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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

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.

Wait, you signed who?

Dan Gargan exhibits his "Stop, Drop and Roll" defensive move.

Dan Gargan exhibits his “Stop, Drop and Roll” defensive move.

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

As someone who is more or less a neutral when it comes to MLS teams – I vowed to support whatever team is closest to wherever my job is located after graduation, I’m always amused by MLS offseason transactions. Sure, there are always a bunch of Colombians signed, and the odd designated player no one has heard of who is doomed to play 12 matches and then sign with some mid-level team in Paraguay. But the thing I am always struck by is how many stunningly mediocre MLS vets continue to get signed by new teams – probably at or near their already exorbitant wages. Here are a few examples:

John Thorrington (MF, DC United). Previously played for: Chicago Fire, Vancouver Whitecaps. When Thorrington was younger, he was a serviceable winger, but now he’s 33. Last year, Thorrington made $170,000, which is more than All-MLS defender Young-Pyo Lee or up-and-coming midfielder Gershon Koffie made for the Caps – heck, it was almost four times the amount San Jose paid Steven Beitashour, one of the best players in the league. For this salary, Thorrington contributed one assist in 19 games – which was an improvement over the previous year. In the last 7 years, he’s made 89 appearances total. He probably didn’t sign with DC for $170,000, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the figure was still over $100,000.

Maicon Santos (F, Chicago). Previously played for: Chivas USA, Toronto, FC Dallas, DC United. I get the attraction with Santos – he’s big, he’s Brazilian, he occasionally scores goals in bunches. Unfortunately, as his previous four MLS employers have found, when he’s not scoring goals – and let’s face it, 21 in 88 matches does not count as prolific – he does little else. Don’t worry, Fire fans, based on his past history, it’s doubtful he’ll be with the team by the time the playoffs roll around. I’m going to guess and say he’ll be with Columbus. Here’s a video of Maicon Santos in action.

Eric Brunner (D, Houston). Previously played for: New York, Columbus, Portland. At one point Brunner was seen as a rising star in U.S. soccer ranks, but two seasons in Portland exposed him as a lightweight (despite his height) central defender who doesn’t move particularly well and struggles at set pieces. On the bright side, it’s hard to see him displacing Hainault and Boswell in the Dynamo defense, so as long as they stay healthy …

Chad Barrett (F, New England). Previously played for: Chicago, Toronto, LA Galaxy. Oh, Chad Barrett. Perhaps it’s his Wayne Rooney-esque stature that keeps getting Barrett jobs, because it can’t be his goal-scoring. Barrett’s two-year stint in Los Angeles saw him score 8 goals in 45 matches – and that’s with the likes of Donovan, Juninho, Beckham and Keane supplying him. For this, he was paid more than $250,000 each year. By way of comparison, Alan Gordon, who scored 13 goals in 23 matches for San Jose, earned $120,000. With his average of a goal ever five matches and joining a Revs team without LA’s firepower, he’s got to be at least good for 2 or 3 this year.

Dan Gargan and Ty Harden (D, San Jose). Previously played for: Colorado, Chivas USA, Toronto, Chicago (Gargan); LA Galaxy, Colorado, Toronto (Harden). After earning the MLS Supporter Shield last year for best regular season record, apparently Earthquakes execs decided they wanted no part of success this year by signing two players that are undeniably among the worst regular starters (though in fairness to Harden, his time as a regular starter has rapidly faded) in the MLS. I don’t have much in the way of stats to support this argument, except to say that both played regularly for Toronto in the last two years.

Good luck, MLS fans!

2012 MLS Regular Season Report Cards, Awards

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood | Only Love Soccer

MVP: Chris Wondolowski, San Jose. Along with tying Roy Lassiter’s league record with 27 goals, Wondo handed out a healthy number of assists and spurred the best team (and highest-scoring one) in the league. Now can they do it in the playoffs?

Rookie of the Year: Darren Mattocks, Vancouver. He’ll likely not receive the award from the MLS, but Mattocks looked a cut above other rookies (and most MLS forwards in general) during an impressive midseason scoring streak. Ill discipline and the odd injury have seen him taper off a bit in the latter stages, but he still deserves the award.

Manager of the Year: Frank Yallop, San Jose. Many thought Yallop should’ve been fired after a poor 2011 season, but the Quakes were not only the best, but the most exciting team in the MLS this season. Winning an MLS Cup will be sweet for Yallop, particularly if it comes at the expense of former employers LA.

Report Cards

San Jose Earthquakes. The Quakes (and manager Frank Yallop) earned a bit of vindication after a poor 2011 season by rollicking to the Supporter’s Shield. They will hope to avoid the curse that befalls many of the No. 1 seeds in the playoffs of getting knocked out early.
Bright spot: Chris Wondolowski, obviously. Moving forward: It will be hard to match the success of this season, whether or not the Quakes win the MLS Cup, but a bit more cover in defense is probably the only spot that really needs work at this point.
Grade: A+

Sporting Kansas City. Probably the league’s most organized, dominant in possession team, Sporting nonetheless were one of the lowest-scoring to make the playoffs. I guess a 1-0 win is still a win, right? After last season’s Eastern Conference finals appearance, the next step is expected.
Bright spot: Jimmie Nielsen, goalkeeper. Moving forward: With a Champions League berth already earned thanks to their Open Cup win, KC will probably need to make sure the current squad is up for the challenge of playing on three fronts. A more conventional winger might help with goalscoring.
Grade: A+

DC United. Somehow, despite losing Dwayne DeRosario to injury at midseason, United went on an improbable and often fortuitous run to second in the East. They’re still probably not considered one of the elite teams in the MLS, though.
Bright spot: Chris Pontius, forward. Moving forward: With a young, hungry team, only some tweaking will be needed in the offseason, though removing the logjam at forward (De Rosario, Hamdi Salihi, Pontius, Josh Wolff, Lionard Pajoy, Maicon Santos, Long Tan) is needed.
Grade: A

Real Salt Lake. It says a lot how expectations have been raised in Utah that a season that sees RSL finish second in the West and make the Champions League group stage again can be seen as a disappointment, but yeah, it was a bit of a disappointing year for RSL. Not as tight defensively (due mostly to injury); unable to score without Alvaro Saborio. Plus, Kyle Beckerman seemed worryingly undisciplined at times.
Bright spot: Saborio. Moving forward: Javier Morales is paid a lot and getting old. Scouting out a replacement for him – perhaps from the current squad – might be a good idea. With all the injuries to the defense, you wonder if another defender is needed.
Grade: B

Seattle Sounders. As seems to happen, often, the Sounders endured a ho-hum start to the season before rallying and challenging for first in the west, then eventually petering out to third. Nonetheless, the Sounders are a legitimate title contender.
Bright spot: Osvaldo Alonso, midfield. Moving forward: Questions over whether Fredy Montero will head to Europe are inevitable. It feels increasingly likely. He will need to be replaced, if so. Otherwise, not a lot needs to be done with this squad.
Grade: B+

New York Red Bulls. A much more coherent squad than last season and slightly better defense has the Red Bulls feeling good about possibly making a run to the MLS Cup. The question is, is the talent of Thierry Henry and co. enough to overcome the much better organized favorites like Kansas City, RSL and LA?
Bright spot: Henry. Moving forward: Rumor has it that manager Hans Backe will be dismissed in the offseason. If so, don’t be surprised if a big name comes in to replace him. Rafa Marquez is rumored to leave every offseason. Could this be the one where it finally happens?
Grade: A-

Chicago Fire. The Fire briefly flirted with top spot in the East, but closed out the season with a bit of a whimper. It’s clear that their ability to score goals is almost completely reliant on the play of Chris Rolfe.
Bright spot: Rolfe. Moving forward: Keeping the team intact, with the exception of maybe Dominic Oduro, would be nice. Also, adding a capable midfielder to slowly take over for the ancient Pavel Pardo would be good. Oh, and a fullback that could move Dan Gargan to the bench.
Grade: A

Houston Dynamo. Impressive home form has battled with horrendous away performances, with home form being just enough to get them into the playoffs. Whether they can battle to the championship game again is debatable.
Bright spot: As always, Brad Davis, though Will Bruin and Oscar Boniek Garcia had their moments. Moving forward: Not too many changes needed, though replacements for the departed Geoff Cameron and retiring Brian Ching are probably a good idea.
Grade: B+

LA Galaxy. A disjointed, sloppy start to the season soon gave way tot he expected run to the playoffs. As returning champs, the Galaxy will be favorites, but it wasn’t always easy going.
Bright spot: Robbie Keane, forward. Moving forward: Anything less than a spot in the MLS Cup championship match would be a disappointment, though the Galaxy are in the Champions League. In terms of personnel, Edson Buddle has been a terrible disappointment, and Landon Donovan seems either bored or ready to retire, How these play out could affect who is brought in.
Grade: B

Columbus Crew. The Crew were probably one of the best teams ever to not make the playoffs in the MLS. Unfortunately, a slow start to the season and a rash of injuries and the death of Kirk Urso proved to be too much for the team to overcome.
Bright spot: Eddie Gaven, midfielder. Moving forward: Getting rid of players that bring little to the table but cost a lot, like Olman Vargas and Emilio Renteria would be a plus. Did Andy Greunebaum impress enough in goal to make Will Hesmer expendable? Having Federico Higuain, Chad Marshall, Jairo Arrieta and Milovan Mirosevic healthy and around all season could make the Crew a contender for first in the East next year.
Grade: C+

Vancouver Whitecaps. The Whitecaps could end up winning the MLS Cup, but they are certainly the worst regular season team in the playoffs this year. A solid defense could hardly make up for an offense that manager Martin Rennie seemed intent on rendering totally useless through trades and roster additions.
Bright spot: Jay DeMerit, defender. Moving forward: A long playoff run would be nice, though unlikely. Having Darren Mattocks in the team all year would be nice – as would having Omar Salgado healthy. Debatable whether the two DP’s – Barry Robson and Kenny Miller have done enough to justify their high salaries.
Grade: C

Montreal Impact. Despite looking extremely weak in defense to start the season, the Impact rallied and nearly made the playoffs. Coach Jessie Marsch has a tough job on his hands next season raising the game of an aging team next season, though.
Bright spot: Patrice Bernier, midfield. Moving forward: Marsch must bring in some young players to rest the weary legs of aging vets like Alessandro Nesta and Marco Di Viao. Getting a full season out of Nelson Rivas would be good. As would be getting rid of Justin Mapp and the wasteful Davy Arnaud.
Grade: B

FC Dallas. Blas Perez’s injury left the team with no focal point for attacks, and the midseason return of David Feriera wasn’t enough to spark them enough to make the playoffs. In truth, poor decision-making and a propensity for ill-timed sendings-off killed the team’s playoff prospects long before.
Bright spot: Perez. Moving forward: Barring a dramatic player departure, this Dallas squad should be back in the playoffs next year. Signing another forward is probably a good idea. Will Brek Shea depart for Europe?
Grade: D

Philadelphia Union. The Piotr Nowak era ended in a flurry of misguided trades that saw virtually all the players who took the team to the playoffs in the previous season playing for other teams. Predictably, the Union struggled.
Bright spot: The defense, led by Carlos Valdes. Moving forward: A little more firepower is needed. There are big questions over the status of Freddy Adu, who played seldom to end the season, but wasn’t overly impressive when he did play. The team is solid at goal and defense.
Grade: C-

Colorado Rapids. The Rapids attempted to completely change their style of play under Oscar Pareja, with what could only optimistically be called “mixed” results. There has to be some question about whether Pareja stays on after the season they had, but is there a better option out there?
Bright spot: Martin Rivero, midfielder. Moving forward: The sooner the Conor Casey/Omar Cummings partnership ends, the better. The Rapids have a lot of good, young talent to work with. A premium must be put on keeping on-loan Rivero at the club, who looks like he could become one of the league’s best young players.
Grade: D

Portland Timbers. Whether or not you’re a fan of coach John Spencer, his chopping and changing of the lineup was a disaster in the Timbers’ second season. As was the signing of DP forward Kris Boyd.
Bright spot: Darlington Nagbe, attacking midfielder. Moving forward: New coach Caleb Porter brings a winning pedigree from college soccer. Boyd is almost certainly headed back to Europe. A replacement for Jack Jewsbury and/or Diego Chara wouldn’t be a bad idea, nor would a new central defender. The fan support continues to be great.
Grade: D

New England Revolution. At one point in the season, the Revs were 6-8-3 and fully in range of a playoff spot. They then went winless in 10 – all the losses by one goal – and finished well out of the playoff race.
Bright Spot: Saer Sene, forward. Moving forward: The Revs couldn’t hold onto a lead to save their lives this season thanks to a porous defense, but have lots of options in attack. Is Benny Feilhaber the answer in midfield, particularly on his salary?
Grade: D

Chivas USA. Despite having a reasonably promising squad of young players mixed with a few legitimate stars (Juan Pablo Angel, Juan Agudelo), Chivas are the lowest scoring team in the league and the worst home team.
Bright spot: Dan Kennedy, goalkeeper. Moving forward: Robin Fraser is likely out as coach. In fairness, the squad doesn’t need a lot of work – a class midfielder would be nice, as would a poacher who is younger than Angel.
Grade: F

Toronto FC. The worst start ever to a season is followed by the departure of the Dutch manager Aron Winters and eventually a 14-match winless streak to end the season.
Bright Spot: Fan support. Moving forward: Toronto fans seem unimpressed by current coach Paul Warriner, but it’s debatable whether another coaching change is the answer. Expect lots of new players and the token Colombian.
Grade: F

MLS Playoff Race: Sept. 25

Thierry Henry’s beard is hoping to impose itself on the rest of the Eastern Conference for the final month of the season.

Already In

East — none; West — San Jose, LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake

Just a Formality

East — Sporting Kansas City; Chicago; West — Seattle

In Control of Their Own Destiny

East — DC United; New York, Houston; West — Vancouver

Still Got A Shot

East — Columbus; West — Dallas

Not Mathematically Eliminated, But Let’s Be Honest

East — Montreal; Philadelphia; West — Colorado, Portland, Chivas

Eliminated

East — New England, Toronto

Standings

East

1. Sporting Kansas City (16-7-7, 55 pts). This week: Drew 0-0 with Montreal. They need to: Beating Chicago at home should be enough to see them through to the No. 1 seed, barring a major collapse in their last three matches. They would qualify for the playoffs with a win or a draw and Columbus loss or draw. If they lose, things get complicated. Matches left: CHI, @CLB, @NY, PHI

2. Chicago (16-5-8, 53 pts).  This week: Beat Columbus 2-1; They need to: Keep not losing. A draw or win at Kansas City would put the Fire in a great position to finish in 1st, with matches coming up against Philadelphia and New England. Regardless, if Columbus fails to win this weekend, the Fire are basically in the playoffs no matter what happens against Kansas City. Matches left: @SKC, PHI, @NY, @NE, DCU

3. DC United (15-5-10, 50 pts). This week: Beat Chivas USA 1-0; They need to: DC looked down and out a couple weeks ago, particularly with Dwayne DeRosario out for the season. They have a tricky match at Portland coming up, but the Timbers have little to play for at this point, so maybe three points are there to be had? I guess we’ll find out, the MLS never really makes sense. Matches left: @POR, @TOR, CLB, @CHI

4. New York (14-8-8, 50 pts). This week: Drew 1-1 with New England; They need to: Pick up a win or two against mediocre teams. Coming into last week’s home match with Kansas City, the Red Bulls were on the verge of seizing first in the East. Then they lost and only managed a draw against the Revs. Now they’re still on the playoff bubble. With Toronto coming up, a failure to win could seriously put their playoff prospects in jeopardy, and rightly so. Matches left: TOR, CHI, SKC, @PHI

5. Houston (12-10-8, 46 pts). This week: Lost to Philadelphia 3-1; They need to: Beat New England, Montreal, Philadelphia and Colorado. Like New York, the Dynamo’s Supporter’s Shield dreams have fallen apart, but their remaining schedule couldn’t be much easier. Matches left: NE, MON, PHI, @COL

6. Columbus (13-6-11, 45 pts). This week: Lost 2-1 to Chicago; They need to: Win out. It’s not that desperate in Columbus, but some uneven results lately (and Houston having a super-easy schedule to end the season) means that Columbus need to avoid any mistakes in their final four matches. The Union should be a win. KC will be tough. At DC will be tough and Toronto should be a win. But it’s the “business end” of the season. (God I hate myself for using that phrase). Matches left: PHI, SKC, @DCU, TOR

7. Montreal (12-4-15, 40 pts).  This week: Drew 0-0 with Kansas City; They need to: Have fun out there. It’s highly unlikely the Impact, who’ve had a great first year and strong second half, will catch fifth place Houston. But who knows, if they win their final three and Houston completely falls apart, it could happen. Matches left: @HOU, @TOR, NE

8. Philadelphia (8-6-14, 30 pts). This week: Beat Houston 3-1; They need to: Regroup for next season, which should be a better one. I saw a news story on Yahoo that said “Union stay in playoff race with win against Dynamo.” Um…well, they’re 16 points back with six matches to play, but I suppose that’s still true, right? Matches left: @CLB, @CHI, NE, @HOU, @SKC, NY

9. New England (7-8-15, 29 pts). This week: Drew 1-1 with New York; They need to: Continue to play hard. The Revs aren’t making the playoffs, but one bad midseason run aside, they haven’t been THAT bad. A good finish will put them in a position to challenge for the playoffs next year. Matches left: @HOU, @PHI, CHI, @MON

10. Toronto (5-7-18, 22 pts). This week: Lost 4-2 to LA Galaxy; They need to: Rebuild the team. The nine losses in a row to start the season was bad, but Toronto have been almost as bad to end the season. If they want to keep some semblance of fan support, the team needs to find some stability and consistency to build on. Matches left: @NY, DCU, MON, @CLB

West

1. San Jose (18-6-6, 60 pts). This week: Beat Seattle 2-1; They need to: Match their regular season performance in the playoffs. Many a No. 1 seed has fallen apart come playoff time. Can the Quakes keep up their good play? Matches left: DAL, @COL, LAG, @POR

2. LA Galaxy (15-4-11, 49 pts). This week: Beat Toronto 4-2; They need to: See San Jose. The Galaxy have probably been the league’s best team the second half of the year, but it all goes out the window when the playoffs come. Can they keep it going? They should be able to, but we’ll find out. Matches left: @COL, RSL, @SJE, SEA

3. Real Salt Lake (15-4-11, 49 pts). This week: Beat Portland 2-1; They need to: End the season on a high. Despite being tied for second, RSL have had a poor season for the most part. They’re no longer invincible at home, Alvaro Saborio and Chris Schuler are injured, and Javier Morales and Kyle Beckerman have had disappointing years. But, anyone can win in the playoffs. Yes, another cliché. Matches left: @CHV, @LAG, @SEA, VAN

4. Seattle (13-9-7, 48 pts). This week: Lost 2-1 to San Jose; They need to: Find a way to avoid the Galaxy in the playoffs, though they have played well against them this season. That means either settling for 4th or both the Sounders and RSL finishing ahead of the Galaxy. No. 2 would probably be preferable, right? Matches left: @VAN, POR, RSL, DAL, @LAG

5. Vancouver (10-8-12, 38 pts). This week: Drew 2-2 with Colorado; They need to: Win a match against someone. I’ve documented the Caps’ second-half woes a bit, and I think all the changes in midseason really killed them. They still should be able to eke out a playoff spot, though, with Chivas and Portland still coming up at home. Matches left: SEA, CHV, POR, @RSL

6. Dallas (9-9-12, 36 pts). This week: Beat Vancouver 1-0; They need to: Play better on the road and pray things go their way. It stands to reason that if Dallas can notch five points from their matches against San Jose, Chivas and Seattle – all on the road, they would go into their finale with a winnable match against Chivas (at home) and Vancouver facing a tough road match against RSL, which would, if things went that way end with the two teams tied. I don’t know, maybe it’s a stretch. Matches left: @SJE, @CHV, @SEA, CHV

7. Colorado (9-3-18, 30 pts). This week: Drew 2-2 with Vancouver; They need to: Get rid of some players. I hate to say it, but it’s time to stick a fork in the Omar Cummings/Conor Casey partnership up front. In the past two seasons since winning the MLS Cup in 2010, the two have combined for 17 goals. Not good enough. And they’re not getting younger or less injury-prone.  Matches left: LAG, SJE, @CHV, HOU

8. Portland (7-8-15, 29 pts). This week: Lost 2-1 to Real Salt Lake; They need to: See Colorado. With Caleb Porter coming in and virtually no momentum or confidence the last, oh, 25 matches of the year, things can only get better for Portland, who still have great fan support and a couple decent young players in Darlington Nagbe and Danny Mwanga. Everyone else can go, though. Matches left: DCU, @SEA, @VAN, SJE

9. Chivas USA (7-7-15, 28 pts). This week: Lost 1-0 to DC United; They need to: Find a new stadium, rebrand, build around youth, stop bringing unproven foreign players in, in the hope that someone sticks. Chivas are rapidly becoming the Toronto of the West, and I can’t even say it’s a shame, because no one ever goes to their matches anyway. And it’s not as if the Home Depot Center is cavernous, sheesh. Matches left: RSL, @VAN, DAL, COL, @DAL

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