I'm breaking down both conferences of Major League Soccer to give you an idea of what the season, which starts at the end of this month, will turn out to be. Today I'm covering the Western Conference.
MLS SCOUTING REPORT
The Western Conference only contributed three teams to the playoffs last year, compared to the East's five, and two were knocked out in the first round: Chivas USA and FC Dallas. The third team, Houston Dynamo, went on to win the MLS Cup, however, so although this conference may not be as strong as the East, it will still be an exciting one to watch this season.
1. Houston Dynamo
It will be no surprise to see the Dynamo, who are looking to win the MLS Cup for the third time in a row, at the number 1 spot in the West. With proven goalkeeper Pat Onstead, the oldest player in the league, and an array of impressive midfielders like Dwayne De Rosario, Ricardo Clark, Stuart Holden and Brian Mullan, impressive forwards like Brian Ching and a tough defense with new aquisition Bobby Boswell, this team has the looks of a title contender, once again. They're a very experienced team, but they're also beginning to age a bit, so if anything will slow them down it will be themselves. However, I think that this team still has the desire to win, even after having the spoils of victory, and are desperate to add another championship.
2. Chivas USA
A team that was considered to be one of the most dangerous in the MLS last year still has the reputation this time around. Chivas haven't lost any important attack options and look ready to pose an immenant threat to all teams in the West with stars like Ante Razov, Maykel Gallindo and Alecko Eskandarian up front and powerhouse midfielders like Sacha Kljestan. However, they seem to be slightly weaker on the defensive front, with Brad Guzan returning after an almost definite move to Aston Villa fell through (but might be leaving in June during the European transfer Window to Europe) Look for this team to attack well but also give up some goals.
3. FC Dallas
The Hoops lost a star in Carlos Ruiz, but have plenty of attacking options to make up for his absense, such as new arrivals Ricardinho and 15 year old Abdus Ibrahim to compliment the aging Kenny Cooper. Juan Toja, a midfield maestro, returns as determined as ever and Dax McCarthy looks ready for a breakout season. This team has made some impressive moves all around this offseason, but like Chivas, I'm not so sure how their defense will hold up, even with the addition of Duillo Davino.
4. Los Angeles Galaxy
This team went over a huge makeover in the offseason, losing GK Joe Cannon and coach Frank Yallop to the expansion San Jose Earthquakes, but with European legend Ruud Gullit in charge, and several new aquisitions made, this teams looks like they're ready to put up a serious fight in the West. Carlos Ruiz will do a good job complimenting Landon Donovan up front and the addition of midfielder Alvaro Pires should be a great help to this team. I'm a little worried about new goalkeeper Steve Cronin, but with a good back line the Galaxy should have a pretty good season. Oh ya, and they have David Beckham.
5. Colorado Rapids
These last three teams were a bit up in the air, and should make an exciting race for fifth place between Colorado, San Jose and Salt Lake. I gave it to Colorado for a few reasons. For one, they picked up last year's MVP in Christian Gomez, who is a HUGE addition to an underpeforming midfield now highlighted by Gomez, Rafael Gomes, Terry Cooke and Colin Clark. Paolo Masteroni is still heading the defense, but with his age catching up to him I believe he will start running out of gas this season. Their success depends on how well Gomez meshes with the rest of the team and how quickly he begins to perform. If he starts out slow, so will the team. Gomez is key.
6. San Jose Earthquakes
It's the Earthquakes immaculate return to the MLS, and although I don't think they'll be able to create many disturbances with only 15 players on their roster so far, with GK Joe Cannon and midfielder Ronnie O'Brien headlining and leading them out the gate. It will take this team a few years to get back to where they were several years ago, and I don't see much happening this season.
7. Real Salt Lake
No, I did not put them in last place because I despise the name (but I do). The Western Conference is looking out to be very competitive and exciting this year. I predict the last three or four teams will only finish a few points away from each other. RSL came in a close 7th, however, despite their practically brand new back line. To me the team just seems sort of rag-tag and thrown together and I doubt the team chemistry will be there this season. The striking position is basically up for grabs and Chris Seitz looks to be ready to take the GK job from Nick Romando, but we'll see how the team fares. Sorry, RSL fans, but someone has to come in last.
And that wraps it up for the Western Conference Scouting Report. Following this will be my playoff picks, which I'll post on the MLS Fan Group page and Soccernation's group page. Til then, prepare yoursleves for soccer season.