2011 Portland and Seattle Preview! Because Cascadia is SO IMPORTANT! (also, other Western teams)

I don't usually like to spend a lot of time here on my personal life, but, as some of you know, I spend a lot of time...yet, still, way too little time...with a delightful two-year-old and an adorable infant baby. And it's given me a completely new perspective on - well, here they are now! Why don't I show you?

Seattle! Portland! Say hi! Say hi to the nice people!

Shut up! We're not BABIES!

Yeah! We've been around since 1975!

WE'VE been around since 1974!

Awww...they like to play grown-up.

Shut up! We're big and tough!

YOU'RE not tough! WE'RE tough!

Oh, yeah? Well, I'M going to put a billboard in YOUR city!

Hey! Quit it!

You quit it!

Hey! You hit me!

You started it!

Did not!

Did too!

Boys, you have to play nice now. You're in MLS. People will be watching.

Good! We sell out every game! And we have fans all over the country to see us everywhere we go!

Oh, yeah? Well, we're going to have a "No Seattles" club, and it'll be the most popular in the country! EVERYONE will want to join!

Nuh uh! We have fans EVERYWHERE, and we've got cool uniforms!

Ours are cooler!

Nuh uh! Ours are SUPER cool!

Settle down. You're both equally cool. Okay, I have to talk about who's going to finish in the top three in the West, okay? Can you guys go off and play? You want to play "Cascadia Cup"?

Yeah! You don't have a chance!

No, YOU don't have a chance!

Okay. Run along! Stay out of trouble, you two!

They're so great at this age, they really are. They have so much energy, you know. Seeing them all fired-up and excited - makes me feel young, too.

Hm? Well, no, of course I didn't mention the Vancouver Whitecaps. They're not a real team.

No, they're not. They're one of those NASL nostalgia trips, like the Cosmos. I think it's something to do with promoting soccer in Canada or something.

Yeah, I'd heard that they'd signed Jay DeMerit, but the Cosmos signed Cobi Jones.

Well, sure they're on the schedule, but Club Tijuana was on the Galaxy's schedule, too, and that game didn't count either. They're just a bunch of guys playing exhibition games. I haven't got time to waste on fake teams. God.

Speaking of fake teams. So I'm trying to pick a coach for Major League Fantasy Soccer - it's the best time of year for fantasy leagues, no one's been hideously disappointing and your team name's joke hasn't gotten tedious yet. This year I'm calling my team Glasgow Atheist. It's an Old Firm reference!

Anyway, there's Robin Fraser, of course, one of my heroes. I actually pick Fraser, until I realize that while he'd probably win with players I pick, he's not going to win with the players he actually has. You know who I picked last year? Martin Vasquez. You know where I finished last year? I don't either, because it got too painful to look at after a while.

Will Chivas USA give Fraser enough time to turn that team around? Well, who cares, really. But if he does, it won't be this year, and this is a 2011 preview. By the time Chivas USA is relevant again, I'll have next year's fantasy team name ready to go. I'm thinking "Surreal Madrid." Or "Bayern Beware." Or maybe I'll finally try to get Biggus Dickus FC by the censors. (Hey, if Spartacus, Ajax, and Andrea Doria can have teams named after them....)

The wild card in the West this year aren't the Sounders - it's those pesky San Jose Earthquakes. Geoff Lepper gets San Jose to cop to boredom last year, and elicits a promise to do better. Ordinarily I'd be skeptical, but Yallop's Earthquake teams of the early 00's were very exciting. Spartan Stadium was a huge help, seeing as how it was the only FIFA-approved foosball table in the world - but the old Quakes went forward on a frequent basis. Once the Clash turned into the Quakes, and got guys like Ekelund, Agoos, Cannon, De Rosario, and Judas Iscariot - they were anything but boring.

Then Yallop went to the Canadian national team and, apparently, forgot everything he ever knew about adjusting strategy and tactics to fit personnel.

So what to make of this vow to entertain? Let's assume this is real, and not some irritating, Galaxy-esque blathermarketspeak. Last year's style was very effective against teams that had talent, but were undisciplined, inconsistent, or unreliable. In other words, they were built to beat the Galaxy. But that style played right into the hands of a hard-nosed, veteran team that doesn't make a lot of mistakes...in other words, the Rocky Mountain teams. It looks like the Quakes think they can compete for MLS Cup, and are adapting to break Colorado and Salt Lake's strengths.

Well...if it works, it'll be awesome. Yallop doesn't have the personnel that he did with Blue Heaven, a nickname I can't believe wasn't actually used at the time by Quakes fans. Let's take Chris Wondolowski for a second, as an example. He pretty much came out of nowhere, at age 28, to become an all-star Best XI scoring champ. What San Jose needs to happen is for another one of those players to make a similar improvement - in other words, a complete breakout no one sees coming - AND to have Wondolowski continue to play at last year's standards, as opposed to how he played earlier.

Well, San Jose has Sam Cronin and Ryan Johnson, who might answer point number one. I'm trying to expect the unexpected here, but if one of those guys turned into an All-Star, I wouldn't look outside for a rain of frogs. Or maybe this is the year Lenhart finally becomes Conor Casey.

So why a 4-3-3? If it's to take the heat off Wondolowski, well, I can think of a number of ways that can backfire horribly. In fact, unless that second all-star is a defender? It almost certainly will backfire horribly. So, my guess is that Yallop has a really, really good feeling about guys like Jason Hernandez, Tim Ward and Brandon McDonald. The Quakes won't dare go forward unless they're supremely confident that Jon Busch won't be hung out to dry. This might work against the Philadelphia Unions of the world, but even the Philadelphia Unions of the world know how to counter. If Yallop is wrong about how good his defense is, the San Jose Earthquakes of the world are in for a depressingly long season.

I do know one thing - the Quakes definitely see themselves as contenders. They're seriously working the comedy aspect in the ads this year - some of it is really good, like here.

And...okay, first of all, this whole Charlie Sheen nonsense is just one of these little convulsions of self-righteousness we go through every now and again, where we all decide that someone who doesn't actually affect our lives all that much represents all that is wrong and evil. If he weren't a rich actor and the son of a rich actor, he'd have gotten the help he needs by now...or he'd have been in jail for the past ten years. Instead of having that discussion, we're lining up to see him bite the heads off chickens while Barnum cackles in hell. Me, I don't need a laugh that badly.

Millions of people obviously disagree, among them your San Jose Earthquakes. So you probably think this is a LOT funnier than I do. Anyway, the point is, Yallop and the Quakes have time to waste screwing around with stuff like this. Whether *I* think it's funny is completely beside the point- it tells me it's a happy, confident little outfit up there. They sure think they're contenders. And, opening against Salt Lake and Dallas, we'll find out pretty quickly if they're right.

Shame they're not in the East, I'd cheerfully pick them to win that conference. Which, since they beat New York in the playoffs last year, they could plausibly claim to be capable of. But unless they sneak into the East again, their very, very best hope is to shock their way into the semifinals. They can beat one of LA, Salt Lake, Dallas and Colorado...but probably not two of those teams. The future's bright up there, but they'll have to wait.

Wow, that was a long time to spend on a sixth place team with a +1 goal differential last year! I guess now I can build up some cheap suspense - who will win the West? Who will win the Shield? Who will win MLS Cup? Tune in - tomorrow? Hell, I've got time, the season doesn't start until...oops.