Well yesterday we took a look at the Eastern Conference and today we will look a bit closer to home as I look at the Western Conference and how I rank the teams heading into the opening weekend of Major League Soccer action. As I stated when looking at the Eastern Conference, this year I will be ranking the conferences separately, I just don't see a fair way of ranking them when they will be playing such very different schedule than ever before. That being said here is how I see the Western Conference:
1. Los Angeles Galaxy - 2011 Record 19-5-10 +20 GD
Listen you may not like it, I may not like it but the deep pockets of AEG and the skill of Bruce Arena, simply were too much for everyone else in MLS to deal with. They were simply the best team in MLS last year, and the funny part is that they might just be better this year. A full season with Robbie Keane, the return of Edson Buddle, the return of Juninho, oh and those guys Landon Donovan and David Beckham, yeah they are stacked again. Now there are a couple of question marks, the injury to Omar Gonzalez, the defending MLS defender of the year, a move to Josh Saunders as their number one keeper, and the loss of veterans like Gregg Berhalter, Donovan Ricketts and Jovan Kirovski will leave some holes in the locker room as well as on the pitch. LA however was the most active team during the Re-Entry draft where they took several players to boost their lineup. On paper this is the best team in MLS again this year, but we have seen that doesn't always translate to results on the pitch. The pressure of CONCACAF Champions League early in the season, a very short off-season (none for some players), and the demands and expectations to be "The Franchise" of the league by many. Yeah, they are still the favorites.
If I could take one player from the LA Galaxy - Mike Magee, he can play about anywhere on the pitch, he is one of the hardest working players in MLS, and he just knows where to be and when to be there on the pitch.
The rest of my power rankings after the jump:
So I had to actually flip a coin to decide who was going to be number two and number three, RSL won the flip and yet I am going with this:
2. Seattle Sounders - 2011 Record 18-7-9 +19 GD
Listen I have some real questions about the Sounders, first who is going to be the leader of this team without Kasey Keller on the pitch? Second the loss of Tyson Wahl and James Riley on defense leave some holes to fill, while I have little question of their ability to score goals, I think trading the 7 goals and 4 assists in just over 2,000 minutes of Lamar Neagle and Mike Fucito to Montreal for Eddie Johnson is a risk. It may pay off for the Sounders, or it could be a disaster, only time will tell on that one. As much as I think they will miss Erik Friberg, it looks like they have plenty of replacements for him with Christian Sivebaek, and others. This is a team that also has a lot of pressure, first up is Champions League (#BeatSantos), but when one of your owners simply says that success will be measured by wining MLS Cup, well that is a lot of pressure. I think the Sounders will be one of the top teams both in the Wests but in all of MLS again this year.
If I could take one player from the Sounders - Steve Zakuani, he may not be back to 100% yet but I think he has a unique skill set that combines speed and skill on the ball, he is fun to watch.
3. Real Salt Lake - 2011 Record 15-11-8 +8 GD
I am excited by what some of the young players that RSL added to their roster this off-season might be able to do, but with a number of nagging injuries to top players, the national team call ups that we know will happen all season, it is going to put a lot of pressure on a lot of players. That pressure will be applied early as RSL opens at the LA Galaxy and then hosts the New York Red Bulls on week 2 of the season, the new schedule did RSL no favors as they will play both of the two teams above them in my rankings 3 times this year, and will have to face both of them twice on the road this year.
I think RSL will be able to do what few other teams have been able to do, I think they will be able to use the new playoff format (both the conference semi and finals will be a home and away series) to make it to their fourth conference final in 5 years. As the year pushes on I expect our players to get healthier and our younger players to become more and more adapted to the league, which is why I think that LA will likely win the Western Conference, but I think it will be RSL who represents the West at MLS Cup on 12-1-12. The question is can RSL or any Western conference team do enough to be able to play host for that match?
4. FC Dallas - 2011 Record 15-12-7 +3 GD
So I thought that 2011 was a great year for FC Dallas considering the early season loss of David Ferreira, and I expected even bigger things from them when he returns to action at some point this year, but then came the off season when the team sent Jackson (4 goals & 2 assists) out on loan, traded away Marvin Chavez (6 goals & 4 assists) and just plain released Maicon Santos (8 goals & 2 assists -combined TFC and FCD). Yes they brought in Blas Perez and Scott Sealy, but clearly they gave up some of the guys who were game changers for them in 2011. The defense got a huge boost with just days before the regular season as George John came back to the team after a unsuccessful trial with West Ham United, the only question mark I have about their defense is how long can Kevin Hartman go? At 37 he has been a rock in goal, and played more MLS matches than anyone else in the league's history, but one has to believe that is harder and harder to do as he gets older. I think FCD will make a solid run in 2012, but I wouldn't be surprised if they get off to a bit of a slow start.
If I could take one player from FCD - Brek Shea, yeah he doesn't even come close to fitting the RSL mode, but you simply can't deny that he is one talented player who seems to always find himself in the center of the action.
5. San Jose Earthquakes - 2011 Record 8-12-14 -5 GD
I know that I might be the only person picking the Quakes this high, but I think the addition of Marvin Chavez, Shea Salinas, and getting Simon Dawkins back for another season make the loss of Bobby Convey seem a lot less painful. If Steven Lenhart is focused back on soccer after the tragedies of last year, well he and Chris Wondolowski could do a lot of damage to opposing defenses. I am a bit concerned by the losses on defense as Bobby Burling and Chris Leitch are both gone, and I am not sure who will fill their minutes, but I just have a feeling that with the news of their new stadium being approved, it could be a huge motivating factor. It worked well fairly well for RSL, in 2008.
If I could take one player from the Quakes - Simon Dawkins, while he is just on loan he is a very dynamic and exciting player who will create scoring changes for himself and others.
6. Portland Timbers - 2011 Record 11-14-9 -8 GD
It is clear that in Portland things are going to be run one way, and that is the way John Spencer wants. That is why their top scorer Kenny Cooper is gone, and Kris Boyd is in. There weren't a lot of changes made by the Timbers this off-season, as I expect they believe the additional year of experience will help the improve, and I think they are right. This is a team that has found a leader Jack Jewsbury, and now simply needs to mature around him and continue to come together as a team. I think we will see some improvement in Portland, but I do wonder if Jack Jewsbury can continue at the offensive pace he did last year.
If I could take one player from the Timbers - Darlington Nagbe, pure potential
7. Vancouver Whitecaps - 2011 Record 6-18-10 -20 GD
No team in the West allowed more goals to be scored against them than did the Whitecaps, and no team in the West scored as few goals as the Whitecaps. So this off-season they clearly dealt with one of those issues, as they added Sebastien Le Toux, Etienne Barbara, and then drafted Darren Mattocks. The other side of the ball I still have a whole lot of questions on, yes they have Jay DeMerit and Alain Rochat, but beyond that I am not sure who they think will provide Joe Cannon with any protection. So while the Whitecaps may score a lot more goals in 2012, I am not sure if they will be able to stop anyone from being able to score goals against them, yes it could be a long year for the Whitecaps.
If I could take one player from the Whitecaps - Jay DeMerit, cause if you saw Rise and Shine, well you know that his story is simply one that is incredible.
8. Colorado Rapids - 2011 Record 12-9-13 +3GD
This is a team in chaos and while the biggest loss in the off season was head coach Gary Smith, who to say he didn't leave on good terms would be an understatement. In steps Oscar Pareja who will have his hands full as trying to figure out what to do with a team who's leading scorer in 2011 was a defensive minded midfielder. Gone is the number two scorer Caleb Folan, the 4th leading scorer in Sanna Nyassi, and the guy who scored the winning goal in the 2010 MLS Cup Macoumba Kandji. Their cornerstone Pablo Mastroeni is getting older (35) and Tyrone Marshall is even older at 37, it is going to be interesting to see how the very budget minded Rapids try to rebuild this team. They do have some great building blocks in Marvell Wynne, Drew Moor, Jeff Larentowicz, and others but clearly this team will need to add some pieces of hope that Omar Cummings and Conor Casey can find the form they lost in a injury plagued 2011. I think the Rapids are really going to struggle this year, and I expect that their roster will change a lot between opening day and the end of the MLS season.
If I could take one player from the Rapids - Marvell Wynne, I have been a fan of his from before he entered MLS and I still think he has the potential to be one of the very best outside backs in MLS.
9. Chivas USA - 2011 Record 8-14-12 -2 GD
A lot of turnover in the second year of Robin Fraser's tenure and while on paper a lot of the moves look really good, picking up Ryan Smith, James Riley, Rauwshan McKenzie and Cesar Romero all should have added to the team, as did their draft picks Casey Townsend and R.J. Allen, but their preseason performance has left a lot more questions than answers. Listen I think this franchise has issues from top to bottom and it is clear that unless they can get on the same sheet of music on and off the pitch that this could be a very ugly year for the fans of Chivas USA.
If I could take one player from Chivas USA - Ryan Smith, listen I know that things in KC didn't work out for him but if he gets his head on right he has shown he has the talent to be a game changer in MLS. I take the risk.
Well there you go a look at the Western Conference, and how I see the teams stacking up right now.
OFF MY SOAPBOX