MLS / Soccer

Fringe Benefits

Nineteen clubs make up Major League Soccer with two conferences splitting up the clubs. By the end of the regular season, the standings level out, and up from the ashes come the top five of both conferences, ready to battle their way through home/away playoff games to reach the pinnacle of MLS – the MLS Cup Final match.

Over the past few years, a handful of teams from the Eastern and Western Conferences have consistently come out of the regular season with great standings. Those expected performers include Sporting Kansas City, Houston Dynamo, and the New York Red Bulls from the Eastern conference, along with the Western Conference’s Seattle Sounders, San Jose Earthquakes, Real Salt Lake, and eventual 2011 and 2012 MLS Cup Champions, LA Galaxy.

But what about the teams who always come so close but get no cigar? The fringe teams that seem to have an end-of-the-season breakthrough but come up short?

As mentioned (or at least alluded), with the teams that have been strong in the previous two or three years, they’ll most likely continue paving the way for MLS to continue to grow – whether that’s great, rounded squads, or collecting trophies year after year, or even, as seen this year by FC Dallas (Brek Shea) and SKC (Kei Kamara and Roger Espinoza) – by sending players on loan (or if other teams acquire the players) to other storied programs in Europe, usually in the English Premier League.

If you’re a betting person, or are a part of the MLS Fantasy League, it’d be a smart move to keep your eye on players like (to name a few) Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Benny Feilhaber, and Chance Myers (SKC); newly-announced Designated Player Chris Wondolowski (SJ); Robbie Keane and Omar Gonzalez (LA); Tally Hall and Brad Davis (Dynamo), and Conner Lade and Dax McCarty (RBNY).

Some teams to keep an eye out for this year for surprises, or at the very least to shake things up in the conferences (even if they might be gutsy picks for me):

Eastern…

Chicago Fire

After last year’s finish, after being edged out by SKC, DCU, and RBNY, the Fire will look to right the wrong that burned (pun intended) them last season; the wrong of consistency. With a 2012 record of 17-11-6 and a bumpy early part of last season, the Fire should improve in 2013 with a host of new, and returning, players. Some of the new faces to Chicago include Joel Lindpere, Jeff Larentowicz, and last year’s rookie of the year who will surely make a difference, Austin Berry. For a more in-depth preview of the Fire’s season, check out the MLSSoccer.com’s analysis.

Montreal Impact

The inaugural 2012 season was…sufficient, for a team stepping into the then 17-year old league, and they held their own as newbie’s by finishing 7th out of the 10 teams in the Eastern Conference. As the French-Canadian Montreal-based team (they tweet in French and English – and the website is in both languages) embarks upon their sophomore season, they will certainly look to their strengths like their midfield presence – especially in Davy Arnaud – and their backline, including Italian Alessandro Nesta. The Impact could definitely be a dark horse that not many people pay attention to, and that could be dangerous for those who aren’t paying attention to them.

For a lengthier preview, check out this one.

Western…

Vancouver Whitecaps

After finishing a deplorable first season in 2011 by placing not only last (9th out of 9 teams) in the Western Conference, they won six games – all at home – and lost 70% of their away games, Vancouver had a pretty decent season in 2012 by finishing fifth in the Western Conference. Although the Whitecaps did not get past the first round of playoffs last year, you can bet that even losing in the playoffs whet their playoff appetite enough to desire coming back and actually winning a game. Some key players for the Whitecaps for the 2013 season to note: the always-affable Jay DeMerit, Darren Mattocks, and newly-purchased Brit, Nigel Reo-Coker. For the Vancouver Whitecaps in-depth preview, see here.

Colorado Rapids

If nothing else works out in the Rapids’ favor this year, one good takeaway from this season will be their incredible jerseys – whether it’s their Primary or Secondary. Regardless of impeccable fashion, the Rapids struggled through a rather abysmal year for 2012 (they ended up with a 11-19-4 record), but after tasting triumph in their MLS Cup-winning 2010 year, Colorado will most likely turn the 2013 season around to winning ways. Look out for their newest addition, Edson Buddle, to spearhead the attack and try to invigorate the youthful team. For more perspective on the upcoming season, see this preview.

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