Time to dust off the cobwebs, kick the tires, and hop into my trusty time machine for a look at how I think the East will end up this season in MLS. Without further ado . . .
1. DC United
Will all the turnover pay off? That's yet to be seen, but the Black-and-Red boast probably the deepest team in the league. Will they be able to blend it all together and survive a healthy dose of fixture congestion? Last year's model ran out of gas after a similarly jam-packed season, but still managed to boast the best record in the league for the second year running. And last year also saw the introduction of the Brazilians Fred and Emilio to the lineup. So adding three Argentines, a Colombian, and a Peruvian shouldn't be too much more difficult, should it? Right? Hello? My (admittedly limited and supremely biased) money says they'll manage to win the East, if not the whole enchilada. Wait, I thought I was supposed to be a pessimist!
2. New England Revolution
It's a never-ending source of frustration for fans of other MLS franchises to watch Nicol continually pulling blood from the bone-dry stones that the Krafts keep dumping in his yard. You'd be tempted to wonder how he'll do it--yet again--this year, but at this point, who's going to bet against him? The core of the team is still relatively intact and they've got a Latin injection to spice up Nicol's dour brand of ball. This is a possible "feast or famine scenario", particularly with SuperLiga testing the depth a bit, but it just wouldn't be MLS without the Revs miraculously piling up results and making their traditional charge towards ultimate failure in MLS Cup.
3. Chicago Fire
They've got decent depth, some talent and experience in important spots on the field, but outside of that core, they strike me as decidedly average and young--a winning formula pioneered by the hapless Columbus Crew. Color me a wee bit skeptical at this point, particularly with the big question mark hanging over Conde and all the accordant mess surrounding the departure of last year's co-savior, Osorio, to the Red Bulls. Add in a less-than-ideal netminder situation, an unproven head coach, a handful of potentially dangerous forwards without the numbers to back up the threat they might bring, and worries about how Blanco will handle an entire season of dealing with hacks like Heaps and MLS refs, and well, maybe #3 starts to seem a bit of wishful thinking.
4. Kansas City Wizards
Onalfo is putting together an interesting little package out there, but will anybody turn up at the baseball diamond to watch them? There have to be some questions about the defense, particularly with Garcia finding his way to San Jose, and they're banking on some new blood to get the goals. They came out of the gates hot last year, survived a perilous drop to make a bit of a playoff run, but ultimately ran out of steam. And boy, that defense sure makes me nervous--did I mention that yet? It's tough to see which way the Wiz will fall because I don't see them as being terribly upgraded from last year. They've probably got enough in the tank for another playoff run, but beyond that . . . ?
5. New York Red Bulls
Double, double, toil and trouble . . . What manner of witchery is Osorio cooking up in the stagnant swamplands of Jersey? They've lost more than they've gained, and while the men up top are among the strongest in MLS, saying that the midfield and defense look rail-thin might be a bit of an exaggeration. That said, Osorio has proven that he knows what he's doing in the coaching box, and you can bet that he'll pull in some more talent from somewhere. And I'm sure MLS HQ will pull out all the stops and allow creative rule-bending to get a "flagship" franchise on the right track. Of course, that's been tried before . . . with pretty lame results. Much depends upon what Osorio can add and how well they cope with Altidore's probable departure in the summer.
6. Columbus Crew
They'll work hard, be tough to play against, and probably win a few, but where are the goals going to come from? If some of Sigi's young guns start firing, they might squeak into a playoff spot, but I would tend to doubt it at this point. Now, if they can dig up a hitman from somewhere and start banging in some goals in the summer, who knows? The only guarantees are that the crowds will be smaller, and that stage will look awful on television. Ugh!
7. Toronto FC
Woe is Mo! They've had some interesting names pop up on trial, but the roster still looks decidedly unimproved from last year's uninspiring (at least on the field) debut. Those fans deserve better, but at this point it looks like business as usual at Fortress BMO. Will the new Brit in charge bring the "bunker and break" style to MLS? How well will that style work in the doldrums of summer? Does Mo have a clue what he's doing? Damn Magic Eight Ball! It keeps telling me that "All signs point to NO!"
So that's the East as I see it now. One thing is for certain after slogging through this--MLS is a real crapshoot again this year. Looking at what I have above, I can see it playing out that way, but I can also see Chicago either completely imploding or firing on all cylinders. Red Bull are still an enigma wrapped in a mystery, and who knows what the Revs will look like? That is both the blessing and the curse of MLS. All fear the merciless and mighty PARITY!
Tomorrow we'll take a glimpse into the future of the Western Conference, to be followed in short order by Nostra-dumbass' take on what the table will look like heading into the playoffs this year. Only three days left!