Monday, March 14, 2011

2011 MLS Eastern Conference Preview

New York Red Bulls

Strengths:  With Rafa Marquez moving to backline the Red Bulls now have solidified the centre half position as the combo of the Mexican international and sophomore Tim Ream will be formidable.

Weaknesses:  As strong as the CBs are that is how questionable the full back position is.  Roy Miller will have to play a consistent season on the left side and Backe hopes that someone unseats Chris Albright on the right side.

MVPThierry Henry will have to contribute more in the goal department in order to help make up for the loss of top goalscorer Juan Pablo Angel.

Underrated:  In a team full of older and future stars Joel Lindpere sometimes goes unnoticed but he may be the most important player on the pitch with his play in the central midfield. 

Rookie:  Future U.S. international star Juan Agudelo is only 18 but could be a force in MLS as he pairs with Henry up front.

Key AdditionJan Gunnar Solli was brought in from Norway to team up with Lindpere and will be needed to form a solid central midfield to service the strikers up front.

Key Loss:  When you lose your top goalscorer in Juan Pablo Angel it will always be deemed a loss to the team.  The Red Bulls have the components to make up for the loss but those players will have to contribute.

Prediction:  1st in Eastern Conference

Sporting Kansas City

Strengths:  SKC’s main strength is up front where they have Omar Bravo, Kei Kamara and Teal Bunbury in the starting lineup.

Weaknesses:  The backline is a mashup of defenders where the fullbacks are converted midfielders.  SKC will require help defending from the midfielders and forwards coming back.

MVP:  With the backline looking weak at this point, goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen will have to hold the opposition’s attack as the team’s last line of defense.

UnderratedStephen Auvary has been handed the keys to anchor the midfield with the preseason trade of Jack Jewsbury to Portland.  He will have a lot on his hands as he needs to assist the defenders and also provide services to the talented forwards.

Rookie:  With Teal Bunbury’s injury concerns to start the season, 1st round pick C.J. Sapong may be pushed into action sooner rather than later.

Key AdditionOmar Bravo’s arrival, from Mexico, and his transition to MLS will either make Sporting become a playoff contender or a pretender.

Key Loss:  Although his age was a concern, Jimmy Conrad departure to Chivas USA will be felt through the season on the backline.

Prediction:  2nd in Eastern Conference

Philadelphia Union

Strengths:  It all depends on where Sebastian Le Toux starts in the lineup as he can play either up front or as an outside midfielder.

Weaknesses:  The options of Roger Torres or Kyle Nakazawa at the central attacking role are young and unproven but have a lot a lot of talent.

Le Toux
MVPSebastian LeToux was a great pickup in the 2010 expansion draft and continues to be a leader on the field and the face of the franchise.

Underrated:  The acquisition of Brian Carroll from the Columbus Crew in the centre of the midfield will prove very valuable for the Union this season.

Rookie:  Even though Zach McMath was the higher pick, Michael Farfan should see more playing time behind Mapp on the left side.

Key Addition:  Columbian Carlos Valdes comes to the Union with the hopes of being able to solidify a backline that had its moments last year.

Key Loss:  While not a major loss at this point, the Union may regret losing Shea Salinas in the expansion draft based on his play so far this preseason.

Prediction:  3nd in Eastern Conference

DC United

Strengths:  With the addition of Dax McCarty and Fred to last year’s holdovers of DP Branko Boscovic and Clyde Simms, the central midfield is loaded with talent.

Weaknesses:  The trading of Troy Perkins to Portland with the injury to acquired Timber goalkeeper Steve Cronin in preseason leaves the goal position in question.  DC United will have to rely on youngster Bill Hamid which could make the club nervous.

MVP:  By the end of the season Dax McCarty will prove his worth to the team and make Portland regret trading him at the expansion draft as well as making Dallas regret exposing him in the first place.

UnderratedSantino Quaranta is the most likely starting opposite Andy Najar in the midfield and his service will be needed feed Davies opportunities.

Rookie:  Perry Kitchen, the 3rd overall pick, looks to start with Dejan Jakovic and solidify the centre of the backline.

Key Addition:  If he can regain his form, the addition of Charlie Davies will give DC United a solid target man up front.

Key Loss:  It’s hard to classify anyone as a key loss when you’re the worst team in the league, but Jaime Moreno will be missed on the pitch, in the locker room and in the community.

Prediction:  4th in Eastern Conference

Houston Dynamo

Strengths:  The partnership between Geoff Cameron and Lovel Palmer is the strongest part of the team mostly because of Cameron’s play but Palmer is solid as well.

Weaknesses:  Depth is the Dynamo’s main issue as they can’t afford to suffer the injuries the same way they did last year.

MVP:  While Cameron is a better player the Dynamo need Brian Ching to score goals and help younf forwards like Will Bruin make an impact this year.

UnderratedLovel Palmer's defensive play will be important in order to allow Geoff Cameron take more chances in the attack.

Rookie:  The Dynamo hope that 1st rounder Kofi Sarkodi can take one of the full back positions as his attacking abilities will help create chances.

Key Addition Jermaine Taylor brings poise, physicality and international experience to the Houston’s defensive line which many considered the weakest in the league last year.

Key Loss:  Another team without a key loss but if I have to pick one then Pat Onstad’s experience in goal will be missed.

Prediction:  5th in Eastern Conference

Columbus Crew

Strengths:  The Columbus Crew will have to rely on their wide midfielder duo of Eddie Gavan and Robbie Rogers to make up for the goals lost since last year.

Weaknesses:  The backline lost veteran Frankie Hejduk and also Eric Brunner through the expansion draft and replaced by 1st rounder Rich Balchan and Chilean Sebastian Miranda but is it enough to help one of the worst defenses in MLS.

MVP:  By the end of the season Ghanaian Emmanuel Ekpo could be the best player on the pitch for the Crew in the role as an attacking midfielder.

Underrated:  Former MLS veteran Josh Gardner was brought over from the Carolina Railhawks and may be looked at the starter at left back of the revamped defense.

Rookie: Surprise 1st round pick Rich Balchan from Indiana will be thrown into the fire as the starter alongside Andy Idro in the centre half position.

Key Addition:  The Crew hope that the all-time MLS goal scorer Jeff Cunningham can help with the attack and provide leadership for some of the younger players.

Key Loss:  It will be very hard to replace the goal scoring and the presence on the pitch that Argentine Guillermo Barros Schelotto brought to every game.

Prediction:  6th in the Eastern Conference

Toronto FC

Strengths: With Adrian Cann returning to the team, the group of Cann, Nana Attakora and Ty Hardern and youngster Doniel Henry are a solid bunch who will help keeping the opposition at bay.

Weaknesses:  Besides DeRosario, TFC lacks creativity in the midfield as the players they have currently can be described as more workman like and have had trouble providing service to the forwards on the field.

MVPStephane Frei will have to stand on his head to keep TFC in games as the team will be low scoring once again.

UnderratedDan Gargan is valuable to TFC as he is capable of playing a multiple of positions in the midfield or on defense.

Rookie:  Academy product Doniel Henry may see more action than anticipated with Cann on the sidelines in a contract dispute.

Key AdditionAaron Winter will have to get the team learning the system in order for the team to stay in playoff contention.

Key Loss:  While he didn’t finish with regularity and would frustrate supporters the team will miss the goals scored by Chad Barrett.

Prediction:  7th in Eastern Conference

Chicago Fire

Strengths:  The defense has been redone as new defenders Jalil Anibaba, Corey Gibbs and Josep Mikulic join Dasan Robinson and Kwame Wastson-Siriboe to form what could be a solid backline.

Weaknesses:  The Fire replaced Brian McBride, Collins John, and Niery Castillo with Gaston Puerari, Diego Chaves and Calen Carr and there seems to be no improvement.

MVP:  After being drafted in the 4th round of the 2010 draft Sean Johnson has already established himself as one of the best young goalkeepers in the MLS.

Underrated:  Chicago will need midfielder Patrick Nyarko to continue to improve and create opportunities for goals.

RookieJanlil Anibaba was a sensation at the combine and moved up in the draft dramatically and could be in the running for rookie of the year.

Key AdditionCorey Gibbs will provide experience to a revamped backline that is looking to improve a poor defensive record.

Key Loss:  Even at the age of 38, Brian McBride was a solid player up front and will be missed for his leadership on and off the pitch.

Prediction:  8th in the Eastern Conference

New England Revolution

Strengths:  The addition of Didier Domi and draft pick AJ Soares to Darius Barnes and Kevin Alston will improve the defense dramatically.

Weaknesses:  The apparent forward combo of Ilija Stolica and Zack Shilawski leave a lot ot be desired for as they combined for eight goals last year.

MVP:  Because the Revolution will struggle to score goals, 2005 and 2006 goalkeeper of the year Matt Reis will have to be on top of his game.

Underrated:  If the Dabo experiment fails the Revolution will need Pat Phelan to come in to solidify the midfield.

RookieAJ Soares was drafted in the top 10 by the Revolution to help a poor improve a very poor backline.

Key Addition:  The team is counting on Frenchman Ousame Dabo to provide experience, leadership and creativity to the midfield.

Key Loss:  New England made a financial decision when they let Corey Gibbs go to the Chicago Fire and although they replaced him with Soares, the draft pick could have been used to improve elsewhere.

Prediction:  9th in the Eastern Conference

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