2014 MLS Preview: Who will win in the wild, wild West?
Another season, another set of predictions from your AFTN writing team, as we look at what is going to be another fiercely contested battle for the Western Conference title.
We got all four of our writers to once again rank how they think the Western Conference will finish, from first to last, and who they think will contest this season’s MLS Cup.
There’s a bit more consensus of opinions this year as to who will make the postseason but not so much with who will bring home the ultimate glory. Do you agree or are we talking out of collective asses? Let us know your thoughts and predictions in the comments.
Last year’s AFTN team predictions produced a mixed set of results. We all picked three of the top five teams in the West, with none of us predicting that the Conference winning Portland Timbers would even make the playoffs. Shows you what we know! Jay Duke could claim the bragging rights though after correctly picking Sporting KC to win the whole shebang.
This year we’re going to give our placings and also our thoughts on each team in the West.
To kick it all off, here’s where we place everyone in the West for the 2014 season:
So all four of us see the LA Galaxy winning the Western Conference title and we all agree that they’ll be joined in the playoffs by Portland, Real Salt Lake and Seattle, whilst Colorado and Chivas will be propping up the rest.
Two of our team are optimistic about Vancouver’s chances of making a postseason return but not Steve and myself!
How did we come to these conclusions? Well here’s our individual thoughts on the nine teams in the West and how they’ll fare.
Michael: I enjoyed watching the Goats at the start of last year and you almost want to root for them to turn things around, but they still look like the West’s whipping boys. There will be a few shocks along the way and you just have the horrible feeling that Vancouver will be on the end of some of those once again. If they don’t finish bottom, that would be a success for them.
Steve: While the Goats have definitely added to the team, they are still Chivas and until they prove otherwise will be picked by most to finish at the bottom of the Western table. However, they should surprise some teams during the season and could very well be battling for a playoff spot. That’s so MLS.
Jay: They’ve lost the right to be given the benefit of the doubt. A new ownership group will help, and I’m sure in the meantime, the MLS will lead them to all sorts of shortcuts, but they are set to lose their most exciting player in Erick “Cubo” Torres, who was the only reason to watch last year. I expect them to start building a better team in June and next season, but I fear this will be another year where the rest of the league will be milking points off the goats.
Aaron: Chivas, or LAFC, has a lot to play for. Having no owners might hurt the 4-6,000 fans they had last year by having even less this season.
Michael: I tipped them for the bottom spot in the West last year and they punched well above their weight. The loss of the Oscar Pareja will be huge. He had the team playing some nice football and although the core players are there, the incredible fact that they haven’t yet replaced him will cost them dear and they’ll be back in the basement again.
Steve: The surprise team of last season made the playoffs despite most picking them to finish near the bottom of the table and were looking like a team on the rise. However, not only did they lose their manager, which they haven’t replaced as of yet, but they also lost a couple of strong veteran midfielders in Thomas and Castrillon. They will need both Brown and Powers to duplicate their rookie seasons and hope neither of them suffers a sophomore slump.
Jay: While their stunning youth players last year surprisingly vaulted them up the table, I expect to see a couple of sophomore slumps. Not to mention the fact that they’ve had a lot of player movement and still don’t have a manager, so without anyone to put his foot down, the players may be taking advantage of new pot laws and binging on sour candies and watching Dragonball Z rather than focusing on football.
Aaron: Their coach leaving so late last season might hurt this team more than people think.
Michael: Talking of Oscar Pareja, Dallas have a good un in their new coach and he has the ability and the players at his disposal to turn the team around. They’ve promised the playoffs for both of the last two seasons, this year I sadly think they’ll deliver.
Steve: The additions of Oscar Pareja and Hendry Thomas will vastly improve the fortunes of a team that collapsed down the stretch. While the loss of the David Ferreira may be felt in the attack, Pareja should be able to duplicate the success he had with Powers and Brown, with FC Dallas youngsters Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz.
Jay: There are things I like about FC Dallas, namely Mauro Diaz, who I think will be a very able replacement for the cheating bastard David Ferreira. Adam Moffat is a good, experienced addition, but there has been a pretty big overhaul including a new coach. Maybe it’s because I’m biased about how morally offensive their team is, but I just don’t trust that the club knows what it’s doing or how to improve enough.
Aaron: New coach this year. No Eric Hassli. No hope for playoffs.
LOS ANGELES GALAXY:
Michael: Just can’t see past them for winning both the Conference and the Cup again. They’ve got so much quality and depth and Robbie Keane is threatening to have a major year where I could see him both winning the Golden Boot and MVP. The rest are playing the chasing game.
Steve: The glamour team rises back to the top of the Western Conference. Their best player, Robbie Keane, will not be missing significant time on international duty like last season. Expect Gyasi Zardes to have a breakthrough season and nullify the loss of Landon Donovan during the World Cup. Of course Omar Gonzalez will be another issue.
Jay: Hard to question the scouting ability of the Galaxy, as they seem to unearth good talents both on the international market, as well as through the draft and their homegrown program. It’s for that reason you have to think that players like Samuel, Ishizaki, and Rob Friend will add to an already good squad.
Aaron: Added some quality depth players this off season. Will be the team to beat in the West.
Michael: Still can’t believe they actually won the West last year. Caleb Porter certainly made me eat my words and he has a strong squad at his disposal once again and all the foundations are there to build upon what they had last year. They’ll take a few steps backwards but whereas others see last season as a blip, I unfortunately see it as the start of some good years for the hipsters.
Steve: While they had a fantastic season under first year coach Caleb Porter, I see the Timbers sliding back this year. In the final two games of the preseason, in which their starters played, they scored one goal which was helped by a blunder by Ousted. If they suffer any significant injuries or Ricketts has a bad season then the Timbers could miss the playoffs.
Jay: While they’re a quality and deep squad, their back line was a bit of a mess last year and they rode a career year by an aging Donovan Ricketts up the table. Ricketts should fall back to earth, and it may take some time to sort out their new defence, but their strong midfield and numerous attacking options should keep them high on the list.
Aaron: Had a great season last year. Stumbled in the playoffs. This team is MLS Cup or bust for their supporters.
REAL SALT LAKE:
Michael: The Kreis factor hangs over Utah. Will his departure signal a change of fortunes or are the team above just one man at the helm? I always feel the manager’s role is often greatly overvalued. RSL have a great team left behind and they’ll once again be hard to beat at home and playoff bound. Winning is infectious.
Steve: Other than losing one of the best managers in MLS, there hasn’t been much change to the team that lost in the MLS Cup. The new coach was an assistant with Kreis so there should very little modification to the club’s tactics on the pitch. This roster is deep enough to absorb any losses during the World Cup.
Jay: Not much has changed in Utah, other than the loss of their coach. They still have an experienced, quality group of players who all know how to play football together. Their strength is in their continuity.
Aaron: Had a great season last year and will look to build on that this up coming season under their new management team.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES:
Michael: The Quakes are the unknown quantity to me. They could continue how they finished last year or have a similar start to their struggles a season ago. I see them being a middling side, that don’t have enough quality to push them into the playoffs but enough to grind out some wins and points to keep them in the mix till late on.
Steve: They may still have target strikers like Wondolowski, Lenhart and Gordon but the big question is who provides the service into box with the loss of wide players like Beitashour, Morrow and Chavez. The potential of losing their best two defenders (Bernardez and Goodson) could hurt the Quakes during the four match stretch in June.
Jay: Finished extremely strong last year, but I still just don’t see it. I really liked Baca, and the loss of Beitashour and Morrow will mean a big change on the backline. Wondo knows how to score, but other that being the league’s dirtiest player and a giant dick, Lenhart isn’t really a quality player and it’s tough to see where all their goals will be created from.
Aaron: Added a great player Atiba Harris this season. Expect a big year from him this year.
Michael: I so badly want them to fail but hard to see it. People seem to think that Clint Dempsey will redeem himself but I see him flopping. If Seattle get off to a tough start you know they’ll just go out and buy their way in the playoffs in the summer window. I think they’ll struggle at first but will turn it around.
Steve: A lot of turnover for the Sounders this offseason after they stumbled late last season. They lost a little firepower upfront but improved on the backend with the addition of Chad Marshall. Two of their main attackers will be missing during the World Cup but no amount of excuses will save Sigi Schmid if the Sounders falter once again.
Jay: As much as I hate to admit it, I like a lot of what the Sounders did in the off-season. Kenny Cooper is a serviceable striker who should be able to help out in attack without being the distraction that Eddie Johnson was. Chad Marshall is a quality and experienced centre back, and as much as I love to laugh at the major waste of money Clint Dempsey has been, it’s hard to believe he wont improve over the course of the year.
Aaron: Look to see Clint Dempsey make all his haters regret mentioning how slow his start was last season. Home field will be their fortress again this season.
Michael: I’m picking the Caps for 7th. Temper hopes and expectations then there’s more chance of delight come the end of October. The first ten games will be the key as far as I’m concerned. A slow start, which looks likely, will be hard to turnaround. Although there will be some magnificent highs over the season, I’m not sure the quality is there to get the job done when looking at the others fighting for the top five places. That said, a strong start, a string of results and keeping the team healthy and 5th place is achievable.
Steve: It didn’t look good for the Whitecaps in mid-January when other teams were making flashy signings across the league. However, new manager Carl Robinson has slowly put together a roster that may be considered deeper and more talented than last season. Of course there are the 22 goals that made a run for the border and need be spread out among all the attackers.
Jay: I expect a bit of a shaky start, as the roster, coach, and system has all changed drastically, however, with a glut of creative and attacking options, I would expect a few players to step into the spotlight and really take advantage of their opportunities. The major concern will be how quick the team can gel, and if the backline can avoid injury and regain some of its 2012 form, they may just sneak into the playoffs.
Aaron: Lots of new faces in the lineup this year. Will need to attack all season long.
Standings decided, once the season is over, who did we feel will be battling to lift the MLS Cup in December?
Michael: Los Angeles Galaxy over Sporting KC
Steve: Real Salt Lake over Philadelphia Union
Jay: Sporting KC over Seattle Sounders
Aaron: Seattle Sounders over Sporting KC
Who’ll getting the bragging rights this year? Let’s see how this all plays out. It’s going to be another interesting season.
Pingback: 2015 MLS Predictions: Tougher than ever competition but will it still be the same teams battling it out by the end? | AFTN