Chicago Fire

Last Season: With what most would consider a solid and consistent season Frank Klopas’s troops finished fourth in the Eastern Conference just within goal difference of New York(3rd) and one point of DC (2nd) who piped them to the post on the last day of the regular season. 4th spot meant Chicago would face a tough wildcard game against a play-off earthed Houston Dynamo.

Fire undoubtedly kicked on with the return of Chris Rolfe from his hit and miss stint in Denmark with Aab. The thirty year old made his comeback at the beginning of June and his creative edge had a massive impact on The Fire applying more gloss to a play-off chasing campaign.

The season ended in sudden fashion for the men from Toyota Park as an orange filled Dynamo reeled away with victory. A late Alex goal wasn’t enough to cancel out a Will Bruin brace and prevent Dynamo from advancing.

Strengths: Behind the scenes at Toyota Park the cheque book and the wheeling and dealing motions have been in full flow with the acquisitions of four new midfielders. With a massive void left by the retiring Mexican veteran Pavel Pardo, it was a key area to strengthen. In came Jeff Larentowicz an MLS veteran to provide the steel and vision left vacant. His added experience in the middle of the park heading into 2013 will provide a licence for others to create and stick the ball in the of the net. As well as Larentowicz, Fire have added Estonian Joel Lindpere from New York Red Bulls, Brendan King from Alta IF and the most recent trade Dilly Duka, all with whom provide some valuable depth to an already nifty midfield.

The emergence of Rookie Of The Year Austin Berry made huge headlines last season, and with him being a year older and a year more experienced, this season will be one of taking his game up to a whole new level. And with the guidance of Friedrich to count upon again this season I can only see him getting better and better.

As well as Berry, Sean Johnson had a few sticky moments last season but goalkeepers are renowned for displaying thick skin. I am sure the shot stopper has learnt immensely from previous and his season will be one of progression and less mistake filled.

Finally Chris Rolfe. The attacking midfield general has the creative edge that keeps the Chicago Fire ticking over, his eye for a pass, his knack of producing the unexpected is captivating to watch. And with a full pre-season under his belt he will benefit from more of an understanding and a broader graphic of playing procedures. If he can stay fully fit then I strongly feel Chicago can challenge.

Chris%20RolfeWeaknesses: The trade to let Dominic Oduro leave has bemused soccer fans. Even though only starting 21 of his 33 games, the trade to bring in Dilly Duka was confusing to say the least. The departure of the Ghanaian has left Chicago Fire without any real pace in the side. Exceptions for Nyarko who is capable of fulfilling Oduro’s rocket shoes, the Fire look very lacklustre on someone who plays on the shoulder. That extra option, that extra pace, that extra attacking threat removed is a gamble.

One To Watch: Sherjill MacDonald – After the departure of Dominic Oduro there will be a vast amount of pressure on the big Dutchman. Since signing in late July as a Designated Player, MacDonald managed only to reach a tally of four goals in fourteen games. The fans and Klopas will be expecting him to become more potent up top and at the very least enter double figures.

120235-650-366Notable In’s: Jeff Larentowicz, Joel Lindpere, Brendon King, Dilly Duka

Notable Out’s: Dominic Oduro, Alvaro Fernandez

My Prediction: Play-Off Certainties, anything beyond that would be a bonus.

175px-Chivas_USA_logo_svgChivas USA

Last Season: A season of a variety of lows at Chivas, a poor season unhindered some dying problems at The Home Depot Center. The sister club to Chivas Guadalajara finished rock bottom of the Western Conference with only 7 wins all season.

But at least they managed to finish above an even poorer Toronto FC side in the Supporters Shield standings. As well as a dismal season on the field there were always murmurs and screeches on the outside suggesting they should be rebranded or located elsewhere to remove them from the shadow of LA Galaxy.

Strengths: The one real plaudit given to Chivas is that they have a vision of maintaining their identity of Mexican / American heritage. They seek to breed their own whether it’s through Guadalajara or a scheduled draft. Chivas go with what they know and despite the bumps and barricades along the way they refuse to buckle. At least during some point in the infrastructure there will be a glimmer of light which will spiral into something special. Patience is a virtue but I believe a positive outcome will come out of the continuous determination to make Chivas USA their own unique brand.

Picture%20006The arrival of new manager Jose Luis Sanchez Sola ‘Chelis’ couldn’t come at a better time for the club. No disrespect to Robin Fraser but Sanchez is a born and bred Mexican whose eye is fixed on the project in hand. Fraser had a brief understanding but not to the extent of ‘Chelis’. With a Mexican at the helm the project can begin accompanied with his beady eye and stubborn snarl, the only way is up. Drafting Carlos Alvarez was a prolonged certainty and the first piece of the Chivas USA jigsaw.

One real stand out in a disastrous season was the superb shot stopping performances from Dan Kennedy. A goal against total of 58 shows no mercy for a goalkeeper, but I fully believe that if it wasn’t for Kennedy the total would be a lot more severe and that every inch closer to 100. Over the offseason especially there was rumours of ‘Chelis’ looking to offload the veteran stopper in order to free up space for a traditional Mexican / American keeper. But those eerie comments were quashed by the manager, who stated his intentions on retaining Dan Kennedy, in order to shape a solid spine to the Chivas USA outlook.

Weaknesses: Chivas USA are a side starved of goals. With no out and out striker in their ranks I fear that all the creative and affective play they are renowned for will become wasted with no real investment in a natural goal poacher. Understandably they released Angel and Moreno at the expiring of their contracts, and with Agudelo eyeing a move to Europe, the goals look bleak yet again. Chivas USA’s top goal scorer last term was Juan Pablo Angel who scored a merely four goals.

To combat a non firing forward line, Chivas suffer considerably from a leaky backline,  in 2012 a lack of conviction and brave defending cost them points. Even with a seasoned professional like Danny Califf, last season they managed to leek 58 goals and with him notably moving to Toronto FC the defence looks every inch unstable.  Unless Chivas can manoeuvre or manage the players they have at their disposal to great affect I fear for a goal against difference of similar proportion. As we all know strike forces in MLS are an unforgiving bunch.

One To Watch: Miller Bolanos After an indifferent foundation the Ecuadorian is the key to unlocking defences in MLS for Chivas. The 22 year old has the ability to assist and navigate plays through the wing, and having that first MLS season to experience upon he will be keen to contribute more fully this season.

Miller+Bolanos+Chivas+USA+v+Los+Angeles+Galaxy+CUfKBNS1q4QlNotable In’s: Eric Avila, Carlos Alvarez

Notable Out’s: Juan Pablo Angel, Alejandro Moreno, Nick LaBrocca

My Prediction: Expect a difference from last season, with a new general in charge, but a play-off spot is a step too far.

colorado-rapidsColorado Rapids

Last Season: 2012 was an inconsistent time for Oscar Pareja’s men. The lack of a clear stretch of wins took the stuffing completely out of the Rapids run for a play-off berth. Only twice in 34 games Colorado achieved back to back wins, with the twosome coming seven months apart.:

10/3 (H) 2-0 Columbus Crew, 18/3 (A) 2-1 Philadelphia Union

20/10 (A) 2-0 Chivas USA, 27/10 (H) 2-0 Houston Dynamo

The pattern was set out from the get go, a win or a tie was frequently followed by a loss.

The uneven slop of a season saw the Rapids languishing near the foot of the Western Conference, yet a seventh place finish in Pareja’s first full season in charge is a base to build on.

Many feel the 2010 MLS Cup winning side has declined in a severe fashion, but with another rebuilding objective in the off season, this is a very important season in the range of view of several fans at DSGP.

Strengths: The return of club veteran Pablo Mastroeni has come at a vital stage for the Colorado Rapids. Mastroeni has been out for a considerable amount of time having suffered from a severe bout concussion. However with the trading of Jeff Larentowicz, a gap has been left and no doubt Mastroeni will engineer his way towards the heart of the midfield. After picking up Dillon Powers in the MLS SuperDraft there is no better master of his craft to learn from. An experienced talisman who possesses the sweet taste of success. It is fair to say Mastroeni will be placing all hands on deck to help mould Powers into a Rapids player for the future.

mastroeniColorado have been energetic during the offseason, especially shuffling the pack up front. With seasoned veterans making moves elsewhere, Rapids needed to move smartly for replacements and that they did. Two time MLS Cup winner Edson Buddle was first through the welcome doors, then swiftly followed by Chilean Kevin Harbottle and SuperDraft Pick DeShorn Brown to add some flair and pace. Pace is one dangerous weapon to have within your armoury in MLS and the men from Denver have that in abundance.

Oscar Pareja is of South American origin and he has delved deeper into what he appreciates. Jaime Castrillon, Hendry Thomas and Martin Rivero took over the mantel piece last season. However the Columbian has prolonged his collection, with the additions of Ecuadorian Diego Calderon and of course Kevin Harbottle. The promising part to these signings, is he knows the culture and what to expect with players emerging from that particular continent. Which can only be genuine for the season ahead.

Oscar+Pareja+Colorado+Rapids+Training+Session+_KeC2nR6ZrNlWeakness: Eleven year MLS Brian Mullan has played a pivotal part in the growth and understanding of the game in recent years. But age is catching up with the midfielder and can he continue to play to the standard he has been surfacing throughout his profession. Mullan turns 35 in April meaning his professional soccer days are limited. An MLS Cup winner in his own right, the questions direct to ‘ How many games can he play this season’ and ‘Do the Rapids have a readymade replacement’. I comprehend that the midfield is currently under reconstruction with Larentowicz moving on. It’s a struggle to pinpoint that particular player who will fill the boots both in the short and long term.

Colorado’s downfall in the previous campaign was clearly the inability to put together a stretch of point gaining results. The MLS league has that much of a level playing field anyone is likely to take points of each other. Yet if the Rapids have any desires to reignite 2010 then they will need to go that extra mile to grind out wins / ties, even if it’s a case of winning ugly. A number of promising runs throughout the eight month season can rapidly increase play-off hopes. But with Colorado finding it difficult to chase this last season, the pressure will be on to reverse those woes.

When Omar Cummings was traded to Houston Dynamo and Conor Casey moved on to Philadelphia Union a vast amount of attacking experience was discharged. Cummings had the expertise to turn and game on its head with his sublime pace and ability to find the onion bag, Casey had the physical presence to shrug defenders of with ease. Losing two players of this calibre is a bitter blow to take. Edson Buddle was starved of games last season after falling down the pecking order at LA, DeShorn Brown is a rookie who needs time to adapt and Akpan is still learning. Experience is key in attack and Colorado look very short on this at present. However if Edson Buddle can step up to the platter then the Cummings / Casey debate will be flushed away with a hint of a smirk from Pareja.

Notable In’s: Edson Buddle, Diego Calderon, Kevin Harbottle, DeShorn Brown

Notable Out’s: Conor Casey, Omar Cummings, Jeff Larentowicz

One To Watch: Edson Buddle: A heavy weight of the goal scoring lays on the back of Edson Buddle this season. No doubt he will get more games than he did at Galaxy introducing him the chance to show exactly what he is all about.

My Prediction: Depending on how quickly the new associates gel together a steady play-off push could be in the offing.

ColumbusCrewColumbus Crew

Last Season: An end of season stretch of seven wins and two ties in fourteen games was nearly enough to plant the Crew firmly into a play-off position, only a combined solo point and a seven goal – goal difference- was the minuet reason for a 6th place position. And many would inherit the arrival of Argentine maestro Federico Higuain for spurring Columbus Crew on to that magnificent run.

A number of match winning performances and an inspiration to all in black and gold, Higuain was suddenly clutched firmly as a fan favourite. The Crew faithful will be expecting more of the same this season.

Strengths: Making the headlines throughout the newspapers and websites was the trade involving Dominic Oduro and Dilly Duka, alongside who rekindled the better part of that individual process. From my personal view point undoubtedly Columbus have sneaked away with a gem. The Ghanaian possesses outrageous pace joined by the ability of Higuain this partnership could be moulded to one of the most feared in Major League Soccer. And expect Oduro to add to his 33 goal tally. Dominic Oduro can also play out wide if needs be so a versatile player can be a valuable one throughout the gruelling campaign and no doubt if and when needed the flamboyant Oduro can fulfil his duties.

The emergence of Andy Gruenebaum was one major highlight in the year of 2012. Will Hesmer was pinpointed as the number one, but when the first choice stopper was ruled out for the season with injury, question marks hovered over the head of Andy Gruenebaum. And how wrong were fans, pundits and others, Gruenebaum produced match winning performances on a regular basis as he puffed out his chest to be counted. A tremendous attitude conjoined with his ability to produce shot stops of the highest order blew the doubters into a shimmer of blushing. Being a year more experienced in MLS Gruenebaum will continue his progression of becoming one of the best in North America.

All clubs in MLS rely heavily on a solid midfield and Columbus Crew certainly have that this season. Considerable bite, experience and flare makes up the roster in Black and Gold. With how it looks in Pre-Season Tony Tchani and Kevan George look keen to grab the bull by the horns and make the most of the opportunity. Already in the ranks is the classy Eddie Gaven, the orange haired midfielder has it all vision, passion, and the ability to win games in the blink of an eye. If fit and healthy the service providers at Crew Stadium will be a very busy bunch. But a lack of numbers beyond the norm could become a problem.

higuain_DLManoeuvring into the SuperDraft primarily, Crew prioritised strengthening their water tight backline. After picking Drew Beckie, direction was swiftly arrowing down that particular avenue. Concluding the draft Warzycha sent out his search party to locate potential defensive suitors and that they did in the shape of former Manchester City defender Glauber and American Agustin Viana. Add together Eric Gehrig, Chad Marshall, Josh Williams and Tyson Wahl, Columbus Crew have a variety of options at the back. Defensive depth was a rumoured problem but now it is clearly not.

Weakness: Despite the transfer of Oduro, Columbus lack depth within the striking department. Apart from Justin Meram and Jairo Arrieta Crew have young inexperienced options at their disposal. Aaron Schoenfield has played nine games, Aaron Horton one game (back in 2011), Ethan Finlay fifteen games and Ben Speas has participated in a solo appearance. All four have failed to find the back of the net one way or another. Giving Warzycha decisive headache symptoms should Meram, Oduro or Arrieta become summoned to injury.

Even though the end of season gallop rejuvenated a blunt season, question marks continued to surround the assignment Robert Warzycha is doing. ‘Bobby’ stepped out of Sigi Schmid’s shadow to take over at Crew Stadium, and since the 2008 MLS Cup win, the seasons have gradually decreased in position. Columbus Crew finished 1st, 2nd and 4th in his first three terms, however last period was a witness of their dip, as they ended the 2012 year 6th. Many fans are hoping that the hiccup has been washed away and that 2013 can be one of getting the organisation back to where it belongs. Yet if The Pole fails to deliver he could be heading for the exit door sooner rather than later.

Notable In’s: Dominic Oduro, Glauber, Agustin Viana

Notable Out’s: Dilly Duka, Emilio Renteria

One To Watch: Justin Meram: With the exit of Emilio Renteria a chance has represented itself to Justin Meram to push for a starting spot. In patches the striker showed how capable he is of scoring, this season he needs to build upon that momentum and take it forward.

Justin+Meram+-0ARPngcUQimMy Prediction: If Federico Higuain can replicate his form from last season I can see Crew becoming apart of the play-off picture.