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.
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
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
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