Western Conference Preview

A look at the teams the Sounders will be competing with in the Western Conference in 2012.

Chivas USA
2011 Record: 8-14-12, 36 points, 8th in West.
Top Returners: Juan Pablo Angel scored seven goals in just nine matches for Chivas last year and comes back for another season.  He has 68 goals in five MLS seasons.  Nick LaBrocca (8 G, 6 A) had an all-star season in the midfield and Dan Kennedy was great in net.
Key Additions: James Riley joined the team after being taken by Montreal in the expansion draft then shipped in a trade to Chivas.  They also added a pair of Ecuadorians in Miller Bolanos and Oswaldo Minda to shore up the middle of their midfield.
Outlook: After one season in charge, Robin Fraser is hoping to see big improvements in his second season.  With Angel up top and an improved midfield, the team may be better, but it may not show in the standings as the West has seen such great leaps from some teams.  Will trading Justin Braun, who scored eight goals last year but scored in only four different matches, be beneficial?

Colorado Rapids
2011 Record: 12-9-13, 49 points, 5th in West, lost to Sporting KC in Eastern Conf. Semifinals.
Top Returners: The attacking combo of Conor Casey and Omar Cummings – one of the more prolific tandems in the league – will be reunited after Casey returns from an Achilles injury.  Jeff Larentowicz is back in the midfield as well, providing a good link between the well-established defensive line and the forwards.  Matt Pickens continues to provide consistent goalkeeping as well.
Key Additions: Colombian midfield attacker Jaime Castrillon will look to add to the strong goal-scoring duo of Casey and Cummings.  Hunter Freeman gives them a veteran option at left back, as well.  Their biggest addition, though was in head coach Oscar Pareja, who has changed the mentality in Commerce City.
Outlook: In 2009, Real Salt Lake came from the depths to win MLS Cup and continued to play at a high level since.  In 2010, Colorado also came from nowhere to win MLS Cup, but couldn’t repeat Salt Lake’s follow-up success.  The losses of Caleb Folan and Sanna Nyassi hurt their attacking depth this year and they hope Castrillon can make up for that.

FC Dallas
2011 Record: 15-12-7, 52 points, 4th in West, lost to LA in Western Conf. Semifinals.
Top Returners: The engine of their offense, David Ferreira and Brek Shea are back and George John anchors a solid defense in front of goalkeeper Kevin Hartman.  19-year-old Fabian Castillo will look to improve on a strong rookie season and Ugo Ihemelu gives John a good center back partner.
Key Additions: Forward Blas Perez was their biggest addition, bringing in a striker who has scored goals in Panama, Uruguay, Colombia, Spain and Mexico before coming to MLS.
Outlook: The addition of Perez is huge for Dallas, giving them options in front of the playmaker Ferreira and talented wingers Shea and Castillo.  They put a lot of stock in Castillo, trading away established threat Marvin Chavez.  Will the gamble pay off?

LA Galaxy
2011 Record: 19-5-10, 67 points, 1st in West, Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup champions.
Top Returners: LA is loaded, no question.  Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Juninho return in the midfield while Robbie Keane will look to build on a great showing in the latter part of the 2011 season up top. Todd Dunivant and Sean Franklin give them one of the strongest pair of outside backs in the league, too.
Key Additions: Edson Buddle returns after a failed stint overseas, giving LA a dominant scorer to pair with Keane, making them frightening to defend.
Outlook: LA was the best defensive team in MLS in 2011, allowing just 28 goals in 34 matches.  However, with the loss of Omar Gonzalez to a torn ACL and the trade of Donovan Ricketts to Montreal, that defensive staple will be more vulnerable.  Will they change from their conservative style as a result?

Portland Timbers
2011 Record: 11-14-9, 42 points, 6th in West.
Top Returners: Midfield maestro Jack Jewsbury and center-mate Diego Chara will continue to man the middle for the Timbers.  Jorge Perlaza remains a scoring threat up top and Darlington Nagbe gives them speed on the wings in his second year.
Key Additions: Kris Boyd was all the rage in Portland when the Timbers brought in the all-time leading scorer from the Scotish Premier League.  He was joined by Colombian defender Hanyer Mosquera and Cameroonian midfielder Franck Songo’o as the Timbers look to improve on their standing in an ever-improving Western Conference.
Outlook: The addition of Boyd does nothing to change the opinion of Portland that they will play for set-pieces.  For all of their offensive improvements, have they done enough to shore up the defense that was among the worst in MLS last year?

Real Salt Lake
2011 Record: 15-11-8, 53 points, 3rd in West, lost to LA in Western Conf. Finals.
Top Returners: Salt Lake brings back nearly their entire squad of contributors from 2011, including forwards Fabian Espindola and Alvaro Saborio, midfielders Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales (who is back after an ankle injury shelved him for much of the 2011 season) and Will Johnson, defenders Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers and goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
Key Additions: It was pretty much status quo at Rio Tinto, where the most glaring addition came in SuperDraft pick Enzo Martinez, who fits their style in the midfield.
Outlook: They will need to find a way to replace the leadership qualities of Robbie Russell and the retired Andy Williams, but with a steady crew that has grown together in the last 3-5 years, head coach Jason Kreis has a great group to play with.  They should again compete to be one of the top teams in the West.

San Jose Earthquakes
2011 Record: 8-12-14, 38 points, 7th in West.
Top Returners: The league’s top goal-scorer over the last two seasons, Chris Wondolowski is hoping to share some of the scoring load with Steven Lenhart, who had five goals in half a season last year.  Simon Dawkins also provides a scoring option from the midfield and Jon Busch remains a solid goalkeeper.
Key Additions: Marvin Chavez had six goals and four assists for Dallas last year and could provide similar punch for the Earthquakes.  Colombian midfielder Tressor Moreno could be the set-up man in the middle for Wondolowski and Honduran center back Victor Bernardez gives them added strength in front of Busch.
Outlook: If their additions can provide support for Wondolowski and take the scoring load off his shoulders, the Earthquakes could return to the form that saw them reach the Conference Semifinals in 2010. 

Vancouver Whitecaps
2011 record: 6-18-10, 28 points, 9th in West.
Top Returners: Top-scorer Eric Hassli is back, along with playmakers Camilo and Davide Chiumiento.  Jay DeMerit and Joe Cannon give them a veteran presence in the back as well.
Key Additions: The trade for Sebastien Le Toux and the return of Atiba Harris mean that Chiumiento will likely be relegated to the bench.  They also added strength to their defense in Martin Bonjour and Lee Young-Pyo.
Outlook: In just their second season, the Whitecaps already have their third coach in Martin Rennie, but Rennie seems to have a grasp of his team much better than his predecessors.  All of their additions seem to fit into their 4-2-3-1 formation, but will the wholesale attack leave them vulnerable on defense?

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