MLS Year 13 - My Guess is as Good as Yours

So I'm supposed to write an "MLS Preview" in this space today.

When I asked if they were serious, if I really had to do this, Huss replied: "Just mention MLS in your first sentence so it rings like a preview".

Unfortunately, I'm reasonably certain that he was kidding. Otherwise, I'd be done already and would now be writing about how it is that Jack Warner, a retired school teacher, has an estimated net worth of US$ 50 million.

It's not that I mind making up a bunch of nonsense out of thin air. If you've been paying any kind of attention at all, then you know that's what I do here most of the time anyway.

It's just that everybody who writes about soccer is doing the exact same thing this week. From the well known guys that everybody reads down to the guys who toil away on some personal blog not another living soul has ever read, the US internet landscape is awash this week in "MLS Season Preview" posts.

So then you write a little blurb about each team which usually ends up something like this:

The Moosedogs' draft picks look like instant superstars, their aged returnees have suddenly "found new life", the journeyman head case who's on his fifth team in three years has suddenly "matured" and "found himself" and if no one at all gets even slightly injured then "this could be their year".

In fact, if all the other players in the division break a leg the Moosedogs could finish as high as second.

Rinse. Repeat six or eight times. Predict it will all come down to Houston and DC with a nod towards New England, and then call it a day.

Of course if you were being honest you'd write:

The Moosedogs, a perpetual boil on the league's ass, is a team owned by a brainless yuppie cheapskate, coached by a moron who can't find his ass with both hands and whose best player is 40 years old and coming off of his fifth total knee reconstruction.

Their draft choices were absurd, their keeper has the reflexes of a bag of dirt and the only decent player they had fled to Norway to preserve his sanity. The sole reason they won't finish eighth is because there are only seven teams in the division.

But nobody wants to hear that, do they? This is the season of Hope, Faith and Self Delusion:

Your favorite team has yet to cough up a lead in the final ten minutes. At home. For the third game in a row. Your best forward, the guy who can't get out of bed without pulling a hamstring, is still walking around without an air cast. The brilliant looking rookie who tore up NCAA Division I last year has yet to demonstrate, for the millionth time, that college prowess means nothing whatsoever. That really, really fast guy you traded for has yet to put the first of 100 wide-open shots 20 feet over the bar.

Nevertheless, all of that aside, I proudly present, for the three or four of you who are still reading this (thanks Mom!) my 2008 MLS Preview:

THE BOTTOM FIVE:

SAN JOSE:

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this team could very easily be the worst side MLS has ever seen. I've always liked Yallop, who would likely be the winningest coach in MLS history if he hadn't decided to go to work for the CSA, and he's got some nice parts here and there, but they aren't going far playing for thirty 0 - 0 draws.

Odds of Winning it All: A million to one.

TORONTO:

Apparently Mo Johnston thought that last season was a freak occurrence, and he's decided to try one more season with the same bunch of guys that stunk up the league last year. What's more, he's brought in a coach with exactly no MLS experience of any kind to run them out there. Fortunately, their fans - like a guy whose girlfriend has three eyes - are still so deliriously in love with this team that they haven't noticed.

Odds of Winning it All: 500-1

REAL SALT LAKE:

Yeah, I know. Jason Kreis has now had a whole off season to make this team his own, to mold them and shape them and teach them how to win. Unfortunately, a fighting spirit and a never-say-die attitude are not substitutes for actual talent, and RSL is still a little short in that department. This isn't a team that needs a couple spare parts, it's a team that needs to be blown up. Maybe next year.

Odds of Winning it All: 200-1

LOS ANGELES:

We've got glitz! We've got glamour! Did I mention the glitz? I did? Oh. When in the name of Jesus, Joseph and Mary is AEG going to show Panayotis Lalas the door? How many teams does he get to trash before Tim Lieuweke slaps himself on the forehead and says "Hey! This guy is an idiot!" The funny thing is that it wouldn't really take all that much to turn this team into a playoff contender, but Lalas isn't a guy who can pull it off.

Odds of Winning it All: 200-1

COLORADO:

I'm sorry, but I'm just not convinced. Oh, they rearranged the furniture big time out there, but I'm not convinced that it's going to make much difference, for two reasons: first, while Gomez was a terrific player surrounded by the kind of talent DC has, I don't see him carrying a team around on his back. Second, because Fernando Clavijo is still in charge, and he has yet to prove that he's much more than a snappy dresser.

Odds of Winning it All: 150-1

THE PRETENDERS:


FC DALLAS:

There's not really much to say about Dallas. Their biggest asset is that they play in the western conference, so they could make the playoffs despite being pretty mediocre. FCBurn has shown a penchant for midseason pickups of players well past their sell-by date (see Hislop, Shaka and Denilson, er, well just Denilson) so maybe there's an achy, arthritic hitter out there someplace who thinks the idea of spending the summer in a blast furnace like Dallas sounds like a grand notion. It's not much to hope for, but when your best player is a plodder like Kenny Cooper, hope isn't a word that comes to mind right away.

Odds of Winning it All: 100-1

KANSAS CITY:

Some of you will recall the Great Dallas Fan Flush when the Burn, a team with a reasonably decent fan base, told their customersl to go to hell and moved to Dragon Stadium, where they stayed away in droves. Well, KC is working on topping it this season, moving the Wizards twenty-some miles to an out-of-state low-minors baseball stadium. ("Home of the T-Bones"). On the other hand, who needs fans? Anyway, out there beyond second base someplace will be Claudio Lopez, whose job is simply to be great. If he's not, that last playoff spot KC slipped into last season will be a distant memory. Just like their fanbase.

Odds of Winning it All: 100-1

COLUMBUS:

Sigi Schmid was hired in 2006 to improve on Greg Andrulis' 11-16-5 record. In two seasons in Columbus, he's never won more than 9 games. Look no further for the hottest coaching seat in the league: the fans aren't getting restless, they're getting homicidal. In truth, this looks to be a better team than the one that missed the playoffs (again) last year. The back line is, as usual, pretty solid. Nobody ever said the fat guy doesn't know defense. But if Barros-Schelotto can't conjure up a way to manufacture some goals via his surrounding cast of youngsters and journeymen, Robert Warzycha will be the HC in CBus by August 1.

Odds of Winning it All: 100-1

NEW ENGLAND:

In team sports, you only get so many shots at the gold ring before you fall back into the pack. Welcome to the pack, Steve Nicol. The hard cold fact is that you can't keep bleeding good solid contributors year after year and continue to stay on top. The Revs do still have some players: although Ralston is getting a little long in the tooth he's got some miles left and Parkhurst is maybe the best defender in the league, but this used to be a team with stars all over the pitch, and you can't replace guys like Dempsey, Noonan and Dorman with Mauricio Castro. Just ain't how it works.

Odds of Winning it All: Longer than Revs fans are likely to admit.

BRIDESMAIDS:

CHICAGO:

If there's a coach you really have to root for it's Denis Hamlett. The guy has paid some serious dues and has earned his shot in the big chair like maybe nobody else in MLS history. And with apologies to Sir David of the Left Coast, nobody has come into the league and had a more explosive impact than Blanco, who startled everyone by actually taking it seriously. Turns out nobody told him this was supposed to be a retirement village; he came to play and he apparently only knows one way to do it. If Frankowski can become a major contributor, this is a side which can make a serious run.

Odds of Winning it All: 25-1

DC:

The hardest thing to do in all of sports is to tear down a team which is really, really good but can't seem to close the deal. When you come so close, the temptation is to tinker a bit around the edges and see if you can't nudge them across the finish line. But Kevin Payne has never been a conservative GM, and salary cap issues aside he chose to roll the dice. Now it's up to Tom Soehn to put the pieces together and get this side over the hump, a job he's more than up to. But overhauls like this are tricky and only time will tell. Suffice it to say that while they do have some question marks, betting against them could be a serious mistake.

Odds of Winning it All: Better than the rest of the league is comfortable with.

HOUSTON:

I wish the league would put these guys in the East for a season and we'd see how good they really are. One suspects that after a couple rounds of home-and-home with DC, New York, Chicago the Revs and Columbus (who may not beat you but who will beat you up) they'd be three deep at the trainer's table, pining for a nice, comfy swing through the West Coast. As it is, this has all the earmarks of a side that is past it's prime. Maybe I'm the only one, but I recall that this was a team that couldn't find the goal with a map and a team of bloodhounds last year until the midseason trade for Jar-Jar Ngwenya, who's now plying his trade in Scandinavia. This is a team which has always leaned on it's defense to win, but this season it may not be enough.

Odds of Making the Finals: 20-1 in the West, 200-1 in the East

YOUR 2008 MLS Cup Finalists:

NEW YORK:

Maybe it seems odd to find NYRB ranked this high. That's because it IS odd for NYRB to be ranked this high. But this is a solid team front-to-back, with some stars and some excellent role players who will clearly understand those roles playing under a guy like Osorio and behind one of the best pairs of strike partners MLS has ever seen. They were very unlucky - or perhaps cursed is a better word - not to find themselves in the final last year, and with the depth they've added it's hard to see who can keep them out this time around.

Odds of Winning it All: 5-1 thereby really pissing off Chicago

HOMELESS NON-MEXICANS:

The other team that should have been in the final last year was Chivas. Instead we were treated to watching the Revs once again serving as Houston's prison girlfriend. But make no mistake: these guys were the class of the league last year, and look even stronger in 2008. They can score, they can defend, they now have real depth and, in Preki, they have the perfect coach for the "nobody loves us and we like it that way". chip-on-the-shoulder style which suits this group to a T.

Odds of Winning it All: 3-1 and if you don't believe it, they'll kick your ass.

Now about that $50 million........