Last year, I predicted Real Salt Lake would win the Supporter's Shield. Consider that a warning.
WHO'S NOT GONNA WIN NOTHING:
San Jose, Kansas City, New York
I love parity, until I have to pick who's going to win. Then I'm stumped. I couldn't even eliminate more than three teams right off the bat - usually we can write off anywhere between six and ten.
But, we're following up a year where a fifth place team won two penalty shooutouts in a row to claim the championship. And no one can really say they didn't deserve it.
Anyway - nice new stadium, Red Bull. Shame about the home team. There's not really anything keeping these guys from finishing fifth out of eight, then getting back to MLS Cup...I guess. Maybe Juan Pablo Angel was quiet last year because he had absolutely no help, but maybe he's finally hitting the wall. I expected a lot more from Macoumba Kandji, and planning for another DP like Thierry Henry contributing for RBNY is at least two separate longshot assumptions. At least they have a stadium, and are working on building a team and rebuilding the fan base. Which puts them ahead of at least two teams.
Hello. You have reached the Kansas City Wizards. We'll be out of the office until we finish our stadium. Please leave a message after we miss the playoffs.
Wait...John Doyle's a lousy general manager? Who saw this coming? Who could have guessed? Who could have possibly imagined? John Doyle, bad general manager. Huh. Baffling.
WHO'S BETTER THAN YOU THINK, BUT NOT MUCH:
Philadelphia, Colorado, Toronto, Dallas, Chivas USA
Preki takes over the team, then runs out an overpaid star he feels isn't producing. He enacts a reign of terror that inspires his team to make the playoffs with room to spare. By the time the playoffs roll around, the whole team is battered worse than Farrah in "Burning Bed," and is dumped out of the playoffs by teams weaker on paper. Chivas USA's past. Toronto's future. Red Squirrels fans will be fine with that, though...this year.
Same thing in Philadelphia. Nowak's such a crazy-ass martinet that he could easily drive the poor, unsuspecting players all the way to the playoffs. Where they will be beaten and battered. The best case scenario for both Philadelphia and Toronto? Face each other in the first round, then PK their way to MLS Cup. And as with Toronto - this year, their fans will be fine with the playoffs. Maybe next year as well.
I'm giving Dallas and Colorado the faint praise they've earned here. If Dallas picks up where they left off, they'll win a double. Asking Jeff Cunningham to have two good seasons in a row, though - that's pretty unreasonable.
I like Colorado's roster a lot more than you do, especially their attack. If they'd finally give up on Mehdi Ballouchy and replace him with someone who can contribute, they'd be an honest threat.
Chivas USA really pissed me off when they hired Martin Vasquez. He's exactly what they need, he's got a ton of experience both in and out of MLS, and they've shed a lot of dead weight. Okay, they added some dead weight with Michael Umana, but that's not going to ruin their season. Vasquez might even get something out of Kljestan again. If so, it's going to be a long, sad, depressing year for me.
The problem that Colorado, Dallas and CUSA all face, though, is - who will watch?
WHO'S WORSE THAN YOU THINK:
WHO'S A LOT WORSE THAN YOU THINK:
Los Angeles, Chicago, DC United, New England
The Revolution brought in Cory Gibbs, and brought back Khano Smith. Could be the end of the line for Steve Nicol. At least he's in a painfully weak division.
Chicago can look at a flukish semifinal disappointment, and decide that they're close to the championship, and all they needed was a new coach. They can look at it all they want. The reaction to Jon Busch's waiver is a big worry to me:
Sounds to me like yet another year of locker room disharmony. They'll miss Rolfe very badly, there are big question marks around newcomers Krol and John, Justin Mapp will never live up to his potential, and Brian McBride is old. They'll probably finish second again, probably make the semifinals again, and probably blame the coach again for not making MLS Cup. I'm glad this team isn't my problem.
So who did the Galaxy add this year? Clint Mathis. Because bringing back Carlos Ruiz and Jovan Kirovski worked so well. Who's next, Luis Hernandez? Early returns have Leonardo, Juninho and Alex making Pablo Nagamura look like Pele's better brother. A lot of teams and fans would worry about how top-class prospect Omar Gonzalez will bounce back after a disastrous MLS Cup - fortunately, because of David Beckham, no one is even paying attention. God help them if they sell Landon.
Houston at least realizes how badly they'll miss Holden and Clark, and how disastrous the Landin signing is turning out. They're weaker than last year, which means they'll be once again ripe for an upset in the playoffs that on further reaction isn't really an upset.
DC United made perhaps the worst coaching hire of our generation, going with a retread. I know DCU is still grateful that Curt Onalfo helped them win MLS Cup 1996, but his record in Kansas City speaks for itself. And his considering the Wizards a steppingstone to greater things, which presumably he believes he is now ready for, screams for itself.
WHO'S PERFECTLY GOOD, BUT NOT AS GOOD AS THEY THINK, AND WILL WANT TO ADD SOME GUYS IF THEY WANT TO WIN ANYTHING:
Seattle, Salt Lake
Would it have killed these guys to add a player? Salt Lake has forgotten what happened to the last fifth place team that made it to MLS Cup. I don't think the Royals will stumble that badly, but they apparently spent the winter gazing into the mirror like Buffalo Bill in "Silence of the Lambs." They won MLS Cup for a reason, but they also finished fifth for a reason, and they've taken no steps to correct that. I think the Lakers are a good solid team, but Major League Parity can taketh away as quickly as it can give. Still - Findley's on the upside, provided he gets over the national team games he played. He's not ready for the Nats - doesn't mean he's not a dangerous MLS player (like, to pick an example completely at random, his head coach was).
Seattle - yeah, their fans love them too much. People have forgotten they went something like forty-five games at home without scoring in the middle of last season. They're good, sure. They're also old and inconsistent, and on a bad day, they're the Galaxy without Landon. The playoff series against Houston was a wakeup call for both teams, and they both hit the snooze bar. If'n you ask me.
Still, one of these guys will probably make MLS Cup, so what do I know.
No one's won the Shield three years in a row, but no one's had this good a shot at it. Maybe Schelotto gets really old in a hurry, but they have easily the deepest, best roster in the league. Parityball may hit these guys again in the playoffs, but I doubt it will be because Warzycha looks past his first round opponent again. Anyway, Robbie Rogers and Chad Marshall won't be distracted by World Cup duties, except for the blinding rage they'll feel in June or so.
They won't win a triple - no one ever has - but Cup and Shield await for the second time in three years, for two reasons.
1. Who the hell else?
2. Columbus Crew in MLS Cup in front of enraged Toronto fans? They could play Chivas USA in that final and I'd still watch. (Wouldn't fly out to see it, though.)