1. DC United
Sweet Creamery Butter!
Homer bias aside, DC should run away with the Eastern crown and probably the Supporter's Shield as well. The team that won the Shield last year returns and has cashed in Eskandarian for Emilio and Freddy for Fred, both of which should prove to be upgrades, at least in the short term. The only potential weakness is a lack of depth at some key positions, though this can be said of pretty much any MLS side. In particular, United are thin in defense and at keeper, and while they have a fair number of attacking wide players, there is a lack of proven two-way or defensive wing types. The injury bug and heavy fixture congestion could hurt DC, but the Black & Red are going to be a handful for any MLS opponents.
2. KC Wizards
What the hell?
Strange as it may seem, I'll put KC at the head of the pack trailing DC. Honestly, I think the next four teams will end up with extremely close points totals, which could lead to playoff-qualification disaster. With the new "wild card" format, the relatively even East could potentially have 4-5 teams with almost equal points totals and only the automatic #2 gets in with #3 probably making it as well. So - why the Wizards? If (and this is a big if) EJ gets his mojo back, I think he and Sealy/Arnaud are a pretty decent front line. If Marinelli pans out as a midfield creator, the frontrunners could thrive. They're solid at the back as well and made the offseason upgrade to Hartman in goal. They may not be spectacular, but they don't have the distractions and expectations surrounding their main rivals for the second spot.
3. NE Revolution
Will he stay?
Shalrie Joseph, that is. If he stays with New England, they'll be their usual solid selves - they'll start slow, start to gel toward the end of the summer, and then make a barnstorming dash up the table and into the playoffs, falling just short of KC in the #2 spot. If he leaves, the Revs could suffer, but Nicol has gotten blood from this particular stone before. Early season injuries may hamper their start, but once all the pieces are in place, New England should be tough at the back and they've got a proven goal-scoring machine in Taylor Twellman.
4. Red Bull NY
Molasses on ice.
They're old, they're slow, they're injury-prone, they're on turf. Hmmm. Just about the only thing that keeps them off the bottom is that Arena is a proven winner in this league and you have to assume he has some clue what he's doing in the Swamp. The Metrobulls do have some younger talent, but their offseason did tend heavily towards slow, old, damaged veteran types like Reyna and Mathis. If Reyna stays healthy and Altidore thrives, they could be a solid team. The potential addition of a DP mid-summer could boost them as high as #2 if they avoid the injury bug, but I have doubts about this squad. Of course, the biggest knock against them is the continued stench of "Metro Playoff Failure" that just won't go away.
5. Chicago Fire
The Hunchback cometh!
Similar to the Galaxy out West, the Fire are going to have the massive distraction of waiting for their DP (Blanco) to arrive mid-season. Do they switch formations to accommodate their new star mid-stream? Will the massive Mexican crowds turn Toyota Park into a seething cauldron? Will Blanco destroy any team chemistry as he hacks, pouts, dives, and whines his way into his rightful position of "Most Hated Player in MLS"? Jesus, have you been paying attention? This is Blanco we're talking about here. Chicago dumped Jacqua and Herron in the offseason and didn't add much. They may start decently and Mapp is poised to really break out, but then Blanco will arrive to assassinate their season as only the Hunchback can. The only positive news is that they shouldn't be around to haunt DC in the playoffs.
6. Toronto FC
Take off hosers!
Sure, they're loaded up top and in the midfield. Sure, they'll have huge crowds in a lovely new stadium. But they need to gel and do it fast if they expect to hang with the pack and not dip into Columbus territory. And while the midfield and attack are potentially very good, Toronto is relying on an A-League (sorry - USL First Division) backline, and that doesn't equal clean sheets. Who knows, maybe they'll surprise in their first season, but remember Chivas and RSL from a few years ago. Expansion teams will struggle, and Toronto should be no exception.
7. Columbus Crew
Same old song.
They've got a lot of great, young talent, but alas, this is the Crew. For one reason or another, the pieces probably just won't fit again in this awkward jigsaw of a roster. Will they manage to push above Toronto and scrape their way off the bottom? Sure, anything is possible. Hell, if Sigi gets them firing, Herron may provide the goals they need to get some confidence and grab a few results. It's all about confidence. The Crew are talented, but they're young. Take a look at that roster, particularly the "Years in the League" and "Date of Birth" columns. While there is a lot of potential, I just don't see it all working out...again. Odds on Sigi getting the sack before August?
So that's the East. Of course, come October or November or thereabouts, I'll probably be proven hideously wrong as the Crew play breathtaking stuff under Sigi and Blanco continues to bang them in for the Fire, but that's part of the beauty of "parity". Please notice that I'm tagging this post with "predictions" so you can come back and laugh at my "Nostradumbass" routine.
Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 of the MLS Prediction series when Fullback Files takes a look at the Western Conference and makes the call on who's left standing when the dust settles on MLS Cup 2007.