1. Houston Dynamo
To the moon!
As in the East, one team stands out when compared to the rest of the conference. And, much like United, and indeed the rest of MLS, the Dynamo could be a few injuries away from disaster. But while United does have some degree of depth, Houston is paper thin. It should be an all-Texas fight to the finish as they and FC Dallas go down to the wire for who will finish in first place. Despite Houston facing a massive fixture list with a thin roster, I think that the continuity of their squad, their classy midfield, and their defensive solidity give them an edge over Dallas.
2. FC Dallas
Burn, baby, burn!
The Hoops should be neck and neck with their cross-state rivals in orange, assuming their new-look midfield pans out in MLS. Should the new blood perform, this could be a formidable side. Their attacking quality and depth probably rivals DC as the best in the league, but their unproven midfield and so, so thin defense are potentially major liabilities. It says a lot about the overall quality of the West that a team with this many probable holes has to be counted as a favorite to get one of the automatic playoff berths.
3. Chivas USA
El Lobo reborn.
Chivas are an interesting proposition. They've lost a few significant pieces of the puzzle to Mexico, but the addition of former MVP Guevara could potentially pay big dividends. They've got future US national teamers in Bornstein and Kljestan and some other interesting youth to pair with quality veterans up the "spine" in Suarez, Guevara, and Razov. The two really interesting things to watch will be how Preki runs this team and how good their defense will be. I tend to think that Preki will allow the team to play a bit more creatively than Bradley allowed them to. This should spell lots of assists for Guevara and lots of goals for Razov. On the flip side, it could all fall apart and if they get overextended and lose their shape, the slow backline may be punished. Loads of goals both ways is exciting to watch, but will it result in a playoff spot? I tend to think so, mostly because I'm underwhelmed with the overall quality of the West.
4. LA Galaxy
Princesses on parade.
The parallels here are with the Fire and Red Bull. Even more so than Chicago, LA's year revolves around the mid-season arrival of their DP - Beckham Ltd. The question is, do they play the same system all year or change mid-year to accommodate Beckham? Also, the media circus, thousands of screaming teenage girls, and the heavy load of away fixtures at the end of the year could even result in the Gals missing the playoffs - every MLS executive's worst nightmare. However, like Red Bull, LA have a proven MLS winner at the helm in Frank Yallop. But, like Arena, Yallop is saddled with a weak team that will be even more reliant on its few brilliant stars than their counterparts in the East. Injuries could seriously destroy this team and they better do something to improve that backline or new netminder Cannon will be more exposed than he was last year behind a terrible Rapids defense. As it is, only Herculean efforts from Cannon and Donovan, paired with weak competition from the bottom two, get this team into the playoffs.
5. Colorado Rapids
See "Dicks" run!
Now, there are little bits of quality in this roster, but they're like sugar sprinkled on cardboard - you're still left with the overwhelming taste of cardboard. And the Rapids are about as bland as an MLS roster gets. A decent midfield is sandwiched between an underwhelming attack and a potentially porous defense. Creativity is going to be at a premium here, but the Western conference teams are so potentially open to disaster that bland and formulaic may get the job done. Realistically, we're going to see how much Joe Cannon meant to this team now that he's gone. What used to be draws and narrow wins are now going to turn into lost points. The big money is on the "Rocky Mountain Showdown" - whether Clavijo or Ellinger are shown the door first.
6. Real Salt Lake
Fries with that?
Because somebody is going to be looking for a job. They've got some really promising youngsters. They've even got a few quality veterans. And should Ellinger get the boot fairly early in the season, they may even make a run at the playoffs under someone who can get them to blend effectively. A more likely scenario is that RSL will implode in spectacular fashion. A terrifyingly bad defense will ship goals like they're going out of style, a potentially creative and attacking midfield will be starved of possession by a lack of quality ball-winners, and the attack will stand around waiting for passes they'll never receive. Then they (1) go to a 3-6-1, (2) wail as Freddy bolts for Europe, (3) curse as Pope breaks down mid-season, and (4) are treated to regular Rimando highlights on Sportscenter as he produces a stunning array, both in quantity and quality, of saves but can't keep this ship from sinking without a trace.