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Eastern Conference Preview

The Sounders will face each team in the East only once in 2012. Here's a look at who they will be up against.

Chicago Fire
2011 Record: 9-9-16, 43 points, 6th in East.
Top Returners: Dominic Oduro had a great season with 12 goals and Sebastian Grazzini was masterful in just 11 matches with five goals and four assists.  Pavel Pardo’s five assists in 12 games also leaves a lot for Chicago to be excited about in 2012.  Defensively, they bring back the same group from 2011, including Gonzalo Segares at left back and Sean Johnson in front of the net.
Key Additions: Former German National Team defender Arne Friedrich signed with the club on Wednesday and should make huge strides for the defense.  The additions of Federico Puppo and Rafael Robayo will give them plenty of depth from the midfield forward.
Outlook: The Fire have plenty of speed and will look to use it in 2012.  They shared the league-lead in draws with New York in 2011.  Turning a few of those into wins will mean a world of a difference.

Columbus Crew
2011 Record: 13-13-8, 47 points, 4th in East.
Top Returners: Emilio Renteria is the top returning scorer after tallying eight times in 2011 and Eddie Gaven is a solid contributor from the midfield.  Tony Tchani came to Columbus in a mid-season trade, but didn’t appear in a match.  Defender Chad Marshall is still among the best center backs, too.
Key Additions: Forward Olman Vargas and midfielder Milovan Mirosevic make for a re-tooled attack for the Crew.
Outlook: The Crew missed the playoffs last year after steadily declining since the departure of Sigi Schmid as head coach.  They look to bounce back, but will do so without Robbie Rogers, who left for England.  In the East, they may be able to compete for a playoff spot.

DC United
2011 Record: 9-13-12, 39 points, 7th in East.
Top Returners: MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario will be joined by Chris Pontius and Andy Najar on the wings and the return of Branko Boskovic in the midfield.  Bill Hamid remains in net after getting opportunities to train with the US National Team this off-season.
Key Additions: De Rosario will get help at forward this year with the addition of Hamdi Salihi – an Albanian striker who has been playing in Austria since 2007 – and Maicon Santos for depth.  Robbie Russell and Emiliano Dudar slide into the lineup and instantly improve one of the worst defenses in the league in 2011.
Outlook: De Rosario put up impressive numbers for DC United in 2011, but didn’t help them win.  He will need the help of Salihi and an improved midfield to elevate DC back to the level the club – and its fans – grew used to in the early days of MLS.

Houston Dynamo
2011 Record: 12-9-13, 49 points, 2nd in East, lost to LA in MLS Cup Final.
Top Returners: Goalkeeper Tally Hall had the breakout year Houston was hoping for in backstopping the Dynamo to the MLS Cup Final.  Brian Ching was gone (taken by Montreal in the expansion draft) then back again (traded back to Houston for a conditional draft pick.  Geoff Cameron gives them an all-star on defense while Brad Davis had an MVP caliber season in 2011.  Luiz Camargo was key in stretches in the middle of midfield, too.
Key Additions: Nathan Sturgis and Macoumba Kandji provide depth and fit in well with their rugged mentality.
Outlook: Riding the momentum that carried them through the Eastern Conference bracket in 2011, the Dynamo will look to get a similar boost with the opening of BBVA Compass Stadium that Kansas City got with their new stadium last year.  Their success will hinder on Camargo and the return of several players who suffered injuries last season, including Davis and former USL Sounder Cam Weaver, among others.

Montreal Impact
Key Additions: In their inaugural season, the Impact will look to midfielders Davy Arnaud and Patrice Bernier to lead the charge.  Justin Braun gives them a goal-scorer at forward, along with a bevy of former Sounders, including Mike Fucito, Lamar Neagle and Sanna Nyassi.  Tyson Wahl appears to be moving to center back in front of former Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts.  Top SuperDraft pick Andrew Wenger can play virtually any position on the field – where head coach Jesse Marsch chooses to use him will be an interesting question.
Outlook: The Impact comes to the league with much fanfare, but the expectations have been realistic.  Seattle’s expansion year being the exception, clubs that have played a managed, defensive style have had more success in their first season.  Built around their defense and with a hard-nosed mentality, Montreal will likely play some low-scoring affairs.

New England Revolution
2011 Record: 5-16-13, 28 points, 9th in East.
Top Returners: With goalkeeper Matt Reis and midfielders Benny Feilhaber and Shalrie Joseph, the Revolution have three solid building blocks for their club.
Key Additions: Between Frenchman Saer Sene and Colombian Jose Moreno, they have new options at forward.  Federal Way native Kelyn Rowe was taken third in the SuperDraft and should get plenty of playing time for the Revs in his rookie season.  Another Colombian, John Lozano, gives new coach Jay Heaps some more strength in front of Reis in the back.
Outlook: New England has struggled over the last few seasons, but looks to finally have a grasp on bringing in foreign talent.  Diego Fagundez is young and improving, as are the Revs.  While they have exciting pieces that will make them dangerous each match, they don’t have the balance that will help them succeed throughout the season.

New York Red Bulls
2011 Record: 10-8-16, 46 points, 5th in East.
Top Returners: What a group New York brings back from 2011.  Thierry Henry (14 G, 4 A) and Luke Rodgers (9 G, 3 A) are quality enough at forward and they also return up-and-comer Juan Agudelo (6 G, 2 A).  Joel Lindpere and Dane Richards (7 G, 7 A each) add threats in the midfield with Rafa Marquez playing the defensive midfield role.
Key Additions: 2009 MLS Best XI defender Wilman Conde and Swede Markus Holgersson shore up a horrendous situation at center back for New York in 2011.  However, it looks like they’ll be in front of rookie shot-stopper Ryan Meara.  Kenny Cooper gives them another proven goal-scorer at forward after coming over in a trade with Portland.
Outlook: On the surface, the Red Bulls look like they should be a team to be reckoned with – but the same was said about the 2011 version of the team.  Have they reconciled the locker room issues that caused their breakdown last year?

Philadelphia Union
2011 Record: 11-8-15, 48 points, 3rd in East, lost to Houston in Eastern Conf. Semifinals.
Top Returners: Danny Mwanga is their top returning scorer at five goals and four assists last year, but started just 13 of his 28 appearances.  Freddy Adu didn’t impress much in his return to MLS, but hopes to improve in his first full season with the Union.  They have a slew of young talent, but their strength is their center back combo of Danny Califf and Carlos Valdez.
Key Additions: Costa Rican Josue Martinez and Colombina Lionard Pajoy give head coach Peter Nowak plenty of options at forward and Gabriel Gomez should add to the attack from the midfield.
Outlook: The team suffered massive losses in the off-season in the form of a trade of Sebastien Le Toux, losing Justin Mapp in the expansion draft and goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon returning to Colombia.  The response has been to use the young players they have been accumulating in recent years.  Will they respond to the pressure?

Sporting Kansas City
2011 Record: 13-9-12, 51 points, 1st in East, lost to Houston in Eastern Conf. Final.
Top Returners: CJ Sapong and Kei Kamara are back after an explosive first season in the new LIVESTRONG Sporting Park.  Graham Zusi also had a breakout season in the midfield while Aurelien Collin showed his value on defense.
Key Additions: With the losses of Davy Arnaud and Omar Bravo, KC will look to get something in the attack from Bobby Convey.  They also added forward Dom Dwyer in the draft, as well as depth in the midfield with Paulo Nagamura.
Outlook: Kansas City was quietly one of the better teams in the second half of the season, but will they be able to carry that spark into 2012?  Their point total will be inflated by the unbalanced schedule, so they should be able to compete for the Supporters’ Shield while maintaining one of the top spots in the East.

Toronto FC
2011 Record: 6-13-15, 33 points, 8th in East.
Top Returners: Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans were tremendous additions to the club at mid-season last year and they will be able to make their mark on the club even more with a full preseason behind them.  Julian de Guzman completes their triumvirate of designated players and matches well with Frings in the midfield.
Key Additions: They boosted their defense by adding Ecuadorian center back Geovanny Caicedo and Chilean center back Miguel Aceval.  Luis Silva gives them depth in the midfield after he was picked up fourth overall in the SuperDraft.
Outlook: After a crazy first year, head coach Aron Winter appears to be putting his stamp on the Toronto FC team and it could mean their first trip to the playoffs since joining the league in 2007.