Eastern preview here. You don't have to read it if you don't want to. In fact, I'm sure you already have, or made an equally considered and informed decision not to.
Who cares? It's barely worth the energy to hate these clowns anymore. The only reason they're kicking off this year was to get $80 million or thereabouts out of Cascadian capitalists. Please don't tell me we're stuck with these jerkoffs until expansion stops.
Why don't they just break the Home Depot Center lease, change out of those secondhand candy-stripes, and go make some cash in Missouri or Quebec or Florida? What are they afraid of? Who the hell did they sign the lease with, anyway, Phil Anschutz, or Rumpelstiltskin?
There are so many problems with the "Sick of the Galaxy? We're cheaper!" marketing approach that it's frankly mind-boggling. It's enough to say that method has harvested sub-peachy returns for three years now. And now that the economy has died and gone to hell, the prognosis is as negative as the sales figures for the instructional DVD, "Making Friends Playing Football - Atiba Harris Shows You The Beautiful Game!" I've talked about the negative feedback loop these clods have with the clods at the Galaxy, and the only reason I keep talking about it is because it only gets more and more true. Verily, the I Told You So gods have granted me a mighty boon.
They are literally the poor man's Galaxy, right down to the one great player tasked with carrying a fragile front line and a godawful defense. The only thing they don't have is a DP, and doesn't THAT speak volumes about the Omnilife empire's commitment to this licensing venture. It's supposed to be Chivas, not Cheap-ass.
MY GUESS: Another year of trying to sell hamburgers to PeTA. Oh, by the way? Jon? Jonathan Bornstein? That thing on the floor, just lying there, motionless? Not moving? Dead to the world? At a complete standstill? Yeah, that's your career. You might want to either get that thing moving again, or put it over there in the bin with your potential.
You're going to read "They should be better this year" a lot, about Los Pids specifically and the West in general. This actually has the makings of a good team in a year or two, which makes them one of the real powerhouses in the West right now. I wish Omar Cummings were American, don't you? Ditching Bouna Condoul is usually the kind of idiot move that keeps non-playoff teams free in November, but finding Matt Pickens makes up for it. They're in love with Nick LaBrocca over there, and who am I to stand in the way of true love?
It's a mild upset that Cory Gibbs is still around - anything to keep the hatred from Dallas ticking along. I'd honestly predict very good things for the Rapids this year if I could get a look at Gibbs' daily calendar, and see if the transfer window isn't highlit with big smiley faces.
On the down side, not sold on Kimura. Ugo Ihemelu only gets one more broken leg before I scream for him to retire or quit - like Tyrone Marshall, he's one short of the Dema limit. Pointy-headed smarmy skeptics mock the idea of Conor Casey maintaining last year's form - and I am their king. And didn't Mehdi Ballouchy want to be a soccer player at some point?
MY GUESS: In all honesty, what's the gap between, say, second and eighth in this conference? Exactly. I think they're a slight cut above some of the other schlubs here, so go ahead and print playoff tickets.
I don't have to say "Dave van den Bergh was garbage in MLS Cup," you know. I don't need the aggravation. I don't need the negativity. I don't get off on saying hurtful things just because hatefulness is my chocolate. David Ferreira doesn't have as many fans yet, but still, where does it profit me to point out that everyone from Beckerman to Nagamura to Kovalenko to Mastroeni to Clark is going to just barrel into the little guy?
I don't think people in Dallas are bad people. It doesn't give me joy to say that, in my opinion, their soccer team will be one of the very worst in the league. I wish it were otherwise. But I just can't get there. I'm sorry, guys. I really am.
Yeah, Kenny Cooper, he's great. If only Dallas had him last year, right?
Fine. Van den Bergh isn't THAT old, and for all I know Pablo Ricchetti is set to become an elite MLS player. I'm sorta baffled that he hasn't, and I don't think it's simply because Dallas players are historically underrated and ignored (Mark Dodd and Clarence Goodson are the examples that come to mind, but there were others).
Still, Buzz Carrick is still lamenting the loss of Jamie Watson, and there are words to describe teams that will regret not having Jamie Watson. (Who's a gamer, don't get me wrong - he'll find a home somewhere. But, y'know, he ain't Jason Kreis.)
MY GUESS: Every week, they will thank God and geography that they are in the West
There are two Houston Dynamos. There's the real one, and there's the one in comparison with the rest of the conference. The latter one is probably, week in and week out, one of the finest teams ever to play the game. Just for fun, let's talk about the real one, because if MLS keeps an East-West format, the Texas teams will get kicked over to the East in the season after next. Then the Dynamo will finally have to sing for their supper.
Until that fretful day, it's smooth sailing.
So how come this perfectly good team has trouble winning the West, and when they do, they gag in the first round to a bunch of little blue and silver cans?
I have a theory it was all Dwayne De Rosario channelling the LA Lakers, keeping fresh for the playoffs. This allowed much more vulnerable teams like Chivas USA and Dallas to get the top seed and step on the playoff format minefield, whereupon the Dynamo would pick up the pieces.
If it wasn't a plan, it's just odd. The Supporters Shield is there for the taking every year, but so far they haven't bothered to pick it up from where they left it (hopefully not Spartan Stadium, I don't think anyone's been back there since). They might have bought into the Curse of the Shield, but the Crew exorcised that particular ghost last year.
There are only a couple of question marks on this team for 2009 - is Stuart Holden ready to be The Man, and will Kei Kamara finally take the second forward spot that's been open pretty much since Donovan left?
The answers are (a) probably, although it shouldn't matter this year, and (b) probably not, much to the chagrin of the US Soccer Foundation, whose charitable arm has already benefited from Kamara's largesse. And, again, it shouldn't matter this year.
MY GUESS: The Dynamo are still much better than anyone west of the Mississippi (sorry, Wizards), and they're a very popular favorite to get to Seattle and leave happy. A lot of these guys are either old, fragile, or dumb, but very rarely are any of them two of those things. But they proved last year they can lose to anyone, they really could have used a better result in CONCACAF, and it's going to be another long season playing against thugs on turf. They may want to finish second or third, just to catch their breath in the first round.
There's a bit in the original "In-Laws" movie where Peter Falk says "You know, I am such an incredible driver. It's incomprehensible to me that they took away my license." And in response, Alan Arkin gets this wonderful expression, combining equal parts terror, horror, and helpless rage. I call that look the "Galaxy Season Ticket Holder" look.
I can't believe they got rid of Espindola! Sure, he was dumb! So what! You kept Clint Mathis this long, didn't you?
People laugh at me, and not in the good way, when I say I like Salt Lake's defense. By the time they get to Rimando, the opposition has to get the ball from Morales, find a way past Beckerman, then avoid getting fouled by Olave, Joy, Wingert or Borchers. It happened a lot last year, but I think this year they win on the road once in a while. Sure, the Royals aren't going to win the five or six games a year when Olave is suspended. But they're abnormally deep in the back, even at goalkeeper. That makes up for a lot of faults.
Most of which are up top. Robbie Findley and Yura Movsisyan are the kind of fantasy league picks you make because you're running tight on budget and you really hope this will be a real breakout year. That's a beautiful way to finish in the middle of the pack - ask me how I know. Yura was so dominant in the playoffs, though, and there are only about two, maybe two and a half good defenses in the division, so this year might be different.
Then of course there's Javier Morales, who's good. Good enough to get 20 assists, and lead Salt Lake to the top.
MY GUESS: If Houston wasn't in the way, Real Salt Lake and Colorado would battle for a spot in MLS Cup. That might have to wait a year or two, though. Don't take it personally if this year I have RSL ambushed yet again by a fifth place Eastern team - the Western Conference is like the Pac 10, except the Pac 10 will send more than one team to the second round.
Remember 2003? Frank Yallop does. It was the last time he won more games than he lost. It's a good thing he's pretty much mayor of San Jose, because it's going to be another thirty weeks of beating for the old career win-loss average.
The Quakes are kind of the opposite of how bad teams run around these parts. They're actually okay in defense - really good in goal. It's just the offense that is highly troublesome. You have to bleed a real hemophiliac shade of blue to believe in a forward corps of Ryan Johnson, Pablo Campos, Cam Weaver, Davide Somma and Quincy Amrikwa. Hell, you have to be a pretty damned hardcore Quaker to have heard of most of those guys. I don't know why Yallop is depending on them, but this isn't the first time he's relied on "Winning Without Forwards - The Story of France '98."
More likely he tests the international waters again and tries to find a proper target for a very good midfield.
Well, most people think it's a good midfield. I think Corrales and Alvarez are liabilities myself, but then I remembered what division they were in. And their job is to not get in Huckerby's way, which can't be that hard. I also like Convey to make a comeback, if only because someone restoring their US national team career by rejoining MLS is something that NEEDS to happen.
MY GUESS: I think they finish a strong fourth. Which would be a strong sixth in the East, and therefore, no playoffs.
Full disclosure - last night, I thought New York would pretty comfortably stroll past our new friends with the hideous green shirts, kicking off a season that would send Seattle firmly to the sub-basement of the West.
I also concluded from the Fredy Montrero soap opera that he was going to be a disappointment on a Denilson scale.
Oh, and I thought that Kasey Keller would recreate the MLS careers of former European-based national teamers like Claudio Reyna and Juergen Sommer.
Also, the last expansion team to win its opening game was Chicago in 1998 - and that shouldn't count, because they were playing the other expansion team.
The last expansion team to make the playoffs in their first year was Miami in 1998. (Ah, you see, Chicago clinched their spot before Miami, so the Fusion were, in fact, the most recent team to do so. Try that one on your friends. If they don't give you black eye for that one, they weren't really your friends.)
I'm not wrong YET about any of that, but last night sure made me reconsider a few things. Like bringing a sousaphone to games.
I still think Ljungberg's an accident waiting to happen, the roster is too randomly assorted and too short on talent, and that Montero was offside on the first goal.
MY GUESS before last night would have been sixth. But they may in fact be good enough to rocket all the way up to fifth.
MLS CUP: New England over Columbus, because I don't hate the Revolution nearly enough to make them leave another final empty-handed. Besides, it's now or never ever up there, and I think they all know it.
OPEN CUP: Chicago, because they win the thing half the time and they're overdue
SHIELD: Salt Lake, so Morales gets his MVP
CONCACAF: Columbus, because shut up, USL
SUPERLIGA: ...no, I gotta draw the line somewhere.
(Every year I forget how long these take, and they just keep adding teams! Christ! My own fault, I guess.)