MLS 2013 Preview: California Love

Last year I wrote an 8,000 word preview on the off-season transactions of the 18 MLS teams not named Chicago Fire. This year, I’m planning on doing all 19 and in the same format as I did last year: East, Midwest, West, but in the reverse order this time. The season is upon us, let’s see how well or poorly the teams fared this off-season. Chivas USA

IN:  Edgar Meija, Mario de Luna, Giovani Casillas, Carlos Alvarez, Eric Avila, Steve Purdy, Carlos Borja OUT: Juan Pablo Angel, Peter Vagenas, Raushawn McKenzie, Danny Califf, Alejandro Moreno, Nick LaBrocca, Casey Townsend, Ben Zemanski, Ryan Smith, Cesar Romero, Paolo Cardozo, James Riley, Shalrie Joseph, John Valencia

Minutes XI Returning: 5/11 Minutes Gameday 18 Returning: 7/18

The Chivas USA roster suffered an absolute evisceration this off-season as owner Jorge Vergara and new Head Coach Jose Luis Sanchez Sola, or “El Chelis”, attempts to shape the American club in the famed Mexican club’s image. While controversy about the predominantly Mexican-American revamp has surfaced, the “other” Los Angeles club returns only five of eleven players with the most minutes from last season and an astonishingly low seven out of 18. As our good friend and the inimitable Tweed Thornton from Hot Time In Old Town regularly points out, keeping a roster consistent from season to season is paramount to maintaining a competitive squad. With only seven of the top 18 minute earners returning, Chivas USA will have no choice but to learn their new teammates and new system as they go throughout the season.

Chivas USA looked to address their shockingly obvious weakness of the lack of goalscoring in 2012 by adding attacking midfielder Carlos Alvarez from UCONN via the SuperDraft. Alvarez, whose father played for the real Chivas, may not be able to step in right away to help the Goats’ attack which scored an absurdly low 24 goals last season (Juan Pablo Angel led the team in scoring with FOUR goals in just over 1,000 minutes for fuck’s sake), but any little bit of creative spark should help Giovani Casillas score some goals. Casillas, one of the three players on loan from the mother club, is only 19 years old, but was on Mexico’s U-17 World Cup winning team and may be the driven understudy who gets late minutes and steals points from opponents. Edgar Meija and Mario de Luna are the two other players on loan who is expected to solidify the defensive end of the field. Former FC Dallas and Toronto FC winger Eric Avila has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his career and will need to contribute regularly for a side that Chelis wants to see attack aggressively.

What Chivas USA gained in youth and Mexican experience, they lost in salary and MLS experience. Danny Califf, James Riley, Nick LaBrocca, and Shalrie Joseph can make the Starting XI for just about any current MLS team but after the cuts, shed over a million dollars in salary cap space. Or so it seems. With the Goats so willing to offload players that don’t fit the system, many trades were made with Chivas handing over highly talented players for very little in return.

One thing for sure, Chivas will be a spectacle to see either for Chelis’ ridiculous attacking verve, the inevitable trainwreck of playing a 3-5-2, the on field Mexican-American takeover or Chelis’ ridiculous persona and ignorance of MLS’ subtleties.

Los Angeles

IN: Carlo Cudicini, Oscar Sorto, Colin Clark, Gyasi Zardes, Charlie Rugg, Kofi Opare, Greg Cochrane, Andy Riemer OUT: David Beckham, Edson Buddle, Chad Barrett, Pat Noonan, Kyle Nakazawa, Bryan Jordan, Andrew Boyens, Christian Wilhelmsson, Josh Saunders

Minutes XI Returning: 9/11 Gameday 18 Returning: 14/18

What the Galaxy lack in their Los Angeles counterpart’s batshit craziness, they make up for in class and this off-season has seen some addition by subtraction. The obvious departure here is David Beckham, and that will surely be a loss, but the rest of the exiting players were either replaceable or expensive leading to a nice bit of cap space opening up. Edson Buddle’s time at LA was costly and not all that productive, Chad Barrett had a decent stint, but the Galaxy can do better, Pat Noonan, Kyle Nakazawa, et al. rarely found the field, and Christian Wilhelmsson offered disappointingly little.

So far the Galaxy have added disappointingly little, which makes me think they’re looking to promote from within. Carlo Cudicini joins the club from Tottenham where he was essentially the third choice goalkeeper and doesn’t look to take up a DP spot, Colin Clark is a solid squad player who can find some minutes in the squad rotation, and Gyasi Zardes seems to believe he should have been the number one draft pick for some reason. I’m really hoping he sees some time in the opening game of the season and Arne Friedrich knocks him on his ass.

The main headlines relating to the Galaxy right now are more about who isn’t with the club. Of course, Beckham has already departed, Landon Donovan is not with the team yet, Frank Lampard may or may not join in the summer, and Omar Gonzalez may or may not leave in the summer. The stability shown by the Galaxy will work in their favor while Cudicini learns the team and Donovan figures out the meaning of life. This is now Robbie Keane’s team and the Galaxy are in very capable hands. They are still a dangerous team and shouldn’t have any problem staying in contention and working their way back to the top of the West when the end of the season comes around.

San Jose

IN: Dan Gargan, Ty Harden, Mike Fucito, Bryan Jordan, Nana Attakora, Tommy Muller, Dan Delgado, Adam Jahn, Colin Mitchell, Peter McGlynn OUT: Ike Opara, Khari Stephenson, Joey Gjertsen, Tressor Moreno, Tim Ward, Simon Dawkins

Minutes Starting XI Returning: 10/11 Minutes Gameday 18 Returning: 15/18

The task of improving a Supporters’ Shield winner may prove to be difficult, and while San Jose may not have done that, they haven’t really gone backwards either. Adding Dan Gargan, Bryan Jordan, and Mike Fucito gives the Quakes some added depth when they go through the CONCACAF Champions League late in the season. In the trade for Fucito, the Earthquakes traded their second round pick in this year’s draft so he may have a larger role in Frank Yallop’s plan.

San Jose hasn’t given up a whole lot this season either as it appears clearing cap space and the bottom roster spots were the main motivation behind the departures. The exception being Simon Dawkins on loan from Tottenham before Aston Villa signed him from the London club in the January transfer window. Besides the Dawkins transfer, San Jose only loses Tressor Moreno, who was a bit of a bust especially considering he was occupying $250K of cap space, and the duo of Khari Stephenson and Ike Opara who were depth players that contributed modestly yet makes up for nearly $300K of cap space also. The Opara situation is an interesting one for me as I’ve always rated the centerback highly but has reached a plateau in his career after freak foot injuries halted his development. He goes to another top MLS team in Sporting Kansas City that also have their centerback pairing figured out so finding more playing time could be a challenge for the talented Opara.

San Jose seem to be following the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra as cheaper centerback depth in draft pick Tommy Muller and more experienced depth in Gargan, Ty Harden, and Bryan Jordan is brought in and the rest of the club essentially stays the same. What needs to stay the same for the Supporters’ Shield champions is their tendency to find late goals and steal points from opponents in the dying minutes. Chris Wondoloski will unlikely match his record tying 27-goal season, but should still get at least 15 while Alan Gordon and the sheep Steven Lenhart will also contribute heavily on a rotating basis. For every Wondo and Gordo, though, it is just as important to have a Hernandez, Chavez, and Bernardez as Jason, Marvin, and Victor respectively were vital pieces to the San Jose side that really dominated the league earning points in 28 out of 34 games.

 

The California clubs look on course to continue on their paths with the Los Angeles and San Jose staying at or near the top and Chivas USA struggling to climb the ladder to the top. Chivas have an impressive 5-0-2 in preseason but only two games played were against MLS opponents: a 3-0 win over Colorado and a 1-1 draw against the Fire which takes much of the glimmer off of the sheen. Chivas USA will have plenty to prove as they open the season against Columbus.

Los Angeles may attract all the headlines pertaining to the big stars, but they'll keep doing they they do by being a team that is difficult to beat. Bruce Arena knows how to navigate an MLS season and will have his team ready for the playoffs. I can't see any possible way LA don't make the playoffs with Robbie Keane leading the way and Landon Donovan finally getting back in to the swing of things for the last 2/3rds of the season. Those discounting Arena's ability to get results while mixing proven veterans like Juninho and Mike Magee with the youngsters have no idea what they're talking about.

Either San Jose has to face the fact that they rode a high tide of luck last season or the critics have to face the fact that they just have the talent and drive to earn late points. Whatever halftime speeches Frank Yallop is giving the team or whatever other motivations they have certainly works. But let's not discount the team is really talented. Victor Bernardez was practically unbeatable last season, the leadership from Jason Hernandez and Jon Busch, and the emerging fullbacks of Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour had a lot to do with the solidity of an above average defense. Don't forget about the midfield contributions from role players like Sam Cronin, Shea Salinas and Rafael Baca also who did a lot to set up the forwards for their late game heroics. This is a good team that became great through whatever late game juju they had going on. Will San Jose be almost two points per game good this year like they were last year? Probably not. Will they still be at or near the top of the Supporters' Shield standings? Barring devastating injuries, yes. Yes they will.

Weekend Matches: Chivas USA vs. Columbus Los Angeles vs. Chicago San Jose vs. Real Salt Lake