The MLS gets under way on March 15 with a cracking match between the LA Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders. -Pauses for cheers- I had a great idea to write this fantastic article filled with stats and figures that broke down each team and make projections on how the season would go and what to watch for; while writing it one night I woke up to my face firmly planted to the desk with my fingers hanging over the keyboard and a big pool of drool creeping out of the corner of my mouth. I had an epiphany that this approach may not be the best way to tackle this league. Particularly if I wanted to grow my readership. This league is not very good, well at least compared to most leagues that people watch. The dudes in this league are really athletic, but have next to zero technical ability. It makes for a bunch of goals deflecting in of someones ass, bad tackles in the box for penalties and the occasional brilliant moment provided by some European or South American import retread. That is not to say that it is not entertaining, it is very entertaining. It is like a soap opera filled with bad actors as footballers and coaches. You cannot help but be entertained by the sheer rubbishness of the football combined with the attitudes and story lines that creep up game in game out. This article is a guide, like an old TV guide preview, that will go through the teams and the characters. Some stats will be shared, but most of it is based on this American’s personal bias and attitudes about the game and the actors.
I will start by breaking down the Western Conference . The LA Galaxy is now on the clock. This team is supposed to be the “super” team of MLS. They have former U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena at the helm. He looks like a guy that should be selling you windows and doors at the Home Depot, not coaching the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center. Every league rule was bent in order to get David Beckham over here, since he has come over they have won nothing. He is either injured or flying half way around the world in order to get caps for England. He frequently tries to go out on loan in the off-season, twice with AC Milan, last year Milan returned him back to Galaxy with a ruptured ankle. He did not play until the end of the season. Then this January he begged to join Tottenham Hotspur, Galaxy was having none of it. I get the feeling that he would hardly walk across the street to play for the Galaxy. Since his arrival, MLS fans have showered him with funny chants an jeers, including the famous one about Posh. He has done next to nothing for the Galaxy, and most fans laugh their asses off at dudes who wear Beckham Galaxy jerseys. Last year they the most points in MLS with 59 , and won the West at a canter. That didn’t prevent them from melting down and losing to Dallas 3-0 though, much to the joy of the rest of the league. They have good players, club captain and U.S. international star Landon Dononvan plays here, along with former Red Bull and Aston Villa striker Juan Pablo Angel. They also went and got a few Brazilian and Argentinians on loan for the season, because even if they are crap in their countries, they are probably near Pele and Maradona levels in MLS. The league is pulling out every stop to get them a championship, so every other team basically hates their guts, they are the Real Madrid of MLS, except without the history and the good players of course. I would think they will win many home games and at least draw some away matches. Check match-ups and injuries before wagering.
There is another team in Los Angeles. They are called Chivas USA, don’t ask what it means, they have been here since 2004 and I still have not gotten why they copied a successful Mexican team in the U.S. Especially since the one in Mexico has a rich history of winning and producing good players, and the one in America is shit. Well that’s not strictly true, they won the Western Conference once.(cricket sounds). They are rebuilding for the 3rd or 4th time, what they are building I am not sure, it certainly won’t win anything. They brought in some new coach, Robin Fraser, who played in MLS for ten years, he is the 6th coach in 7 years. How much you wanna bet that next year they will be on 7 in 8? They did draft a good defender from Akron and some kid from LDU Equito, but they were the worst in the Western Conference and the 2nd worst team in MLS last season, managing only 28 points. They won two games on the road last season. Their leading scorer had nine goals. Their top assist man was tied with four others at three. The goalkeeper gave up 1.47 goals a game. They won’t fix this ship in a season, this will be a bad team, reminiscent of Derby County in the Premier League bad. Should be fun watching them cock it up though. They lose everywhere they go, if you bet them to lose over a season you should win a few quid.
Staying in California, the next team is the San Jose Earthquakes. They had a pretty decent year last season. Some pundits thought they had the talent to make it to the playoffs, which they did, but Franky Yallup just could get past Colorado, losing 1-0 in a tight match. Yallup is considered one of the best coaches in MLS. The former Ipswich Town man won the MLS Cup in 2001 and 2003 as coach of San Jose. He left to manage the Canadian national team, always a sure career killer, and came back to MLS in 2006 to coach the Los Angeles Beckhams…..errrrrr….Galaxy. It went bad, he bought out his own contact to get the hell out of there, and went back to San Jose in 2008. They have good players , just not your household names( if there is such a thing in MLS). Chris Wondolowski scored 18 goals last season to win the MLS Golden Boot, a trophy that nobody but the announcers seem to remember who won, but win it he did. The goalkeeping combination of Jon Busch and Joe Cannon did well, 1.06 and 1.17 goals against respectively. Joe Cannon left to go to Vancouver, so that leaves Busch with the spot. Captain Ramiro Corrales is on his second stint with the Quakes, having played close to 30 years in the MLS, well it seems that way anyway. Figure of hate Bobby Convey was the leader in assists last season with 10. He is the MLS equivalent of Robbie Savage, although not as ugly as Savage, but people like him when he plays for their team and hate to play against him. The talent pool in this team is very young, some fans think they could be good and start winning things soon, so do Arsenal fans, which proves that having talented youth doesn’t mean squat. Real cagey team that refuses to lose. Hard to bet them to win away, draw is better option if you take into consideration their opponents, but at home they will get a lot of points.
Speaking of Arsenal let’s move on to the Colorado Rapids. An Arsenal “affiliated” club, whatever that means. Arsenal don’t send over any players, as far as I can tell, all that it means to be affiliated is that you flog their swag in your store. The Rapids are the MLS Cup champions of 2010. Coach Gary Smith guided them on an improbable run in the playoffs to win the cup. They finished fifth in the West with 46 points, and fluked their way to a title. They have some good talent. Strikers Connor Casey and Omar Cummings scored 27 goals between them, 13 and 14 respectively. Matt Pickens had a decent year in goal, allowing just 1.1 goals a game. The defense is anchored by U.S. interantional Marvell Wynne. They also have Kosuke Kimura and Drew Moor in the back line. They still trot out the decaying corpse of Pablo Mastroeni to play the holding role. They signed Sanna Nyassi of the Seattle Sounders for some speed up front. It’s a good team, but I will be shocked if they win anything this year. They will be fun to watch though, as they have a good mixture of youth and experience. They have the mindset to take all three points rather than settle for one, which creates good football and shambolic mistakes, classic MLS footy. Wait for a show of form before wagering, they are an enigma right now to me.
Off to the land of the Mormon then with a look at Real Salt Lake. The team name was not lifted or inspired by Real Madrid, the club will have you know it was inspired by the long tradition of royalty in Utah, or something. Maybe a little research would have saved them the embarrassment of a stupid sounding name. Or maybe having a franchise in Salt Lake is the stupidest part of the whole thing and the name was meant to deflect discussion about moving it immediately. The head coach is Jason Kreis, a former player in the league who took over the team in 2007 and won the MLS Cup in 2009. He is the 3rd all-time leading scorer in MLS history. He did crush the Galaxies hopes though, so props to him eh. They finished 2nd in the West last season with 56 points. They had a goal difference of plus 25 and did not suffer a single defeat at home last season. Goalkeeper Nick Ramando played in 27 games last year and had a .67 goals against average. They return the starting back four from last season, who are really good by the way. They also drafted some young kids for the center of the park since they are a bit old in the midfield. Costa Rican forward Alvaro Saborio led the team with 12 goals and four assists. Play maker Javier Morales had seven goals and nine assists. The nappy dread head Kyle Beckerman returns for his 11th season in MLS, the man who looks like he should be following the Grateful Dead on tour while throwing frisbees and dropping acid in the parking lot is now the club captain. This team could easily win the MLS Cup, and that thought makes the powers that be in MLS have many sleepless nights. There can be no bigger black hole for soccer interest from the rest of the country than Salt Lake. I have never seen a person wearing a Salt Lake kit, of course I have never been to Utah, maybe that is the problem. I suspect that the problem is that they are from Utah though. Undefeated at home last season, with a huge home goal difference, seems pretty simple to see what way I lean on them.
FC Dallas. So close to becoming relevant in MLS, but denied by Colorado. They had one of their best years and finished with 50 points,which was good enough for 3rd place in the West. They beat the Galaxy 3-0 in the playoffs, which was an epic result for the club. Head coach Schellas Hyndman, whose name, according to Ron Burgundy, translates to a whales vagina. I kid, I kid, I told myself I was gonna get one Ron Burgundy reference in the article though. Anyway, he was a career NCAA coach before taking the job at Dallas. He also has been an Aiki Ju-Jitsu instructor for 25 years. So if guys don’t listen to them he just slaps an arm bar on them, or threatens to choke them out with a triangle. Legend has it that he once choked out a lineman at halftime. Forget the last statement, it’s complete bollocks, but it would be cool if it happened, right? The team went and got a pair of Brazilians on loan for the season. They also have the best play maker in the league in David Ferreira, who scored eight goals and had 13 assists in 30 games last season. Goalkeeper Kevin Hartman had a goals against average of .62 in 20 games last season. They lost MLS veteran striker Jeff Cunningham and center back Heath Pierce from the roster. A move that could hurt them both in the attack and defense. Dallas has the spine of a good team, it is young, and will be counting on some players to step up and contribute right away. Hyndman is not scared by these projects though, his career was forged by building winning programs with young players at the NCAA level. Stay away!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Unless you have some money to burn, most frustrating team to try and get a read on.
What to say about Seattle? They have good fans. That’s about it. They play in the worst color green, called rave green, I have ever seen. It is the same green color that permeates through the Xbox system and game boxes. Which is fitting, since they are sponsored and owned by a Microsoft guy. But then again, what isn’t owned by Microsoft in Seattle? They are managed by MLS coaching legend Sigi Schmid. He is the Jose Mourinho of MLS. Everywhere he goes he produces trophies. He has won the Lamar Hunt Cup three times, the CONCACAF Champions Cup, the MLS cup twice, and the College Cup three times. Last year, they finished fourth in the West with 48 points and were knocked out of the playoffs by Los Angeles. They are captained by the 41-year-old former U.S. goalie Kasey Keller, who had a 1.15 goals against average. They also have a forward named Fredy Montero that is pretty good. He had 10 goals and 10 assists last season. Steve Zaukani also chipped in with ten goals. They had former Arsenal player Freddy Ljundberg, but they got rid of him and his injured self. Their roster is filled with young, talented U.S. players. If they live up to their talent level, they could form a good squad. One of the most interesting players on the roster is the young Ghanaian Michael Tetteh. He is a midfielder that dominated at UC Santa Barbara. He was a coveted player in the 2011 draft that could be very successful in the MLS. Watching a game involving Seattle on TV is refreshing, the crowd screams for 90 minutes and they produce some good songs. Sigi will be motivated to win something for these supporters, and I bet he will, just not the MLS Cup. Good at home crap on the road. See a pattern starting to emerge here yet?
The next last two teams are expansion teams. Vancouver Whitecaps played in the USFF division 2 last season. They purchased a spot in the “top tier” of MLS a few seasons ago and have been slid right into the action. They only brought six players from the division 2 side to the MLS. They went and signed U.S. international defender, and former Watford defender, Jay Demerit, to solidify their back-line. Being from Green Bay makes him one of my favorite players, I am very biased about that, but he was easily the best defender for the U.S in the 2010 World Cup Finals. They also went and got San Jose goalkeeper Joe Cannon, who was goalkeeper of the year in 2002 and 2004. They drafted striker Omar Salgado number one overall in the 2011 draft. The former Mexican turned U.S. international was considered the best attacking player on offer this year. They also drafted Akron’s play-making midfielder Michael Nanchoff eighth overall. They are coached by Teitur Thordarson, a former coach in Sweden, France, Norway and Estonia. He has learned his craft from coaching legends Gerard Houllier and Arsene Wenger. This team will be fun to watch play and grow. They will be in a lot of games, but I expect them to lose most of them. Very few teams come into the MLS and produce good results, that doesn’t mean that they cannot be entertaining though. Expansion teams are historically bad, certainly on the road I would shy away, but at home I expect them to get some draws against some good teams. They will beat some bad teams at home as well.
The last team to be previewed is the Portland Timbers. The Timbers are a former USL team that bought into MLS franchise a few season ago. They are coached by Scotland’s own John Spencer. The former Rangers, Chelsea, QPR and Colorado Rapids man was an assistant under successful MLS coach Dominic Kinnear. They have a hodgepodge of older and younger players, most of whom, I have never heard of. Kerrea Gilbert, a former Arsenal trainee, was supposed to be on his way to the club. It is rumored that he is having problems with his visa though, so that player is up in the air. Defender Kevin Goldthwaite is a much troubled defender that when playing is great, but he is often injured and useless to a team. They also have a Gambian defender Mamadou Danso, who looks a good player, but who knows how good the other defenders are going to be. They also have former Manchester United striker Eddie Johnson, who could light up this league if he can settle down and find his form. They drafted Akron striker Darlington Nagbe, who is a speed demon that makes good runs and can finish, he is the MLS equivalent of Theo Walcott. I think this team will be at the bottom of the West. They could be a good team to make some money on, as they probably will not win very often and could routinely lose by more than a goal. I think they may be the worst team in the West this season. Do with that what you will.