MLS 2014 season preview

MLS 2014 season preview

The margins are once again razor thin and just about every team has a chance to compete for a place in postseason. Such is the world of parity in American professional sports, not just MLS. Of course this league is much tighter from top to bottom because of smaller and tighter budget restrictions but there are still a handful of clubs in each conference who are clearly a step above the rest.

The Western Conference has been hailed as the superior division and that may be the case during the regular season but Sporting Kansas City is the defending MLS Cup champion. The West is tougher at the top again but the East may be even more competitive. After the top three clubs (and it's even debatable that it's only the top two) it's conceivable that any of the Eastern Conference teams is capable of finishing as high as third or fourth and as low as ninth or tenth.

Early results will be important, particularly for clubs which have kept a semblance of continuity from last year to this season. There aren't any easy games in MLS and predicting the order of finish is difficult as a result. We're going to take our annual crack at it anyway.

This season we're joined by ESPN1000's Fire Weekly host Fred Huebner and Fire television color commentator Kevin Egan in running down the contenders and taking guesses at how things will play out in MLS for 2014. Here's a look at each club in predicted order of finish followed by more stabs at foretelling the future.

Western Conference

1. Portland Timbers - they looked to shore up defensively by adding centerback Norberto Paparatto and have improved the attack with Argentine Gaston Fernandez. They may even be better later in the season when they get Steve Zakuani and Rodney Wallace back from injury. Well coached and entertaining to watch, particularly at home, the Timbers are poised for another big year in Portland. If Diego Valeri can stay fit and Fernandez proves to be another playmaker they can rack up some hardware.

Projected line up - Ricketts; Jewsbury, Paparatto, Kah, Harrington; Chara, Valeri, Johnson; Fernandez, Urruti, Nagbe

2. Los Angeles Galaxy - Not having Landon Donovan for a period this summer due to the World Cup may slow them down for a bit but there's still too much talent here to dismiss them as a serious threat particularly in post season. They've tried to find a strike partner for Robbie Keane in Rob Friend and Samuel but they also have talented youngster Gyasi Zardes ready to step in. Wide play has been one weakness for them over the last few seasons.

Projected line up - Penedo; DeLaGarza, Gonzalez, Leonardo, Dunivant; Ishizaki, Juninho, Sarvas, Donovan; Keane, Friend

3. Seattle Sounders FC - Sigi Schmid will be on the hot seat if this club doesn't have a big regular season followed by some post season success. They'll need Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins to produce on the pitch equivalent to what they're making off of it. Both were underwhelming in MLS play last season. They've got more weapons in Marco Pappa and Kenny Cooper but we'll see if their new mix is an improvement after last year's apparent chemistry issues (cough*Eddie Johnson*cough).

Project line up - Frei; Yedlin, Anibaba, Marshall, Gonzalez; Evans, Alonso, Dempsey, Pappa; Martins, Cooper

4. Real Salt Lake - They continued to chug along and pick up results even though many thought 2013 would be a rebuilding year. They'll be questioned again this year after the departure of Jason Kreis. New coach Jeff  Cassar will have much of the same roster to work with. RSL probably won't be as impressive as they were last year with the other teams in the West adding pieces while they stood pat but they'll still be pretty good.

Projected line up - Rimando; Beltran, Borchers, Salcedo, Wingert; Grabavoy, Beckerman, Morales, Gil; Plata, Saborio

5. Vancouver Whitecaps - Losing Camilo was a blow but they've replaced him with two DP's in Matias Laba and Chilean attacking midfielder Pedro Morales. The latter most recently played for Malaga in Spain's La Liga and will make an impact if he can stay healthy. They'll have to tighten up in back in order to stay with the rest of the contenders in the West. They'll also need to find a way to get young midfielder Kekuta Manneh more playing time.

Project line up - Ousted; Beitashour, DeMerit, O'Brien, Harvey; Laba, Reo Coker; Fernandez, Morales, Teibert; Mattocks

6. FC Dallas - Colorado's losses are Dallas' gains with coach Oscar Pareja and more importantly midfielder Hendry Thomas coming over to Texas. They've also added a DP in David Texeira and a speedy winger in Andres Escobar. FC Dallas finished second to last in the West in goals allowed in 2o13 and they'll have to improve significantly to jump into the top five.

Projected line up - Fernandez; Loyd, John, Hedges, Benitez; Escobar, Thomas, Castillo; Diaz, Texeira, Perez

7. San Jose Earthquakes - As long as Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon are playing crash test dummy games with MLS defenders they'll be as annoying as ever. They were mediocre on both sides of the pitch last season and there wasn't much in terms of substantial change added to the side. Center mid Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi was the biggest offseason acquisition. Chris Wondolowski will need to return to 2012 form just to get them close to playoff contention.

Projected line up - Busch; Barklage, Goodson, Bernardez, Stewart; Harris, Cronin, Pierazzi, Salinas; Lenhart, Wondolowski

8. Colorado Rapids - After overachieving last year and managing to land in the playoffs this year may be a rougher go in Colorado. The aforementioned Pareja did an excellent job in molding a relatively young team into a contender and former Rapid Pablo Mastroeni has been tasked with trying to reproduce that success as an "interim coach". Looking at their roster it's going to be tough to do that.

Project line up - Irwin; Sturgis, Wynne, Moor, Klute; Mari, LaBrocca; Brown, Powers, Torres; Buddle

9. Chivas USA - I'm not sure there are sufficient words to describe the mess that this club has been over the last several years. Luckily for their fans a new chapter is on the horizon but they'll have to suffer through this season before new owners finally take charge. They may be better than last year with Wilmer Cabrera at the helm and Argentine Augustin Pelletieri in midfield but there are still holes all over the place. Mauro Rosales may help but he appears to be on his last legs and Bofo Bautista has been running on fumes for about four years now.

Projected line up - Kennedy; Avila, Jean-Baptiste, Bocanegra, Delgado; Rosales, Minda, Pelletieri, McNamara; Torres, Moore

Eastern Conference

1. Sporting Kansas City - The defending MLS Cup Champions still look to be the most complete team in the Eastern Conference. The same side returns this year with the exception of goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, who retired after the season. They're not completely without some questions marks though. After starting 2013 in excellent form Claudio Bieler disappeared during the summer and didn't even dress in some games down the stretch. The other option at forward is Dom Dwyer and he's not exactly going to strike fear into opposing defenses. If they can get more quality out of the lead striker spot they'll finish at or near the top again.

Project line up - Kronberg; Sinovic, Besler, Collin, Myers; Nagamura, Rosell; Sapong, Feilhaber, Zusi; Bieler

2. New York Red Bulls - They won the Supporter's Shield last season but they were only average defensively and that eventually cost them come playoff time as they bowed out 4-3 on aggregate versus Houston. Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill will continue to provide some fireworks but the question will be whether they did enough defensively in the offseason to ensure another trophy this year. They did make some changes by adding centerback Armando Lozano, and fullbacks Richard Eckersley and Bobby Convey. The offense will continue to carry them.

Projected line up - Robles; Kimura, Olave, Armando, Convey; Alexander, McCarty, Cahill, Steele; Henry, Wright-Phillips

3. Toronto FC - If they can stay in the mix through the first four months of the season they will be better in the second half once Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe are fully available and incorporated into the side. There may some struggles before then because they're still questionable in the back. The attack will be dangerous once all of the pieces are in place (Defoe, Gilberto, Dwayne DeRosario, Alvaro Rey, Johnathan Osorio, etc) but it will take some time for this team to gel. Can they withstand what could be a tough start and get everyone to gel quickly enough to make a run in July and August? The talent says yes but reality says that may not be as easy at it sounds.

Projected line up - Cesar/Bendik; Orr, Caldwell, Henry, Morrow; Jackson, Bradley, Osorio, Rey; Gilberto, Defoe

4. New England Revolution - The Revolution seemingly went from dull and plodding to young and dynamic overnight. The addition of Juan Agudelo last season spurred them on to an impressive finish and a playoff spot. They may have overachieved slightly last season but they should still be in the mix for one of the two final postseason berths in the East. Diego Fagundez and Kelyn Rowe can't afford to have the sort of drop off that a lot of young players experience or New England will be on the outside looking in. A top finisher at the 9 spot is still an issue. Saer Sene will figure in at some point but he is out injured to start the season.

Project line up - Shuttleworth; Farrell, Soares, Goncalves, Tierney; Caldwell; Mullins, Nguyen, Rowe, Fagundez; Bunbury

5. Chicago Fire - The Fire need to prove that the run from June to October to end the season wasn't an aberration. It won't be easy with just about all of the non playoff teams from last year making moves that would suggest improvement. They can't rely on Mike Magee to carry the load like he did last season, even with a DP contract, and will need Juan Luis Anangono to step up justifying his DP deal. The defense was revamped and has to be better than it was last season. At some point Benji Joya and Harry Shipp will get a chance to play big roles.

Projected line up - Johnson; Palmer, Soumare, Hurtado, Segares; Larentowicz; Nyarko, Alex, Magee, Duka; Anangono

6. Philadelphia Union - John Hackworth had some money to spend this offseason and he revamped the Union's midfield with three new acquisitions. Philadelphia may have overpaid for Maurice Edu in terms of "MLS value" but he's a quality addition. Vincent Nogueira and Christian Maidana (another DP) are lesser known commodities and there's no guarantee they'll be big impact players. The Union are still lacking a creative type in the middle and Jack McInerney has to prove that he was more than just a hot start last season. Conor Casey continues to be hampered with injuries and shouldn't be counted on to produce over the entire season, even as a part time player.

Projected line-up - MacMath; Williams, Okugo, Berry, Fabinho/Gaddis; Edu, Carroll; Cruz/LeToux, Nogueira, Maidana; McInerney

7. DC United - They played MLS Fantasy Manager this offseason except with real players. A major overhaul was needed after a horrid regular season and they got one. Davy Arnaud, Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Eddie Johnson, Fabian Espindola, and Jeff Parke among others are all new additions. They'll be better than they were in 2013 but that's not saying a whole lot. Even if they do improve dramatically it will take some time before a group featuring this many changes can work together as a cohesive unit. There won't be time to experiment in the East with every point a valuable asset. Was it really wise to hand Eddie Johnson a huge DP contract?

Projected line up - Hamid; Franklin, Boswell, Parke, Korb; DeLeon, Kitchen, Arnaud/Jeffrey, Pontius; Silva/Espindola; Johnson

8. Houston Dynamo - It's tough to leave a Dominic Kinnear team out of the playoff picture but they're a squad that struggled mightily at times during the second half of last season and haven't made significant upgrades this year. They're still dangerous with Brad Davis and Oscar Boniek Garcia in the side but their biggest additions were Tony Cascio and David Horst as the rest of the East got better.

Projected line up - Hall; Sarkodie, Brunner, Taylor, Ashe; Garcia, Clark, Creavalle, Davis; Barnes; Bruin

9. Columbus Crew - Another team on the bubble between playoff contention and misery. Their biggest offseason moves revolved around changes in central defense where long time star Chad Marshall is gone. Michael Parkhurst and Giancarlo Gonzalez are the new central defense pairing but their success will rely on how far Federico Higuain can carry them.

Projected line up - Clark; Barson, Parkhurst, Gonzalez, Francis; Trapp, Viana; Oduro, Higuain, Anor; Arrieta

10. Montreal Impact - They were the toast of MLS after a huge start last season but reality quickly set in during the second half as a slow and old back line collapsed and their midfield was outplayed. Their entire season will fall onto the shoulders of the barely onside Marco Di Vaio once again. If he can't produce in the numbers he did last season it will be a long year for Frank Klopas. Since the Impact are also hard pressed against the cap there wasn't much they could do to upgrade going into 2014. They'll start the year in trouble from the get go with Di Vaio on the suspended list.

Projected line up - Perkins; Camara, Lefevre, Ferrari, Brovsky; Mapp, Bernardello, Bernier, Felipe, Gonzalez; Di Vaio

Supporters Shield winner: Portland

MLS Cup: Portland over Sporting Kansas City

 

Kevin Egan, Fire color analyst

East: NYRB, SKC, CHI, NE, HOU, TFC, PHL, MTL, DC, CLB

West: PORT, LA, SEA, RSL, COL, VANC, SJ, FCD, CUSA

Supporter's Shield: Portland

MLS Cup: Los Angeles over Chicago

Jeff Krause, Fire Confidential Podcast

East: SKC, NE, NYRB, TFC, CHI, CLB, HOU, DC, PHL, MTL

West: PORT, LA, SEA, RSL, VANC, COL, SJ, FCD, CUSA

Supporter's Shield: Sporting Kansas City

MLS Cup: Portland over New York

Fred Huebner, ESPN1000 Fire Weekly Host

East: SKC, NYRB, CHI, CLB, TFC, HOU, DC, NE, MTL, PHL

West: PORT, SEA, RSL, LA, SJ, VANC, FCD, COL, CUSA

Supporter's Shield: Portland

MLS Cup: Portland over New York

 

First Kick picks

Seattle 1 Sporting KC 1

DC United 1 Columbus 0

Vancouver 2 New York 2

FC Dallas 1 Montreal 0

Houston 1 New England 1

Portland 2 Philadelphia 0

Los Angeles 1 Real Salt Lake 0

Chivas USA 0 Chicago 1

Fire Confidential fantasy league

You can sign up for the Fire Confidential fantasy league by using the key number 7157-1365.

Fire Weekly 

Fire Weekly debuts on ESPN1000 Saturday morning at 7 am. I'll be jumping on to discuss First Kick so call in and ummm...fire away.

Ward news

Grant Ward tweeted this morning that he has suffered a fractured 5th metatarsal and will be staying in the UK for a while. The Fire's loan deal with Tottenham had been agreed upon. There is no word yet on how the deal has been affected due to the injury.

Filed under: 2014 Pre Season

Tags: Chicago Fire

Comments

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  • HTIOT is reporting that Grant Wood has suffered a fractured foot so the loan deal appears to be off for now.

  • In reply to Arklow:

    There has been no official announcement. Brian Bliss has confirmed the injury but anything above that is speculation right now.

  • Apparently PRO has decided to lock out MLS referees as both sides have not been able to reach a labor agreement.

    Replacement referees.......

  • Good piece on the Fire academy and player development by Orrin Schwarz......

    http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20140306/sports/140308778/

  • I think most of us suspected (strongly after this preseason) we had a good system going but it is nice to hear someone whose opinion is respected putting the stamp of approval on it. This was probably the one really good thing the Fire had going before this season. They just never got it to the pitch but the results are really showing, finally, this year.

    Just finished listening to the radio show this morning on ESPN1000 with Fred Heubner, Kevin Egan and a bit of you G! Great to have someplace to go for some live Fire talk and well worth getting up for. And some of us need something special to get ourselves out of bed on Saturday mornings!

    I'm as excited as I've been for the start of a season in more years than I can clearly recall. Yesterday's news on the injury to Grant Ward was a big letdown for me. Added to Joya & Shipp, I thought Ward gave the Fire something very unique. A real triad of potent youth. Three guys who could step in to put a very potent squad on the pitch for those games when they are coming 2 and 3 a week and you just can't keep putting your #1s on the pitch for each match. Plus they look to be ready to fill the gap when injury takes its toll. Kevin Egan said the loss of Ward is BIG in his estimate. I know it's way early, gut what are the thoughts on the possibility of still getting Ward in here later during the season? Maybe around the 4th of July? Will Tottenham be more reluctant to risk him early in the recovery phase? How does the injury affect a possible loan agreement?

  • In reply to Arklow:

    Sorry. This should have started as a response to G's post about Orrin's Daily Herald piece on the Fire academy & player development.

  • In reply to Arklow:

    The loan deal is not dead as a result of the injury. There are obvious details to work through now because of it but there's still a chance Ward will play here this season.

  • fb_avatar

    I hope I'm just missing something, but it seems like tomorrow's season opener is not on TV in English. This can't be right. Not again.

  • In reply to Jeff S:

    Luckily I read fluent football in all languages.

  • No English TV tomorrow. UniMas national telecast.

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    It sure would be nice to have English sub-titles, since they will have so many gringos watching today.

  • They spent that extra English TV money on the radio show! Come on guys, greater good!

    I looked at the TV schedule and it seems like just this one and the Houston game is September 28 at Houston. 2 outta 34 aint bad!

    But seriously Fire. Time to be big time and make sure all your games are in English. It's not 2007 anymore...this stuff is elementary in terms of a marketing strategy.

  • In reply to seaside:

    Purchasing air time is no different than what the Blackhawks had to do for most of the late 90s and early 2000's.

    Seaside's right....2 out of 34 ain't bad. ;)

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    Sorry, there is no excuse for not having EVERY match broadcast in English. It is difficult to imagine that MLS can truly be MAJOR LEAGUE if some games are broadcast in Spanish only.

    I'm am an old-timer. I remember the days when Spanish-language TV was the only way to watch soccer in this country. Those days have to be behind us by now, don't they? My wife is a new soccer fan. No explanation that I give her makes any sense when she asks why the Fire game is broadcast in Spanish only.

    If all it comes down to is purchasing air time, then I am flummoxed that the Fire are too cheap to do this. Having the game on TV is like a two-hour infomercial. They have tickets to sell for March 23, right? Dumb, dumb decision.

  • In reply to StaryByk3:

    Gotta agree with StaryByk3 on this one. This is the team's OPENING GAME, for crying out loud! You're not gonna get the same excitement and interest for the second game of the season.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Modibo:

    I can watch my Liverpool matches online in HD any time I want from multiple sources (free and paid). I live literally miles from Toyota Park and I have to watch my home team's season opener in standard def and in Spanish.

  • In reply to Jeff S:

    Look on the bright side. Maybe we'll get to know the full names of every new player now. ;)

  • In reply to StaryByk3:

    It is hard to get too worked up about this. Univision has the best ratings for soccer in the country. it is a nationally televised game.

    Is soccer that complicated that you need an English language commentator?

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Roti2000:

    No, but if its also not the best way to grow a sport that needs growing here in the states. I'll have to watch City vs Wigan instead.

  • In reply to Roti2000:

    Let me ask you this. Would fans of the Bears get worked up if the only way to watch their game on TV was on Univision? The Fire's cheapness here is hard to justify.

  • In reply to StaryByk3:

    Equating Bears coverage w/ Fire coverage is apples and oranges. NFL Football does not have a large latino connection in the states like soccer does. Numerous teams in the league have to deal w/ nationally televised games on Unimas. This isn't a Fire=cheap issue.

  • In reply to Jeff Krause:

    I'm going to call BS on the Fire being too cheap to provide a local broadcast in English today. There are four other games on the schedule where the game is broadcast both on My50 and on a Spanish channel. There is no reason why every game cannot be broadcast in English.

  • Here are my picks:

    Sea-KC - Tie
    DC-Clb - Tie
    Van-NY - NY
    Dal-Mon - Dal
    Hou-NE - NE
    Por-Phi - Por
    LA-RSL - LA
    Chv-Chi - Tie

  • I've seen more fans at high school games than this game. What gives?

  • In reply to Bumsteer:

    Fire are playing like oafs through the first 30 minutes. Looking like they're glad there's no one there to see this.

  • In reply to Bumsteer:

    Chivas's fan didn't remember to change his clock.

  • In reply to Modibo:

    Ha!

  • A goal on your first touch as a pro? Joya you gotta be kiddin' me!

  • Damn, I renewed too early, same ole shit.
    No one looked good in the first half, Nyarko seemed off his stride.
    Fire came alive with Joya and Amarikwa, but bringing in Pause
    was a momentum killer. Play slowed down after he entered, was hoping to see Magee come in for Rolfe rather than Pause, if Magee wasn't ready to play he shouldn't have been in the 18.
    Anangono, although he made some good defensive efforts, seems a no go on top.
    Joya and Amarikwa should start the next game, along with Magee,

  • In reply to lonecoyote:

    I agree with the Pause sub. I was watching Rolfe come off, hoping we'd see Magee... but no.

    Have the young guys made a case for more playing time? Joya was in the right place at the right time on his first touch (which is not a given - how many times would we have wanted Sherjill to be in that very spot?). I thought his yellow was, ah, bull puckey. As for Amarikwa, I don't remember seeing him shoot much from outside the 18 last season (could be wrong), but that's a nice threat to have.

  • Every defensive corner and free kick was an adventure. Segares played like a knucklehead. There was no need to cause that penalty especially if he had started to read the play sooner and gotten back earlier. I think the guy relies on speed to recover when he no longer has the speed to do that. I hope this is not a sign of things to come, but I have to say I was not impressed with the defense. I thought Alex looked a step slow as well.

  • I'm hoping Yallop has a short leash with Alex. I don't know if he has pictures of someone in an compromising situation because I have no idea how he keeps starting. He's still holding on to the ball too long. Still passing the ball to the other team. Maybe he's an all-star in training but I still don't get it. I'm ready to see Shipp in that creating midfield role. Or Joya or anyone else. Hell, Guillermo, what are you doing on Sunday? I'll drive you to Portland and you can fill in for Alex!

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