Tuesday, April 03, 2007

MLS Western Conference Preview

Super scorer Carlos Ruiz once again leads FC Dallas
With Contributions from Michael Haley

1. FC Dallas

When Colin Clarke was fired and his opponent ex Arsenal man Steve Morrow was promoted, many believed little would change in philosophy at Pizza Hut Park. Well just about everything has changed this off season. FC Dallas let go of its three best midfielders from a year ago- Ronnie O'Brien and Richard Mulrooney are now in Toronto while Simo Valakari is back in Europe. However a signing of former Argentine National Team and Real Valladolid midfielder Pablo Richetti coupled with the addition of Colombian Juan Carlos Toya will more than alleviate the hole in midfield. Roberto Mina, who was one of Ecuador's final cuts before the World Cup can also play in midfield but prefers to play up front, and in Morrow's 4-3-3 he will have his shot. Mina will be joined up front by Carlos Ruiz, one of the best players to ever step on an MLS pitch and 6'-4'' Kenny Cooper, whose apprenticeship at Manchester United helped to make him a revelation last year. Speedy Ghanian Dominic Oduro, and talented Abe Thompson will provide needed depth to the front line. The defense is outstanding and is anchored by Chris Gbandi, and Drew Moor. The Goalkeepers are fantastic. Dario Sala is suspended for the first six games of the season, but when he returns his inspired and rugged play will make him the starter. His backup is Shaka Hislop who recorded a clean sheet versus Sweden and then shut out England for 70 plus minutes in the World Cup. Not bad for a backup! Keep an eye on young Honduran midfielder Ramon Nunez, and American U-23 holding midfielder Dax McCarthy. FC Dallas lost a lot in the off season, but actually recovered nicely with the two midfield signings and have critical depth at every position. This team is a legitimate title contender.

2. Houston

The defending MLS Champion Houston Dynamo return a largely unchanged squad except for the loss of M/F Adrian Serioux. They may be the only team that did not add one significant player to their roster. Perhaps AEG didn’t have any money left after signing Beckham and Blanco for their two chosen franchises to fill either of the two vacant senior international slots in Houston. Inspite of being the ugly stepchild of the AEG MLS trio of teams, Houston will once again be the best of the three. Despite a strong starting eleven that includes Dwayne De Rosario, one of the best finishers in the history of the league, along with US World Cup veteran Brian Ching, Alejandro Moreno, and Scottish International Paul Dalglish as attacking options, and a midfield anchored by an improving but injory prone Ricardo Clark, this team is very thin on the bench. This team could be one major injury away from a possible disaster. Clark is potentially the replacement for Claudio Reyna with the US National Team but he must remain healthy. Brian Mullan and Craig Waibel are also excellent midfielders. The defense is anchored by the rock solid Eddie Robinson and Zach Wells continues to be a top keeper.

3. Los Angeles

David Beckham has played for two of the best clubs in the world. It is a pity for him that his arrival stateside will be on a team that will likely be fighting to keep its head above water when he arrives. For all the bluster coming from AEG and Alexi Lalas, not only are the Galaxy not one the premier clubs in the world, they are a fringe playoff contender in Major League Soccer. Were the great David Beckham not coming to America, we'd have no hesitation in picking the Galaxy last in the West. Perhaps it is because of the Galaxy's weak roster that Landon Donovan recently announced he'd skip Copa America to concentrate on the club. Maybe it is because after trading Hercules Gomez and Ugo Ihemelu in the off season the L.A. will be over ally dependent on young stars like Midfielder Quaves Kirk and Defender Nathan Sturgis. Sturgis for his part will be gone for much of the summer with the US Under 20 team at the FIFA World Youth Cup. The fact that Frank Yallop seems enamored with Santino Quaranta, who couldn't find himself in the match squad for DC United despite being given numerous chances to do so speaks volumes about the current situation at the Home Depot Center. Steady veterans Peter Vagenas and Cobi Jones will help the cause as will rock solid Jamaican International Defender Tyrone Marshall, but this team minus David Beckham is one of the worst in MLS. Nonetheless a player of Beckham's quality and stature will be good enough to take this team into the playoffs and perhaps beyond. For all of Beckham's detractors, England's shocking form since his departure from the National Team speaks volumes as to his impact on the field. Since he is an unconventional player who lacks pace but is dead ball specialist, he is often maligned. Yet Beckham is one of the greats of our generation and his decision to come to MLS makes this league, inspite of its other faults relevent on the world stage.

4. Chivas USA

Bob Bradley did a remarkable job with this team last season, and was rewarded with the US National Team job. He has been replaced by perhaps the best player in MLS history-Preki. While Chivas LA maintained its latin flavor and emphasis on young American talent was also develop. From that came Jonathan Bornstein (who despite his name is part Mexican and thus fits in well at Chivas) the MLS Rookie of the Year and likely left back of the future for the US National Team. Chivas USA's heart is Claudio Suarez, who last year continued to be an important part of Mexico's World Cup team even at 37. Suarez anchors a back line that is very solid. The midfield will be led this season by Amado Guevara a former league MVP whose lack of discipline and team play ended his stay in New York. Jesse Marsch who started his MLS career by winning the MLS Cup with DC United in the inaugural year of 1996 is still going strong as vital cog in Chivas' attack. Ante Razov had an outstanding year last year with 14 goals, but the loss of Fransisco Palencia and Juan Pablo Garcia could very well be too much to overcome. Cuban defector Raykel Galindo has been impressive in pre-season and could be the other starting forward. Chivas USA appears solid but unspectacular at every position. If David Beckham were not joining the other team that plays at the Home Depot Center, then Chivas would be a playoff lock. As it is, they have a fair chance of making the postseason.

5. Real Salt Lake

RSL may be improved this season with the addition of dynamic offensive talents like Freddy Aduand. Luis Tejeda, a forward from Panama. Their roster reads like a MLS All-Star team or USA “B” squad from about 10 years ago with veterans like Defender Eddie Pope, Midfielders Jason Kreis, Chris Brown, and Chris Klein as well as 2006 MLS leading scorer Jeff Cunningham. The player to watch is Mehdi Ballouchy who is entering his second season in MLS after a successful college career including time at Santa Clara. His technical ability and passing savvy should be enhanced by the offensive additions. Unfortunately for Real the surprise retirement of Goalkeeper Scott Garlick has left them vulnerable in the last third. This came after RSL traded Jay Nolly to DC United. A healthy Pope and U-23 keeper Chris Seitz may help, and could be enough to get Salt Lake into the playoffs. Owner/operator Dave Checketts has let coach John Ellinger know that the current results have not been good enough, and should RSL miss the playoffs again, Ellinger will be looking for work.

6. Colorado Rapids

The Rapids look to be a mess. Despite fancy new uniforms, tie up with Arsenal and a brand new stadium, the roster looks like a work in progress. In the off-season they traded their best player, Joe Cannon, to the Galaxy for Hercules Gomez and Ugo Ihemelu. Ihemelu was badly needed because the Rapdis defense was in a word abysmal last season. The back line will also included three players who have seen better days: Mike Petke, Greg Vanney and Brandon Prideaux. The midfield features two time US World Cup veteran Pablo Mastroeni, Kyle Beckerman and Jovan Kirovski. The attack will be led by Gomez and Panamanian Roberto Brown. This team will need a serious rebuilding phase and some useful advice from Arsene Wenger to be competitive. Fernando Clavijo could be the best coach in MLS, a potential future US National Team boss, but this team will not make him look good.
Best Coach: Fernando Clavijo, Colorado
Best Passer: Dwayne DeRossario, Houston
Best Finisher: Carlos Ruiz, FC Dallas
Best Tackler: Eddie Robinson, Houston
Best Goalkeeper: Dario Sala, FC Dallas


Rafael said...

I cannot understand why you are so down on the Galaxy. Kirk and Sturgis as you meantioned are young studs and both are now a year older and wiser. Jones still provides pace and Vagenas is a leader in midfield. Landon has shown his stuff recently with the USA and he is ready to prove all the doubters wrong. Joe Cannon is one of the best goalies in the history of the league and now he comes to LA Add to that Beckham and you have a championship team.

Rafael said...

Kartik- You are a smart fellow most of the time but praising Ruiz and calling him the best finisher is the height of idiocy. He is a loser who doesn't work hard and is disease in the team. That is why we dumped him here in LA. I would take rented mule over Ruiz.

Rafael said...

If Ruiz were so good why is Guatemala always hard pressed to score goals and they have to resort to elbowing and dives to keep the US from killing them?

Torres said...

Ruiz is very good. A natural goal poacher. He is always positioned well even though his work rate is poor.

I believe Houston led by DeRossario, Moreno and Ching will once again reign supreme in the league. Look at how they slammed Pachuca in the Cup whilst DC struggled with Chivas.

LA Chivas will have a nice season. I am pleased you mention Galindo. He is going to be a major shocker for many of the Galaxy fans whose arrogance will once again be uncovered this season. Beckham is coming for a holiday and thinking he can dominate but will stunned at the poor quality of his team and how easily they are beaten by the better teams in America. As you said yourself, he has never played on a team nearly this bad. He will be running back to Real Madrid after he sees how poor his team is. Without Beckham the Galaxy is easily the worst team in MLS.

Rafael said...

Chivas is garbage in both Mexico and LA. Here's hoping for a big shock win for DC tonight in the Copa!

Rafael said...

Torres......you Chivas lovers no nothing about futbol here in usa or back home. Club America and the Galaxy are the powers.

Sams Army said...

Rafael, calm down. Kartrick is Galaxy hater and thus has to trash us. We will win the West, I have no doubt.

I'll have more detailed thoughts a little later tonight.

Hernandez said...

me support cruz azul plus galaxy plus real madrid. beckham will excel here and will help to us show the european crowd who do not give concacaf proper respect that we too can play futbol over here.

houston will be difficult to overcome. ching and derossario connect well and clark is something special as well. he will be big star for usa soon.

chivas is garbage. palencia has quit and gone back to mexico leaving razov and nothing more.

colorado will do better. beckerman is becoming a scorer.

salt lake can not be excused either. tejada score amazing goal versus mexico for panama. he is a special talent.

Sams Army said...

The author of this blogsite will either use tonight's result to further bash MLS as being inferior to Europe or avoid the subject totally because his beloved DC, the so-called premier franchise in the league was humiliated by suspect goalkeeping and a lack of killer instinct when they took the lead. Had the Galaxy gone up 1-0 on Chivas, we would have won 4-1.

Anonymous said...

You guys are all wet. the consensus is that the Galaxy minus Beckham is a below average team. Kartik may actually be giving Beckham too much credit by picking them 3rd after he says basically what every other preview says about them. Where he differs from most previews is that he likes Dallas so much.

Metroman said...

I find the pick of Dallas odd considering how much they lost in the offseason. However, I agree on LA and Colorado. Both teams are in trouble and for Lalas who is totally clueless after firing Bradley and clashing openly with Guevara to claim they are one of the world's great clubs is a complete joke. I 100% agree that SCUM united is the more recognizable and successful franchise though they are the enemy of all decent soccer lovers in this nation!

Harvey said...

I am beginning to think Kartik, Michael Haley and I are the only ones who really understand this league and how it works for better or for worse.

First off, I agree with the Dallas pick. They have young players ready to step up and thus they have been able to jetison over priced veterans. The salary cap and the league bias against clubs not owned by AEG forced the Hoops hand. But youngsters like Odouro, Mina and Nunez are more than ready to fill in.

LA is simply put a bad team minus Donovan and Beckham. They have more untested players in their side than any other MLS club including the three recent expansion teams. Alexi Lalas is a clown and if he is given time and a long enough leash, he'll screw up the Beckham thing as well.

Chivas USA shows promise. They are solid everywhere, but unspectacular and could have difficulty taking the next step.

Sams Army said...

Harvey, bashing MLS, US Soccer and the Galaxy doesn't somehow make you smarter than the rest of us.

Orlando Democrat said...

Sams Army, are you saying those of us who have for years not paid attention to MLS but have supported Americans overseas are somehow not loyal or dare I say it in W speak "unpatriotic?"

I root for Fulham and Manchester City because they are clubs that have given Americans a shot. I know Kartik had divided loyalties at one time between Spurs and City and now pulls for City because of all the American connections including an american fan club. Having known Kartik for more than 10 years I know he's supported MLS since the beginning but was disgusted when the two Florida teams were shut down and maybe his criticisms are based on that but even before 2002 he was fairly critical. I recall him sending a letter to Doug Logan that I still have somewhere blasting the leagues policy on buying players. Oh well, K I hope I haven't gotten you in trouble!

Allen said...

Dallas loses their starting midfield and you just assume 2 names with a fancy CV are going to step in and work a miracle? Their defense was mediocre last year and now their midfield isn't going to be the same and you're talking championship? Is there something more you know about these new midfielders that we don't? You realize they're not signing with the MLS because they've shown they can work miracles; it's because they couldn't cut it elsewhere.

As for RSL, you mention Garlick. Do you not realize he was gone a long time ago? And how can you claim to have insight on that team when you mention Chris Brown. Off the top of your head, what positions has Elinger used Chris Brown in? What ones, if any, has he excelled at?

Kartik said...


Fair points all. I know I am taking a major leap of faith with Dallas. However I really like the potential exhibited bu Nunez and from what I understand both South American signings are high quality. "Couldn't cut it elsewhere" is cynical about MLS, a cynicism I share with most franchises when they make int'l signings but as of yet not with Dallas. Yes we have had a lot of bad signings through the years from leagues in central and south america, but we've had a number of good ones as well and Dallas record of onscure int'l scouting is better than anyone in the league other than DC. So I guess I have faith in FC Dallas.

Your point about Salt Lake is very fair. Michael and I probably have less insight about that team than any other in league. Yes they got Rimando from DC but I believe they would not have dealt Nolly in the first place (they would have sent someone else to DC to get Adu) had they known Garlick did not intend to return. The crew on GOL TV's American Soccer show seemed equally surprised Garlick called it quits, and like me think this is probably a make or break year for John Ellinger.

Thanks for your interest. I am glad we have someone with constructive criticims instead of Sams Army et al. who seem to just be malcontents.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you on Dallas, but think your dismisive attitude towards RSL is disgusting. You admit you know less about them then other team yet you didn't make the effort to learn more. You've written a virtual novel about every other team, including an expansion team Toronto that none of us have ever seen play a game before. RSL is going to be good this year. They got this Pannamanian star and will move Kreis into the midfield. Moreover Adu will be playing hard because he wants a big euro team to bite on him.

Ellinger is a quality coach and Checketts has given the team an ultimatum. They will win this year.

Sams Army said...

I wonder why you compliment a guy who rips you much worse than I ever have and then you use it as an occasion to take a shot at me. Does the eurosnob charge hit some special nerve?

Anonymous said...

The Galaxy couldn't score in a brothel, much less Guadalajara.

Sams Army said...

Anonoymous, LA has beaten Chivas twice in the past. They would have handled a lead better than DC did by caving and are better suited to playing at altitiude.

Anonymous said...

I'm not seeing that anyehere on here:


Maybe you're confused about the real meaning of a friendly vs. an actual competitive match?

the Singing scout said...

Back to discussing the MLS West Preview........

I know from experience that it is very difficult to scout a team when you haven't seen them play.

That hasn't stopped any other sportswriter in the USA from writing a MLS Preview.

Anyone who will put their own prediction here under their own name has the right to bash the opinions here.

Sams Army said...

Houston was robbed by poor officiating in that game and went down fighting unlike your beloved DC.

Anonymous said...

Huh? Houston was run off the pitch in the first half. They also benefitted just as much from blown calls as Pachuca did. Both DC and Houston were gassed due to the altitude, and their attacks became less and less effective as the game wore on, but both proved that deserve their pre-season favorite rankings.

Unless some team signs superstar wingers, there simply aren't any other teams that have the caliber of talent to truly exploit the weaknesses each team showed in their matches.

Kartik said...

One thing Houston consistently showed was their superiorirty in the air. I loved the way Ching and DeRo got up for those headers and had the Pachuca keeper not made an amazing save we would had Pks.

Pachuca looked far more dangerous and organziaed than Chivas. I know Bravo was out for Chivas, but part of that I believe had tom do with the organization of DC back four and the fact that they didn't have Brad Davis consistently out of position. Brian Mullen was the best player for Houston and he should get a serious serious look from Bob Bradley this summer. This type of match is closest simulation to international soccer that MLS players ever get. So Ching and Mullen both showed their ability on an international level, IMO

Allen said...

It's nice to look back at this and reflect a bit. It's still early in the season but I'm hoping having seen some of the games change the thoughts on how teams are looking. For example, beside Claudio Reyna how many 2-way midfielders in the league are better than Beckerman? Can FCD's midfield come together and do a better job? Is a new coach the only change that RSL needs to avoid finishing last in the West?

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