Alright, so I didn’t have the chance to write my usual 10,000 word MLS Off-season Transaction bonanza this year but I am here to predict some of the major themes of the MLS 2014 season. In nine months, we can look back at how brilliant or dumb I am for putting these picks on the internet. Huddalis Conference Standings: 1. New York Red Bulls 2. Sporting Kansas City 3. New England Revolution 4. Houston Dynamo 5. Philadelphia Union 6. Chicago Fire 7. Toronto FC 8. D.C. United 9. Columbus Crew 10. Montreal Impact
I’m predicting the top three will remain unchanged unless a long term injury bug hits some big names. In the East, New York is preparing for one final hurrah with Thierry Henry and should have no shortage of motivation to keep them from the top spot. Sporting will flounder a bit during the World Cup months as Graham Zusi and Matt Besler will be on National Team duty. The kids from New England will be another year older and wiser but Teal Bunbury is a step down from Juan Agudelo and Jose Goncalves will practically carry the defense again. Houston looks like they took a big step back in the off-season but I imagine Dom Kinnear has a secret weapon or two he’s going to acquire or develop later in the year. Never count Thug Life Dom Kinnear out.
That leaves the battle for the last playoff spot. The Fire have retooled the centerback pairing while Philadelphia, Toronto, and D.C. made multiple big moves to make them competitive for the playoff push. I like Philly most out of the three as the addition of Maurice Edu will have a significant impact if John Hackworth continues to deploy his preferred 4-3-3. The problem Philadelphia has is the same problem the Fire have in that they are largely dependent on a star forward for goals. Jack McInerney could have kept pace with Mike Magee last year but went cold after the All-Star break. The playoffs could come down to whose supporting cast can help score more goals. Toronto could crash the party as I really like their acquisition of attacking fullback Justin Morrow.
Middleit Conference Standings: 1. Los Angeles 2. Portland Timbers 3. Real Salt Lake 4. FC Dallas 5. Seattle Sounders 6. San Jose Earthquakes 7. Vancouver Whitecaps 8. Colorado Rapids 9. Chivas USA
Again, the top three remain unchanged here, but they have kept core players and addressed weaknesses except for Salt Lake. Jeff Cassar will have some difficult patches to fill when Kyle Beckerman, Alvaro Saborio, and probably Nick Rimando go off for World Cup duty. However, the kids that started to develop last year should continue to get minutes and will improve.
The same may not be said for Colorado's promising pick of pups as they haven't formally announced a head coach yet. Word on the street is Pablo Mastroeni will take the reins but having a fresh first year coach develop a team so heavily dependent on rookies may be cause for concern. A promising kid that should do well is Mauro Diaz in Dallas. He is touted as the next David Ferreira, and with Oscar Pareja in charge and Blas Perez ready to knock in goals, Diaz may be ready for a break out season.
Seattle, San Jose, and Vancouver will be clawing for that last spot. I know Seattle has some big names but I need to see their game come together first. Time will tell if Chad Marshall is aging or experienced, though I don't imagine that turf will help his injury issues, Jalil Anibaba may not be cut out for the Western finesse, and there are the usual issues with Marco Pappa and Kenny Cooper and the useless at Fulham Clint Dempsey. San Jose may squeeze out that last spot as Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi and Andreas Gorlitz strengthen a squad with the meanest attacking corps and an intimidating spine with Sam Cronin anchoring the midfield and Clarence Goodson and Victor Bernardez holding down the middle of defense. Vancouver looks much improved, especially after getting Matias Laba from Toronto, but the questions of consistency up front with Darren Mattocks and Russell Teibert and durability in the back with Jay Demerit may see the Whitecaps out of playoff contention.
As for Chivas USA? Well, they're much improved. I like the Mauro Rosales and Andrew Jean-Baptiste signings, but Rosales is fragile and Jean-Baptiste is a very raw talent. I don't see them anywhere but last. They won't be a three point ATM like they were last season, but they should still finish last. At least they'll get a new team identity this year which leads me to...
Top 5 Best New Names for Chivas USA: 1. MLS SC 2. Dan Kennedy’s Fainting Goat Farm 3. The House that Chelis Flipped 4. The Shrine of Don Garber 5. LA Galaxy III presented by Samsung
Supporter’s Shield Winner: Los Angeles Galaxy Bruce Arena’s squad is very good from top to bottom and with no international duty from Robbie Keane it’s hard to imagine them losing a step. Bringing in Rob Friend is a great pick up that will allow them the added dimension of using a target forward in attack. Gyassi Zardes is a young attacker that has high hopes of himself becoming an elite attacking force in the league. If there was ever a time for him to step up and deliver, it will be when Landon Donovan is away on World Cup duty. And don’t forget about the central midfield of Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas that may be one of the best, if not the best, in the league. However, the rest of the West is a dogfight and a few points taken here or there will keep the Shield in the East.
MLS MVP Winner: Graham Zusi I hesitate predicting the MVP to be someone who will be on World Cup duty, but c’mon, MLS will be gargling so hard on the national team vets. I don’t see it going any other way.
MLS Discipline Winner: Aurelien Colin So much filth.
MLS Cup Final: Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Sporting Kansas City Anything can happen in the playoffs but I’m convinced two of the strongest and deepest rosters are bound to meet in the Final this season. I think the Galaxy win their fifth title and third in four years this year.
US Open Cup winner: New England Revolution The West may be better this year but with everyone beating each other up all season long I think the focus on those teams will be on the regular season meaning this trophy is the East’s to lose again. The Fire are always a threat and will go far, New York may take this one seriously for once, and Kansas City always wants to add trophies. However, I think Jay Heaps will throw his eager kids at this trophy and can do the business in a one and done format.
Fire Golden Boot winner: Mike Magee At some point in the season it will become apparent that Anangono just won’t work up front by himself and it will be up to Magee to score the goals in a flat 4-4-2. I predict Magee will end up with a very respectable 12 goals. More emphasis will be placed on scoring goals from all over the field as the attacking weapons are there to help contribute from the midfield.
Fire MVP: Sean Johnson The Milkman keeps getting better and better every year and this may be his year to reach the second highest echelon of goalkeepers. I still think he’s a way off from the Top 5 in MLS, but a strong end to the 2013 season should give him some momentum coming into this season.
Fire Mid-Season DP Acquisition: Berdi Samyradow Heh.
Fire player most likely to be traded during the season: Patrick Nyarko People aren’t going to like this one, but Nyarko is 28 and losing trade value. We all know he isn’t going to get the gaudy goal scoring numbers, but his defensive effort and playmaking production was down last year and Frank Yallop may focus his attack through the central midfield of Alex and Magee to serve Anongano. A healthy first half of the season would be a huge help to his chances of staying with the team.
A trade that would make sense to me is to reunite Nyarko with Frank Klopas in Montreal for Felipe who had a falling out at the end of last season and would serve to be an upgrade in attacking midfield over Alex. The move makes sense with the current cap situation as last year Nyarko made $250k guaranteed compared to Felipe’s $182k. Nyarko’s salary number may be too high to take on, but Klopas would benefit as the speedy winger duo of Nyarko and Justin Mapp would terrorize fullbacks and serve Marco Di Vaio easy tap-ins that will be called back for offside.
Number of times Stephen will record the FuegoCast completely huddled: 3
Fantasy MLS Gin League winner: Bombay Bombers C’mon, I have to pick my team to win, obviously. The competition is fierce with Gregg and Stephen joining in as well as many other friends of the FuegoCast show. A great time will be had by all.
Enjoy the season, everyone.