li-impact-logo-600Montreal Impact

Last Season: Montreal Impact became the 19th team in Major League Soccer during the beginning of 2012. An inaugural season of stabilising and adapting the European brand to their new surroundings, materialised piece by piece. Two stadiums were privileged to be a part of such a historic occasion as well as many Canadians supporters sang from the first minute right to the very last.

Despite gaining a tie in their first home game of the season, it took the newly franchised side until 7th April to record their first ever three MLS points, with a 2 to 1 victory over Canadian rivals Toronto FC.

Even though the Impact moved home midway through the season, their home record was key to cementing a respectable 7th place in the Eastern Conference. A record of 10 wins, 4 loses and 3 ties tallied an impressive total come the end.

An unbeaten month of August nearly catapulted Marsch’s men towards a dream spot amongst the end of season posse. Defeating teams such as New York Red Bulls, DC United and San Jose Earthquakes. But too many defeats left them a little short.

Strengths: Montreal Impact head into the 2013 season with a vast amount of experience numbering up their roster. World soccer veterans combined with MLS seasoned professionals, shapes the Impact into a side counting on experience. Davy Arnaud led the team to great effect in 2012, his know how of the league will be more valuable this year as Montreal look to build on their initial period. The likes of Alessandro Nesta (36) , Matteo Ferrari (33), Di Viao (36) provide the European culture required in Montreal, with MLS games behind them, they will be looking to put more wheels in motion to navigate Montreal to cup glory. As well as this Troy Perkins, Patrice Bernier, Sanna Nyassi and Justin Mapp accumulate over 500 MLS games between, enabling them to become learning resources for the youngsters too.

nesta_di_vaio_july9_12Creating goals is a must for any side if they wish to sample the end of season lottery. In their ranks Montreal possess a masterpiece in the form of Brazillian Felipe Martins. A star in his first season, Felipe has the ability to oversee pinpoint passes, position himself in areas of discomfort for opposition as well as the cleverness to advance beyond the strikers to notch his fair share of goals.  Like any Brazillian it is a necessity that they are functioned to orientate flair and happiness ‘Samba-Style’, Martins has this. With a newly renovated Marco Di Viao to create for, the Flashy Brazillian will be the centre piece to everything Impact accommodate this year.

Weakness: The dismissal of Jesse Marsch came as a culture shock to the troops in blue. A well respected man in MLS, the American looked to have established Montreal in a safe position going forward. Yet an end of season meeting between owner and head coach saw different ideas circling, which eventually led to Marsch parting ways. Stade Saputo then opened their managerial vacancy, to be filled by Swiss Marco Schallibaum. A veteran of Switzerland soccer, his management career spans from Servette FC, BSC Young Boys and FC Lugano. Despite his affiliation with European soccer, his career hasn’t battled Major League Soccer, which in itself is a worry. Enduring such a short amount of time to engineer a side to play to his liking and an unknown idea of the league, stamping authority takes time and being handed a one year rolling contract, Schallibaum doesn’t have as much time as most. One element turning in his favour though, is his understanding to speak German, Italian, English and French, beside a multi-cultural roster the language barrier will be removed.

Notable In’s: Andrea Pisanu, Andres Romeo,

Notable Out’s: Josh Gardner, Lamar Neagle, Shavar Thomas, Greg Sutton

Philadelphia Union v Montreal Impact One To Watch: Felipe Martins –Everything going forward will flowing through Felipe and his incisive creativity and desire to impact games will allow Montreal to sanction more scoring opportunities. And with Italian Di Viao to feed the joy at Stade Saputo will be roof raising.

My Prediction: Experience is vital especially in a eight month season, the spine of the side is respected vastly. Amidst this to count on I reckon a play-off surge is capable, whether they achieve an end of season spot is another matter.

New-england-revolution_logoNew England Revolution

Last Season: Similarly to a number of MLS team the Revs season turned out with one that lacked consistency, goals, stationing them to a poor 9th spot in the Eastern Conference and only worse off than Toronto FC.

The opening stages of March set the pathway with the first two fixtures locating consecutive scores in the loss column, followed by back to back wins against Portland and surprisingly LA Galaxy. However New England failed to come out victorious in April, two wins accompanied in May.

Yet a brief unbeaten spell in June did shed some light on a season which saw New England Revolution win only nine regular season games, losing 17 and tying 8. A rebuilding process it was but having made the MLS Cup Final four times in their history, staff, players and supporters were expecting a whole lot better.

Strengths: In charge at Gillette Stadium stands proudly, Revs very own Jay Heaps, a coach that bleeds red, white and blue. As a player Heaps outlaid bundles of passion, determination and an appetite to succeed. During his playing career New Hampshire born Jay Heaps made 243 appearances for the team currently under his stewardship, so he certainly knows the heritage behind the badge. Being that extra year experienced in the job, Coach Heaps will have learnt a hell of a lot, not only about himself but the players he relies on week in week out. The passion he displays for the organisation is clear to see, he will be making sure the same flows through the veins of each and every player to ensure there is no repercussions beckoning.

Jay-HeapsThe SuperDraft was an intriguing watch especially as the clocked ticked down to the start, the Revs traded Toronto alongside a substantial amount of allocation money to thunder up to number one. Like pundits said prior to the event, New England Revolution need a player MLS ready and they certainly got that in Andrew Farrell. Being picked from the University Of Louisville, Farrell adds considerable competition to a backline that leaked 44 goals last term. An energetic, versatile and aggressive defender, the Louisville product gives Heaps a headache to which partnership will be inked come March 3rd.  Also arriving through the welcome doors is Portuguese centre half Jose Goncalves and defense minded Kalifa Cisse, providing a once scarce backline with depth.

A majority of the goals came from the left boot of Frenchman Saer Sene, a tall, gangly figure with an eye to let rip. In his first season in the New England colours Sene notched up an impressive 11 goal swing, despite him missing a period through injury. A fully fit Saer Sene comes as a welcome bonus for a side reliant on his goal scoring prowess, if he can stay match sharp throughout the 30 + game stretch his 11 goals will be beaten within no time at all.

Weakness: Jerry Bengtson signed for New England as an Designated Player in order to help share some of the scoring load. However his arrival turned out to become a disappointment to say the very least. A regular goal getter at international level, Heaps pinpointed the Honduran as the man to provide him a varied outlook. For Honduras Jerry Bengtson has been seen thumping goals on a frequent basis, yet for some reason the instinct fades when he puts on the Revs jersey. Signed as a DP meant the big bucks fell his way in exchange for performances that change games, he failed considerably. Bengtson played 13 games, 10 being starts, managing to score a merely 2. When Sene ruptured his ACL at home to Philadelphia in early September, the chance for Jerry Bengtson to publish his talent were set. With what was noticed as an astute signing turned into one of disaster. The pressure will be on again heading into 2013, whether or not he can produce is going to be an interesting layer to unravel.

The loss of Benny Feilhaber is a massive blow to take, the former Derby County man was the lynch pin for the Revs last term. Every attacking penetration came through the penetration of Feilhaber, and now he is discharged it is hard to recognise a suitable replacement. Cisse is a defensive orientated player, Dorman and Caldwell have recently signed home grown contract, they lack experience in MLS. A lack of an approach in the middle of the park can starve attackers and wingers of service, so it’s important this is functioned. If not then New England Revolution could be reaching a similar goals for number this time around.

Notable In’s: Jose Goncalves, Andrew Farrell, Chad Barrett, Scott Caldwell

Notable Out’s: Benny Feilhaber, Fernando Cardenas

One To Watch: Andrew Farrell – An MLS ready defender, Farrell will be keen to show the reputation he has been assigned is true. Whether or not he gets much game time remains to be seen, however when he does get attached to a starting berth, all eyes will be on to witness if he can mature and develop the way Heaps expects.

Andrew_Farrell-300x200My Prediction: I reckon 2013 will be not much different to the one from previous. The Revs roster rekindles similar faces from 2012 and with some defensive additions I can see a better goal difference. But Feilhaber’s trade will hit them hard, I can see them hovering around 8th, 9th or 10th.

rbs_negNew York Red Bulls

Last Season: The Red Bulls stormed into the play-offs with an impressive 57 points from their 34 regular season games (3rd Eastern Conference), alongside notching up the 3rd highest scoring tally of 57, settling them just behind Supporters Shield Winners San Jose and MLS Cup Victors LA Galaxy. Kenny Cooper and Thierry Henry formed a formidable two-some to score more than they leaked, which helped immensely.

Yet again Red Bulls failed take their instinctive high scoring into the end of season period. A lack of players turning up preventing the franchise from a bull charged grasp at the coveted prize. And to make matters worse it was near neighbours DC United who implanted the bitter blow. Over two legs they failed to perform and DeLeon had the final say.

An improvement it was from 2011, where New York won only 10 games all season long, so there is blocks to build upon going into the new campaign.

Strengths: Despite the high profile move of Kenny Cooper to FC Dallas, New York still possess an array of attacking options having added significant flair during the off season. With Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry already preparing for battle, in came former Lyon set piece wizard Juninho Pernambucano, Real Salt Lake’ former South American Fabian Espindola and most recently the addition of Timbers Eric Alexander along with Lloyd Sam returning. Blessed with not only MLS experience but European experience too, New York Red Bulls have plenty of weapons to utilise.

One stand out for Red Bull last season was the small figured red head Dax McCarty. Minuet in stature but a heart of a lion McCarty took games by the scruff of the neck to galvanise others around him. A leader without the armband, his versatility is invaluable, yet when Backe slotted him to defensive midfielder it was like ‘the final piece of the jigsaw’ was found. The position he locates will be vital for allowing the attack minded players such as Cahill, Henry and Espindola to advance forward, without the worry of being exposed. To pile more joy on the fans especially Dax McCarty signed a contract extension during the off season to cement his association with the organisation for the near future at least.

mccarty-dax_jpgThe Head Coach merry-go-round continued throughout the league, continuous high profile names did the rounds, Paolo Sousa, Gary McAllister and even Paul Lambert were mentioned. In fact the man they wanted was under their nose all the time, Mike Petke. Assistant Coach to Hans Backe, Petke agreed to take over the mantel in late January, putting an end to that particular saga. A well respected man throughout North America, Mike Petke understands the day to day running of Henry and co, giving him the advantage. He has quoted to say he is not going to teach Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill and Juninho how to pass a ball, a structure will be in place to win games not to hit areas that aren’t broken. Prior to his appointment Technical Director Andy Roxburgh did seek the green light from experienced veterans Henry and Cahill, which is a huge boost knowing players like that have massive faith in the installation of the new Coach.

Weakness: One real soft centre for New York remains the defensive backline. A number of times last season frequent first goals were being given away to the opposition, piling pressure on the side to overturn such deficits. Even with the additions of Jamison Olave and Kosuke Kimura a vulnerability still wavers across the back. And it’s showed during the Desert Diamond Cup Pre-Season tournament, most notably against Real Salt Lake. Within a blink of an eye they were two down, Holgersson undecided, Olave unsure and Kimura uneasy a carbon copy of 2012 with different personal. Luckily enough the frontline did what they do best and pulled the game back to a 2-2 tie. If they continue to allow this to materialise then they are going to be falling on empty come the crunch.

18 of the 57 goals scored came from Kenny Cooper and him moving, it leaves Red Bulls in a bit of pickle. Thierry Henry will undoubtedly contribute to great effect, his 15 net hitters was the only score that came close to Cooper’. Fabian Espindola has been bought in to share the duties but his goal-scoring tally failed to reach double figures in the 2012 regular season. Which is worrying for a side who rely on overturning the oppositions opening lead. Taking nearly 20 goals out of team will hurt badly, and not having players to share the load it could see Red Bulls come up short once more.

Notable In’s: Fabian Espindola, Eric Alexander, Juninho Pernambucano, Kosuke Kimura

Notable Out’s: Joel Lindpere, Jan Gunnar Solli, Kenny Cooper, Stephen Keel

Fabian-Espindola-v-Revolution-580x327One To Watch: Fabian Espindola – New York relied heavy on Kenny Cooper to score goals, now he has moved on to pastures new. Espindola will be expected to contribute his fair share, and go way beyond his nine from last term.

My Prediction: No doubt the play-offs lure for Petke’s army, whether they have enough steam left to go all the way remains to be seen.

qee7soq7augbn2jofb315sw1iPhiladelphia Union

Last Season: After sustaining play-off status in the previous season, Philadelphia came down to earth with a massive bang, finishing 8th in the Eastern Conference with only 10 wins to their name alongside an astonishing 18 loses and 6 ties.

The season opening activated the pattern, whilst in charge Piotr Nowak failed to record a win until the 14th April where they defeated Columbus Crew by a solo goal to nil, followed by the same score-line away at Chivas. Defeats and tie soon chased those rare positives.

Swapping Head Coach didn’t help either, Nowak was kicking up a stink with many fans, triggering the Union hierarchy to install John Hackworth, moving him up from his Assistant Coach role.

Goals were a scarce source as not one Philadelphia Union player achieved double figures in Jack McInerney came closest with 8 and Freddy Adu was once again headline news.

Strengths: Hackworth’s men conjured up 37 goals all previous regular season, but with the additions of Conor Casey and the return of fans favourite Sebastian Le Toux the net should be bulging in a regular sequence. A threat up top each of the double are, added experience will help the club to score more often than not. As well as this Jack McInerney has two guys to learn from at his disposal, giving him that extra bit of know how in order to improve not only his scoring but his all-round forward play. Le Toux’s best tally came in his first season in the blue and goal with a superb 14, all associates will be expecting more of the same this time term.

Carlos Valdes returned home to Columbia on loan, leaving the captaincy armband without a bearer. Scanning for potential options Brian Carroll’s name stood out more than most, allowing for the 31 year old to take over. Carroll is an experienced member in Major League Soccer and certainly has the sweet taste of winning the highest gongs in North American Soccer. He has won two MLS Cups most recently in 2008 with the Columbus Crew and four years prior to that his first came at DC United in 2004, heading into his 13th season in Major League Soccer the new captain has 268 games under his belt . Having someone who possesses such a glimmering trophy cabinet, younger players especially will thrive upon his leadership and guidance. Despite bringing in the likes of Le Toux and Casey, the appointment of Carroll to captain could be the best move Hackworth has made.

carrollWeakness: Filling Faryd Mondragon’s gloves is an incredible vacancy to vacate, ever since the experienced Columbian moved away, the goalkeeping department has become a weak prospect. Zac MacMath is still a baby in terms of goalkeepers, tendering the age of 21, but his shaky, indecisive nature continues to float above the surface, sparking alarms for Hackworth to toy with other keepers currently in his roster. Despite having a full season to adapt to the expectations of the league, MacMath’s worries are on display in pre-season. And playing against fellow MLS teams, any signs of weakness can work its way into pre game plans for the crunch campaign in 2013.

John Hackworth has not hidden away from his decision to shun away Freddy Adu from all future relations with the Philadelphia Union’s first team. Ever since his promotion to Team Manager question marks have been surrounding the playing displays of Adu and with him failing to function the keys to the car, his requirements seem non-existent. From a personal perspective I think Freddy Adu needs a team who establishes him as a number ten, playing in the whole and pursuing plays going forward rather than going back the opposition way. Unfortunately in MLS, Coaches and Fans expect both sides of the game to be in each players armoury. So it looks like Freddy Adu will be dispersed from MLS all together with his agent already looking at varied options for his client.

Notable In’s: Sebastian Le Toux, Conor Casey, Jeff Parke

Notable Out’s: Carlos Valdes, Zach Pfeffer, Gabriel Gomez

One To Watch: Conor Casey – Casey has been given a new lease of life by Philly and his contribution this season will ultimately affect where the organisation finish. Having already tasted MLS Cup success he will be eager to pass on his knowledge to help influence his new team.

05-0113My Prediction: Another season of disappointment ahead for Union as the club are still in transition period, but I expect them to improve from 2012.

h3m01xif2aesnqfw1ex5fif5qPortland Timbers

Last Season: The Timbers suffered a set-back in their progress, as they slumped to an 8th placed finish following a 6th position in 2011. A change of manager didn’t help either as John Spencer was removed in July, replaced by General Manager Gavin Wilkinson who somewhat steadied the ship until the end.

Wilkinson’s troops only managed to record back to back victories once during their 34 game list. As a 2-1 win at home to Vancouver Whitecaps swiftly harmonized a 1-0 win again at home to Colorado Rapids. Alongside the solo consecutive conquest Portland failed to marshal any rhythm as the Oregon outfit lost 4 games in a row paired in the months of late March to April as well as the month of July.

And to top it off Kris Boyd bought in as a Designated Player to gobble up the chances laid on a platter, the Scottish International failed to prove his worth, scoring 7 goals since his arrival.

Strengths: Towards the end of the 2012 season it was announced taking Portland Timbers forward was Akron Coach and Former U23 US Head Coach Caleb Porter. Porter stood firm with regards to his appearance as Akron duties needed to be performed. Over the pre-season term Caleb Porter has be given the emphasis to drive the team to new heights and finally assign Portland Timbers with their very own unique soccer brand. Porter is a focused individual who has the attributes to make the rest of MLS fearful of his side. A new era begins for the Rose City, accompanied by the full backing of the whole Portland organisation which is always a massive plus for new Coach starting off his professional career in MLS.

Timbers_Training012113_CM020Caleb Porter has wasted no time in stamping his authority on the squad. Having already Nagbe in the ranks a former Akron product of Porter’s, the Head Coach sees the Liberian as a central figure in his project. Aside from Darlington Nagbe, he has invested time and effort in bringing in players with Major League Soccer experience, players such as Michael Harrington, Will Johnson, Ryan Johnson and Milos Kocic to provide competition for Timbers participants already upon the roster. Also continuing his Akron tradition Ben Zemanski and Michael Nanchoff reunite with their former college coach. Will Johnson especially is a real cue, he was victim of the Real Salt Lake clearance sale and Timbers have bought in his winning mentality to stabilise a midfield lacking in that particular element. Most recently Portland have also obtained the services of English Premier League star Mikael Silvestre, who was on trial with the club, only to impress and trigger the Timbers executives to strike up a deal. The former Champions League winner will provide the Timbers backline with some much needed experience.

Weakness: When a new Head Coach takes over a time period it takes time for the new philosophy’s to be fully embedded into their new home.  Having not previously managed in the top tier of North American Soccer, Caleb Porter will be counting on a minimal amount of time to get his plans rectified. Caleb has had the off season to function motions for his players to abide by, but it’s more of a picture when in competitive action. So it is important patience is a virtue in order to make the process of progression evident. Coaches thrive upon the vibe from the crowd and if they fail to become disinterested then it will affect the team. After a poor season last term, the fans will be expecting instant satisfaction, which piles more pressure on Porter to get it right from the off.

Bright Dike was being formed into a first choice pick for Porter and the Timbers, yet his Pre-Season took a turn for the worse as during the Cascadia scrimmage with rivals Seattle, the Nigerian sustained a severe ACL injury in his left knee, leaving Portland a man down in the forward category. Dike was functioning to great effect during the period under Gavin Wilkinson and with Porter locating Dike as his first choice front man he was looking to repay the faith shown in him. Now this injury leaves Dike on the treatment table until August, pretty much ending his season, and with the organisation parting ways with Kris Boyd it is hard to pinpoint a specific player who will lead the line.

Notable In’s: Michael Harington, Diego Valeri, Ben Zemanski, Will Johnson, Milos Kocic, Ryan Johnson, Michael Nanchoff

Notable Out’s: Kris Boyd, Franck Songo’o, Joe Bendik, Eric Alexander

One To Watch: Darlington Nagbe – The former Akron belonging showed glimpses of his potential in his rookie year. But with his former college boss in the hot seat at Jeld Wen Field, Nagbe will be looking to push on his Timbers career to newer heights.

1113_1darlington_nagbe_portland_timbersMy Prediction: Portland Timbers look a completely different team this season. I can see Porter guiding the men in green into a play-off number. Where they go from there is unclear.