2012 Season Preview and FC Picks

It's that time of the year again.  With the 2012 MLS season set to begin by showcasing an all-Canada showdown between Montreal and Vancouver and a Columbus at Colorado match up at 5:00 cdt we're set to take another stab at prognostication in the not so predictable world of MLS.  Last season our panel didn't fare too badly but only one of us managed to pick the eventual MLS Cup Champion correctly.  Hottimeinoldtown.com's Tweed Thornton correctly picked the Los Angeles Galaxy to claim the crown while I went with Real Salt Lake.  MLSsoccer.com's Sam Stejskal chose the New York Red Bulls.  I'll be sure to remind him of that choice...frequently.

All three of us narrowly missed our prediction that the Fire would qualify for the playoffs by claiming the 10th and final post season spot and a mad dash to the finish line almost earned the club a place in the tournament.  This season the club should be in a much better position to qualify come October 2012.  Where will the Fire place in 2012?

This season Tweed Thornton, Jeff Krause (Total-mls.com and Fire Confidential), and yours truly take a stab at the order of finish in the Eastern and Western Conferences.  This season, the top five teams in each conference will qualify for post season play.

West

GR                                       TT                                  JK

1. Los Angeles          1.Los Angeles          1.Los Angeles

2.Real Salt Lake       2.Real Salt Lake      2.Real Salt Lake

3.Seattle                     3.Seattle                     3.Seattle

4.FC Dallas                4.FC Dallas                 4.Portland

5.Portland                5.Portland                  5.FC Dallas

6.San Jose                6.Vancouver             6.San Jose

7.Vancouver          7.Colorado                 7.Colorado

8.Colorado              8.San Jose                   8.Vancouver

9.Chivas USA         9.Chivas USA             9.Chivas USA

East

1.Sporting KC         1.Chicago                   1.Sporting KC

2.Houston               2.Sporting KC           2.Houston

3.Chicago                3.New York               3.Chicago

4.New York            4.Houston                  4.DC United

5.Columbus           5.DC United                5.New York

6.Philadelphia     6.Toronto FC              6.Philadelphia

7.DC United          7.Columbus                7.Columbus

8.Toronto FC       8.Philadelphia            8.Toronto FC

9.Montreal           9.Montreal                   9.New England

10.New England 10.New England       10. Montreal

MLS Cup

LA over SKC         CHI over RSL            RSL over SKC

 

It's apparent to most that the Eastern Conference is wide open and any of the top 7 or 8 teams are capable of getting into the post season.  Sporting KC is the popular choice to earn the top spot but they'll be without Omar Bravo, who returned to Mexico and they're still one injury away from disaster on defense.  Although they appear to be the leader at the moment they are by no means a lock to take the East.

Houston is always in the picture but much of their success hinges on the left foot of Brad Davis, who missed the MLS Cup final with a quad tear.  How much does Brian Ching really have left in the tank?  They are solidly coached by Dominic Kinnear and will be dangerous again this year.

New York is star-laden but not very deep.  Issues in goal and behind the bench will also come to haunt them again this season.

I felt the Fire were a better team than Columbus at the end of 2011 and the Crew's finish and unceremonious exit from the playoffs proved that.  This year they're banking on attacking midfielder Milovan Mirosevic to fill the role that has been missing since the dismissal of Guillermo Barros Schelotto.

Philadelphia inexplicably dealt away Sebastien LeToux and replaced him with Lionard Pajoy.  The loss of Faryd Mondragon will also weigh heavily on any hopes of building on the improvement that last season's squad made.

DC United added Hamdi Salihi to team with Dwayne Derosario in their attack but they cleaned house by ditching eleven players from last year's roster.  Massive overhauls take time before results are seen.

Toronto FC may be better this year but not by much.  Julian DeGuzman and Torsten Frings are questionable DP choices, however Danny Koeverman's nose for goal will keep them in most matches.

Montreal has a largely veteran side but they're an expansion team.  New England and the Jay Heaps experiment is a disaster waiting to happen.

It's obvious to most that the missing piece for the Fire is likely another legitimate scoring threat up top.  That being said, it's possible that Dominic Oduro's 12 goal season wasn't a fluke.  He's flourishing in a system that plays to his strengths and he's shown in pre-season that he shouldn't be dismissed in 2012.  The midfield is solid but much is hinged upon the fitness of Sebastian Grazzini.  If he is healthy the Fire are a very difficult team to defend.

Tweed may be sipping on the old kool-aid but he did pick last season's winner correctly.

This Week's Picks

Vancouver 2 Montreal 1

Colorado 1 Columbus 0

DC United 1  Sporting KC 1

San Jose 1 New England 0

Los Angeles 1 RSL 1

FC Dallas 1 New York 1

Chivas 0 Houston 1

Portland 2 Philadelphia 0

 

Comments

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  • Thank you, Guillermo for your 2012 Preview.
    I really appreciate the time research and effort
    you devote towards keeping us Chicago-Fire
    Fans informed and entertained with your reporting
    and I want to thank Jeff as well. Go Fire I hope all the way towards the MLS 2012 Championship.

  • Well said, Jurgen!
    Cheers to MLS 2012! Seems like each of the past few years have been the "best" (perhaps not from a Fire perspective) years for the league. Here's to another step in the right direction.

  • Speaking of right direction for the league, I think the MLS teams' performances in the CONCACAF Champions League reflects the improvement of the league. I am interested in the Fire getting into the Champions League. I think MLS needs to try and make the Champions League something that is profitable and not a money losing competition. If that happens, I think the MLS teams will be more interested and so will fans.

  • Anyone wishing to join the Fire Confidential MLS fantasy manager league can enter code 8891-1535 to join.

  • My picks for the Eastern Conference: 1. Sporting Kansas City 2. Chicago 3. Houston 4. New York 5. Philadelphia 6. DC United 7. Columbus 8. Toronto FC 9. New England 10. Montreal. Western Conference: 1. Los Angeles 2. Seattle 3. Real Salt Lake 4. FC Dallas 5. Portland 6. Vancouver 7. Colorado 8. San Jose 9. Chivas USA. 2012 MLS Cup pick: Los Angeles over Sporting Kansas City. Coach of the Year: Frank Klopas Chicago. MLS MVP: Landon Donovan, Los Angeles. MLS Golden Boot: Thierry Henry, New York. MLS Rookie of the Year: Kelyn Rowe New England Runner Up: Luis Silva, Toronto FC. MLS Defender of the Year: George John, FC Dallas.

  • Montreal, Columbus, DC, and New England all lose today. Great start to the 2012 Chicago Fire campaign. :)

  • Six days out and we don't know what channel Saturday's game is on...

    A flip ahead in the my program guide has the Michael Keaton 2001 thriller, "Quicksand" on My50 during the game while CSN is showing Vanderbilt/Florida college baseball.

    I've heard rumors the Fire won't be on CSN this year but I can't imagine where else the games would be. A quick search of my program guide doesn't come back with any results.

    #nervous

  • In reply to seaside:

    It's ridiculous that they've waited this long to release a schedule but there will indeed be one. Not coming back to CSN, unless it's to a carrier with more potential viewers will be a mistake.

    The delay really comes off as minor league, and that's a perception they can't afford.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    The PR front remains the Fire's screaming inadequacy. They've taken major steps to sort out the on-the-field issues of the last couple years. Why they've meanwhile done absolutely nothing to resovle the PR failings is inexplicable. I keep thinking there will surely be a major announcement in that area any day now. But nothing happens.

  • In reply to Arklow:

    Marketing has been and continues to be inadequate and it seems that they've scaled back in the last two seasons. Not televising matches on a popular carrier will be a step backward.

  • In reply to Arklow:

    The Fire have their issues but the PR team isn't the one signing a local television deal. TV deals are done at a high level with your chief business officers. PR only conveys the message once its been inked.

    Its two years in a row that they've waited until the week of their first game to do it (if they announce it this week). That's problematic but given the fact that they get the word out on everything else rather quickly, I think the delay goes above "the PR front"...a lot of the leadership with the Fire isn't necessarily from a soccer or even sports background.

  • In reply to seaside:

    I think that's understood.....people commenting here about "PR" are taking issue with club leadership rather than the employees churning out day to day public communication.

  • In reply to seaside:

    I always get Direct Kick as my backup. Especially for the away matches. It's interesting to hear the commentary from the other team's broadcasters.

  • In reply to seaside:

    Fire has posted some TV coverage info to their site. Saturday's match is to be on TSN RDS. I had to Google it and still am not sure what it is. Looks to me as though the PR department has decided to off themselves. I'll give them a thumbs up on that, though a simple resignation, mea culpa, etc. should have been adequate.

  • In reply to Arklow:

    My mistake. I misread the FirstKick TV coverage info on the Fire site.... The mea culpa is mine.

  • In reply to Arklow:

    Whatever you do......don't off yourself. ;)

    I still got a chuckle out of the first comment.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    Don't worry. I've got it all worked out. I'll be saved by my own incompetence as I misread the directions. :)

  • The Fire have waived Pari Pantazopoulos.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    it was a good story while it lasted. hopefully he's able to sign on somewhere to play soccer professionally.

  • From what I understand (although I haven't researched this myself up to this point) the network the team is going with for broadcasting games locally reaches 1 million less viewers in the Chicagoland area. Definitely a move in the wrong direction, only compounded by their delay in announcing said TV deal, likely because they know there's going to be blowback.

    I think SO many things go higher than any one department within the Fire FO. Andrew has the most shallow pockets of any owner in the league. He and the rest of his staff want maximum product out of the FO with minimal investment. It sucks, it makes the team look bad, and it will never change so long as Andrew owns the team as a hobby rather than someone who loves footy, loves the Fire, and desires to make them a greater presence in Chicago.

  • In reply to Jeff Krause:

    This sounds like the Fire will be on CN100. If you've never heard of that channel, that's the problem. CN100 airs Chicago Wolves games, High School football and community programming. Think of it as the next step up from public access.

    So much for my prediction just before the SuperDraft that Pari and Banner would make the Opening Day roster.

  • In reply to iron81:

    Iron81, you're wrong, CN100 is a step below public access. If this is true then the Fire higher ups are a set of stupid morons and clowns. The bulk of Fire support and fans probably come from the suburbs than Chicago itself, this is cutting their viewing audience by more than half. No wonder they been taking so long to announce it, after many fans have already signed up for the season. I always thought to F.O. was an amateur operation anyway. If this is true, the fans should flood the front office with complaints and messages.
    If the Fire are concerned about lack of coverage, in part they have to look themselves in a mirror. If they want to increase
    their public image and become more recognized bring back Wilt.

  • In reply to Jeff Krause:

    the fire should take a look at the history of the sox and cubs to see what they should do with their tv deals (cable tv vs. wgn)...would be a bummer to see them make the same type of mistake that the sox did. if you get your product out there and seen and heard, you at least have a fighting chance to become a regular part of the sports landscape in chicago. it's pretty saturated, so if they do bury the game in some crap channel with a crap picture that most people don't even have access to, then all the positive moves they've made with (finally) getting a sponsor and (finally) putting together what appears to be a fairly competitive team will be virtually nullified. will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  • In reply to Jeff Krause:

    For the Fire to sue their youth club for being late paying their branding fees of $50 per kid doesn't do much for local PR either. How many of those thousands of kids will still want to go to games. Some games seem to be half filled with youth teams. Doesn't seem worth $35K for the bad press.

  • In reply to Bumsteer:

    My understanding is that it's not all the Junior teams - just the one based out of Naperville. All the other clubs are living up to their part of the deal. Why should the Fire let them getting away without paying, but the other clubs have to?

    As for the bad press ... the brand is the most important thing you have as a sports franchise. The Fire have given the one club ample time to comply with the agreement - but they've ignored the warnings. The Fire have to protect their brand - bad press and all.

  • In reply to Jeff Krause:

    That second part I agree with and have been saying it all off season. I remember when he bought the team and said he really wanted to own a soccer team after going to see chelsea a couple of times. He does not have dedication to this club. He does not know how much we want to see this team do well on all fronts. I have never liked him as an owner and probably never will.

  • What I don't understand is why the league let's the Fire get away with this. Because of the single entity structure of MLS (think coop versus condo), the league has a lot of say as to how teams conduct themselves. Having all games televised and ready to go wasa priority of the league, but the Fire management seems to ignore these edicts and somehow gets away with it. I swear Guppy is looking better every day.

  • Did Hauptman hire the Wirtz family as consultants on team marketing and media coverage?

  • In reply to DerSting:

    you talking dollar bill or his son? i'm assuming the former, b/c his son and his team are knocking it out of the park regularly now.

  • In reply to Drew:

    DerSting was referring to Dollar Bill and the father of Dollar Bill. From what I heard, Rocky's grandfather blackout parts of the 1st period until the stadium was completely filled. Yes, it is very 1960ish in terms of broadcasting; out of touch.

  • I just threw up a little bit in my mouth when I read about the possibility of CN100. That seems just... unbelievable. Luckily there are quite a few nationally televised games, but to not even have them on my50 would be abhorrent.

  • In reply to RedLine55:

    There will be two outlets from what I've gathered and My50 will continue to be one of them.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    i guess those of us that live outside of the chicago area get screwed :(

  • Wasn't there a story a year or so ago that Hauptman wanted to move the team to Miami but couldn't break the Toyota Park lease w/o getting extremely poor attendance? I Googled & found it. Here's the link:

    http://beerandsoccer.com/2011/02/03/708/

    Perhaps he's just still trying to work that attendance angle. But I'm confused in the same way as Krasov. How could the league let him pull this stunt in their 3rd largest market where we clearly have available support for a franchise. The only scenario that makes sense to me is they feel that Toyota Park hasn't worked out and the league has to break from it somehow. Then maybe they could accept the move and open the 20th franchise back here in Chicago. That would assume the Toyota Park commitment is limited to the franchise, not the league.

  • In reply to Arklow:

    I specifically asked Hauptman about this last year and he shot down any talk of it as nonsense. I haven't heard anything to validate that as anything more than rumor.

  • I was watching Dallas Ny game yesterday on NBC but I wasn't all that impressed with the broadcast. Flet like very similar to FSC and ESPN. I thought that were going to be some new angles or maybe some annimation of play but i don't know. Plus the Uverse seem to be having a problem with resolution and i had some skipping, maybe just my issue not sure. other programming works well...

  • Perhaps that "beerandsoccer" site was just in jest.... Seems suspiciously in line with the facts though.

  • In reply to Arklow:

    Surely you recognize this as the plot to the 1989 baseball film Major League...Clearly an article written in jest referencing the poor choices made during the last few seasons.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_League_(film)

  • Yes, Tomaz. Thank you. Great movie.

    And I kind of like the my50 games. At least everyone in Chicago gets it even if they don't have cable.
    And I saw the NBC Sports game yesterday and I enjoyed the broadcast. I really like Arlo White (I actually prefer him, by a wide margin, over Ian Darke) and Kyle Martino even had some good things to contribute! Thought the picture was crisp and was produced pretty well for the very first game.

    Excited for ESPN2 in Portland tonight, too!

    And I know it's only the first weekend, but my god - the Eastern teams looked very poor. If the Fire can't get in to the playoffs against these teams, then... I.... I don't know what, but I will be a sad sad boy. I know there will be tons of support up in Montreal for the Impact, and rightfully so, but Oduro could have a LOT of fun with that back line.

  • For those that were asking.....Grazzini's deal does expire in June but the Fire apparently have an option to buy.

  • I've tried MLSLive on a trial basis and impressed with the quality of the picture , especially for a computer, far better than ESPN3 and other video sites I've used to view soccer. Since I'll be on vacation and away from the Chicago area several times during MLS soccer season, I might sign up.

  • In reply to lonecoyote:

    MLSlive is worth the 50 bucks I shelled out. ESPN3 is awesome considering the selection of european matches it has and the fact that its, well, free essentially, but its pretty bad for MLS. I don't have any kind of cable/dish/TV. I make due with Netflix for non-sports TV and a combo of ESPN3, MLSlive, the sports bar and my friends house for anything else I want to watch. Granted I do love watching MLS games that don't involve the Fire as well, so it makes it an easier decision than if you only want it for the Fire games. It's amusing listening to the bias in local broadcasting. The San Jose was extra bad.

  • In reply to TomazPP:

    MLSLive is fantastic if you want to watch games across the league. This year's version is well worth the price....and yes the San Jose crew is unlistenable.

  • In reply to TomazPP:

    ESPN3 offers a lot of programing but the video picture quality doesn't quite match MLS Live. Other sites I use mainly to watch soccer is Veetle tv (my main stream for watching Barca) with varying picture quality, other sites are Justin tv and ILEMI.eu.
    Generally, the picture quality of the last two varies from adequate to barely watchable. ILEMI.eu offers a variety of sports programing if you don't mind a mediocre picture.

  • looking at the three sets of predictions, i guess my predictions would be closest to the TT set, tho i am guessing seattle wins it, and vancouver will be the surprise team in the west

    i dont think chicago will be quite there to win the east, but 3rd place is definately achievable. toronto will be the big improver, and phily and the revs will sux at the bottom with the nooby-impact

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