MLS Preview, Part II: The Race to the Bottom

In Part I of this series, we took a look at how I though the Eastern Conference might pan out. It's time now to pack our bags and head out west . . .

Perhaps I'm touched by a bit of east coast bias here, but let me lay my cards on the table. While I did lay out a few doomsday scenarios for various clubs in the East, it's also my contention that any of the seven teams could potentially put things together to make a run at the crown. In the West, I see far fewer potential success stories and a great preponderance of crash-and-burn, "Oh, the humanity!", chuck a virgin in the volcano, pray for a messiah type trainwrecks littering the landscape. So, who takes the crown amidst the debris?

1. Real Salt Lake - The Real Deal?
New stadium. Solid core of players. They were only a step away from the final last year. Can Kreis take RSL to the next level? If they were in the East, I wouldn't be so sure. But the West is a shallower pool, and I see them being the steadiest ship in dicey waters. Still, the potential is there for this to be a side that controls games, is solid at the back, but doesn't have that go-to guy that'll finish the key chances. Too many draws or losses in games they dominate might throw a speed bump down in their path.

But where to next? I see a trio of teams that look to be in decent shape to challenge for playoff spots. I don't think any of them will be a threat to be a dominant team in the league, but if they catch fire at the right time, a strong playoff run may be on the cards. Mix and match them how you will, but I'll call it like this . . .

2. San Jose Earthquakes - Are We Out of Beta Yet?
Yallop's charges took a while to get out of the blocks last year, but when they did, they went on a tear that almost saw them sneak in through the back door to the playoffs. Despite that failure, there is a decent core to build around--and build they have. While some of the talent may be unproven in MLS, they've got one of the best keepers in the league, a solid defense, some quality in midfield, and potential up top. Like RSL, they may lack the go-to guy that's going to grab the important goals, but they've got some midfielders with that kind of trick in their bag.

3. Houston Dynamo - StuHo = DeRo?
The Dynamo are a strong side, but they've lost more than just DeRo this offseason. They'll still win more than their fair share of games, but will StuHo (Stuart Holden) be able to grab games by the scruff of the neck and pull out results for the Dynamo? Doubtful. Also, between qualifiers, the Gold Cup, and the Confederations Cup, some important guys may be missing some significant time this summer. Still, the fixture congestion won't be as bad this time around, and Kinnear boasts a solid core of players returning from one of the strongest sides in MLS over the last three years. That should be enough for a playoff run.

4. Colorado Rapids - Rocky Mountain Blackburn?
Rounding out our top four are the solid, if unspectacular, Rapids. Yes, yes, I know that's supposed to be "Rocky Mountain Arsenal," but it looks to me like Gary Smith is excising the flair and going for the grit. While it may not provide for play that is great to watch, it will probably prove effective enough to keep the Rapids solidly in the middle of the pack. A key addition or two to provide a mid-season boost, and perhaps they've got a chance to make some post-season noise.

So that takes care of the sides that should have reasonable expectations of decent seasons. What about the rest of this lot? Well, therein lies a potential tale of woe. I'm not so brazen as to think none of them might actually come out of the MLS summer oven looking scrumptious, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they'll either be charred to a crisp or not cooked the whole way through. It's hard to say which will prove the most spectacular disappointment, but I'm going to go way out on my prophetic limb and pick a surprise leader for this ragged pack . . .

5. Los Angeles Galaxy - Golden Bail Out?
WHAT!?! I know, I know. They're going to be terrible, right? But have you had a look at what else is piled up around then down here? Look, Arena isn't dumb. He's got a solid array of decent, if ancient, veterans. If (big if!) Kapitan Kissypants stays happy and in town, and if (again with the speculation) Golden Balls either bails entirely (thus freeing some cash) or comes to really play, the Gals might actually win a few games. I know that they're rickety as hell at the back, but if they bang them in like they did last year and manage even the slightest defensive improvement, they'll be in playoff contention when we come down the stretch in the fall.

6. FC Dallas - Coop, There He Goes!
Ummm . . . sorry about that. Pretty bad, eh? Regardless, Dallas' chances pretty much boil down to that unfortunate turn of phrase. Will Kenny Cooper be around come the fall? If so, Dallas may have an outside chance. That said, I'm not much convinced that Hyndman knows what he's doing out there, though that seems to be pretty much their FO's calling card. And have you seen what they're going to be fielding as a defense? Coop and Cunningham better be banging them in is all I'm saying.

7. Seattle Sounders - Thud!
That sound (no more puns, please!) you just heard was the sweet audio goodness of limitless ambition meeting MLS expansion reality. Yes, the crowds will come. Yes, they boast some attacking promise. And yes, like all expansion sides, they'll struggle to get organized, both at the back, and when it comes to fashioning chances. Brand new teams need time to gel. Having Sigi at the helm helps, but it won't be enough. Will the crowds still be around by the time the team has managed to knit together?

8. Chivas USA - Goat Stew, Anyone?
This is a bit like the Galaxy pick, way out there at the edge of the prognostication cliff. Chivas did, after all, finish second in the West last year. But they've hemorrhaged some significant talent this off-season. Couple that to the uncertainty surrounding their one real star, Sacha Kljestan, who will probably miss significant time to national team call-ups and may be out the door come the summer transfer window, and you've got a recipe that comes out tasting significantly like disaster. Plus, their website crashed my browser, causing me to lose half of this post, and the spirit of retribution is upon me like a holy fire. Take that!

So there you have it. The Fullbackian Prognostication Engine has vomited up its dross. Now it's your turn. What do you think of my picks? How do you see the West turning out?

Next time out, we'll take the two conference predictions, mash them together into a single table (the way God intended it . . . joking! . . . kind of), and make some bold claims about how the MLS Cup playoffs are going to proceed. See you then.

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