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Here comes the season, Part 2

March 7, 2012 | 1:43 pm No comments
By Shaun Schafer

Continuing our look at the coming MLS season we finish with the teams in the East and move West in our preview.

Sporting Kansas City: The squad struggled to score in the preseason, but all other signs are looking up for KC. The team doesn’t have to start a season homeless on the road. Livestrong Park will be ready to go, and the balanced schedule can only help.

KC was one of the squads that got better as Graham Zusi emerged. Adding Bobby Convey on the left wing in a 4-3-3 makes the attack even more deadly. Then there is the matter of Teal Bunbury.

Bunbury continues to make my prediction that he would be a college draft bust look ridiculous. He endures long cold spells, but when he is hot he is unstoppable. Convey and Zusi will give him every chance to get hot.

Backing all of this is a capable defense and the top-notch keeping of Jimmy Nielsen. If KC stays healthy, Sporting will be gunning for the conference crown.

New York Red Bulls: Can a team with Thierry Henry, Juan Agudelo and Kenny Cooper as targets fail? New York bets the house that’s not possible, and Henry’s loan spell with Arsenal has him looking deadly.

Behind this trio of strikers is where New York will sink or swim. The Red Bulls have two inexperienced keepers and a new centerback. Watch them give up some cheap goals early in the season.

It’s hard to ignore any squad with so much talent in attack. Watch where Henry is on the field. The closer he gets to his own defense, the more likely it is that New York can’t get him the ball.

Sure, they’ll make the playoffs, but they will only go deep if the defense proves stout and gets better during the season.

Houston Dynamo: Here’s the team with the opposite problem of New York. Houston can keep any team from scoring, but struggles to create goals. Other than set piece work, this is not a team that threatens on the attack.

The question this season will be on whether you need an attack to succeed in the MLS. If the defense remains healthy, this team will be in playoff position throughout the season. If former Rapid Macoumba Kandji shows some of the goal-scoring form he had prior to tearing his ACL in 2010, look for Houston to challenge for the conference crown.

Chicago Fire: I have always been a fan of Frank Klopas. He was a talented player and he seems to have a plan to make the most of Chicago’s talent this season.

If Dominic Oduro and Patrick Nyarko can start combining in the attack, the Fire will go from mediocre to league-leading.

I may be blinded by my admiration for Klopas, but Chicago is my sleeper pick. I could see this team emerging to lead the conference and battle for a spot in the MLS Cup this fall.

Going West: From the best of the Eastern Conference, we now turn to the Western Conference. We start with two of weaker sides of 2011.

Vancouver Whitecaps: The second-year side added Sebastien Le Toux for some scoring touch and scored goals in bunches in the preseason.

If Vancouver can translate preseason success to the regular season, they would lead the league. I’m not ready to hand that title over. The team added speed and a host of new faces. They’re young and they’ll play hard, but I wonder if that will be enough.

Give them a year together and this team will be in the playoffs. However, I think that year will be 2013.

Chivas USA: Goalkeeper Dan Kennedy saved the Goats repeatedly in 2011. Asking him to do that this year seems like too much.

Chivas made no notable improvements in the off-season, and looked disorganized in the preseason. It’s tough to make too much of preseason matches, but for a team coming off a miserable 2011 and languishing near the bottom of the table, there is little hope here.

The bottom line is that if the Goats want to look at trophies this year, they’ll need to check out the LA Galaxy display at the Home Depot Center. Chivas is likely to be irrelevant by July 4.

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