Tuesday, March 15, 2011

2011 MLS Western Conference Preview

Real Salt Lake

Strengths:  RSL are strong all over but they are known for a stingy defense led by a solid backline who play well as a unit.

Weaknesses:  The only thing that hurt this team’s chances is a rash of injuries or the players reading preseason headlines.

MVP: A top notch player Alvaro Saborio is one of the best finishers in the MLS and will be a candidate for the Golden Boot and MVP.

Underrated:  Canadian Will Johnson sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of this powerful team but he can play multiple positions like forward, fullback and anywhere in the midfield.

RookieCody Arnoux was acquired via a special lottery draft and could be important player coming off the bench for RSL.

Key Addition:  Another important player coming off the bench Arturo Alvarez can play midfield and forward.

Key Loss: Robbie Findley was the only significant subtraction from this team as he has gone to England to play for Nottingham Forrest.

Prediction:  1st in the Western Conference

Los Angeles Galaxy

Strengths:  The forward position seems to be deep especially if Landon Donovan plays up front and with there is no drop off with Angel replacing Buddle.

Weaknesses:  There is no major weakness on this team if I were to pick one the wide midfield spots where Beckham may be past his prime and Stephens is inexperienced.

MVP:  There is no doubt that Landon Donovan is the best player and leader for the consensus preseason favourite.

Underrated:  With Kovalenko retiring, Chris Birchill will be called upon to play a lead role in the central midfield.

Rookie:  Uruguayan midfielder Paolo Cardozo will see time on the pitch as the Galaxy look to increase creativity in the centre of the midfield.

Key AdditionJuan Pablo Angel was brought over from New York to help replace the goals lost by the departure of Buddle.

Key Loss:  Even with the addition of Angel, the Galaxy will still miss Edson Buddle as he left MLS to play his club football in Germany.

Prediction:  2nd in the Western Conference

Seattle Sounders 

Strengths:  The Sounders are deep in the midfield with Steve Zakuni and Alvaro Fernandez on the wings, Alonso and Evans in the centre and Friberg and Montano coming off the bench.
Weaknesses:  The forward position outside of Montero remains questionable as Nkufo may have lost a step, White lacks finish and both Jacqua and Fucito have injury issues.

MVPFreddy Montero is the Sounders main man up front as he is looked upon as a finisher and playmaker.

UnderratedBrad Evans is coming off a knee injury and will be needed in both a defensive role and to contribute goals from the midfield role.

Rookie:  The Sounders were lucky that Generation Adidas player Micheal Tetteh slipped into the second round of the draft.  He will have time to develop behind a deep playoff team.

Key Addition:  Swede Erik Friberg will most likely be the first of the bench as he can play centrally or out wide in the midfield.

Key Loss:  The Sounders knew they would lose someone at the expansion draft and the first to go was Sanna Nyassi who was selected by the Caps and then traded to the Rapids.

Prediction:  3rd in the Western Conference

FC Dallas

Strengths:  Definitely the midfield position with Ferreria leading the way as an attacking midfielder and veteran Daniel Hernandez as the holding midfield.

Weaknesses:  While they have Milton Rodriguez as their forward, the team lack depth as their key reserves at the position are a couple of teenagers.

MVPDavid Ferreria is the reigning MLS MVP and the main force for the FC Dallas offensive attack coming out of the midfield.

Underrated:  The Brazilian Jackson will get most of his starts at full back but can play a number of positions, including CB and CM.

Rookie:  While Bobby Warsaw was the 1st round pick, the most impressive rookie may be academy product Ruben Luna at forward.

Key Addition:  Recently signed U20 Columbian forward Fabian Castillo was a sought after player and may be pressed into action as Dallas lacks depth at the position.

Key Loss:  Some called Dax McCarty the heart and soul of the team but management felt that Eric Alexander was ready to replace him at a lower cost.

Prediction:  4th in the Western Conference

Colorado Rapids

Strengths:  Omar Cummings and Connor Casey form arguably the strongest pairing up front in the MLS and with Kandji and trialist Caleb Folan the Rapids have depth at forward as well. 

Weaknesses:  The champs don’t have the depth the other elite teams possess so a rash of injuries would hurt their chances in 2011.
MVPConnor Casey is a beast up front and is load to handle which creates space for his teammates like Cummings.

UnderratedJamie Smith playing wide in the midfield is one of the better crossers on the team and should see his fair share of starts.

Rookie:  Colorado did not acquire much through the draft but they signed their first ever Homegrown player in Davy Armstrong who may see some action in the midfield.

Key Addition:  The Rapids were able to acquire Sounder midfielder Sanna Nyassi through the Whitecaps at expansion draft and he should provide speed on the wings.

Key Loss:  Not very many losses for the defending champs with Julien Baudet being the biggest subtraction.

Prediction:  5th in the Western Conference

San Jose Earthquakes

Strengths:  San Jose is the strongest in the midfield with Bobby Convey and Chris Wondolowski leading the charge.

Weaknesses:  They have little talent up front and hope Ryan Johnson can bounce back in order to score some goals up front.

MVP:  While it highly unlikely Chris Wondolowski will repeat as the Golden Boot winner, he will have to score at high clip in order for the Earthquakes to stay in the playoff hunt.

Underrated:  One of the better midfielders in 2009, Andre Luiz is looking to overcome injuries last year to partner with Sam Cronin in the centre of the midfield.

RookieDavid Bingham was acquired through a special lottery and while he will not see much action he has the talent to be the goaltender of the future.

Key Addition:  The Earthquakes are counting on Steve Lenhart, acquired from Columbus, to chip in more often in the goal department.

Key Loss:  They decided not to pick up the option of Geovanni, their first DP, after the Brazilian was signed midway through the season.

Prediction:  6th in the Western Conference

Vancouver Whitecaps
Strengths:  The Whitecaps have built from the back out so their backline of Alain Rochat, Jay Demerit, Greg Janicki (D2 defender of the year), and the Leather/Knight combo on the right side should be one of the stingiest.  If Mouloud Akloul comes back, the back four get even better.

Weaknesses:  The organization has decided to bring their own players in so experience is something from the team as there are only five footballers that played in MLS last year.

MVPDavide Chiumiento is the playmaker on the field and the offense will run through him so his play will dictate how well the offense is in the first year.

Underrated:  Experts are not aware of how good Terry Dunfield was last year for the Caps after he signed from a League 2 side in England.

Rookie:  Because Omar Salgado may not play until September and Michael Nanchoff is still struggling with injury, Homegrown Russell Teibert may have the biggest impact on the field as his preseason play has shown.

Key Addition:  After surprising most with the selection of Salgado, the Caps surprised everyone with signing striker Eric Hassli as their first DP.  They will look at him to be their main target man in the box.

Key Loss:  Of the players traded from the expansion draft Sanna Nyassi was the only one who may have made an impact with the team.

Prediction:  7th in the Western Conference

Portland Timbers
Strengths:  The Timbers have assembled a good set of forwards with Johnson and Dike coming from D2, Nagbe from the draft, and Cooper and Perlaza from overseas.

Weaknesses:  The central midfield of Jewsbury and Lowry at this point does not have enough creativity to service the forwards up front.

MVP:  While Kenny Cooper didn’t have much success in Europe he can definitely score in MLS which could help the Timbers make a push for the playoffs.

Underrated:  The team could see D2 holdover Steve Purdy could see more starts than the more hyped Kerra Gilbert at right back.

Rookie:  Once he recovers from a preseason injury, Darlington Nagbe should see some playing time and contribute up front.

Key AdditionTroy Perkins was a solid upgrade at the goalkeeper position after the trade with DC United recently.

Key Loss:  The Timbers will regret trading away MLS Cup finalist Dax McCarty after the expansion draft to DC United.

Prediction:  8th in the Western Conference

Chivas USA

Strengths:  The Chivas USA defense is a solid group led by a partnership of vet Jimmy Conrad and rookie Zarek Valentine in the middle and Ante Jazic and newly acquired Heath Pearce as full backs.

Weaknesses:  Chivas USA’s midfield is very weak and is now considered a work in progress.
MVP:  With the anticipated lack of scoring, their expected most valuable player will be goalkeeper Zach Thornton.

Underrated: The addition of Alejandro Moreno will help young striker like Justin Braun and Tristen Bowen. 

Rookie:  First rounder Zarek Valentine will be able to pair up with and learn from veteran Jimmy Conrad as he will take the reins of the backline for years to come.

Key Addition:  As stated previously Jimmy Conrad will provide leadership from the back not only for fellow defenders but the entire team.

Key Loss:  Its very often difficult to replace US national like Jonathon Bornstein as the defender went to try his skill in Mexico.

Prediction:  9th in the Western Conference

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