Western Conference Preview
Posted by: Matt Gaschk
The Western Conference seems a bit more open this year with a number of teams strengthening. Let's see how it'll shake out...
2012 Record: 7-18-9, 30 points, 9th in West
Top returners: GK Dan Kennedy, F Juan Agudelo, M Oswaldo Minda, M Miller Bolanos.
Key additions: M Carlos Alvarez.
Key losses: F Juan Pablo Angel, F Alejandro Moreno, M Nick LaBrocca, M Shalrie Joseph, M Ryan Smith, D James Riley, D Danny Califf.
Against Sounders: @ Seattle, April 7; @ Chivas, June 1; @ Seattle, July 28
Will miss the playoffs if: The club didn’t learn from their mistakes of their inaugural season when they took a similar approach to player acquisitions and finished a league-worst 4-22-6 in their inaugural season in 2005.
2012 Record: 11-19-4, 37 points, 7th in West
Top returners: GK Matt Pickens, D Drew Moor, D Marvell Wynne, M Jaime Castrillon, M Brian Mullan, F Kamani Hill, F Tony Cascio.
Key additions: F Edson Buddle, F Kevin Harbottle, F DeShorn Brown, M Nick LaBrocca, D Diego Calderon.
Key losses: F Conor Casey, F Omar Cummings, M Jeff Larentowicz, D Hunter Freeman, D Tyrone Marshall, D Tyson Wahl.
Against Sounders: @ Colorado, April 20; @ Seattle, July 20; @ Colorado, October 5
Will miss the playoffs if: Their off-season acquisitions take too long to get acclimated to the system of head coach Oscar Pareja. The Rapids never seemed to fully adjust to his coaching style last year and even still managed to be within a couple of results of the playoffs.
2012 Record: 9-13-12, 39 points, 6th in West
Top returners: F Blas Perez, F Fabian Castillo, M David Ferreira, D Jackson, D Matt Hedges, D Zach Loyd.
Key additions: GK Raul Fernandez, M Peter Luccin, F Kenny Cooper, F Eric Hassli.
Key losses: GK Kevin Hartman, M Brek Shea, M Julian De Guzman.
Against Sounders: @ Seattle, May 18; @ Seattle, August 3; @ Dallas, October 19
Will make the playoffs if: The chemistry between Ferreira and Cooper can bring Ferreira back into MVP contention and keep Cooper among the league’s leading scorers. They were on the brink of the playoffs in 2012 and now have the scoring options in Cooper, Hassli and Blas Perez in front of Ferreira, the 2010 MLS MVP, could keep the momentum from their late-season charge into the start of the 2013 season. They also have plenty of allocation money from Shea’s transfer to England which should prove beneficial late in the season.
Will miss the playoffs if: The forward trio of Perez, Cooper and Hassli can’t co-exist and Fernandez doesn’t ably replace Hartman in the back.
2012 Record: 16-12-6, 54 points, 4th in West
Top returners: F Robbie Keane, M Landon Donovan, M Juninho, M Mike McGee, D Omar Gonzalez, D Sean Franklin.
Key additions: GK Carlo Cudicini, F Gyasi Zardes.
Key losses: GK Josh Saunders, M Christian Wilhelmson, M David Beckham, F Edson Buddle.
Against Sounders: @ LA, May 26; @ LA September 21, @ Seattle, October 27
Will make the playoffs if: They play like their bios read. The only thing that has stood between the Galaxy and the playoffs in recent years has been sub-par performances by players on the team.
Will miss the playoffs if: Donovan can’t rekindle the motivation that drove him to be among the league’s top players during his career. The 30-year-old US National Team star took a leave of absence from the team after winning a second consecutive MLS Cup in December and does not plan to return to the team for training until late-March. He is a driving force behind the Galaxy and they may not be the same if he doesn’t still have that burning desire.
2012 Record: 8-16-10, 34 points, 8th in West
Top returners: GK Donovan Ricketts, D Hanyer Mosquera, M Darlington Nagbe, M Diego Chara, M Jack Jewsbury, F Danny Mwanga.
Key additions: D Mikael Silvestre, M Diego Valeri, M Will Johnson, F Ryan Johnson.
Key losses: D Eric Brunner, D Steve Smith, M Eric Alexander, F Kris Boyd.
Against Sounders: @ Seattle, March 16; @ Seattle, August 25; @ Portland, October 13
Will make the playoffs if: The attacking additions of Valeri, Will Johnson and Ryan Johnson give them a good running start to the season. They were solid throughout the preseason, but Portland has consistently been a good team in preseason that hasn’t been able to carry that success in the regular season. With veterans in the two Johnsons, along with Valeri and former Manchester United defender Silvestre, this could be the best Portland team yet.
Will miss the playoffs if: New head coach Caleb Porter fizzles as he did with the US U23 team at Olympic qualifying. Seeming shoe-ins to make the Olympics in 2012, the Porter-led US squad failed to get through. It may not be fair to say that the fate of Portland in 2013 depends solely on Porter, but he will certainly get a lot of credit if they succeed and a lot of blame if they fail.
Real Salt Lake
2012 Record: 17-11-6, 57 points, 2nd in West
Top returners: GK Nick Rimando, D Nat Borchers, D Chris Wingert, M Kyle Beckerman, M Javier Morales, F Alvaro Saborio.
Key additions: M Lovel Palmer, F Joao Plata, F Robbie Findley.
Key losses: D Jamison Olave, M Will Johnson, F Fabian Espindola.
Against Sounders: @ RSL, March 30; @ RSL, June 22; @ Seattle, September 13
Will make the playoffs if: The leaders of the team carry them. Rimando, Beckerman and Morales continue to be great leaders and with talented players all around, it’s the makings of a team that can continue to maintain the longest streak of consecutive playoff seasons, dating back to 2008.
Will miss the playoffs if: They can’t overcome the losses of central figures to that long-running success in Olave, Johnson and Espindola. Head coach Jason Kreis has his team mastering the diamond-shaped midfield and Johnson was a key element to that, while Olave was a key piece to their stifling defense and Espindola provided a good partner for Saborio.
San Jose Earthquakes
2012 Record: 19-6-9, 66 points, 1st in West, Supporters’ Shield winners
Top returners: GK Jon Busch, D Victor Bernardez, D Justin Morrow, D Steven Beitashour, M Marvin Chavez, F Chris Wondolowski, F Steven Lenhart, F Alan Gordon.
Key additions: F Mike Fucito.
Key losses: D Ike Opara, M Khari Stephenson.
Against Sounders: @ San Jose, March 23; @ Seattle, May 11; @ San Jose, July 13
Will make the playoffs if: Things remain the same. This is largely the same team that ran rough-shod of MLS last year. If they can all repeat their performances from that year and keep their ‘never say die’ attitude, they have what it takes to pace the West yet again.
Will miss the playoffs if: They lose the camaraderie that got them to the top of the regular-season mountain. The 2012 Earthquakes was a team that many considered greater than the sum of its parts. Players bought into their roles though and played them to a T. Can they continue that mentality a second year when talented players continue to play second fiddle to the scoring machine that has become of Chris Wondolowski?
Seattle Sounders FC
2012 Record: 15-8-11, 56 points, 3rd in West
Top returners: GK Michael Gspurning, D Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, M Osvaldo Alonso, M Mauro Rosales, M Steve Zakuani, M Mario Martinez, M Brad Evans, F Eddie Johnson, F David Estrada.
Key additions: D Djimi Traore, D Eriq Zavaleta, M Lamar Neagle, M Shalrie Joseph.
Key losses: D Jeff Parke, F Fredy Montero.
Will make the playoffs if: Players play to their profiles. The Sounders have shown an ability to get a lot out of players that others have written off in the past and if they can do the same for Traore and Joseph, that veteran leadership will add some killer instinct to the club. A full season of Mario Martinez and Steve Zakuani could give the Sounders the best midfield in MLS, too.
Will miss the playoffs if: They can’t replace the scoring of Montero and standout defense of Parke. Both players proved vital in key moments for the Sounders at different points in the season and while the expectation is that scoring will come from different avenues in 2013, getting those goals on the board cannot be assumed.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
2012 Record: 11-13-10, 43 points, 5th in West
Top returners: GK Joe Cannon, D Jay DeMerit, D YP Lee, M Gershon Koffie, F Kenny Miller, F Camilo.
Key additions: D Johnny Leveron, D Brad Rusin, M Daigo Kobayashi, M Nigel Reo-Coker, F Kekuta Manneh.
Key losses: D Martin Bonjour, M John Thorrington, M Barry Robson.
Against Sounders: @ Seattle, June 8; @ Vancouver, July 6, @ Seattle, October 9
Will make the playoffs if: Their new additions can get up to speed quickly. They have the talent to thrive in the West. Kobayashi provided a stunning preseason goal, Leveron is a tremendous defensive addition and Reo-Coker brings another legitimate presence to a club with a strong identity.
Will miss the playoffs if: They can’t stay healthy. Many key players for Vancouver are getting up in age and they may not have the cover to survive if any miss an extended period of time.
Matt Gaschk is the Seattle Sounders FC Insider. Check out his Rave Green Blog for news and notes concerning all things Sounders!
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