Finally, the MLS season begins!
But first, let's have a brief post-mortem on the teams who are no longer with us. As Chekhov said, happy teams are all the same, but unhappy teams are each unhappy in their own ways.
Or was that Sulu? Never mind.
In Memoriam - 2016
CHICAGO FIRE: One of the statistical anomalies this year - no team has ever finished, in the words of Jon Drummond, butt-naked last in MLS two years in a row until now. I'd recommend firing everyone and starting over, the usual punishment for missing the playoffs in MLS...but they did that already. Nelson Rodriguez, who helped make Chivas USA what it is today, is - you know what, I'll just say it. He's the caretaker until Hauptman sells and a real ownership group comes in and restores this team. Look, Andy, I don't have enough money to compete in MLS either. It's no disgrace. Take the SUM shares, enjoy the luxury box, maybe run a USL team or something. Chicago NASL would have been a real threat here, if NASL turned out to be a real thing.
HOUSTON DYNAMO: Give Wade a full year before blowing it up again. He's a smart guy, and the West is a rough division. [EDIT - aw, geez, Wade, I'm sorry I jinxed you. Um...well, Wilmer Cabrera was the hot choice back when Coyle was dropped, maybe it's his time?] By the way, you can tell when a team is doing really well when the lead article on their website is about their team chef. Insert "orange slices for orange slices" joke here. Although if the Dynamo are eating healthy while Dallas and LA are swilling down Advocare and Herbalife? The standings could go upside down this time next year, mark my words.
COLUMBUS CREW: I...didn't expect to see them here. I'm baffled why this team went from 60 to 0, but it doesn't look as if Kei Kamara was the problem. American soccer stalwart and no-longer-reigning Eastern Conference champion coach Gregg Berhalter apparently will start 2017 on the hottest seat in the New World. Including Paunovic.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES: This team, I expected to see here. How long had John Doyle been running this team? His predecessor (technically) was Alexi Lalas. What is 7, 7, 6, 7, 1, 6, 9, 7, 9? Where San Jose has finished since their return. (See if you can spot 2012.) Contrary to popular belief, the Goonies have said die more often than not. The next potential scapegoat on the list is Dominic Kinnear himself, and the West doesn't look like it's getting softer anytime soon. They'll still win more often at Levi's Stadium than the 49ers, though. Stop me if you've heard that one.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS: The Cascadia Team Everyone Can Tolerate stumbled back a step or six in 2016. Bob Lenarduzzi, probably correctly, sees no need for change. The lead story on the Whitecaps site is that they've resigned Carl Robinson and his whole staff. The second lead story is the quarterfinal draw for the 2017 CONCACAF Champions Cup. I guess if you stop being an optimist the minute something bad happens, you're not really an optimist. God help these guys if 2017 goes south on them, though. Here's a coincidence to frighten you, Caps fan - MLS has had two expansion teams join in the same season four times so far. The Chicago Fire won MLS Cup...and the Miami Fusion folded three years later. Real Salt Lake won MLS Cup...and Chivas USA folded five years later. Portland and Vancouver joined MLS together in 2011, and Portland won the Cup last year. Will the Whitecaps live to see 2022?!
ORLANDO CITY: Currently cheering against New York City - for if NYC wins, Orlando will fold in 2025. If this curse I made up is actually a thing, which it almost certainly isn't. More likely Orlando is cheering against NYC because wow, won't Jason Kreis be annoyed if they win. The franchise is bubbling with optimism over their new stadium, and it's not like the Eastern Conference is full of intimidating opposition. Although that was also true this year.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION: Weird to see these guys here, too. Both of the last two Eastern Conference champions will be watching the playoffs at home (or at a bar) (or maybe not watching at all, although they should as professionals, but I understand if it's too soon to watch the guys you lost to). Parity, perhaps. Or regression to the mean. Or the continued story of New York Red Bulls disappointment in the playoffs. (For it was New York who lost the Eastern Conference final to Columbus last year and New England in 2014.) It's beginning to look like no coach who hasn't already lost his job is going to lose his job - at least, not for the crime of missing the playoffs. Jay Heaps, unless we're in for a surprise, seems oddly safe.
PORTLAND TIMBERS: As you've probably read by now, both of last year's MLS Cup finalists will be at home, or someone else's home. Portland is the first team to defend MLS Cup from their couches since the 2006 Galaxy. But the 2005 Galaxy were widely considered an average team at best that got incredibly lucky at the right time, and followed up their MLS Cup with a carousel of coaching changes and botched fixes of botched fixes under unstable leadership over the next several years. The Timbers just had a little hiccup this season. I'm not saying they're guaranteed to do the same thing. I mean, just look at the other MLS Cup champion to miss the playoffs - DC United, in 2001. They...went through coaching changes and botched fixes under unstable - you know, past performance is no guarantee of future results. And look at the bright side - both those franchises ended up winning MLS Cup again within five years. It just took some agonizing pain first.
Oh, speaking of the Timbers. Look, I'm anything but a Juergen Klinsmann fan. But you can't blow off call-ups, and expect more call-ups. Who does Darlington Nagbe think he is, anyway, Timmy Chandler?
Oh, speaking of national team call-ups. Abby Wambach and her personnel choices for the USWNT are an easy target for some...most...okay, all. But as we've seen with the Nagbe affair over on the men's side, the most important part of any team is the commitment to what it represents. That's why the Portland Timbers won MLS Cup with nobody except players from Multnomah County. You don't want the best players, necessarily, but the players who believe in it the most.
And I mean, you don't want it. Sure, I like it when my team gets best players - but I'm just a cynical frontrunner who values wins over the swell of pride knowing that all of my team's players were born within three blocks of the training ground. You, as a real fan, would undoubtedly prefer to lose, rather than sully a win with mercenaries or ringers or professionals or talented players.
Anyway, Abby has a real point. Can Canadian fans really believe that Sydney Leroux has their best interests at heart?