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2010 MLS Season Preview (Western Conference edition)

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Well 2009 was a good year for the Western Conference of MLS, 5 of the 8 playoff teams came from the West, both of the teams in MLS cup came from the West, and only one team finished more than a point out of the playoff race.

Here is how the final standings looked:

Wc_standings_2009_medium

Unlike the East, the West has seen far fewer changes both as far as coaches and players.  In fact only one team in the West has replaced there head coach, it appears making the playoffs wasn't enough for the owners of Chivas USA, they let Preki go after two solid seasons and replaced him with Martin Vasquez.  

So what other changes will impact the west?  Check out the team by team breakdown after the jump:

So let's start at the bottom of the 2009 list and work our way to the top:

San Jose

They will be without both Salinas (gone to Philly) and Huck erby (retired), but Frank Yallop is building his team and last year he was rewarded with a great performance from RSL cast off Ryan Johnson.  They have added Eduardo to help boost their offense (only one team in the conference scored fewer goals) and you know that any player from Brazil with just one name has got to be good.  

For me the problem with San Jose is defense, they gave up more goals than any team in MLS last year with 50 goals allowed and ended with a -14 goal differential.   Having a good crop of young defenders is one thing, but without a solid veteran to lead them, mistakes will continue to be made and I don't think Leitch is the guy to get it done.  Imagine how many goals they would have allowed if not for the solo efforts of Joe Cannon, but at 35 years of age one has to wonder if he will be showing signs of age and wear and tear?  

San Jose will likely finish at the bottom of the West once again, the good news is that I don't think they will be the worst team in MLS this year.

FC Dallas

FC Dallas is going to be impacted by a couple big changes, gone is their top assist man of 2009 Dave van den Bergh and the solid defensive midfielder Pablo Ricchetti.  That means a lot of pressure for Ferreira to pick up the pace and build on a solid 2009, where here put in 8 goals with 7 assists.  It also means that Ginger McCarty will need to pick up his game and help solidify the midfield.

Dallas has a very young team with 12 players under 25 years of age, but they also have two old keepers in Dario Sala and Kevin Hartman both will hit 36 before the end of the season.  Last year it was the Jeff Cunningham show and if Jeff keeps playing like a golden boot winner FC Dallas could once again be challenging for a playoff spot on the last day of the regular season.

Colorado Rapids

One almost has to feel sorry for them, they are in the playoffs one moment and after facing RSL in their season ending match each of the last two years they are out of the playoffs.  A good number of the pundits and talking heads that cover MLS really like what Gary Smith is building in Colorado, enough so that many are picking them to content for the top spot in the West.  But hold on there, a ton of defensive changes have taken place, out are Gibbs(1575), Havey(2613), and Peterson (1131) with their minutes noted, and replacing that number of minutes will be tough.  The midfield should be able to do a lot more in 2010, additions of Larentowicz and Wells Thompson to boost the core of Mastroeni, Ballouchy, and LaBrocca, will give Smith a lot of options.

While nobody may like Conor Casey, Colorado did enough to sign him to an new 3 year deal and if he can actually learn to play with his teammates like Omar Cummings the Rapids could become a real offensive team that can put up a large number of goals.  However, I think it is more likely that Casey will rest on his 2009 and develop a bit of an attitude if he isn't in South Africa and that could spell disaster for the Rapids.

It is very likely that once again the final match of the year could determine the playoff hopes of Colorado, with a 3pm start time on Oct. 24th, they could have all night to wait to see if they make it or not.  I have a feeling they might just find themselves on the inside this year.

Real Salt Lake

yeah right, like I can sum up RSL in a couple paragraphs, nope that preview will be coming on Thursday before I head out to San Jose

Chivas USA

You have to wonder why a team would let go a coach who has made the playoffs every year, but that is exactly what Chivas has done, then with days before the start of the season they release their 2009 captain. Oh yeah and they lost Shavar Thomas, and Jesse Marsch as well.  For Chivas the question is simple can Sacha and Maykel Galindo find their 2008 form, if so they could be a decent offensive team.

The problem is they are likely going to give up more goals than the 31 one they gave up last year, in fact I wouldn't be surprised that they give up at least 40 this year.  In fact I have a feeling Chivas will find themselves on the outside looking in at the playoffs.

Seattle

When you take a solid USL team and convert that into a very solid MLS expansion team, and if in the off season you only lose one major player (Sebastien Le Toux) well you can expect to have a very solid year and that is exactly what I expect from the Sounders.  If they have made the right move in getting Bliase Nkufo, who will join them after the World Cup, that nasty home scoring drought they had last year should be history.

Keller is simply rock solid on defense, and no team in MLS gave up fewer goals than their 29 allowed, they played solid on the road with a 5-5-5 record and should improve on their 7-2-6 home record.  Montero, Zakuani, and Ljungberg took the league by storm in 2009, and this year Sigi will look to simply have his team do more of the same.  In fact I expect them to do better, in fact they could easily find themselves at the top of the Western Conference when the season ends.

Houston

Well the power house that is Houston, will have some huge issues this year, gone are Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark who left to play in Europe, it is also rumored that they have released veteran Wade Barrett as well.  This will leave them with a number of holes to fill and I simply don't think they have the roster to do it. Brian Ching has faded over the last couple years and it will be interesting to see where the goals come from in 2010.  If they can find a way to get Luis Angel Landin to get fit, he could be a way that Houston could surprise some people but watching him wobble around last year was painful.

Every dynasty will eventually fall and often it is due to their own actions, and I point directly to the fact that Houston didn't just give Holden a raise last year, they tried to renegotiate with their most valuable player that they would pay him this year.  Here is a hint if your best player is making under $35,000 a year you sure as hell need to pay him more now if you want him to stick around.  I simply think Houston is done, they will look good as they have 5 of their first 7 matches at home, but by the end of the season Houston will be out of the playoffs for the first time since leaving San Jose.

LA Galaxy

Well you have to give some level of respect to Landon Donovan for coming back to LA, but I have a feeling his heart is still in Liverpool.  I never have believed that David Beckham's heart fully committed to LA or MLS, and when the chance to get back into the English team he found a way to loan himself to AC Milan both last season and this year, well until he ruptured his Achilles tendon.  Then you have to wonder if after winning his first MLS Cup, if Clint Mathis request the trade to LA more to be near his wifes family, than actually wanting to play there.  Of course you have to wonder if even the loanies from Brazil came because they wanted the attention that comes from playing with Becks and Landycakes.

All of that being said, the core of the team that made it to MLS Cup is still there but for many they are a year older, remember that 1/3 of their roster is over 30.  The upside is that they have some young talent, A.J. DeLa Garza and Omar Gonzalez both impressed last year and will need to really step up their game this year.  It will be interesting to see how Edson Buddle plays this year, last year he only scored 5 goals vs. his 15 goals in 2008, that really could be the key to the success of LA this year.  Landon will be gone for several months this summer with the USMNT, and I have a feeling that he won't be coming back after the World Cup.

All of that being said it is hard to dismiss a team that clearly made huge improvements in 2009, I have a feeling that LA will make a solid push into the playoffs for the second straight year.

Projected order of finish:

 

  1. Seattle
  2. Real Salt Lake
  3. LA Galaxy
  4. Colorado
  5. Houston
  6. FC Dallas
  7. Chivas USA
  8. San Jose