2015 MLS season preview

2015 MLS season preview

 

 

 

 

 

Thankfully, it's time for soccer. MLS and the Player's Union have agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement and fans can return to thinking about the actual games on the field. Both conferences will be tight again with no clear cut favorite on either side. The playoff pool has been expanded by two spots allowing 12 of the 20 teams (6 in each conference) to qualify for post season. That may sound like an easier route for the Fire to qualify for the playoffs but the addition of two big-spending expansion clubs to the Conference in place of budget-conscious Sporting Kansas City and Houston will make things even more challenging.

The East is better overall than it was last year. The race was tight mainly due to parity but this year the competition will be tougher due to added quality, making the need for results in the regular season important from day one. The West still boasts the best teams in the league in Los Angeles and Seattle but there are solid teams throughout. Only the bottom two or three really stand out as having substantially less of a shot at claiming hardware than the front runners.

As I dust off the old dart board and take another stab at predicting the order of finish it should be noted that almost anything is possible in MLS. After all, I picked Portland to win MLS Cup last season and they didn't even qualify for the playoffs. Here's a look at the entire league with possible line up previews for each team:

Western Conference

1. Los Angeles Galaxy - Landon Donovan has retired but the reigning MLS Cup Champions can't be discounted with Bruce Arena in charge and a free spending owner backing him up. They're good enough to stick around at the top of the standings for the first part of the season until Steven Gerrard arrives in July. There's a question at left midfield with Donovan gone but they've got two homegrown players that are expected to challenge for the spot in Bradford Jamieson and Raul Mediola. Moving Marcelo Sarvas in order to fit Gerrard in may hurt them in the first half of the season though. If Gyassi Zardes repeats or improves on his efforts of last season they'll be right near the top again.

Projected line up

top subs: Husidic, Gordon, Dunivant, Leonardo, Vayrynen, Buddle*

2. Seattle Sounders - Winning the US Open Cup and Supporter's Shield last season were big achievements. They'll be in the running for hardware again this year but there are still questions in back and the loss of Deandre Yedlin will take away a dimension of their attack that will be hard to replace. Thirty-two year old English fullback Tyrone Mears will take Yedlin's place. Lack of overall mobility in the back may continue to haunt them however.

Projected line up

top subs: Cooper, Correa, Roldan, Rose, Barrett

3. Sporting Kansas City - The move to the West may be difficult but they've regained strength in central midfield by bringing back Roger Espinoza. This gives them some options in moving players around allowing Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber to roam a bit. Forward Krisztian Nemeth and goalkeeper Luis Marin were the other big additions this winter. There is also talk that Sporting is pursuing Rafael van der Vaart as a DP. They'll be tough again this year and in the mix in the West with another DP added.

Projected line up

top subs: Peterson, Nagamura, Anibaba, Myers, Carrasco

4. Portland Timbers - The Timbers let down all of the prognosticators here at Fire Confidential last season and didn't even qualify for the playoffs. Caleb Porter overhauled his defense on the fly during the year last season but it wasn't enough. Now they've added MLS veteran Nat Borchers, who has been one of the top centerbacks in the league over the last five seasons. They should be a playoff team this year but will have to wait for Diego Valeri, Will Johnson, and Ben Zemanski to return from injury before they are in top form.

Projected line up

top subs: Paparatto, Urruti, G. Fernandez, Zemanski, Jewsbury, N. Besler, Jeanderson

5. Vancouver Whitecaps - They were the fifth Western Conference playoff entry last season but have added Chilean forward Octavio Rivero as a young DP and made a move to improve their defense with 24 year old Urguayan centerback Diego Rodriguez. Also new is Ghanaian World Cup goalkeeper Adam Larsen Kwarasey. They should be a playoff team again this year.

Projected line up

top subs: Mattocks, Kah, Teibery, Flores, Mezquida, E. Hurtado

6. FC Dallas - The attacking trio of Mauro Diaz, Fabian Castillo, and Blas Perez is dangerous but Diaz missed a good portion of the season last year with injuries. If he stays healthy all season FCD will compete in a packed Western Conference. They've also added Uruguayan forward David Texeira as a young designated player if Perez runs out of gas.

Projected line up

top subs: Zimmerman, Bekker, Akindele, Barrios, Keel, Seitz, Texeira

7. Real Salt Lake - It seems odd to place them out of the playoffs. They've had a very good run under Jason Kreis and now Jeff Cassar but the veterans are starting to show some wear due to injury and age. Alvaro Saborio and Javier Morales may not be as influential as they have been in the past and they seem to be moving away from their diamond to a 4-3-3. Joao Plata was excellent for them last season but he is out until May or June with a broken foot.

Projected line up

top subs: Plata, Mulholland, Sandoval

8. Houston Dynamo - Sporting may be able to adjust in moving from the East to the West but I expect Houston will struggle. New coach Owen Coyle replaces Dominic Kinnear but there haven't been enough upgrades for them to compete in this conference. Cubo Torres doesn't arrive until July and they may find out he wasn't quite worth the price paid on the transfer fee.

Projected line up

top subs: Bruin, Ashe, Cochran, Horst, Lopez

9. Colorado Rapids - They could surprise if they get more production out of Deshorn Brown and Dillon Powers continues to develop but the West is too crowded to compete without more established talent up front and a shaky defense. They acquired Marcelo Sarvas in a trade with LA but Argentine midfielder Juan  Ramirez was the biggest addition this winter.

Projected line up

top subs: Burling, Cronin, LaBrocca, Irwin, Torres, Hairston

10. San Jose Earthquakes - Kinnear is back in San Jose and they've got a brand spankin' new stadium to open but it could be a long year in San Jose. The big addition during this transfer window was Swiss international Innocent Emeghara. He's got some pace but his goal scoring record over the last five years hasn't exactly been stellar. San Jose needs more goals to stay in contention and I'm not sure they've done enough to find them.

Projected line up

top subs: Nyassi, Alashe, Cato, Fucito, Harden, Jahn, Lenhart, Stephenson, Thompson

Eastern Conference

1. New England Revolution - The return of Juan Agudelo may be enough to push them to the top of the Eastern Conference. One concern should be whether or not Lee Nguyen can duplicate his career season of 2014. If Diego Fagundez can bounce back from a dip in production he may be able to pick up some slack if Nguyen can't reproduce big numbers again. Andrew Farrell has moved from fullback to centerback in replacement of AJ Soares in an adequate back line.

Projected line up

top subs: Barnes, Davies, Dorman, Fagundez, Kobayashi

2. Toronto FC - This should finally be the year the Toronto FC makes the playoffs. The biggest question mark is a questionable defense but they will be better via the addition of Polish international Damien Perquis. The attack should be vicious with Giovinco and Michael Bradley playing behind Jozy Altidore. Benoit Cheyrou should allow Bradley to play a more natural position.

Projected line up

top subs: Dike, Jackson, Hagglund, Moore, Lovitz, Morgan, Warner, Zavaleta

3. Orlando City SC - They've come in prepared as an expansion club on and off the pitch. Time in USL helped them get ready for entering the league and they've wasted no time in making a splash with former World Player of the Year Kaka, young designated player Bryan Rochez, and established MLS veterans Amobi Okugo, Aurelien Collin, Donovan Ricketts, and even Brek Shea at left back. Kaka will rack up some stats and OCSC should be a player in the East.

Projected line up

top subs: Avila, Cascio, Hall, Mwanga, Rivas

4. Columbus Crew - Gregg Berhalter has put together a solid team that is capable of gaining results. They've added more punch with Kei Kamara and have improved in back. They're probably good enough to challenge for any of the top three spots in the Conference but could use another big threat to go with Higuain. They're hoping DP midfielder Cedrick Mabwati can be that guy when he joins the club in July.

Projected line up

top subs: Steindorsson, Klute, Mabwati, Barson, Gall, George, Schoenfeld, Speas, Wahl

5. Chicago Fire - There is no given that the Fire are a playoff team despite adding three Designated Players this winter. If Shaun Maloney can stay fit he will occupy the hardest position to fill in MLS - that of legitimate playmaker. Maloney could well be the best Fire player since Cuauhtemoc Blanco and he'll have plenty of pace to work with in front of him with David Accam, Kennedy Igboananike, and Patrick Nyarko if he can find some form after an ACL tear late last season. The Fire will be more entertaining to watch but their playoff lives will depend on how central midfield and the revamped back line performs.

Projected line up

top subs: Magee, Amarikwa, Nyarko, Polster, Ritter, Stephens, Busch, Gehrig, Alex

6. DC United - They finished at the top of the Conference last season as Ben Olsen got just about every drop that he could in what seems to me to be an over achievement. They filled the roster last year with MLS veterans and it worked. This year the rest of the Conference has made big steps to improve while their big additions have been Markus Halsti and Jairo Arrieta. Eddie Johnson and Fabian Espindola are the current DP's on the squad and that could spell trouble this year.

Projected line up

top subs: Silva, Arnaud, Johnson, M. Farfan, Arrieta, Doyle, Jeffrey

7. New York City FC - After embarrassing themselves with the Frank Lampard situation this club continued to step in mud with a series of PR blunders. They've spent big dollars on Lampard and David Villa but there are still holes in midfield and in back. They don't have a player to emulate what Kyle Beckerman did for Jason Kreis at RSL so playing his favored diamond may not suit this side. Mix Diskerud may prove to be just a decent player who writes bad poetry. Of course this could all change if they manage to land Xavi Hernandez as the club's third DP this summer.

Projected line up

top subs: Ballouchy, Mullins, Brovsky, John, Poku, Velasquez, Calle, Facey*

8. Montreal Impact - They may have rekindled some interest up north by ousting Pachuca in the CONCACAF Champion's League semi-finals and they have made some improvements but they don't seem to stack up with the best clubs in the East. They'll be in the chase for one of the final playoff spots but they do need to find a forward to replace the retired Marco Di Vaio. The back line will have four new starters.

Projected line up

top subs: Romero, Camara, Alexander, Bernier, Oyongo, Mallace, Oduro

9. New York Red Bulls - Thierry Henry has retired and the parent club has decided to go a more economical route in pursuit of reinforcements. Two huge salaries in Henry and Tim Cahill departed and so far New York's only significant replacement has been Sacha Klejstan. We'll see if Bradley Wright-Phillips can get anywhere near his goal totals from last year without Henry. I'm guessing not.

Projected line up

top subs: Grella, Luyindula, Stolz, JK Hurtado*, Lade, Richards* (*not officially signed as of this writing)

10. Philadelphia Union - They addressed the lack of scoring with the addition of DP Fernando Aristeguieta and problems in the back by signing center back Steven Vitoria but questions still abound. They could stand to improve with a playmaker and another wide player. Left back is still an issue.

Projected line up

tops subs: Casey, Sapong, Catic, Carroll, Cruz, Fred, Hoppenot, Lahoud

 

Supporter's Shied  - Los Angeles Galaxy

MLS Cup - Seattle over Toronto FC (because why not)

You can join the Fire Confidential fantasy league by using the code 1157-520.

You can also hear Fire play by play announcer Dan Kelly, ESPN 1000 Fire Weekly host Fred Huebner, the Daily Herald's Orrin Schwarz, and MLSsoccer.com's Shane Murray discussing the upcoming season on the latest episode of Fire Confidential Live.

Comments

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  • RSL out and Portland in. I had it opposite, but RSL out could happen. The last couple years they've reminded me of a large, dying predator: still a threat, but not as dangerous as they were.

    And Dallas missing the playoffs- I'm going to say that the Oscar Pareja effect beats the shoot-thyself-in-the-foot playbook they seem to use.

    Good job on the preview. Simple, but comprehensive.

  • In reply to BrianC.:

    Thanks. I was shooting for simple for quick reference.

    RSL is still dangerous but they could also use an infusion of another impact attacker.

  • Here's my best guess(es):

    East
    IN
    NE
    CLB
    Orlando
    Toronto
    Chicago
    DC

    Out
    Mtrl
    NYRB
    NYCFC
    Philly

    West
    In
    LA
    Seattle
    Dallas
    KC
    RSL
    Vancouver

    Out
    San Jose
    Portland
    Houston
    Colorado

  • I getting excited to watch the Fire play a real game. Any update on Accam's injury? I hope we get to see some of the younger guys play this season. To me, getting those guys minutes is really important for a team's long term consistency.

  • In reply to Krasov:

    Accam is out for the LA game.

    So is Cocis.

  • Heard anything about the possibility of signing Winchester?

  • In reply to cf97TID:

    They like him and I get the sense they'd like to sign him but he would take up an international spot.

  • Not sure about the west. If FCD stays healthy they are top 3 I'd think. Vancouver is a dark horse for top 3 as well.

    Also SKC is going to have a tough time, I'd expect them a bit lower. Portland too.

    East looks about right to me.

    Only fairly safe picks for me are seattle and la at top of west, new england at top of east, colorado and san jose out of playoffs in west, philly out of playoffs in east. Most of the rest is a crap shoot.

  • In reply to TomazPP:

    I could see Sporting struggling if Dwyer can't repeat his year and Feilhaber falls off a bit.

    FCD and Vancouver could easily move up.

  • Correction over the air channel is 60.1 WXFT DT.

  • Tomorrow's game can be seen over the air on channel 16, WXFT
    at 9:20pm,
    on Uverse on channel 658 Unidep and 1658 Unidep at 9pm,
    and 1016 WXFTHD at 9:20pm. Don't have channel numbers for other carriers.

  • In reply to lonecoyote:

    Thanks. Exactly why i came here. I always have trouble finding spanish channels.

  • Weekend picks:

    Los Angeles 2 Chicago 1
    DC United 2 Montreal 2
    Philadelphia 1 Colorado 0
    Vancouver 2 Toronto FC 2
    Houston 0 Columbus 1
    FC Dallas 2 San Jose 0
    Portland 2 Real Salt Lake 1
    Orlando City 2 New York CFC 1
    Sporting KC 3 New York RB 1
    Seattle 2 New England 1

  • In reply to Guillermo Rivera:

    Didn't look closely at the schedule.

    Philly v Colorado: MLS getting that mess out of the way early.

  • In reply to TomazPP:

    >D

  • LA-Chi Tie
    DC-Mtl Mtl
    Phi-Col Phi
    Van-Tor Tie
    Hou-Clb Clb
    Dal-SJ Dal
    Por-RSL Tie
    Orl-NYC Orl
    KC-NYRB KC
    Sea-NE Tie

    My goal this year is to not lose track of weeks.

  • MLSsoccer.com has the Fire at 18 in their preseason rankings. That's a bit pessimistic if you ask me, but they are right in saying that a lot has to go their way in order to move up in a stronger East this year.

    I'm excited to see the team play, but I still have this feeling of foreboding. It's so paradoxical that for years the complaint was that the Fire had no playmaker - now we have one (Maloney) and one in training (Shipp), but no central midfield destroyer (and a questionable set of CBs). Since when did getting a good defensive midfielder become an issue in American soccer? It seems like a few years ago the league was littered with them, and now somehow they seem a hot commodity because Kries is without Beckerman.

    The worst thing is that the idea of playing LA on opening day where we got trashed last year just makes me quesy. I don't want to start the season screaming at the screen in disgust again.

  • In reply to Modibo:

    I think Fire games will be fun to watch for a neutral. It is more likely for the game to finish 3-3 than 1-1. Without Cocis, (our best cm, ew) this could be an interesting game tonight. Our defenders will get a really good test tonight with the craftiness of Keane and Zardes. Hopefully we can keep the ball for a little while throughout the game because watching long balls over the top is very frustrating..

  • I have a better feeling about this team than the team that got clobbered 2 years. I want the Fire to be rock solid, but I fear that there will be scenes with Fire players looking at each other in disgust as an LA player gets a free header on a corner or free kick. C'mon boys, mark your men and all will be OK.

  • MLS Fantasy Players!!

    URGENT: I have had a drop. Need ONE more Fire fan to fill LAST SPOT in this league. See below!

    Head-to Head League for Chicago Fire Fans. Only 18 teams. Each team plays each other twice.

    Please do not join unless you have designated The Fire as your club when you registered. Thank you.

    Code: 6597-1662

  • Let the Big Red experiment at CB end now... he's not a CB. Brutal.. beat yourself, rather than get beat. Just weak.

  • In reply to Bumsteer:

    Totally agree. That was a pathetic way to lose. Ugh!

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