Know Your Enemies: MLS Eastern Conference 2013
After a long vacation, OTF’s resident MLS expert Stephen Mangat is back to bring you his signature look at the clubs from the East. Let the .gif parade commence!
First Kick is upon us, so let’s fire up the modern hair metal and rock out to a preview of the Eastern Conference!
Sporting Kansas City
With Kei Kamara all but gone Teal Bunbury will need to shoulder most of the scoring load, though it’ll be interesting to see if Claudio Bieler, Soony Saad and/or Dom Dwyer can make meaningful contributions. Benny Feilhaber as a replacement for Roger Espinoza is very wishful thinking. Oriol Rosell is a man to watch.
Basically the same team as last season save for Brazilian striker Rafael coming in and Andy Najar going to Anderlecht. United were in sore need of a goalscorer last season and if the 20-year-old Rafael is as good as manager Ben Olsen hopes, then the Nick Deleon–Chris Pontius (see below)-Dwayne DeRosario–Rafael threat should cause teams problems. It’s a shame to see Najar go, as it would’ve been interesting to see if Olsen kept him at right back or if Najar would’ve developed into a player who could dictate the game from the middle.
New York Red Bulls
As usual, plenty of comings and goings for New York. Overall the team looks more balanced (and sane with the exit of Rafa Marquez), though much of their success lies upon on the shoulders of Thierry Henry. An Henry injury or loss of form could be catastrophic, though new man Juninho Pernambucano should be able to provide creativity as well. In fact, how Juninho fits into the midfield with Tim Cahill and Dax McCarty should be interesting. This team looks like it lacks midfield width, so the outside backs better be able to run. Add to this (and other tactical questions) a brand new head coach (Mike Petke) and, as usual, NYRB will be a story that’s interesting to watch.
Joel Lindpere and Jeff Larentowicz into the midfield, Pavel Pardo and Logan Pause out. If Jalil Anibaba and Austin Berry go from “promising youngsters” to “above average pros,” and if manager Frank Klopas develops a plan B for attacking, this team will be among the league’s best. They seemed to run out of gas and ideas at the end of last season, so can Klopas keep his top players energized and his tactics fresh throughout the season?
Don’t expect too much from Houston early in the season as Dom Kinnear always tries to have his team peaking come playoff time. Boniek Garcia’s first full season in the league should be fun to watch, as will Will Bruin’s development into a USMNT-caliber forward.
A full season with Federico Higuain pulling the strings is a plus, as is the addition of Dominic Oduro. The attackers should be fun to watch (especially on the counter-attack), though they could be a bit of a split squad while on the pitch. Higuain, Jairo Arrieta, beard-man Eddie Gaven (plus Oduro or someone else) will do the attacking and the rest will sit back and play it safe.
In the offseason, L’Impact brought in Marco Schällibaum (head coach), Andrea Pisanu, and Andrés Romero. Who are these men? Can Alessandro Nesta stay healthy for most of the season? Can Marco Di Vaio, Andrew Wenger, Sinisa Ubiparipovic, and Felipe get the job done up top? Does anyone know what’s going on in Montréal? There are many questions about L’Impact for which I have no answers. Tous Pour Gagner!
The U added much-needed firepower up top (Sebastian Le Toux, Conor Casey) and a replacement for All-Star Carlos Valdes (Philly-native Jeff Parke). Goalie remains a huge question with Zach MacMath (see below) still considered first choice. Philly fans are hoping for breakout seasons from the Farfans, Sheanon Williams, and Amobi Okugo.
New England Revolution
Getting Juan Toja (ex-FC Dallas and Steaua Bucharest) and Andy Dorman should add some pop to last year’s impotent offense. Having Jerry Bengtson for the entire season will also help. I’m sure head coach Jay Heaps is hoping that Kalifa Cisse is the new Shalrie Joseph. Finally, keep an eye out for #1 pick Andrew Farell in a defensive role.
Toronto’s defense should certainly improve with Ryan Nelsen as coach, newcomers Danny Califf and Gale Agbossoumonde, plus Darren O’Dea and Stefan Frei returning in the back. Agbossoumonde has been talked up for a while but he really hasn’t done anything save for playing for U-whatever USMNTs. Up top doesn’t look good, and the midfield looks like relatively unskilled hardworkers in the middle and unskilled fast guys on the outside. I’m not expecting much from Torsten Frings this season, if he’s there at all.
OTF co-editor and writer Stephen Mangat once dated Judge Judy. Follow him @smangat12