Win a Free Subscription to MLS Live 2014!

Hey guys and gals. You like Major League Soccer, right? Of course you do! Why else would you be here? And how do you feel about contests? Fun, right? And what would a contest be without a fabulous prize?

Well, American Soccer Analysis will be running a prediction contest over the first two weeks of the 2014 MLS season, and the winner will receive a subscription to MLS LIVE for the 2014 season.

Here’s how it will work…

On both Monday, March 3 and Monday, March 10, American Soccer Analysis will post 10 questions about the forthcoming week’s Major League Soccer and CONCACAF Champions League games. Just follow us on Twitter, use your master prognostication abilities, submit your answers using our form, and whoever has the most correct total answers after the second week of games will win a subscription to MLS LIVE for this season. It’s that easy. (Well, except for the tiebreaker, which will be asked in week two in the event that multiple people finish with the same score.)

Do you have to be following @AnalysisEvolved on Twitter to win the prize? Yes. Is this a shameful attempt to drive traffic to our Twitter and consequently this website? No. We feel lots of shame in doing so, but do so we must! Remember, only followers of @AnalysisEvolved on Twitter will be eligible for the subscription to MLS Live 2014.

The MLS LIVE subscription is transferrable, so if you’re already registered for this season, and you win, you can always re-gift it to a friend, or family member, or enemy who has an irrational hate for soccer.

See you on Monday!

Season Preview: Colorado Rapids

If you are a fan of up-and-coming soccer talent, the 2013 Colorado Rapids were a squad who, seemingly out of nowhere, became a must-watch team. While the trend is for MLS teams to rely more heavily upon experienced and highly paid players to bolster their roster, Colorado, perhaps out of necessity, became a team driven by young, inexpensive talent. They used all available means to assemble their roster: trades (Edson Buddle and Nathan Sturgis), the SuperDraft (Deshorn Brown and Dillon Powers), the NASL and USL (Chris Klute and Clint Irwin, respectively), and international signings (Vicente Sanchez and Gabriel Torres). By the time the 2013 season concluded, Oscar Pareja had lead the Rapids to 51 points and the 5th seed in the Western Conference, a sizeable upgrade over their 37 points accumulated in 2012.

2013 Finish: 14-11-9, 51 points; 45 GF, 38 GA. Fifth place in Western Conference. Lost in Wildcard round.

Colorado Rapids 2013 Formation - 2014-02-24

 

Transactions

Players In

Players Out

Name Pos   Name Pos  
Marc Burch D/M Re-Entry Stage 1 Diego Calderon D Loan expired
Marvin Chavez  M Trade from San Jose Jaime Castrillon M Option declined
Marlon Hairston M SuperDraft Steward Ceus GK Option declined
Grant Van De Casteele D SuperDraft Atiba Harris F Traded to San Jose
Joe Nasco GK Free Jamie Smith M Retired
Jared Watts M SuperDraft Tony Cascio M Loaned to Houston
John Berner GK SuperDraft Hendry Thomas M Trade to FC Dallas
      Kory Kindle D Retired

Roster churn: Colorado returns 76.5% of its 2013 minutes, 9th most in the league.

Colorado Rapids' 2014 Roster

Median age: 24.5
*Designated player

My Kingdom for a Coach

Let’s start at the top.

Oscar Pareja has moved on to become the head coach of FC Dallas, returning to helm the club where he spent eight seasons as a player. Last year, Pareja assembled a young Rapids team that managed to sneak into the playoffs of the highly competitive Western Conference. Pareja was lauded for his ability to identify and acquire young talent. Though that should come as no surprise, considering that he served as the Director of Player Development for the FC Dallas Youth system from 2007 through 2011, fostering the growth of 11 players who have subsequently signed with the senior team.

When the Rapids were plagued by injury early in the season, Pareja was able to slot Sturgis, Klute, and O’Neill into the lineup, and the team continued to get results. Pareja, as coaches often do, made some questionable decisions over the course of the season. He showed unwavering faith in Atiba Harris all season long despite subpar performances, and took some heat for decisions he made in Colorado’s playoff loss to Seattle. Still, starting a rusty German Mera at centerback is not the same thing as, say, deploying Shalrie Joseph at forward. Pareja made some a personnel choice that did not pay off, but his overall tenure as Rapids head coach was a positive experience, one that has left the Rapids in much better position than when he arrived.

So where do they go from here? Well, we don’t know. With only a few weeks to go before the season, the Rapids have yet to name a head coach. But let’s assume that they will hire Pablo Mastroeni (hey, someone has to make a decision here), following the league-wide trend of elevating young ex-players into the head coaching ranks. Sometimes these new hires pay off (Peter Vermes, Mike Petke, 2012 Ben Olsen), but just as often they yield disappointing results (Curt Onalfo, Jesse Marsch, 2013 Ben Olsen). With no prior coaching experience, it is difficult to predict how Mastroeni will fare as coach of the Rapids. Though Mastro will take over a promising young squad, growing pains should be expected as he develops his own coaching personality.

The Departures

COLINFOThis offseason, Colorado parted ways with only seven players (one of whom, Jamie Smith, will remain with the franchise as an academy coach). The two regular starters who will not be returning this season are Atiba Harris, who played in 29 games last season, logging a stout 2,012 minutes attacking down the right flank, and Hendry Thomas, who started 28 games in defensive midfield for the Rapids. The Rapids balked at Thomas’s request for a DP-level salary, and shipped him off to Dallas in exchange for some allocation money.

The other five players combined to tally just 1,463 total minutes. Tony Cascio, who led that quintet with 530 minutes, will spend the 2014 season on loan in Houston as part of the first intra-league loan in Major League Soccer history.* The three other departing field players—Diego Calderon, Jamie Castrillon, and Smith—were plagued by injuries throughout 2013, and were never able to gain a steady foothold in the starting lineup. The final departed player, goalkeeper Steward Ceus, got his 2013 season off to a promising start… for about 10 minutes. In the 11th minute of the season opener, David Ferreira sent a long pass toward the Rapids penalty area. Ceus raced out of his penalty area to clear the ball, only to watch helplessly as the ball—and his chances of keeping the starting GK job—soared beyond him. Clint Irwin would start game two, and Ceus would not see another minute for Colorado in the 2014 season.

*No, Matias Laba is not on intra-league loan to Vancouver. He was traded for pipe dreams and promises.

Clint Irwin: Act II

Nothing has changed in goal for Colorado this season. Clint Irwin will enter the season as the starting goalkeeper, with Matt Pickens—currently on trial in Norway—tentatively set to serve as his backup. The Rapids have signed Joe Nasco—who last season helmed the nets for Atlanta—and rookie John Berner, in case Pickens does depart. Irwin finished 12th in the league in save percentage last season, stopping 69% of shots on target. Though you should take this purely as a descriptive statistic, as it appears that save percentage tells you very little about the quality of a professional goalkeeper. Irwin also failed to crack the top ten in crosses claimed last season, and ranked only 9th in punches, though strong flank play from the Rapids could mean that Irwin had fewer balls from wide areas to deal with.

One aspect of play where statistics say that Irwin did excel was in his distribution: Irwin completed 73% of his passes—6th best in the league—despite his average distribution being 48 meters long. For comparison, average length of distribution of keepers in the top 10 accurate passers is only 38.8 meters. His distribution numbers are likely skewed by the fact that Irwin could hammer a 70-yard ball down the right side of the field and know that Atiba Harris (statistically the best aeriel duelist in the league) would get on the end of it (I guess we can look at Jon Busch’s numbers this year and see). Generally though, Irwin’s decision making and positioning, things not yet easily quantifiable, were solid all season; he looked and played like an MLS-caliber goalkeeper, which is impressive enough for a 24-year-old.

Moor: verb (used with object) … 2. to fix firmly; secure

For the sake of this preview, we will assume Mastroeni will not alter Pareja’s preferred formation of 4-3-3/4-2-3-1. Chris Klute and Drew Moor are locks to retain their spots on the back line. Klute will maraud down the wing and make life difficult for opposing midfielders. Last season he led the league in assists among defenders with 7, and was second (behind only Andrew Farrell) in successful take-ons with 39. Moor provides a solid veteran presence at the back, and provides excellent distribution to a team which often lacks patience in the defensive third. Preseason games would indicate that Shane O’Neill will make way at the other center back spot for either Marvell Wynne or Wake Forest rookie Jared Watts.

Despite a strong rookie season for O’Neill, his biggest shortcoming was his ability to assert his physicality in the air. Whereas Moor finished the season with 3.7 aerial duels won per game (8th in MLS, 5th among centerbacks), O’Neill had only 1.4 aerials won per game (79th in MLS, 34th among centerbacks). Moor won 68% of his aerial duels; O’Neill, 52%. But if you’re the kind of person who prefers their evidence anecdotal, here’s him being completely schooled by Chris Wondolowski (not the most physical specimen himself) on a corner kick. O’Neill should remain a starter, but he will shift to the right side of the field, either in defense or midfield.

Who? What? Where?

The midfield is a much bigger quandary. Hendry Thomas is gone, Nathan Sturgis has spent a considerable amount of time this preseason at right back, and Dillon Powers’ health is in question: not only was he only just cleared to return to game action on February 20 after recovering from a concussion last season, but he is battling tendinitis in his knee. The talent level drops precipitously as you move down the depth chart.

First-round draft pick Marlon Hairston could be the man to replace Thomas. But Thomas is a Premier League and World Cup veteran, who averaged 3.3 tackles per game last season, 7th in MLS, and Hairston is a 19-year-old who, in spite of his physical gifts, was labeled by one college coach as a “lazy” defender, not the ringing endorsement you want for a player who will be shielding your back line. Nick LaBrocca is another option to replace Thomas, but the 29-year-old Rutgers grad lacks the size and athleticism that either Thomas or Hairston can bring. LaBrocca also has the potential to step in for an injured Powers, but with a glut of forwards on the team, Gabriel Torres might find himself deputizing for Powers in the event that he misses time, playing a more direct role in the offense (and leaving Edson Buddle as the center forward).

The Designated Player and Deshorn

If and when Powers returns to full health, Torres will spearhead the attack for Colorado. The first designated player in Rapids history, Torres was signed in August of last season, and immediately demonstrated his value. He notched 3 goals and 1 assist on 15 shots in 507 minutes. The shot total is low for a DP level striker, but so is the sample size. Still, flashes of brilliance like this make it difficult for Rapids fans to keep their expectations tempered.

Deshorn Brown will start to the left of the center forward, in a more advanced role than the typical wide player in a 4-2-3-1. This is because Brown’s speed and size far outshine his technical skills. Last season, Brown notched 10 goals, solid enough on its own, but it should be noted that of the 18 players who scored 10 goals or more last season, Brown had the lowest scoring chance percentage, converting a mere 10.3% of his shots. Though that seems like bad news on the surface (and it may be that Brown isn’t a crack finisher), it comes with a big silver lining.Finishing rates are less predictive of yearly success than Expected Goals, which are determined by number and location of shots taken.

On the right, the Rapids have a choice between Marvin Chavez and Vicente Sanchez, two left-footed players who bring different assets to the table. Chavez is a versatile player who has the speed to stretch the defensive line (as he did with his time in Dallas) and an accurate cross that allows him to play as a more conventional midfielder (as he did in his 12-assist season with San Jose in 2012). Sanchez, who spent most of his career in Mexico, is a more technically savvy (and to be fair to Chavez, slower) player, who in his limited time with Colorado last season provided some of the cerebral play that was often missing from the lineup.

The Prediction

Last year, Colorado’s depth enabled them to overcome a spate of injuries and make the playoffs, bringing a new generation of players to the league’s attention. This year, without any wholesale roster changes, those same players will bear the weight of expectations of a franchise. New coach or not, progress will be expected from this young team, and it will be interesting to see how they will fare in the 2014 season.

Crowdsourcing Results

The readers of American Soccer Analysis don’t seem to think that Colorado will make any progress this season. The plurality (20.2%) of our 406 voters think that the Rapids will drop to 6th place in the Western Conference, with the vast majority (78.1%) anticipating them to finish in the 5th-to-8th-place range.

Season Preview: New England Revolution

A franchise empathetic to the Buffalo Bills, Atlanta Braves, and every team that chased the Chicago Bulls in the 90’s, the Revs have shown over their 16-year history in the league that they are perpetual contenders and forever runners-up—a key member of the ‘almost was there’ club. That was harsh, but I don’t mean to be. The club, with just a little bit of support from Robert Kraft, could have been—and still could be—a super power in MLS. The trio of Clint Dempsey, Shalrie Joseph, and Steve Ralston, and then the often forgotten (outside of New England) prowess of Taylor Twellman dominated the mid 00’s period of MLS, and New England reached the MLS Cup finals on four different occasions between 2002 and 2007. Now, after a couple of down years, the franchise has reloaded and found itself a new era of young up-and-comers a decade later.

2013 Review: 51 Points, 3rd in the Eastern Conference, lost to Sporting Kansas City in Conference Semis

newenglandXI

Player Added Position Acquired from: Player Lost Position To
Paulo DelPiccolo M Waiver Draft  Chad Barrett F Option Declined
Brad Knighton GK Trade (Vancouver) Ryan Guy M Option Declined
Charlie Davies F Free (Randers) Tyler Polak D Option Declined
Steve Neumann M/F SuperDraft Matt Reis GK Retired
Patrick Mullins F SuperDraft Clyde Simms M Option Declined
Teal Bunbury F Trade (Kansas City) Juan Toja M Option Declined
Jossimar Sanchez D Supplemental Draft Bilal Duckett D Waived
Daigo Kobayashi M Trade (Vancouver) Matt Horth F Waived
Alec Sundly M SuperDraft Gabe Latigue M Waived
      Juan Agudelo F Out of Contract

2013 opened for the Revs with expectations of justhoping to make the Wildcard round. Really, anything better than finishing above Toronto was the end goal, and while maybe I’m slightly exaggerating the situation a bit, I don’t think many thought they would finish 3rd in the East. Jay Heaps definitely sat upon a seat of growing embers, and fans were gradually getting more and more anxious to see progression from their second-year manager after replacing long-term icon Steve Nicol.

2013 will be remembered for many things across MLS, but Revs fans will, perhaps paradoxically, be hard-pressed to think of many good things outside the breakout year of teenager Diego Fagundez—who is being heralded as the foundation of many great, wonderful scoring-type things for the Revs in the future, and one of the future stars of MLS — and the addition of Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves. Let me be one of the first to throw that “it may be a bit premature” out there. Fagundez is a great talent, but it’s probably a bit unfair to place such expectations on an 18-year-old at this point. Scoring 13 goals at that age is going to get you attention, but doesn’t guarantee stardom.

NEINFOWhile it’s been pointed out that his goal tally was impressive— partly because it was fifth in the league and not inflated by penalty kicks—I’m not yet convinced that he’s bound for all the glory people think. In fact, I’d wager that he won’t likely equal his tally from last season for a couple of reasons.

A) An observance I’ve made over the last few days suggests that he creates many of his own shots at the goal off the dribble. I’m not sure that if he continues this trend he can be as successful.

B)  He creates below-average shots-per-90 minutes rates. Among the top 50 goal scorers, the average shots-per-90 is roughly 2.6. Fagundez averages a paltry 2.0 in comparison.

C) Over half those chances (52%) he fired off hit the target (29 of his 55 shots). While that is above-average, it may be a less-stable metric year-to-year, as is finishing rate. He needs to continue to create a high volume of chances before I’m ready to get on the bandwagon.

Now, there is some hope. The addition of Teal Bunbury gives the Revs someone who is going to take shots at a better-than-league-average clip. This could take some of the pressure off Fagundez, allowing him to be slippery with his electric speed, getting into dangerous locations, and keeping his finishing rate high.

There is also the case that New England has quite the creative midfield core, which only got deeper this week with the addition of Daigo Kobayashi. Adding him to the grouping of Kelyn Rowe and Lee Nguyen is rather intimidating and could help the young attacking midfielder, as he may not have to create so many shots for himself.

I’m not trying to be a wet blanket and ‘poo poo’ everyone that is drinking the Fagundez Kool-Aid. The youngster is an incredible talent, both on and off the ball, and he’ll probably be a large contributing factor to why I watch so many Rev games this year. I do think there could be some undue pressure on him at this stage in his career, and it’s crazy to think this club is going to live and die with him.

Outside of Fagundez, the Revs have been stock piling young and exciting talents, such as the aforementioned Rowe, with Andrew FarrellScott Caldwell  and even Dimitry Imbongo. They’re a young team that has a lot of helium at this stage. Add to it the top-scoring collegiate talents of Patrick Mullins and lesser heralded (yet equally exciting) Steve Neumann, with the recently acquired Bunbury, and maybe the long-awaited break out season of Jerry Bengston–who seems to save all his goals for the Honduras national team—and you realize ‘holy crap’ they’ve got weapons in abundance. Truth is, they shouldn’t struggle to find the back of the net this year.

A good indicator for their offensive success last year was, of course, Chris Gluck’s Possession with Purpose (PWP Index) stat that ranks them in the upper half (9th) in MLS and 4th among their Eastern conference foes. The loss of Juan Agudelo is a bit disappointing to some of their supporters and certainly with their front office that seemed pretty determined to keep him around against all odds. But with the quality and quantity of the youth available, as well as the off-season additions, this club could very well take a step forward in the attack.

The real question for me is going to be the defense. Jose Goncalves came out of pretty much nowhere to have a lights out season and win defensive player of year honors for MLS. It’s not so much a question of whether he’ll regress so much as I wonder what the likelihood of the defense as a whole regressing.

The backline should remain, for all intents and purposes, intact from last year. The big question is whether we’ll see Bobby Shuttleworth or Brad Knighton between the pipes as a goal keeper. This is an entirely different conversation, and I want to set it aside of the time being. The defense wasn’t necessarily great so much as it was a bit lucky in some cases. Sure their PDO as a whole is under the 100 mark, indicating that they have actually gotten a bit unlucky as a whole, but they earned just 95 percent of the shot totals of their opponents, and their overall xGD was negative, which both imply that they not only surrendered more shots than they created but also surrendered shots in more advantageous locations for the opposition. Neither are good things, and both are critical points for the defense. Now those numbers don’t tell us that New England will regress or that they will certainly allow more goals than what they last year, but simply what they did produce was not as we expected and that they played above what they likely should have.

Now, as for the Shuttleworth vs. Knighton—WWE Royal Rumble face off—I’m a bit torn. Personally, I know Matt Reis had been there for a decade, but Shuttleworth was—in my opinion—a good keeper, and there was an argument for letting him stay in the net after Reis returned from injury. Now with Reis retired and the Revolution acquiring Knighton, it becomes an interesting battle. Our early advanced indications point to the fact that Brad Knighton, despite only seeing 540 minutes, was a better keeper. Now those numbers are only indicators, and they do come with a clear set of caveats. Neither keeper has enough empirical evidence that one is necessarily better than the other. That said, I expect that Brad Knighton will win the job, and his performances will stick right in and around what we thought of Matt Reis.

Overall I could see really two vastly different scenarios playing out with New England. The first is that they come out like gangbusters. Their defense holds, the youngsters take another step forward, and they overtake New York, who I believe may be somewhat overrated, and possibly even Sporting Kansas City (don’t tell Matthias I said that), staying in contention for a supporters shield for most of the year.

The other side is that, with all the significant improvements that other clubs  have made compounded with some struggles by the a young core, it could leave the team in an early hole. Early disappointing results could very well culminate in them missing the playoffs entirely.

The East going to be a dog fight, more so than what the Western Conference is thought to be. Because of that, clubs such as Toronto FC, Chicago, Houston, D.C. United and New England are all fighting for the last three spots, assuming that New York and Sporting play up to their potential. Though, given the strange inconsistencies of both of those franchises, anything remains possible. Youth lends itself to variability, making New England’s projection hard to pin down.

Crowdsourcing Results

New England received a wide range of votes, earning at least 10% of all votes for every placement between 4th and 10th in the Eastern conference. Overall, just 34.4% of voters felt that New England was a playoff team.

Season Preview: Vancouver Whitecaps

The Vancouver Whitecaps are still one of Major League Soccer’s newest teams, as 2014 will be just their fourth season in the league. However, the franchise has already shown a penchant for rather high turnover, both among its players and coaches. Seen through an optimist’s viewpoint, this could be commendable, as the front office is never satisfied with mediocrity and clearly strives for success. From a pessimist’s point of view, the constant tinkering robs the club of any semblance of stability and contributes to the team’s mediocrity. Either way, 2014 will be a fascinating time to watch Vancouver as they look to return to the postseason.

2013 Finish: 48 Points, 7th in the Western Conference, Missed MLS Playoffs

vancouverXI

Player Added Position Acquired from: Name Position To
Christian Dean D  2014 SuperDraft (Cal) Lee Young-Pyo D Retired
Andre Lewis M 2014 SuperDraft (NY Cosmos) Greg Klazura D Option Declined
Mehdi Ballouchy M San Jose Joe Cannon GK Option Declined
Steven Beitashour D San Jose Simon Thomas GK Option Declined
Sebastian Fernandez M/F Loan – (Boston River) Brad Rusin D Option Declined
Nicolas Mezquida M/F Free Transfer (Boston River) Jun Marques Davidson M Option Declined
      Daigo Kobayashi M New England
      Tommy Heinemann F Option Declined
      Corey Hertzog F Option Declined
      Brad Knighton GK New England
      Camilo F Queretaro (Mexico)

Roster Churn: 58.82% returning minutes (4th lowest in MLS)

Vancouver Whitecaps' 2014 Roster

Median age: 23
*Designated player

Their 2013 was underwhelming, and could probably be filed as underachieving. Based on roster talent alone, Vancouver probably should have made the playoffs in 2013, just as they did in 2012. But for a variety of reasons, the Whitecaps never quite got it together and missed out on the postseason by three points. As mentioned, the individual talent was certainly there: Brazilian striker Camilo won the Golden Boot by hammering home 22 goals, Nigel Reo-Coker is as powerful a central midfielder as you’ll find in MLS, and Russell Teibert flashed the potential of a franchise cornerstone. Truth be told, a lot of issues seemed to stem from the chronic indecision in the franchise, whether it was the front office acquiring goalkeepers like they’re penny stocks, or manager Martin Rennie changing tactics as though he was in an Old Navy dressing room.

VANINFOAll in all, Vancouver finished above .500 with a positive goal differential, but an awful, late-season stretch saw them win just two of twelve games, surrendering any real hopes of title contention. According to a key off-season personnel decision, Vancouver may believe the main culprit for underachieving was Rennie himself, who was relieved of his duties. Some of his lineup choices often seemed like puzzles for team beat reporters—who were constantly guessing as to who was being shifted to what position—and his apparent inability to see eye-to-eye with talented players like Darren Mattocks can’t have helped his chances at keeping the job in 2014. Regardless of the front office’s reasoning, Vancouver will return in 2014 with a new coach, and a few key faces missing. 

Vancouver’s offseason was, in a word, turbulent. First, they swung for the fences in filling their coaching vacancy by approaching former US and Egyptian national team coach Bob Bradley. They struck out on that front, but ‘Caps fans will be hoping they knocked a solid base hit with the appointment of former assistant Carl Robinson.

Then, there were a couple of ugly sagas revolving around a few players—chiefly Camilo, last season’s Golden Boot winner. Basically, Mexican club Queretaro came to an agreement for the Brazilian forward to join their club despite the fact that Camilo’s contract with Vancouver was supposed to extend through the 2014 season. The player made it clear that he planned to play in Mexico this year, so eventually a fee was agreed to compensate the Whitecaps, but they still lost their top player from last season. Finally, fans were surprised to find out that draft pick Andre Lewis had apparently already signed a contract to play for the NASL’s New York Cosmos. The team and league both eventually covered themselves by saying that an agreement was already in place for Lewis to play this season in MLS with the ‘Caps, but all in all, a boring offseason this was not.

As the 2014 season gets set to begin, Vancouver is one of just a few teams in the league that don’t appear to be as good as last year. Camilo and fullback Lee Young-Pyo are both huge losses, as they were easily two of the club’s best players last season. They did fairly well in replacing Y.P. Lee by trading for Steven Beitashour, who is probably an above-average left back in the league. However, none of this offseason’s other additions appear to have the potential to help replace Camilo’s goal-scoring ability.

That said, the Whitecaps still have a good deal of talent on their roster. Even without Camilo, their forwards include former #1 overall draft pick Omar Salgado as well as #2 overall pick Darren Mattocks. Both have had issues staying healthy and on the same page as the coaching staff, but their draft position alone should signal some of their potential. They’ve also got Kenny Miller, a long-time Scottish international who is a very good playmaker in his own right, as well as Kekuta Manneh, another young phenom who was rumored to have interest from super-clubs Chelsea and Arsenal. And that’s just the forwards!

In midfield, Nigel Reo-Coker is an absolute beast in the center of the pitch, and it was always a curiosity that he saw time at right back last season. Russell Teibert can provide some fantastic service from out wide, and Gershon Koffie and Matt Watson are both serviceable, at the very least. The defense in 2014 should get a pretty huge boost from captain Jay DeMerit’s return to health – that is, if he can maintain it for a full season. But there are no glaring holes on the backline, as Johnny Leveron and Jordan Harvey both enjoyed quiet breakout seasons last year. There is the slight oddity of Vancouver only having one goalkeeper on the roster as of this writing. I’m sure a second will be added after training camp, but David Ousted had a couple of wobbly moments last season and a trustworthy backup is likely high on the shopping list for Vancouver.

Overall, Vancouver’s a tough team to figure. Last year they probably should’ve been better than their record indicated, but is first-time head coach Carl Robinson the right man to help them reach their potential? And as other teams around them got better this offseason, the ‘Caps mostly stood around and watched people flee Vancouver. Steven Beitashour seems like he should be an adequate replacement at left back, but by watching guys like Jun-Marques Davidson, Daigo Kobayashi and Camilo walk, Vancouver guaranteed that they’ll be giving a lot of minutes to unproven and inconsistent young players like Gershon Koffie and Darren Mattocks. 

Again, this roster has the talent to stay in the fight for a playoff berth, but a lot rides on some of that talent finally stepping up and performing this season. In the brutal Western Conference, they’ll need a number of performers to make that leap if they hope to return to the postseason in 2014.

Crowdsourcing Results 

7th place in Western Conference; 89 of 404 voters ranked Vancouver 7th in the West (21.9%), and 307 felt that the Whitecaps would miss the playoffs (76.0%).

Season Preview: Chicago Fire

The Chicago Fire won MLS Cup in their first season in the league. They qualified for the playoffs in 12 of their first 13 seasons in MLS. But since 2010, they’ve made the postseason only once (in 2012), where they lost in the first round. For such a storied franchise, it’s clear that Chicago has underachieved for the last four years. Hopes in the Windy City are that a new coach with a history of success in MLS, Frank Yallop, will be able to turn around their fortunes and return the club to the promised land.

2013 Finish: 49 Points, 6th in the Western Conference, Missed MLS Playoffs

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Transactions

Players In:

Name Position Acquired from:
Lovel Palmer D/M Salt Lake
Harrison Shipp F Homegrown – Notre Dame
Kyle Reynish GK New York Cosmos (NASL)
Chris Ritter M Homegrown – Northwestern
Jhon Kennedy Hurtado D Seattle
Patrick Ianni D Seattle
Giuseppe Gentile F Waiver draft – Charlotte
Benji Joya M Santos Laguna (Mexico)

Players Out:

Name Position Where’d he go?
Paolo Tornaghi GK Waived
Arevalo Rios M Option Declined
Michael Videira D Option Declined
Corben Bone M Option Declined
Joel Lindpere M Option Declined
Maicon Santos F Option Declined
Shaun Francis D Out of Contract
Wells Thompson D Out of Contract
Daniel Paladini M Columbus
Jalil Anibaba D Seattle

 

Median Age: 25

Median Age: 25
*Designated Player

Their 2013 was really bad followed by pretty good, but ending in disappointment. The Fire began the season looking more like kindling (sorry, that’s the only fire-related pun I’ll use in this post), losing seven of their first ten matches. But then they started making moves, both in the front office and up the table. Chicago acquired centerback Bakary Soumare from Philadelphia and forward Mike Magee from Los Angeles, and their ascent quickly followed. Soumare brought a much-needed solidity to the back line, and Magee played out of his mind for the remainder of the season in his hometown. After running off six matches unbeaten immediately following their acquisition, the Fire came back to Earth and narrowly missed out on the East’s final playoff spot, bowing to Montreal on a tiebreaker.

The season was not without its hardware though, as Magee won the league MVP trophy, despite being tradedCHIINFO


On paper, the Chicago Fire seem like they have the pieces to be a contender in the Eastern Conference. Their offseason moves didn’t floor anyone, but they do appear to have improved, both on the bench and in the coaching box. The head coach position is where Chicago made their most substantial move: out went Frank Klopas after last season, and in came Frank Yallop. Yallop won two MLS Cups with the San Jose Earthquakes as well as the 2012 Supporters’ Shield, so he certainly has pedigree to match that of his new employer.

As far as the roster he will be working with, it seems like it should fit with his general style of play pretty well. In San Jose, Yallop was well known for his team’s propensity for quality wing play and crossing it to the forwards, something to which the Fire should be fairly well-suited. In Patrick Nyarko and Dilly Duka, Chicago has two wingers that are both lightning quick and love taking on defenders. As for who they’ll be crossing to, number one on the list is reigning league MVP Mike Magee. ‘Magic Mike’ is unlikely to repeat his career year from 2013 when he scored 21 goals in stints for both Chicago and Los Angeles. But even if he doesn’t approach that number in 2014, Magee is an instinctive finisher who always seems to bag more goals than you project for him.

The other options up front are long time Fire player Chris Rolfe and the Ecuadorian Designated Player Juan Luis Anangono. Rolfe got much of the action up top alongside Magee last year, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Anangono play a bigger role in his first full season with the club. Anangono is a big, physical presence up top that would seem to match Frank Yallop’s desired style, as he could be an asset getting on the end of crosses. Meanwhile, Rolfe is a solid technical player in his own right, but to me is a bit like a poor man’s Mike Magee. While they combined very well at times last season, having two players with fairly similar styles up top leads to diminishing returns.

The rest of the starting eleven will likely see more shakeups from last season. Along the back line, Chicago traded away Jalil Anibaba—who played every minute for the Fire last season—to Seattle in exchange for centerbacks Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni. How those two duke it out for playing time with returning starters Austin Berry and Bakary Soumare will be interesting to watch. On the outside, Costa Rican Gonzalo Segares returns to his normal left back position, while right back may be manned by newly acquired Lovel Palmer. Both of those fullbacks are solid if not spectacular options who should get the job done.

My biggest questions come in central midfield for Chicago.Jeff Larentowicz looks like a shoo-in for one of the spots there, as he has long been a solid two-way midfielder in this league. But who starts alongside him will be an interesting puzzle for Yallop to put together. Does the Brazilian Alex become a full-time starter? Does the newly acquired young starlet Benji Joya get deployed in an attacking midfield role from the get-go? Or will veteran captain Logan Pause return a starting spot to bring a strong veteran presence onto the field?

From top to bottom, the Chicago Fire look like they should be one of a host of teams competing for the playoffs in the East. They’ve done well to bring in an established MLS coach in Frank Yallop, and they have a roster without many glaring holes. If Mike Magee can deliver another MVP-caliber season, this team could vault to near the top of the Eastern Conference table. But without that, the rest of the roster is still long on solid players, but a bit short on difference-makers. Yallop’s guidance and a re-jiggered backline might just be enough to return the Fire to the playoffs, or at least another year where their playoff fate comes down to the final day of the season.

Crowdsourcing Results

6th in the Eastern Conference; the Chicago Fire were picked to make the playoffs by just 120 of 404 voters (29.7%)

Season Preview: FC Dallas

Over the past three seasons, fans of the Hoops have seen their team crash down from the high of a 2010 MLS Cup Finals appearance . In 2012, those same fans endured a 13-game winless streak, to be followed by another 11-game winless streak in 2013, resulting in Dallas missing the playoffs each of the past two seasons. What made matters worse was their red hot start to 2013, where they raced out to a 7-2-3 record and 24 points by the end of May, good for first place in the West. After missing out on the post season following such a hot start, Schellas Hyndman was shown the door (officially resigned), and former FC Dallas player and long time assistant Oscar Pareja was hired to right the ship. There is much optimism surrounding Dallas as they look to put the past behind them and get themselves back into the playoffs in 2014.
2013 Finish: 44 Points, 8th in the Western Conference, Missed MLS Playoffs
FCDallasXI
Player Added Position Acquired from: Player Lost Position To
Ryan Hollingshead M 2013 SuperDraft Ugo Ihemelu D option declined
Adam Moffat M traded from Seattle Ramon Nunez M option declined
Brian Span M weighted lottery Erick M option declined
Hendry Thomas M traded from Colorado Jackson M traded to Toronto
Andres Escobar F Loan (Dynamo Kiev) Victor Ulloa M out of contract
David Texeira F Free (FC Groningen) David Ferreira M option declined
Kenny Cooper F traded to Seattle
Roster Churn: 77.97% returning minutes (12th lowest in MLS)
roster-dallasLots of optimism surround the Hoops after the theft appointment of Oscar “Papi” Pareja as head coach, and for good reason. The former Colorado Rapids head coach was highly regarded by the front office, was a contender for MLS DALINFOCoach of the Year after Colorado overachieved last season with their young roster, thanks in some part to Pareja’s guidance.
 
While the optimism is high, there are also some concerns with the team, as they jettisoned off a few key pieces from last year (Captain David Ferreira, striker Kenny Cooper, and winger Jackson), and now FC Dallas must work through that awkward transition where new faces and a new coach try to get on the same page. Will the front office and Dallas fans be patient enough to wait for Pareja to work his magic, given they’ve missed the playoffs two season in a row now? His first season in Colorado was forgettable (11-19-4, no playoffs), but there were clear signs of improvement in his second year (14-11-9, knock out rounds). 
 
With the exception of Blas Perez, the Dallas attack is young. [Fabian] Castillo (21), [Andres] Escobar (22), and [Mauro] Diaz (22) make for a very dangerous trio if they can develop their chemistry together. Diaz has been handed the number 10 jersey and will hold the keys to driving the Hoops offense this season. Much like it was with his predecessor, Captain Ferreira, where Diaz goes, FC Dallas will follow. And while the short glimpses we saw of Diaz were promising last season, being the focal point and main man for the entire season in a new league is another thing to handle altogether. 
 
Last season’s Achilles heel had to be the central midfield for Dallas. When holding midfielder Peter Luccin went down with an injury before the season began, FC Dallas was left without any adequate cover, and it lost its midfield bite and any real quality in linking the defense to the attack. That has been addressed strongly this off season with the acquisition of former Rapids midfielder Hendry Thomas (who is basically a tank on cleats) and former Sounder Adam Moffat (better link up player). Not to mention Luccin is back and healthy, and Andrew Jacobson got a good solid year of starter experience under his belt. Dallas’ thinnest spot in 2013 has suddenly become their greatest depth in 2014.
 
The Dallas defense looks largely the same with everyone from last year who got significant playing time returning. The debate now is whether that’s a good or a bad thing. Jair Benitez is now a year older, and while he provides help in offense (hello golazo!), his defending remains inconsistent. Zach Loyd had a subpar year by his standards in 2013. Whether he can regain his form that led him to be a USMNT call up waits to be seen. 
 
Finally, the last question mark for Dallas is what will Pareja do with homegrown standout Kellyn Acosta? His breakthrough 2013 was a huge step in the right direction for the Homegrown Player program, but where does he fit on this team? In 2013 he filled in admirably—at times better than Loyd at right back—but the teenage star has spoken that his preferred position is defensive midfield. Regardless of where he plays, Acosta is a talent that needs to see the field as much as possible. 
FC Dallas finished 2013 as the epitome of average statistically, posting the 10th best expected goal differential, as well as the 10th best shot attempt ratio. Hope rests in Pareja’s ability to work with a team that has added six new players to date, and to inject this team with a little magic that worked for Pareja’s former team last season.
 

Crowd Sourcing Placement: 8th place in Western Conference; 107 of the 406 8th-place votes (26.35%), and 321 of 404 (79.5%) of voters felt that FC Dallas would not make the playoffs in 2014.

*ExpGD is the same as our metric xGD.