DcUnited1DC United

Last Season: When Dwayne De Rosario was crocked with a season ending injury question marks showcased the play-off chances for DC United. Flickering like a light switch, the skippers voice of encouragement swooped through the minds of each and catapulted their surge to 2nd place in the Eastern Conference. Surprisingly for many since the setback DC managed to storm an unbeaten streak of seven acclaiming five wins and two draws in the process.

After finishing second, a double date was inked in for a clash with rivals New York Red Bulls. The tie pulsated one way then the other but when push came to shove Rookie De Leon stood up tall to win the two legged clash after a 1-1 tie in the first leg.

However the play-offs ended soon after for United who faltered against eventual runners up Houston Dynamo  4 to 1, with the first leg at BBVA finishing 3-1 to an orange drenched Houston and a 1-1 followed suit at RFK.

Strengths: The most notable return is no other than the DC United talisman Dwayne De Rosario. Despite him being largely missed towards the latter of last season his presence on the field makes the four time MLS Cup winners look that extra bit imposing on others. The Canadian maybe entering that stage where he is limited to the amount of games he can participate in, due to his tender age (34) and surplus to injury, but there is no doubting his ability to win games upon a sprinkle of his famous gold dust. His goal to game ratio last season wasn’t too bad either notching a goal every three games, and there is no doubt he will be doing his utmost to get near or defeat his best goal scoring tally, which was recorded in 2010 for Toronto where he found the net a staggering 15 times.

Dwayne+De+Rosario+Chicago+Fire+v+DC+United+Se93ygFiDDWl2011 for Ben Olsen was a massive learning curve as DC failed to reach the play-offs, but aligning that building block stormed the Head Coach to plant his side firmly in the mix come the following campaign. Despite a learning curve exit, Coach Olsen bleeds passion to succeed and this imputes swamps through to his players. His players are now starting to grasp what he expects and he has the respect and understanding of the locker room, which undoubtedly provides a stern base to kick on into 2013 and go all the way to MLS Cup glory.

Weakness: The loss of Andy Najar was expected but a pill of bitter taste to take. A majority of MLS players have inner desires to test themselves in Europe and fair play to the DC organisation they were reluctant to stand in the players way. Najar provided a solid outlook at Right Back, advancing forward, tracking back the boy had it all, 2013 looked to be one of kicking on and stabilising his MLS affiliation. However circumstances have altered leaving Coach Olsen a little starved of options, even though Robbie Russell and Chris Korb are likely candidates to vacate the berth, it will be important for the club to manoeuvre a number of potential suitors in case injuries materialise.

Lionard Pajoy is the one most recognisable forward player within the roster at present, after Salihi made the move to China. Making up the rest of the attacking spots are a number of inexperienced players, ranging from Brazillian Rafael, Chivas USA arrival Casey Townsend and Indonesian Syamsir Alam. These players are a little short on MLS experience and could sway either way between the good and the bad.  Inexperience can take time for a player to settle into his new surroundings and for DC to have a season similar or better season to last, it will be vital these guys are willing to contribute from the get go. Otherwise it could haunt DC.

Notable In’s: Casey Townsend, Rafael, Syamsir Alam, John Thorrington

Notable Out’s: Andy Najar, Hamdi Salihi

One To Watch: Nick DeLeon – After emerging from his rookie season with considerable success, DeLeon was a key element in steering DC United to second place in the East. Nick DeLeon processed six goals and four assists in 2012, and heading into his second year the talented midfielder will be looking for more of the same.

DeLeon_celebratesgamewinner_playoffsMy Prediction: DC United are going to be in the shakeup come the end of the season, and last season’s disappointment could spur them onto at least the final of the Eastern Conference yet again. But don’t be surprised if they go beyond that.

fc-dallas-logo-299x300FC Dallas

Last Season: Yet so close but yet so far for FC Dallas as a loss of only two games in their remaining eleven fixtures, positioned them within a whisker of overhauling Vancouver Whitecaps and claiming the final play-off spot.

But what  cost them most was a lack of consistency, too many ties were present, halting any real rhythm needed to push on. Along with the 12 ties came only 6 clean sheets all season, 5 at FC Dallas Stadium. And the deficit of David Ferreira for a large portion of the season starved the club from any real creativity, otherwise we could have been talking about a successful season rather than an indifferent one.

Strengths: From having a limited amount of options up top last season, FC Dallas have swang full circle and now have three accredited strikers at their disposal. After receiving a significant figure of allocation money from the Brek Shea to Stoke transfer, Schellas Hyndman wasted no time in bring in attacking reinforcements. Both Eric Hassli and the return of Kenny Cooper made the move, to become a part of the red and white hoops brigade. Add together Panamanian Blas Perez, now Dallas have a wealth of experience, goals and strength.  Any other Head Coach would like to have options in this form and Hyndman has certainly pulled out all the stops to make sure goals are going to be a regular sequence.

With two new strikers on board, the service station is crucial to creating chances for the goal getters to gobble up. There is no doubting FC Dallas certainly has this, Fabian Castillo and Jackson provide a solid outlet out wide, mesmerizing pace, pinpoint accuracy and the ability to change games, can only reap rewards for the team going forward. Defences in all forms of soccer are uncomfortable with dealing with wingers who are direct and willing to go by players. FC Dallas have plenty in abundance.

Fabian+Castillo+FC+Dallas+v+Houston+Dynamo+1_i9j3yJb88lAs well as an array of attacking selections to pursue, the men from Texas also have bundles of defensive cover to select from. As many as eight central defenders occupy the Dallas roster, ranging from experience to rookies, the most recently added are Stephen Keel, London Woodberry and Walker Zimmerman. It is important to have a squad full of depth in case of injuries, but it will be important for Schellas to provide the defensive unit with the requirements needed to adjust accordingly. For example if one player is injured then the replacements must be potent enough to slot into position without making the backline look a vulnerability. Partnerships are key especially at the heart of the defence.

Weakness: Having three top class strikers can be seen as a soothing remedy for a Coach, but we all know that three into two doesn’t work, and it is likely one of Kenny Cooper, Eric Hassli and Blas Perez will be located on the bench. All formations differ depending on the opposition, and it may be a case of a rotational process for the trio. It was a clear indication, for the move that Cooper and Hassli were going to be spear heading the attack, and if this begins to fade away then unsettling can swoop through the roster providing discomfort. So it is crucial Hyndman has symptoms of making sure all three of his star forwards are playing regular and displaying smiles of happiness.

During the off-season Dallas have gone from one extreme to other in terms of the goalkeeping department. Allocated stopping duties was MLS veteran Kevin Hartman who finished with 416 soccer appearances under his belt. Now they are handing the gloves over to an unproven Peruvian named Raul Fernandez, who is a fully-fledged international keeper. And with his rawness of the MLS this is a weakness Coaches in the league will be looking to expose. It takes time for a keeper to adapt his style to the league, yet there is no doubt Hyndman is playing a massive gamble.

Notable In’s: Kenny Cooper, Eric Hassli, Peter Luccin, Stephen Keel

Notable Out’s: Brek Shea, Kevin Hartman,

One To Watch: Kenny Cooper – Kenny contains the knack of scoring goals and he has been bought into to do exactly that. If the 6’3 striker can rekindle his 40 goals from his previous stint then the FC Dallas faithful are in for a real treat.

cooper_tfc_mvMy Prediction: The offseason movements have given the organisation a fresh lease of hope to make this season one to remember. I strongly feel they could sneak into the play-offs should everything fall into place.

DynamoHouston Dynamo

Last Season: It was a matter of ‘de ja vu’ for the Dynamo as they piped Columbus Crew to the final and fifth spot in the Eastern Conference, ensuring they participated in at least the wildcard game.

Beyond people’s expectations yet again the hardworking, gritty and organised side blossomed beautifully in the play-offs to claim the Eastern Conference Championship as well as come runners up to eventual winners LA Galaxy in the MLS Cup. Despite taking a first half lead at the Home Depot Center through Calen Carr, a Robbie Keane brace and a penalty from Donovan slammed the door shut on a third MLS Cup for Dominic Kinnear’s side.

Strengths: Having won two consecutive MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007, then a double final appearance in 2011 and 2012, Houston Dynamo are a side that knows what it takes to get there. Dominic Kinnear has two modes of mind set he imbeds into his players at different periods of the season, Regular Season and Play-Off buttons function in contrast. With a wealth of experienced players who have tasted both success and failure in the big games, it gives them that extra added incentive and an extra benefit, as they have ‘been there done it and worn the t-shirt’. Now this season Kinnear will be looking to blow away the consecutive cob webs and ensure it’s a season of third time lucky for the men in Orange.

The addition of Jamaican Omar Cummings from Colorado Rapids has given the Houston Dynamo a much needed varied option up in the forwards sections. Already making the attacking roster spots are very technical and physical guys such as Will Bruin and the Legendary Brian Ching, but Omar Cummings is a more dynamic forward who likes to play on the shoulder and utilise his pace to sanction goal scoring opportunities. Depending on if Coach Kinnear decides to play the Jamaican up top with a Bruin or a Ching then the combination of ‘Big Man Little Man’ certainly offers something different for Dynamo.

428158_10151192942541150_1944115197_nAssists are vital in the navigation of goal scoring and Houston have this. Skipper and leader Brad Davis spearheaded the charts with twelve in 2012, yet he was helped by Oscar Boniek Garcia who tallied up six, Brian Ching numbered up five and Will Bruin reached four for the season. It is refreshing to know that not only one player is taking the shed load of responsibility and the team are keen to chip in when needed to help the success of the club going forward. After having Giles Barnes emerge last season he is another assist based function who has the ability to create plays and goal scoring opportunities.

Weakness: The loss of Canadian defender Andre Hainault is a massive void to leave vacant at the BBVA Compass Stadium. An ever present upon the heartbeat of the defensive structure in 2012, Hainault has decided to pursue other options of playing in Europe, Scotland to be persist at Ross County in the SPL. A very well rounded defender with an eye for a goal is an asset to any club and now it is important Dominic Kinnear moves around or tinkers a trade in order to patch up the hole.

Notable In’s: Giles Barnes, Omar Cummings

Notable Out’s: Andre Hainault, Colin Clark

One To Watch: Tally Hall – After being drafted into January camp for the USMNT, the steady, solid shot stopper will be looking to catch the eye of Klinsmann yet again, to give him a greater shot of maintaining his roster spot as well as potentially challenging both Brad Guzan and Tim Howard for those first and second spots.

hall_0My Prediction: Despite only sneaking into the play-offs last term I expect a more cushioned entrance this time around, I think a first or second spot for the end of season extravaganza is reachable for a great team.

la-galaxy-logo2LA Galaxy

Last Season: LA Galaxy did what only two other teams have done in the history of MLS and successfully defended their MLS Cup with significant flair and execution.

Despite eight loses in the opening three months of the season LA Galaxy flourished at the challenge, that conquering the double offered. Robbie Keane kicked on from his 2011 cameo by engaging with Landon Donovan to provide a formidable force. The Irishmen ended the season with a special 16 goal swing whilst Donovan headed the assist chart with 14, toppling his 2011 score of 3.

The surge into the achievable was cemented indefinitely, after being thumped at the hands of Seattle Sounders 4 to 0, Bruce Arena’s men went on to claim seven unbeaten.

A wildcard game started the play-offs for the Galaxy, after overcoming a deficit to come out victorious LA went from strength to strength to knock aside everyone who dared to step in their way. An eventual 3-1 score-line in the MLS Cup Final completed the magic double.

Strengths: The double partnership of Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan was the reason why the MLS Cup remained at The Home Depot Center. With it being unknown when the captain will return, the season will at some stage witness this two-some again. 25 regular season goals between them and 23 season assists showed how much of the play came though these two masters of their trade. To add fear into their fellow counterparts, Robbie Keane began his Pre-Season by signing a new multi-year contract as well as deciding not to join a side in Europe to propel his fitness before the start of the MLS. A fresh and ready Robbie Keane is great news for a team looking to conclude the treble.

More often than not, Galaxy staff, fans and players held their breath as Josh Saunders pursued his daily rituals between the goal posts. The inexperience keeper was hampered by a lack of uncertainty along with a fair few mistakes. Bruce Arena thought the time was right to welcome someone with considerable experience, in order to limit the errors. In came ex Chelsea and Tottenham Italian Goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini to fit the bill. Years and years of goalkeeping duties make up the figure of the Italian and noticing him behind you, as a backline, breaths a huge sigh of relief. Any great team possesses a top class number one and LA Galaxy certainly have this now.

cudicini_iso_trainingThe future of Brazillian mastermind Juninho came into real debate towards the latter of 2012. He was contracted at LA for a two year loan from Sao Paolo and intentions to get the deal submitted to a permanent one was a priority. Even more as David Beckham made his emotional exit from US Soccer. Luckily enough a deal was struck to sign Juninho to a permanent contract and stabilise one piece of the 2012 puzzle. Over the months previously Juninho has been crucial in playing his part in a title winning season, on a number of occasions his magic wand dabbled the centre stage, as he thundered in upper ninety goals for fun. His impact for the season ahead will be a lot more significant as he doesn’t have Beckham to his right hand side. I have no qualms he will thrive upon the pressure.

Weakness: The loss of Mr David Beckham has certainly left LA Galaxy a little light on experience. His global brand did wonders for Major League Soccer and the growth of the game in the US. Now it is a duty of others to take over the baton and take the game further still. As for Arena’s troops, a considerable patch of experience has been torn out of the side, making the side look that less audacious going forward. Beckham’s pinpoint passes, crosses and set pieces, spurred Galaxy attacks into whirlwind. And with this discharged, a new method is crucial if they are serious about another MLS Cup claim. Kaka and Frank Lampard have been the high profiled names doing full circles at present, but with neither of the double being propelled anytime soon, the whole remain unfilled.

Landon Donovan has stated he will be making a return to the side this season but no real date has been scheduled in as of yet. This casts a huge shadow over the preparations for the season as the clubs coaching staff will trafficking scenarios to dismantle and deciding on personal to start. An undecided Donovan heaps more pressure on Robbie Keane to produce from the get go. However not knowing when he will be returning throws a rather large spanner in the works and the double act of Keane and Donovan can’t commence until due course, hindering any season stability.

Notable In’s: Colin Clark, Carlo Cudicini, Juninho

Notable Out’s: David Beckham, Josh Saunders, Edson Buddle

One To Watch: Michael Stephens – A spot has been left unfilled at the heart of the LA Galaxy midfield and looking to make it his own is Michael Stephens. Over his three seasons involved he has been involved in 79 games including six play-off appearances. But this season he will chomping at the bit to be one of the first names inked onto the starting team sheet.

My Prediction: Depending on how soon Landon Donovan returns, I strongly feel they will be favourites to grab a famous treble.

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