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. Colorado
IN: Diego Calderon, DeShorn Brown, Nick LaBrocca, Charles Eloundou, Nathan Sturgis, Edson Buddle, Atiba Harris, Kevin Harbottle, Dillon Serna, Dillon Powers OUT: Conor Casey, Omar Cummings, Jeff Larentowicz, Hunter Freeman, Edu, Ian Joyce, Tyrone Marshall, Joseph Nane, Tyson Wahl, Scott Palguta, Luis Zapata
Minutes Starting XI Returning: 6/11 Minutes Gameday 18 Returning: 8/18
Colorado shuffles the deck this year after what was supposed to be a promising 2012. The main weakness was the defense allowing 50 goals which ranked 15th out of 19 teams. As a result, Hunter Freeman, Tyrone Marshall, Luis Zapata, and Tyson Wahl are now elsewhere. The Rapids also broke up the dynamic duo of Connor Casey and Omar Cummings that destroyed the league in 2010 but only managed eight goals and five assists in 2012. Long time Rapids midfield stalwart Jeff Larentowicz went to Chicago in a trade for the 11th draft pick.
The Rapids ended up using that draft pick on Dillon Powers, a young box to box midfielder who will undoubtedly learn the ropes from old man Pablo Mastroeni. The other first round draft pick went to picking up DeShorn Brown, a speedy Jamaican who will be competing for playing time and may actually earn some throughout the season. Colorado also acquired some solid MLS players who will make an immediate impact in the lineup in Nick LaBrocca, Edson Buddle, Atiba Harris, and Nathan Sturgis. LaBrocca is the main event here and should get some time in the midfield with Mastroeni. Harris will be hacking his way through defenses and Buddle will need to be productive again if Colorado has any hope for a decent season. Sturgis will provide cover for Anthony Wallace.
Colorado made a lot of moves to eliminate expensive players (Larentowicz at $200K, Freeman at $105K), ineffective players (Cummings, Wahl, Marshall, Freeman) or expensive and ineffective players (Casey at $400K and two goals and three assists in just over 1,100 minutes). The spine of the team will need to stay strong and durable as Mastroeni ages, Diego Calderon is a new signing at the back, and Buddle needs to be productive and healthy for this team to have any chance at making a run to the post season. Having Tony Cascio get another year of experience and Martin Rivero back will help ease the scoring concerns, but for the most part, their season to me looks like it is depending on too many things to go right. Something will give.
IN: Kenny Cooper, Eric Hassli, Je-Vaughn Watson, Stephen Keel, Michel, Walker Zimmerman, London Woodberry, Raul Fernandez, Peter Luccin, Bradlee Baladez OUT: Brek Shea, Scott Sealy, Kevin Hartman, Julian de Guzman, Bruno Guarda, Bryan Leyva, Ruben Luna, Matias Jara, Moises Hernandez, James Marcelin, Ricardo Villar
Minutes Starting XI Returning: 9/11 Minutes Gameday 18 Returning: 11/18
The losses of Kevin Hartman and Brek Shea headline the offseason for FC Dallas as the Texan club tries to bounce back from a below average season. Hartman has been one of the most reliable goalkeepers in league history and his departure is going to be huge for Dallas. Julian de Guzman also left the club moving to the second Bundesliga. Shea departed for Stoke City after a disappointing three goal, two assist season for the winger. It appeared clear throughout last season that Shea wanted to go elsewhere and Dallas had a hard time replacing him.
But replace they must. Kenny Cooper and Eric Hassli joins FC Dallas in a move that will create lineup headaches for Schellas Hyndman. Hassli has been known to play on the wing but is vastly more effective in front of goal. Cooper has the size and strength to barrel his way through defenses. Integrating the two into the lineup with Blas Perez, who was a great addition last season, may prove difficult. More goals need to be scored and finding the balance while still keeping defensively sound will be Hyndman's biggest task of the season.
Defensively, Raul Fernandez will compete with Chris Seitz to replace Hartman as the Peruvian international has 21 caps to his name. Walker Zimmerman will add depth to the centerback corps as a rookie and Stephen Keel, who was regarded highly in New York, will probably be the third choice centerback. Peter Luccin is a 33-year old French defensive midfielder that will likely provide depth in the midfield. Many of the signings from Dallas help the bench, but not necessarily the starting lineup that seems like it should be better than it was last year. If Perez can stay healthy and Hyndman figures who works best with him, Dallas has a shot at moving up the table. David Ferreira is a difference maker, but there's little else around him in the midfield. It could be another disappointing season for Dallas fans.
Real Salt Lake
IN: Joao Plata, Robbie Findley, Lovel Palmer, Aaron Maund, Cole Grossman, Devon Sandoval, John Stertzer OUT: Jamison Olave, Will Johnson, Fabian Espindola, Justin Braun, Paulo Jr. Emiliano Bonfigli, Kyle Reynish, Nico Muniz, Jonny Steele
Minutes Starting XI Returning: 8/11 Minutes Gameday 18 Returning: 13/18
Jason Kreis has not lost many players from last year's main contributors, but the ones he did lose are major players in Jamison Olave, Will Johnson, and Fabian Espindola. This may be addition by subtraction as Olave is often injured, Espindola blows hot and cold for long stretches, and Johnson is mostly just a hustle guy. Luis Gil will likely fill in for Johnson and can bring a bit of flair, but may be called up to US U-20 duties throughout the season. Kreis seems to like Chris Schuler to take Olave's spot, but Olave is one of the best centerbacks in the league when healthy and replacing him is a tall task. I'm assuming Robbie Findley will take Espindola's spot, but that too is a bit of a drop in quality. If Findley can stay consistent, that should help, but when Espindola wasn't scoring, he was still stretching defenses, working hard, and setting up other players for scoring chances. Kreis loses some depth with Paulo Jr. and Jonny Steele but regains depth with Aaron Maund and Lovel Palmer.
Palmer can play in the midfield or defense and appeared in 19 games for Portland last season. Maund joins the Utah club in a trade for Justin Braun, who only played 87 minutes for Kreis in 2012, and will shore up the defense. Findley rejoins Salt Lake after two years in England and will attempt to regain the form he had when he originally left. The exciting addition to the squad is Joao Plata who was one of few things Toronto FC got right when they drafted him 49th in the 2011 SuperDraft. An incredible value that late in the draft, the diminutive 5'3" midfielder was a spark that got behind many defenses and brought an abundance of flair from the wide midfield position. If Plata is paired on the opposite flank with Gil, Salt Lake suddenly has a creative boon on the wings instead of the industrious duo of Johnson and Ned Grabavoy.
Kreis seems to have a plan going into this season that his backups can step up and fill the place of pricier former first teamers now at other clubs. All eyes will be on Schuler to see if he can handle the pressure of being the full time centerback with Nat Borchers. With Nick Rimando behind him and Kyle Beckerman ahead of him, he is surrounded by skilled veterans. Kreis seems to be very good at slowly easing young guys into the line up and letting them grow and this situation may be no different. I expect Salt Lake to struggle early in the season, but pick up steam as playoff time rolls around.
FC Dallas, on the other hand, can only go as far as their attack takes them. Sure, they have two solid centerbacks in George John and Matt Hedges, but John wasn't the force he once was, Zimmerman is still a rookie, and the defense will have a hard time holding up against other Western teams who are packing a serious amount of attacking heat. David Ferreira must step up and lead the attack with his 2010 form, but the league is vastly different now than it was when Dallas found themselves in the MLS Cup finals.
Same goes for Colorado who have a little bit of a better all around squad, but still relying on string and gum to hold themselves together. Drew Moor is doing all he can at the back and is not doing a bad job and the same goes for Marvell Wynne. The fact is, Moor is a smaller centerback and Wynne's speed is forced to save the day too many times. Cascio and Rivero will have to have strong seasons and the finishing and health of Buddle will be paramount to a successful 2013 for the Rapids. Dumping Casey and Cummings will also help create salary cap space. Moving on from 2010 is the best course of action for Colorado and FC Dallas. There will be growing pains, but it's a necessary adjustment for a league that has left them in the dust.
Weekend Matches: FC Dallas vs. Colorado San Jose vs. Real Salt Lake