If you read my most recent post on fringe/on the cusp teams in MLS, you then saw brief mentions of what squads I think will come out on top of the Eastern and Western Conferences. Here’s your chance to read up a little more and delve deeper, with more meaningful analysis, on the teams that will make a splash and impress non-soccer people and soccer fiends alike.
Sporting Kansas City
This offseason has been productive for Sporting with owner Robb Heinemann wheeling and dealing (aka making trades and loans) to continue building cup-winning squads. The 2012 season was successful (18-7-9 and U.S. Open Cup champions), but with each passing interview any KC player gives, there’s a spark and fire in their belly to win the MLS Cup as well as any other competition in which they play…and to beat Houston in the playoffs. Two big losses from the starting lineup for SKC are Kei Kamara (on loan to Norwich City until May) and Roger Espinoza (acquired by Wigan Athletic), yet they come into the season with key pickups like former New England Revolution midfielder Benny Feilhaber and the latest MLS Designated Player Claudio Bieler. With a strong starting eleven (just the back four consists of Chance Myers, Seth Sinovic, Aurelien Collin, and 2012 Defender of the Year Matt Besler) and a talented bench, Sporting Kansas City’s 2013 team has a few pieces of silverware to get, and you better believe they’re going for it. For more of an analysis of SKC’s season, read this.
The achilles heel to Sporting Kansas City’s post-season run the past two years, Houston Dynamo, look to have another promising season written in the books. Last year’s fourth-place finish will be improved upon (I know this for a fact even without knowing the future) as they rounded out their 2012 season with a 14-9-11 record. They lost Andre Hainault this off-season but they acquired Omar Cummings from Colorado, as well as keeping a strong midfield line including Ricardo Clark and Brad Davis along with ever-improving goalkeeper, Tally Hall. For more information on the new season, check here.
New York Red Bulls
The 2013 season could be incredible for the Red Bulls, or turn out really badly. From last year’s 16-9-9 recorded season, the Red Bulls lost Kenny Cooper (second in goals only to Chris Wondolowski), Joel Lindpere, and, thankfully for everyone…meaning everyone in MLS, Rafa Marquez. New York, however, added Fabian Espindola and Jamison Olave from RSL as well as changing coaching staff to extend the head coaching position to Mike Petke. Make sure to continue looking out for midfielder, and proud ginger, Dax McCarty, ze Frenchman Thierry Henry, and Aussie captain Tim Cahill. Here’s a preview of the new season for the Red Bulls.
Seattle Sounders FC
Last year’s season ended up with the Sounders placing 3rd in the West and a 15-8-11 record. The Sounders seem to be a very on/off team but with most of the squad returning (like keeper Gspurning, midfielders Steve Zakuani and Brad Evans, and forward Eddie Johnson), it could be a promising sign. One area that Seattle could struggle with, again, is the sheer number of matches they will play in the US Open Cup, CONCACAF Champions League, and MLS season. The amount of games could deter Seattle from going far, but if last year’s season is any indication, they will do pretty well with the lot they’ve been given. See here for a lengthier preview on Seattle.
San Jose Earthquakes
Can San Jose improve upon their great 2012 (19-6-9) season? I believe so. I also think that Chris Wondolowski will score more goals than last year and that the Earthquakes won’t be able to rely solely on Wondo’s goal-scoring. Simon Dawkins is gone and San Jose will miss his presence, but with additions including Victor Bernardez, and returners Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart (both out with injury) as well as goal scoring wiz Wondolowski, this 2013 team could be lethal, albeit a little shaky in the beginning of the season, as the first matches are notched under their belt. Make sure to check out SBI’s preview of the San Jose season.
Real Salt Lake
It’s always a fluctuating season for RSL, and last years season was no different. Salt Lake had a strong squad, but with multiple competitions in 2012, this likely led to their downfall as they succumbed to a record of 17-6-11. Even with losses such as Fabian Espindola and Jamison Olave (now both at RBNY), U.S. International Kyle Beckerman (with his long, industrious dreads) will most likely captain the team as RSL come on the field ready to meld their offense with the likes of Robbie Findley and an eyebrow-raising and impressive US U-20 international Luis Gil. Here are some more thoughts from the RSL Soapbox on their upcoming season.
The Hollywood team of MLS lost a few key players from last year’s MLS Cup winning team including forward Edson Buddle, keeper Josh Saunders, and the now-PSG-playing-hotshot David Beckham, but they seemingly have their eyes on a third straight title for 2013. One of the only additions to the squad is former Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini as most of the team is coming back – including Omar Gonzalez, Todd Dunivant, Mike Magee, newly-appointed captain Robbie Keane. Also, keep a look out for the most popular (probably) U.S. Men’s National team player, Landon Donovan, coming back on the pitch – hopefully refreshed – after a self-imposed soccer hiatus. Like last year’s season, I expect a shaky beginning, especially with Donovan not being there for the first month or so, but the Galaxy will then come back raring to go for a good second part of the season. For a more in depth preview, see the LAG Confidential.