Saturday, February 14, 2015

The 2015 MLS Half-Assed Preseason Guide

Like most Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs, I started 2015 with big plans and high expectations. Energy was high when I started, but then, y'know, life, family and...let's just bury those good intentions somewhere, give 'em a nice stone, and move on. (Look, such is the freedom of running a site that people only visit on a post-to-post basis. I haven't even defined "regular service" yet. And WHHEEEEEE!!!!)

I did manage, uh, nine team previews in the end? Links to all those appear are before the jump. (And the official site did us all (something of a) solid by pulling together a comprehensive guide for all clubs). After the jump, I'll provide before and after thumbnail comments on MLS's 11 remaining clubs. And, to give this post some kind of substance, I'll wrap up with personal, place-holder predictions on which clubs you’ll see in MLS's stupidly-expanded post-season.

As you can see, this post’s updated title matches the effort expended.


1. Portland Timbers
2. Seattle Sounders
3. New England Revolution
4. Columbus Crew
5. Red Bull New York
6. Los Angeles Galaxy
7. Toronto FC
8. Chicago Fire
9. Sporting Kansas City

And now, the rest...going entirely on memory for impressions of last season. And I'm only going to stare at the transaction page to create the one or two sentences about how I think each club did in the 2014-15 off-season.

Colorado Rapids
The Rapids ended 2014 in form bad enough to fuel lost-kid-on-a-milk-carton levels of pity; the idea of Pablo Mastroeni flailing out of his depth isn't/wasn't unreasonable. Since then: the Rapids took a page from DC's 2013-14 re-build manual, solidifying their spine with proven MLS guys like Sam Cronin (from the San Jose Earthquakes) and Marcel Sarvas from LA. Final Verdict: Upgrade; can't get worse (right?).

Houston Dynamo
I remember Houston suffering an unprecedented number of blow-out losses. Just absolute beat-downs. Giles Barnes had a nice year, but the overall feel of that roster can be summed up as "yep, another year older." Since then: Houston brought in some promising parts, highlighted by a La Liga central defender named Raul Rodriguez and a little fella with a big cabeza, Eric "Cubo" Torres – a.k.a. the sole bright spot for Chivas USA not named Dan Kennedy. Final Verdict: Doesn't feel like they did enough.

Vancouver Whitecaps
Bastards beat Portland into the playoffs and I still remember the goal-celebration, madman freakout Kendall Waston put on when he scored the decisive goal. In my mind, Vancouver equals exciting, young team with emphasis on the "young." Some promising pups a-whelping on their roster. Since then: With Jay DeMerit retiring and Andy O'Brien moving on, they got younger in defense; changes like that can break either way, really. The 'Caps did sign one of the more interesting forwards this off-season in Octavio Rivero. Final Verdict: One quality forward could put these guys in the conversation that any club wants to be in (e.g. contender talk).

New York City FC
As one of the two expansion clubs joining MLS this season, New York has no last year. What they do have is an off-season that featured a series of public relations shit-storms: see: Frank Lampard's tortured arrival and the long, stupid list of things fans can't do at NYCFC games. Since then: They built a roster, basically, one that features a lot of solid, if unspectacular guys, albeit with ample MLS pedigree. That base ain't bad by any stretch, and there's still time to call in some "fancy boys" from parent-club Manchester City, FC. Final Verdict: I see this club having trouble gelling in time, frankly, but it should be fun.

Real Salt Lake
RSL under-performed a little last year, which only bears mentioning because they set the gold standard for consistency in MLS for as long as they have. With so many of their special players a year older, injuries to a player like Joao Plata (who is, again, injured) really hurt. True, they made the Western Conference semifinals; they also got killed in the Western Conference semis. Since then: They stacked up on defense, and the Guatemalan guy reads like big news. Still, it’s perilously close to standing pat, even if they seem to have done very well in pre-season. Final Verdict: I expect they'll be boring this year, but solid enough to clear the low bar into the post-season.

Orlando City FC
MLS's other expansion club for 2015 and the one generating the most buzz. They’ve earned the hype by bringing in good players through major signings (Kaka), the sharp, intra-league trades (Aurelien Collin, Amobi Okugo, even the Tally Hall/Donovan Ricketts complex, fer crissakes), and the Draft (Cyle Larin, at least buzz-wise; yeah, it's easy when you draft #1). Add in the very real push to fill the bowl (in the positive way) for their (ideally not-postponed, canceled, or otherwise fucked by a strike) home opener. Final Verdict: If one of the expansion teams is ready to contend, most signs point to Orlando.

San Jose Earthquakes
The fact that San Jose was, undeniably, one of the crap teams of 2014 should have put the fear of God into...someone. A club opening a soccer-specific stadium of their very own needs more buzz than (yes, running joke) a bar that extends the width of the field. Last year, though, San Jose generally played – at least until the club shipped a Bash Brother to Los Angeles (NOTE: tough call on which to send) and started to try to play soccer. Since then: San Jose brought back legend/guiding light, Dominic Kinnear for their very special year, which seems like a good call. San Jose hasn’t, uh, exactly lit up in the 2014-15 offseason. Paulo Renato and Innocent Emeghara could be superstars; then again, they couldn't. Final Verdict: San Jose didn't do much for a club trying to tackle MLS’s more competitive conference.

DC United
DC played solid ball in 2014. Just solid. They stayed in the Supporters' Shield race till damn near the death by reliably grinding out results. Sigh. Chris Rolfe, Davy Arnaud, Bobby Boswell, Fabian Espindola: these are MLS's "Expendables." Since then: Why does DC, one of the stories of the 2013-14 offseason, bore me so heading into 2015? It's down to their upgrades: a d-mid, no matter how exotic or capable (presumably, Markus Halsti), is never exotic; in Jairo Arrieta they found a journeyman forward who was never good to journey; Andrew Driver; Michael Farfan: take away Halsti and it's all depth. Final Verdict: It'll take guys like Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon catching fire to make these guys interesting, but I'm guessing they have another year of "good" in them.

Montreal Impact
I won't lie: Montreal could have been in USL Pro through 2014 for the attention I paid them. I loved, loved Marco DiVaio (classiest forward in league history? Yeah, I'll take that), but, outside the Canadian championship, this wasn’t a club worth paying attention to. Since then: It sure as shit helps to see them alive in the CONCACAF Champions League. Win or lose, that's just all kinds of neat. The off-season also saw some big moves – especially in defense (Laurent Ciman, Victor Cabrera, even Bakary Soumare) – plus some weird drama with the Ambroise Oyongo/Eric Alexander trade. Final Verdict: When you suck, upgrade. It might not always be enough, but...well, beats standing pat, yeah?

FC Dallas
Their season ended with the misfortune of playing the Seattle Sounders in the playoffs, but Dallas played some ball in 2014. Between Mauro Diaz's short, injury-plagued season and Fabian Castillo's breakout season, Dallas tickled more than a few neutrals. They also managed to pick up enough stupid red cards for, oh, three seasons for a regular club. The result was a streaky, wasteful season that suggested all kinds of potential. Since then: Again, I'll level with you: I don't know who Michael Barrios is, but, per the rules of this post, I won't check. Dallas had a good base, so they don't need a ton more than goosing. Final Verdict: Possibly competitive, but the West is wild.

Philadelphia Union
They walked on the thin skin of the playoff bubble till almost the end, but they never felt like they'd actually break through. Given all the interest that attached to them going into 2014 that kind of sucked. Add a breakout year for Andrew Wenger and the Union have to feel like they under-achieved. Since then: They made fans sweat through much of the offseason, but Philly (might have) made good late by signing defender Steven Vitoria (Canadian guy (I think) by way of Portugal) and forward Fernando Aristeguleta (nice to have another name to trip up our collective tongues). Related: I can't believe it took long as it did to re-sign Conor Casey and Fred. Final Verdict: Philly has enough good parts for me to think that, with another year under their belts, they could spring a surprise in the East.

OK, that’s all the time I've had to contemplate all 20 MLS clubs. With that in mind, which clubs to I expect to see in the 2015 super-expanded post-season? Here it is, by conference:

Eastern Conference
New England Revolution, Columbus Crew SC, DC United, Toronto FC, Philadelphia Union, Chicago Fire

Western Conference
Los Angeles Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, Real Salt Lake, Sporting Kansas City, Vancouver Whitecaps, Portland Timbers

Now, if I had to pick clubs among those names most likely to fall out, it would be Real Salt Lake and (dammit!) Portland in the West. As for the East...shit, how about all of them outside the first three listed? Suddenly, that six-team cutoff doesn't seem so simple. Tough, tough calls all 'round.

Looking forward. Let’s get that goddamn CBA signed, people!

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