle a bit at the start of last season and could again. The same will be true of the impending DP signing. Though the Galaxy are still a decent team with only Keane of the three playing regularly, they are not the best team in the league. The defense was terrible without Omar Gonzalez for part of last year, and he could leave for Europe in the summer. Should Keane get injured or Donovan retire, the forward line would be woefully thin. Signing Cudicini and the since-retired (since he was told he wouldn’t be a starter) Will Hesmer seemed a strange move, particularly since Cudicini, though a solid backup, hasn’t been a regular starting goalkeeper in 10 years. He also is probably getting paid quite a lot too. And he’s old.
We’ll Say: If everyone is healthy and the perpetual chaos that comes with this team is limited, they will challenge for their third-straight MLS Cup (and possibly a CONCACAF Champions League title). If not, the team could implode under a shower of wounded ego and expensive champagne made from Donovan’s tears, like they almost did last season.

Montreal Impact. Last year’s record: 12-16-6, 42 points.
The Good: Despite what at least I thought was a pretty decent first MLS season, the Impact parted ways with coach Jessie Marsch, apparently over philosophical reasons, and replaced him with Swiss coach Marco Schallibaum. Apparently Marsch not speaking French played into the decision, which is funny, because most of the big-name foreign players are Italian. ANYWAY. On to the team: Midfielder Patrice Bernier was arguably one of the best players in the MLS last season. After a slow start, aging forward Marco Di Viao started to show some of his quality. And Felipe Martins is one of the better young players in the league. In terms of offseason signings, Andrea Pisanu is another Italian player, and at 31, is probably not fast. The Impact’s stable of defenders is experienced and contains some very good players, but no one could stay healthy last year. If they do this year, the team will be much better defensively.
The Bad: Ten of the Impact’s 22 players (as of this moment – I’m sure they’ll sign a couple more) are 29 or older. For a team in its second year, that does not constitute building for the future. There has to be some concern about Bernier (33), Alessandro Nesta (36), Di Viao (36), Matteo Ferrari (33), Pisanu, Davy Arnaud (32) and/or Nelson Rivas (29, but hasn’t played a full season of soccer since 2006) breaking down. If they do, the defense could be terrible again, or the attack will be fully dependent on second-year man Andrew Wenger or the midfield will be solely the domain of Felipe. Wenger and Felipe have potential to be among the league’s best, but this is not a team built around them, at least at this point.
We’ll say: More than probably any team in the MLS, the Impact will be fiercely hoping that their starting 11 stays fit. If they suffer an injury crisis, they could be fighting Toronto for the bottom of the East.

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