Major League Soccer season preview for 2013

March 2, 2013 

MLS PREVIEW

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(Teams in order of finish last season)

SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES

2012 record: 19-6-9

Outlook: After posting the best record in the regular season last year, the Earthquakes were bounced out of the playoffs in the conference semifinals by Los Angeles on aggregate, 3-2. F/MF Chris Wondolowski is back with a new contract as the team’s designated player after tying an MLS-record with 27 goals. But the team must overcome injuries early in the season with F Alan Gordon, F Steven Lenhart, MF Marvin Chavez and D Steven Beitashour out with injuries. The Earthquakes also must figure out how to replace MF Simon Dawkins in the midfield after his move to Aston Villa.

REAL SALT LAKE

2012 record: 17-11-6

Outlook: Real Salt Lake had a busy offseason after its trip to the Western Conference semis, shedding salary as it went through its biggest roster shift in years. While three mainstays (Faibian Espindola, Jamison Olave, Will Johnson) are gone, the team still has captain Kyle Beckerman to set the tone, F Alvaro Saborio to lead the attack and one of the best goalkeepers around in Nick Rimando. The question is whether coach Jason Kreis can groom some younger players to fill in the gaps. MF Luis Gil is being counted on for a breakout year, and F Robbie Findley is back with a team he scored a dozen goals for when it last reached the MLS Cup in 2009. If the team can keep players healthy, and build that chemistry, it could surprise.

SEATTLE SOUNDERS

2012 record: 15-8-11

Outlook: MLS Cup or bust? That would seem to be the approach Seattle is taking to the 2013 season. GM Adrian Hanauer said as much recently when noting the roster changes the Sounders made during preseason training. F Eddie Johnson returns after a season that reignited his career with 14 goals and a U.S. national team call-up. But gone is F Fredy Montero and a big chunk of the team’s offense. Seattle could have the most talented midfield in the league led by Shalrie Joseph, Osvaldo Alonso and Maruo Rosales. GK Michael Gspurning was outstanding in his first season, but defensive backline remains a concern with Jeff Parke now in Philadelphia. Seattle hopes former Liverpool D Djimi Traore has something left.

LA GALAXY

2012 record: 16-12-6; won MLS Cup

Outlook: The Galaxy seek to become the first MLS club to three-peat, but they do so without David Beckham, who has left for Paris Saint-Germain. Brazilians Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas will team up in the middle. Landon Donovan’s continued absence because he was “burned out” doesn’t help the transition. He’ll be back in camp at the end of March and ought to be back on the field by late April, missing as many as seven league games. F Robbie Keane is back after scoring 23 goals in all competitions. The backline returns intact, with a healthy Omar Gonzalez this time, and the Galaxy has improved in goal, bringing in 39-year-old Italian Carlo Cudicini on a free transfer.

VANCOUVER WHITECAPS

2012 record: 11-13-10

Outlook: The Whitecaps won just three of its last 17 regular-season matches last season but still made it into the playoffs, where they fell to Los Angeles, 2-1. Vancouver was the first Canadian MLS team to reach the postseason in the franchise’s second MLS season. Known for its defense, the Whitecaps have a dynamic playmaker in Jamaican attacker Darron Mattocks (seven goals in 15 matches). The team added Japanese MF Daigo Kobayahsi to bring some additional offense. The Whitecaps signed Scotsman Kenny Miller as a designated player in the midst of last season, but he only appeared in 13 matches with two goals. A late addition was MF/D Nigel Reo-Coker, who has experience with West Ham United FC, Aston Villa, and the Bolton Wanderers.

FC DALLAS

2012 record: 9-13-12

Outlook: FC Dallas shook up its roster following a steady two-year slide from the franchise’s first MLS Cup appearance in 2010. Two-time All-Star Brek Shea is gone to Stoke City, and the club decided not to re-sign 38-year-old GK Kevin Hartman. F Kenny Cooper, a Dallas-area high school star whose father was a Premier League keeper, is back after spending four seasons with Dallas earlier in his career. He had 18 goals for New York last year, matching the career high. Cooper and F Blas Perez, who led Dallas with nine goals last season, could form a potent scoring combo and might get help from a healthy David Ferreira after he missed most of the past two seasons with injuries. Peruvian national team GK Raul Fernandez figured to be Hartman’s replacement, but last year’s backup, Chris Seitz, has played well in the preseason and could get a shot.

COLORADO RAPIDS

2012 record: 11-19-4

Outlook: In his second season in charge, Rapids coach Oscar Pareja has a new-look squad that’s certainly a lot younger. The team parted ways with longtime forwards Conor Casey and Omar Cummings, who helped Colorado win the 2010 MLS Cup. The Rapids also acquired F Edson Buddle from the Galaxy to provide some offense. They will depend heavily on first-round pick Deshorn Brown, a dynamic scorer who had 13 goals in 16 games at Central Florida last year. The Rapids will lean on veteran MF Pablo Mastroeni, who missed most of last season with post-concussion symptoms, to help mentor this group. Back in net for the Rapids will be Matt Pickens, who was picked as the team MVP last season.

PORTLAND TIMBERS

2012 record: 8-16-10

Outlook: Coach Caleb Porter was hired last August but finished out his seventh season as coach at the University of Akron before moving ON. Porter guided the Zips to an 18-1-3 record, the Mid-America Conference championship. He will be counting on some of his former players – F Darlington Nagbe, heading into his third season with the Timbers, and former Akron players MF Ben Zemanski and MF Michael Nanchoff are on the roster. A key additions is MF Diego Valeri from Argentina’s first division Club Atletico Lanus. The 26-year-old has been with Lanus nine seasons, scoring 25 goals in 158 matches. Valeri is expected to add offense for a team that was second-to-last in goals scored last season.

CHIVAS USA

2012 record: 7-18-9

Outlook: The lowly Goats have made a philosophical shift after three horrid years, with a roster overhaul and a new coach. Fiery Mexican coach Jose Luis “El Chelis” Sanchez Sola takes over for Robin Fraser, who went 15-32-21 in two seasons and last year finished at the bottom of Western Conference. Sanchez Sola has implemented a speedy, aggressive style of play and brought on Latin American talent while excising nearly a dozen players. The newcomers include top-flight Mexican veterans Walter Vilchez, a Peruvian national team defender who arrives from Sporting Cristal, and Joaquin Velazquez, who hasn’t played since 2010. Chelis coached both at Puebla. Velazquez officially arrives on loan from Guadalajara, as do D Mario de Luna, MF Edgar Mejia and 19-year-old F Giovanni Casillas, who was part of Mexico’s U-17 World Cup champions two years ago. The captain is Dan Kennedy, one of MLS’s best goalkeepers.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(Teams in order of finish last season)

SPORTING KANSAS CITY

2012 record: 18-7-9

Outlook: There was a lot to like last season for Sporting KC, which won the U.S. Open Cup and rolled to the regular-season Eastern Conference title. But the club once again was beaten by its nemesis, the Houston Dynamo, in the conference semifinals. Several of the key pieces are back, and the addition of Argentine striker Claudia Bieler should help a relatively weak attack. But the club’s success could be difficult to maintain. D Roger Espinoza parlayed his fine play into a transfer to Wigan Athletic, and leading scorer Kei Kamara was loaned to Norwich City through May 6.

D.C. UNITED

2012 record: 17-10-7

Outlook: Despite making lots of moves, United have essentially the same core of players who rallied late in the season to end a four-year playoff drought and advance to the Eastern Conference finals — a run that was all the more remarkable when considering that captain and then-reigning MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario was sidelined with a knee injury. There have been changes in ownership and the front office, and the seemingly endless quest for a new stadium continues, but coach Ben Olsen returns with a roster full of youthful promise. GK Bill Hamid (22), MF Perry Kitchen (20), MF Nick DeLeon (22) and F Chris Pontius (25) are among the names to watch, but United also took a chemistry gamble by signing F Carlos Ruiz.

NEW YORK RED BULLS

2012 record: 16-9-9

Outlook: After another disappointing first-round playoff departure, the Red Bulls sent coach Hans Backe packing. They hired former standout player Mike Petke, who is apparently already welcomed with open arms by stars Thiery Henry and Tim Cahill. When healthy, Henry (15 goals, 12 assists) was brilliant, but he missed nine games. Australian hero Cahill was brought into the mix in July, and had one goal and three assists in 12 games. Former designated player Rafa Marquez, a disaster with his teammates, coaches and fans, was released. Because of salary cap woes, the team had to trade F Kenny Cooper (18 goals, second in the league).

CHICAGO FIRE

2012 record: 17-11-6

Outlook: With 19 players back, the Fire are looking to make the playoffs for the 13th time in 16 seasons. They boast last season’s rookie of the year in D Austin Berry, elite defenders in Arne Friedrich and Gonzalo Segares, and a top-tier goalie in Sean Johnson. One area they were looking to beef up was the central midfield with Pavel Pardo retiring, and they addressed that by bringing in Jeff Larentowicz and Joel Lindpere.

HOUSTON DYNAMO

2012 record: 14-9-11

Outlook: The Dynamo survived an opening seven-game road trip, then went undefeated at home in MLS play in 2012 (13-0-6) before losing in the MLS Cup final. With most of the key pieces back in place, the Dynamo should be a contender again. F Will Bruin led Houston with 12 goals and MF Brad Davis ranked fifth in MLS with 12 assists. Boniek Garcia, a regular on the Honduran national team, made 17 starts in his first season with Houston and finished with four goals and six assists. F Omar Cummings, a Jamaican speedster, scored 39 goals in six seasons with Colorado and will provide offense. Newly acquired Andrew Driver, on loan from Scottish Premier League team Hearts of Midlothian, adds depth.

COLUMBUS CREW

2012 record: 15-12-7

Outlook: Optimism abounds despite missing the playoffs last season for the first time in five years, The Crew may be as talented as the 2008 team that won the league title. Like that championship season it may be an Argentinian forward to lead the way: Federico Higuain was named the MLS newcomer of the year despite playing only 13 matches (11 starts) in which he had five goals and seven assists. He will have a full season to partner with another late 2012 addition, Jairo Arrieta, who tied Eddie Gaven for the team lead in goals (nine) in only 18 games. The additions of South Americans Glauber Berti, Matias Sanchez and Agustin Viana plus MLS veteran Tyson Wahl brings experience and toughness to a defense side that relied too heavily on GK Andy Gruenebaum (1.26 GAA, eight shutouts), who led MLS with 124 saves and was fifth in save percentage (.075).

MONTREAL IMPACT

2012 record: 12-16-6

Outlook: The Montreal Impact’s 12 wins last season were an MLS record for an expansion team. They head into their second season after making relatively few changes to the team, except for at the top. The Impact replaced overachieving coach Jesse Marsch, who left by mutual decision, with Marco Schallibaum, a veteran who has coached nearly 10 years with five clubs in the Swiss league and spent the last two years as a FIFA coaching instructor in Asia. The team also added Italian midfielder Andrea Pisanu, joining fellow countrymen Marco DiVaio and Alessandro Nesta, who joined the Impact in the midst of the 2012 season. GK Troy Perkins, acquired in August from the Timbers, will help.

PHILADELPHIA UNION

2012 record: 10-18-6

Outlook: After reaching the playoffs in its second season, the club struggled mightily in 2012. The Union scored just 37 goals in 34 league matches, while allowing 45. Philadelphia hopes for a boost with the addition of Sebastien Le Toux, who scored 25 career goals for the Union but was traded to Vancouver last year. The Union also picked up F Conor Casey, a proven scorer, as well as D Jeff Parke. The schedule is difficult in the early part of the season, which will be a challenge for manager John Hackworth, who took over for Peter Nowak in June and was offered the full-time position in August.

NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION

2012 record: 9-17-8

Outlook: New England has missed out on the playoffs for three consecutive seasons, winning just nine, five and nine matches respectively. Second-year coach Jay Heaps reacquired MF Andy Dorman (2004-07 with New England) and signed MLS veteran Chad Barrett to provide some stability. First-round draft pick Andrew Farrell, the Big East defender of the year last season, could be an immediate starter. The big question is goals: New England had the third fewest (39) in the East. Saer Sene had a breakout first MLS season, while Jerry Bengston has been a prolific scorer with Honduras National Team.

TORONTO FC

2012 record: 5-21-8

Outlook: Last season was a disappointment for the Reds, who opened with nine losses before closing with a 14-game winless streak. The team’s five victories were a franchise low. As a result, Toronto FC cleaned house. Kevin Payne from D.C. United was named the team’s GM and president, and Ryan Nelson, who has played for the last seven seasons in the EPL, became a first-time coach. F Danny Koevermans, with 17 league goals in 26 games over the past two seasons, isn’t expected back from knee surgery until June or July. Toronto FC gave up a league-high 62 goals last season, so the team is looking toward Irish defender Darren O’Dea, acquired in August, for help.

The Associated Press

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