The club has improved each season, so it’s easy to project improvement ahead. Coach Sigi Schmid is optimistic enough to set winning the Supporters’ Shield as the MLS’ top regular-season team, as one of his team’s goals.
But turning that into reality depends on several factors still unknown – or at least unannounced: Who will replace goalkeeper Kasey Keller? How will the defense be rebuilt in the absence of James Riley, who was lost in the expansion draft, and defender Tyson Wahl, who was traded. Will Zakuani and White return to health? How soon and how close to 100 percent? Will players such as Mike Fucito and Servando Carrasco make the kind of leap Neagle did this season? Will Neagle step forward all the way to stardom?
Even with positive answers, the recently announced changes in MLS structure will make that more difficult. For one thing, the unbalanced schedule means more games against the much tougher Western Division.
Even the path to the playoffs seems more precarious because the elimination of wild cards means only the top five Western teams will get in, only the top three are assured of a place in the conference semifinals, and only one can make it through to MLS Cup.