Dave's recent poll of the Sounder at Heart and regional SB Nation bloggers produced some unsurprising results. Most had SKC, the Galaxy and the Sounders somewhere in the upper tier heading into the regular season. Where to put a team like the Earthquakes, which consistently pulled rabbits out of hats late in games last season, is a bit more of a discussion.
There are also teams like Houston, which if healthy should be a contender for the Supporters Shield but could fall down into the fringe playoff team with the emergence of dark horses in the East. There seem to be a few clear favorites (1-5 or so) followed by an amorphous pack of intriguing possibilities, each owning right to the case for a higher position. Only the Union, Toronto and Chivas are arguably down for the count before first kick sets place.
In my unofficial, I-am-not-to-be-confused-as-an-expert rankings, I have the Sounders at 4th. The Sounder at Heart and SB Nation folks have them slightly higher, but only one as high as 1st. I think they have a great chance at moving into that spot, but roster consistency will typically override overarching expectations this early in trying to rank teams.
What do you think? Are the Sounders to low in my rankings? Which dark horse seems the most poised for a playoff run (my money's on Montreal but I know that's an unconventional pick)?
1) SKC – Never thought Kamara was very efficient up top despite always being dangerous. I think they figure out a way to mostly replace his production with their abundance of service and look forward to seeing Zusi/Feilhaber combos. Should be able to count on another season of dominant defense.
2) Galaxy – Beckham’s loss hurts, but having a full season of Omar is arguably more important to their season. When Donovan returns they’ll still figure out a way to score just enough goals to ride their backline and new should-be-good keeper. You don’t need to gut your team when you just won a championship.
3) Dynamo – Seattle looks better on paper but the Dynamo get points for consistency and home dominance. Not too different from the end of last season, but that’s not a bad thing for the team that has knocked SKC out of the playoffs in consecutive years.
4) Sounders – Some uncertainty about whether the bounty of service will result in goals and the relative strength of the West are the only things pushing Seattle down to 4. However, if EJ stays healthy there is at least one consistent source and the emergence of Martinez could prove to be the difference between a good and great season.
5) Red Bulls - Can we just go ahead and peg them as a playoff team that still doesn’t win MLS Cup already? No, not just yet. Olave is a huge boost for a team that should find plenty of ways to get Henry the ball. Aging legs of slight concern, but they should still be a top team.
6) ‘Quakes – Just as Seattle did in 2011, the Earthquakes scored a ton of late game-winning or tying goals last season. Just as Seattle did in 2012, the Earthquakes will score not as many this season. They’ll still put plenty into the back of the net, but defensive liabilities prevent them from starting higher.
7) L’Impact – Their expansion season actually wasn’t too bad in terms of expansion seasons. They flirted with playoffs but more importantly began to find their identity toward the end of the season. Serie A funeral home jokes aside, they should be poised for a solid season despite being somewhat overlooked by experts.
8) Crew – It seemed like their midseason experiment was coming together perfectly until it wasn’t. Still, Arrieta and Higuain should provide for plenty of entertainment up top and they have one of the best goalkeepers in the league. Should make the playoffs but a longshot for the Cup.
9) Fire – MLS-tested Larentowicz and Lindpere help secure a more stable midfield, but not enough to lead them to a dominant season. Their defense, led by recently-capped Johnson, is good enough to get them into the playoffs as a low seed, but unlikely higher.
10) Stumps – This is their year. And by “their year” I mean finally resembling a team that doesn’t reek of utter failure. Valeri looks like he could be one of the best creative midfielders in the league, but will they be able to finish? Should be much improved with a good chance at playoffs, but I don’t see them going much further than that.
11) RSL – Perhaps more symbolic than statistical, but I see this broken core as being harder to reassemble than others. They should still have reasonable defense and a man you can’t take your eyes off in Saborio, but they will likely see a dip in the standings from last year.
12) Dallas – Neck and neck with RSL for the final playoff spot in the West, Dallas could actually be a dark horse for finishing in one of the top 3 spots. A hopefully more healthy Ferreira will be the difference-maker, not incoming Cooper or Hasli. How they figure out a way to balance their big men up top will determine whether they can make a deep run or not.
13) United – They still have Dwayne DeRosario, Pontius and De Leon to flood the highlights, but can seem prone to going cold for extended stretches. Riley’s leadership in the back will help, but not enough to make this team take a large step forward out of mediocrity.
14) Revolution – Like Dallas, Montreal and Portland, is probably best positioned for a surprising run. However, the Revs probably have the slimmest chance of the four. Sene showed he can score in MLS, but can anyone else? Farrell looks like he could be the real deal, but rookies will always make mistakes.
15) Whitecaps – They seemed to take a sizeable step forward and then a larger one back. Just as players have time to finally understand their role and the system, they’re out the next day and fresh ideas are brought in. Struggling with identity, Mattocks scoring will be a rare source of consistency for this club.
16) Rapids – Perhaps the new, more aesthetic game Colorado has so desperately sought will finally emerge in 2013. But there’s a good chance it won’t. If Seattle has struggled to perfect the vision that beautiful, possession soccer has a place in MLS, Colorado will face an even tougher time convincing.
17) Union – Getting rid of Piotr Nowak was last season’s biggest acquisition for the Union, not a good sign when a loss is the biggest source of improvement. Jeff Parke will help provide some veteran leadership to the back line, but the hangover from so many dumbfounded decisions will inevitably spill over into this year.
18) Toronto – Not much can be said about increasing confidence during the offseason, which is bad news for a team that struggled the majority of the last one. Koevermans is the only hope they have of stealing a couple wins, but they shouldn’t count on many coming.
19) Chivas – We’re all familiar at this point with what they’re doing. Offloading talent for peanuts and Facebook stalking anyone with a hispanic last name. It could end up working at some point in the future, and by working I mean becoming a fringe playoff team in 2 years.