So this year I will be doing my weekly power rankings, but I will be dividing them up by conference, as it will be silly to try to compare them to each other given that the new schedule system has for the first time given us a league where teams won't face each other team in the league at least twice (home and away). This new unbalanced schedule will greatly impact how the Supporters' Shield is won, it will very likely result in a team from one conference or the other making the playoffs while a better team doesn't and while the overall playoff system has been improved it will suffer as a result of this new schedule system (in my opinion).
So let's take a quick look at how I see the Eastern Conference going, and my quick preview of each team in the conference:
1. Houston Dynamo - 2011 Record - 12-9-13 +4 GD
They Dynamo had a fairly balanced team in 2011, and had Brad Davis been healthy for the MLS Cup who knows what might have happened. So perhaps the biggest story of the offseason was the selection of Brian Ching by Montreal in the Expansion Draft and the drama that followed it, in the end Ching is back in Houston but one has to wonder how all of this will impact his performance this year? I think two huge moves that Houston made will impact their season, first the trade of Danny Cruz to DC United, and then the trade to bring in Macoumba Kandji. I think a healthy Kandji is a dangerous striker and could really help out the Dynamo. I am still waiting to see who this team brings in as their big DP? When will he arrive and can he push Houston over the top and to their 3rd MLS Cup?
Who would I take from the Dynamo? No questions it would be Brad Davis.
The rest of my Eastern Conference preview and power rankings after the break:
2. New York Red Bulls - 2011 Record - 10-8-16 +6 GD
I know this pick will shock a lot of people but listen when you have the deep pockets of Red Bull, and the second most potent offense in MLS, well you have a shot to win every game. The hit last year was defense and to be honest I am not convinced that bringing some more guys from Europe and Wilman Conde is the answer. I was impressed in the preseason by their keepers both are new to the team and Jeremy Vuolo seems like he might get the starting gig. It is just hard to pick against a team that has Thierry Henry, Luke Rodgers, Kenny Cooper, and Juan Agudelo up top, this team could score 60 goals this year, but it will take an improved defense for them to move up to the # 2 spot in the East.
Who would I take from the Red Bulls - No #TH14 for me, give me Joel Lindpere.
3. Sporting Kansas City - 2011 Record - 13-9-12 +10GD
A lot of people have Sporting KC as the team to beat in the East, but for me I think they very well could live up to that expectation but I think the fact that they had to work a deal with Montreal to get Seth Sinovic back point to some question marks on defense, I do think the pickups of Paulo Nagamura and Bobby Convey could pay off in a big way, I don't doubt that they will be able to score a lot of goals this year with Teal Bunbury, C.J. Sapong, and Kei Kamara they will be as tough and aggressive as any forwards in the league. I do wonder if Bobby Convey will compliment or take plays away from Graham Zusi? One thing is clear to me, this is going to be fun team to watch in 2011 and having their home stadium for a full season could be what pushes them up the table.
Who would I take from SKC - While I love the forwards who are strong, big and physical I am going to go with Graham Zusi
4. Philadelphia Union - 2011 Record - 11-8-15 +8 GD
Perhaps no team had a more confusing off season than the Union, the second year team made huge strides in 2011 doing something that has still alluded Toronto FC, they made the playoffs. Days after saying he was committed to Philly Faryd Mondragon was gone, Justin Mapp was taken in the expansion draft, the retirement of Veljko Paunovic, and then the going to Europe but ending up in Vancouver journey of Sebastien Le Toux. A lot of new faces joining the team, but to be honest the amount of changes will almost have them starting over yet again as almost 1/2 of their roster has turned over this off season. Just too many question marks for me to rank them any higher than the middle of the pack. I do expect that they will be good on defense but with Zac MacMath in goal one has to hope the backline can protect him.
Who would I take from the Union - For me it is Sheanon Williams who offers quality on both sides of the ball
5. Toronto FC - 2011 Record - 6-13-15 -23 GD
No team in MLS gave up as many goals in 2011 as Toronto, and the question is with his roster finally in place with the team that he has wanted can Aron Winter's system work in MLS? We saw the team show signs of life last year, but there are simply so many questions that they could end up in the playoffs for the first time, or they could end up at the bottom of the East. The changes on defense include guys like Andy Iro, Danleigh Borman, and Mikael Yourassowsky who each played over 1,000 minutes last year. I have to believe that TFC is far from done making moves this year.
6. Chicago Fire - 2011 Record - 9-9-16 +1 GD
Perhaps no team had less turmoil in their off-season, the problem with that is that Chicago wasn't that good last year, in fact they set a league record for draws in 2011 with 16 (one shy of half their matches). I was a bit surprised that Diego Chaves is no longer with the team, he seemed like one of the highlights of their seasons. Clearly the Fire think that the breakout year of Dominic Oduro last year is a sign of things to come, but like I said last year I think the Fire are going to be as good as Marco Pappa is. They did get one of the best names in the 2012 MLS Draft as they added Hunter Jumper to their roster.
Who would I take from the Fire - Marco Pappa, who I think is a MVP type player but someone things just haven't clicked as well as expected
7. D.C. United - 2011 Record - 9-13-12 -3 GD
A lot of turnover at DC United this off season some of it very surprising, some of it expected. Gone are Charlie Davies, Santino Quaranta, Clyde Simms, Devon McTavis, Austin da Luz, Blake Brettschneider and Marc Burch, but coming in are some options that could be a huge part of the continued attempt to turn around the Red and Black. Maicon Santos, Danny Cruz, Robbie Russell all came over from other MLS teams, while Hamdi Salihi and Emiliano Dudar come in from outside the league. The biggest move however is the resigning of Dwayne DeRosario to a new deal, lets be honest he is going to be the make or break player for DC this year, if he is happy with his new deal then we can expect another MVP like performance, if not well ask Toronto about that. I just have to see the proof on the pitch that Ben Olsen has this team moving in the right direction, but I think DC could if things come together move up quickly in a Eastern Conference that is suspect at best.
Who would I take from DC United - Bill Hamid, one of the promising young keepers in MLS who has been through years of shaky defense in front of him, imagine what he would be able to do with a rock solid defense.
8. Columbus Crew - 2011 Record - 13-13-8 -1GD
Only one team in the East lost more matches in 2011 than Columbus, this was a team in the middle of rebuilding and this off-season a number of key pieces left so the rebuilding process continues, the biggest losses are Andres Mendoza who lead the team with 13 goals and 2 assists and Robbie Rogers who had 2 goals and lead the team with 7 assists. There were no big name additions for the Crew who appear to be trying to lower their payroll while rebuilding their team with less expensive talent. I just don't think it is going to work, we saw players wanting out of Columbus after 2010 when the rebuilding began, I have to wonder if that might not happen again.
Who would I take from the Crew - Julius James, a solid defender who played in 31 of the Crew's 34 matches last year.
9. New England Revolution - 2011 Record 5-16-13 -20 GD
While tied with Vancouver for fewest points in 2011, the Revs managed just 5 wins and the result was a huge change in staff and very busy off season. The big news is signing Shalrie Joseph to a new and well deserved contract, and Jay Heaps becoming the head coach. Can he turn this team around? It is going to be a very interesting year, the Rev's looked great in the preseason but can they hold that momentum over to the regular season? I have a lot of doubts
Who would I take from the Revolution - Shalrie Joseph, was the subject of my first question I ever asked Jason Kreis as RSL head coach, his answer proceeded to get him in trouble with MLS HQ (go figure). I love his passion on the pitch, simply one of the most effective players in MLS.
10. Montreal Impact - No 2011 Record
It seems every year we have a new team join MLS, and for most of them the first years are very tough, I expect that despite some great trades, and picks that the Impact will find out that the jump to MLS is not as easy as they think. I do think picking Jesse Marsch as the head coach is a smart move as few will know as much about MLS as he will. Still I expect it will be a very long year for the Impact.
Who would I take from the Impact - I couldn't do that to a new team, that would just be wrong.
So there is my look at the Eastern Conference and how I rank them heading into the first week of Major League Soccer action. I do think that this is still the weaker conference and that means it is likely that a strong team could secure both the Supporters' Shield and home field advantage for MLS Cup. It is going to be an interesting season for sure.
OFF MY SOAPBOX