Preview: 2012 Major League Soccer Eastern Conference

The 2012 MLS season is a mere stones throw away, and one of world footballs fastest growing leagues is looking to continue the success of 2011 which saw David Beckham’s LA Galaxy lift the MLS cup.

Here is our preview of the Eastern conference, containing Thierry Henry’s New York Red Bulls, last years finalists Houston Dynamo and the much fancied Sporting Kansas City.

Chicago Fire

2011: 6th (missed play-offs)

In: G Jay Nolly (trade from Vancouver); F Kheli Dube (Re-Entry Stage 2/New England); M Rafael Robayo (free/Millonarios); F Federico Puppo (free/Danubio); D Austin Berry; F Lucky Mkosana; D Hunter Jumper; M Tony Walls

Out: F Christian Nazarit; F Gabriel Ferrari; G Alec Dufty; M Baggio Husidic (Re-Entry Stage 2/Colorado); G Jon Conway (Re-Entry Stage 2/LA Galaxy); F Diego Chaves, (free/Palestino); D Yamith Cuesta (loan expired); D Josip Mikulic

Note: Chicago have also announced the signing of German international Arne Friedrich

Coach: Frank Klopas

Stadium: Toyota Park (20,000)

2011 Average Attendance: 14,274

Nicknames: The Fire; La Máquina Roja; Men in Red; CF97; Strażacy (Firemen)

Best Finish: Winners (1998)

Star Men: Rafael Robayo; Arne Friedrich; Logan Pause

Last season was somewhat of a transitional year, after the loss of players such as Freddie Ljungberg, Nery Castillo and Brian McBride. Expectations are fairly high in Illinois this year, with all action Colombian midfielder Robayo looking like he could be the key man in their play-off hunt. The signing of Arne Friedrich is a great bit of business, with the German defender, still only 32, adding a wealth of experience and defensive solidarity.

Prediction: Should make the play-offs….possibly via the wild card spot….4th

Columbus Crew

2011: 4th (lost in Wild Card play off to Colorado Rapids)

In: D Carlos Mendes (Re-Entry Stage 1/New York); G Matt Lampson (Home Grown); M Milovan Mirosevic (free/Universidad Católica); F Olman Vargas (free/Club Herediano); F Ben Speas (Home Grown); F Ethan Finlay; D Aubrey Perry; M Kevan George; M Kirk Urso; D Jamie Finch; F Darren Amoo; F Andrew Bulls

Out:D Josh Gardner (expansion draft); M Santiago Prim; D Dejan Rusmir; F Andrés Mendoza; M Kevin Burns; F Jeff Cunningham; M Robbie Rogers (free/Leeds United)

Coach: Robert Warzycha

Stadium: Columbus Crew Stadium (20,455)

2011 Average Attendance: 12,185

NicknamesThe Massive; The CrewAmerica’s Hardest Working Team

Best Finish: Winners (2008)

Star Men: Carlos Mendes; Eddie Gaven; Milovan Mirosevic

After a decent season last time out, the Crew will be looking to go one step further this year. However, they are without last years potent strike partnership of Andres Mendoza and Jeff Cunningham so goals may be hard to come by. They will be hoping that Chilean playmaker Mirosevic can be the creative spark that they need. Rookie Ben Speas is one to look out for.

Prediction: They’ll find goals hard to come by and therefore will miss out on the play-offs…6th

DC United

2011: Finished 7th (missed playoffs)

In: D Robbie Russell (trade from RSL); M Nick DeLeon; M Lance Rozeboom; D Charles Rodriguez; M Matt Kuhn; F Maicon Santos (free); M Danny Cruz (trade from Houston); D Emiliano Dudar (free/BSC Young Boys); F Hamdi Salihi (Rapid Vienna); M Marcelo Saragosa (Ravan Baku); GK Andrew Dykstra (free)

Out: M Santino Quaranta (retired); D Marc Burch (Re-Entry Stage 2/Seattle); M Clyde Simms (Re-Entry Stage 2/New England); M Brandon Barklage; G Steve Cronin; F Joseph Ngwenya; D Jed Zayner; D Devon McTavish (retired); F Blake Brettschneider

Coach: Ben Olsen

Stadium: RFK Stadium (45,596)

2011 Average Attendance: 15,181

NicknamesUnited; DCU; Black-and-Red

Best Finish: Winners (1996, 1997, 1999, 2004)

Star Men: Dwayne De Rosario; Branko Boskovic; Hamdi Salihi

The most successful side in MLS history have had a disappointing few years, and last season was no different. Despite De Rosario’s heroics, United missed out of the play-offs once again. This time around they have added Albanian Salihi as a designated player who should take some of the goalscoring burden away from “De-Ro” and defender Robbie Russell, traded from Salt Lake, looks like a good addition. They desperately need to move out of the soulless RFK Stadium though.

Prediction: Dwayne’s heroics won’t be enough and another disappointing season looms…7th

Houston Dynamo

2011: 2nd (MLS Cup finalists, lost to LA Galaxy)

In: M Nathan Sturgis (trade from Toronto); F Colin Rolfe; M Warren Creavalle; F Brian Ownby; F Karo Okiomah; M Eder Arreola; F Phillip Aseweh; M Daniel Roberts; F/M Macoumba Kandji (trade from Colorado); F Brian Ching (trade from Montreal); GK Erich Marscheider (waiver wire)

Out: M Francisco Navas Cobo; G Evan Newton; F Carlo Costly; D Hunter Freeman (Re-Entry Stage 2/Colorado); F Jason Garey; D Eddie Robinson (retired); M Danny Cruz (trade to D.C.)

Coach: Dominic Kinnear

Stadium: BBVA Compass Stadium (22,000)

2011 Average Attendance: 17,694

Nicknames: Dynamo; Orange Crush; La Naranja; The Men in Orange; The Orange; Die Oranje

Best Finish: Winners (2006, 2007)

Star Men: Brad Davis; Brian Ching; Adam Moffat

Last years finalists are moving into a new home this year, but much like Kansas City in 2011, will play most of their away games at the start of the season (their new stadium isn’t finished yet). However, Kansas City used that to their advantage with a late surge to the top of the conference. Much will depend on the set-piece brilliance of midfielder Brad Davis (who was 2nd only to David Beckham in assists last year) and the returning striker Brian Ching. Will be tough to beat especially with their run of home games at the end of the season.

Prediction: Will once again be challenging for the title and will easily make the play-offs….2nd

Sporting Kansas City

2011: 1st (Eastern conference finalists, lost to Houston Dynamo)

In: D Seth Sinovic (trade from Montreal); M Paulo Nagamura (trade from Chivas USA); M/D Bobby Convey (trade from San Jose); F Dom Dwyer; D Cyprian Hedrik; D Shawn Singh ; M Pablo Punyed; D Stefan Antonijevic; M Kyle Miller; M Michael Thomas; F Jacob Peterson (free/San Jose Earthquakes)

Out: M Davy Arnaud (trade to Montreal); M Jéferson; D Scott Lorenz; M Craig Rocastle; D Seth Sinovic (expansion draft) M Milos Stojcev; F Omar Bravo (Cruz Azul/Mexico); D Shavar Thomas

Coach: Peter Vermes

Stadium: Livestrong Sporting Park (18,500)

2011 Average Attendance: 17,810

NicknamesSporting; Sporting KC; Wizards; The Wiz; KC; Swope Park Rangers (reserves)

Best Finish: Winners (2000)

Star Men: Graham Zusi; Jimmy Neilsen; Bobby Convey

Stormed to the top of the Conference in the second half of last season after moving into their new stadium. The KC crowd create one of the best atmospheres in MLS making it a tough place to play. They captured the hearts of neutrals last year with an attacking brand of football, with very pacey forwards which put them on the verge of making the MLS Final. Could well go one better this year, with the addition of former Reading winger Bobby Convey potentially very shrewd.

Prediction: Will win the Conference and could well make the final….home form will be crucial…1st

Montreal Impact

2011: N/A This is the club’s first year in MLS

In: D Nelson Rivas (free/Inter Milan, Italy); G Evan Bush (NASL Impact); D Sinisa Ubiparipovic (NASL Impact); M Hassoun Camara (NASL Impact); D Jeb Brovsky (expansion draft); D Bobby Burling (expansion draft); D Josh Gardner (expansion draft); M Justin Mapp (expansion draft); M Sanna Nyassi (expansion draft); D James Riley (expansion draft); D Seth Sinovic (expansion draft); M Collen Warner (expansion draft); D Zarek Valentin (expansion draft); F Justin Braun (trade from Chivas USA); M Gerson Mayen (trade from Chivas USA); D Tyson Wahl (trade from Seattle Sounders); M Bryan Arguez (free/Ft. Lauderdale Strikers); M Davy Arnaud (trade from Sporting KC); G Donovan Ricketts (trade from LA); M Ian Westlake (NASL Impact); M Miguel Montaño (free/Seattle); G Greg Sutton (free/New York); M Patrice Bernier (free/Lyngby); M Felipe Martins (free/FC Lugano); D/F Andrew Wenger; M Calum Mallace ; M Evan James; F Aaron Schoenfeld; F Steven Miller; F Carl Haworth; D Geinier García (trade from Vancouver); D Shavar Thomas (free); F Eddie Johnson (allocation); F Mike Fucito (trade from Seattle); M Lamar Neagle (trade from Seattle); F Eduardo Sebrango (free);

Out: D James Riley (trade to Chivas USA); D Seth Sinovic (trade to Sporting KC); F Brian Ching (traded to Houston); F Eddie Johnson (traded to Seattle); M Ian Westlake

Coach: Jesse Marsch

Stadium: Saputo Stadium (20,341)/Olympic Stadium (66,308)

2011 Average Attendance: N/A

Best Finish: N/A

Nicknames: Impact

Star Men: Donovan Ricketts; Matteo Ferrari; Sanna Nyassi

This will undoubtedly be a year of experimentation for the Quebec side in their first MLS season. The signings of last years MLS winning goalkeeper, Donovan Ricketts and former Italy international Ferrari look shrewd, but much of the squad is very inexperienced at this level, with many of them being drafted from the NASL equivalent of the franchise. Impact certainly arrived in style, snatching Brian Ching and Eddie Johnson in the expansion draft, only for them to be traded back to their original clubs.

Prediction: Will struggle and will most likely be near the bottom of the conference, 9th

New England Revolution

2011: 9th (missed playoffs)

In: D Danleigh Borman (Re-Entry Stage 1/Toronto); F Nate Jaqua (Re-Entry Stage 2/Seattle); M Clyde Simms (Re-Entry Stage 2/D.C. United); D John Lozano (free/América de Cali); M/F Fernando Cárdenas (free/América de Cali); M Kelyn Rowe; D Tyler Polak; M Rick Smith; M Alec Purdie; D Kevin Garcia; F Mike Roach; F José Moreno (loan/Once Caldas); F Saer Sene (free: Bayern Munich)

Out: F Alan Koger; D Otto Loewy; M Andrew Sousa; F Milton Caraglio; F Monsef Zerka; D Ryan Cochrane; M Franco Coria; M Pat Phelan; F Kheli Dube (Re-Entry Stage 2/Chicago); F Rajko Lekic (free/Lyngby)

Coach: Jay Heaps

Stadium: Gillette Stadium (68,756- reduced to 22,385 for MLS games)

2011 Average Attendance: 13,222

Best Finish: Runners-up (2002, 2005, 2006, 2007)

Nicknames: Revs

Star Men: Shalrie Joseph; Benny Feilhaber; Matt Reis

The four times runners-up are starting to look like a dying franchise, and desperately need to move into a ‘Soccer Specific Stadium’. Last season was an absolute disaster, finishing bottom of the conference, and this season doesn’t look any more promising.  Designated player Shalrie Joseph is crucial if the Revs are going to do anything this season.

Prediction: Will be fighting it out with the Impact for last place, can see NE taking it…10th

New York Red Bulls

2011: 5th (lost Western Conference semi-final to LA Galaxy)

In: D Connor Lade (Home Grown); D Jonathan Borrajo (free/Hamarkameratene); D Markus Holgersson (free/Helsingborg); F Kenny Cooper (trade from Portland); G Ryan Meara (SuperDraft); D Mike Volk; M Christian Barreiro; M Nate Polak; G Jeremy Vuolo (free/AC Oulu); D Wilman Conde (rights from Chicago); M Victor Pálsson (free)

Out: G Alex Horwath; D Mychal Jones; D Tyler Lassiter; M Marcos Paullo; M John Rooney; D Teddy Schneider; G Frank Rost (contract expired); D Carlos Mendes (Re-Entry Stage 1/Columbus); D Chris Albright; G Bouna Coundoul; D Tim Ream (transfer/Bolton Wanderers); D Sacir Hot; M Matt Kassel

Coach: Hans Backe

Stadium: Red Bull Arena (25,189)

2011 Average Attendance: 19,691

Best Finish: Runners-up (2008)

Nicknames: Red Bulls; Metros

Star Men: Thierry Henry; Rafael Marquez; Joel Lindpere

Despite having probably the best player in the league, NY only just scraped into the play-offs last year and eventually lost quite comfortably to LA. Once again, Thierry will be crucial to their chances this season, alongside Rafa Marquez who must improve on last seasons mediocre performance. Tim Ream has gone, but there is still talent in this side, with the likes of young sensation Juan Agudelo. They’ve also brought in Kenny Cooper for Portland who is a decent performer at this level. Cult hero Luke Rogers is currently having visa issues and is therefore unavailable at the moment.

Prediction: Once again heavily reliant on Henry, but should really make the play-offs with the level of talent at their disposal….3rd

Philadelphia Union

2011: 3rd (Lost to Houston Dynamo in Eastern Conference semi-finals)

In: F Josué Martínez (transfer, Deportivo Saprissa); M Jimmy McLaughlin (Home Grown); M Gabriel Gómez (Indios/Mexico); D Porfirio López (Dalian Haichang/China); F Chandler Hoffman; M Greg Jordan; D Raymon Gaddis; D Tom Brandt; F Krystian Witkowski; F Antoine Hoppenot; M Brandon Zimmerman; F Lionard Pajoy (Itagüí Ditaires); D Chris Albright (free); GK Chase Harrison (free)

Out: D Juan Diego González; G Thorne Holder; M Justin Mapp (expansion draft); G Chase Harrison; M Stefani Miglioranzi; F Levi Houapeu; M Morgan Langley; M/D Ryan Richter; D Joe Tait; F Veljko Paunovic (etired); G Faryd Mondragón (released); F Sébastien Le Toux (trade to Vancouver); M Kyle Nakazawa (trade to LA); M Nizar Khalfan

Coach: Piotr Nowak

Stadium: PPL Park (18,500)

2011 Average Attendance: 18,259

Best Finish: Conference Semi-Finals (2011)

Nicknames: Zolos; The U

Star Men: Carlos Valdes; Chris Albright; Danny Mwanga

Had an excellent season last time out, in what was only their second year in MLS. With a raucous crowd at PPL Park, they’re very tough to beat at home. However, they have lost star man Sebastien Le Toux and experienced goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon. Hopes will rest on a very experienced and talented defence, and DR Congo striker Danny Mwanga. Of course, they also have the mercurial ‘Football Manager’ legend that is Freddy Adu

Prediction: Could find goals hard to come by without Le Toux, but still have enough quality to battle for a play-off spot…may have to go through a wild card though…5th

Toronto FC

2011: 8th (missed playoffs)

In: D Jeremy Hall (trade from Dallas); M Reggie Lambe (free/Ipswich Town); M Luis Silva; D Aaron Maund; M Michael Green; D Nick Blake; D Mykel Bates; M Arthur Ivo; M Michael Mazzullo; D Geovanny Caicedo (LDU Quito); D Miguel Aceval (Universidad de Concepción)

Out: D Kyle Davies; M Matt Gold; M Leandre Griffit; F Javier Martina; D Demitrius Omphroy; D Eddy Viator; M Gianluca Zavarise; D Danleigh Borman (Re-Entry Stage 1/New England); M Nathan Sturgis (Trade to Houston) F Mikael Yourassowsky; D Andy Iro (declined extension); F Peri Marosevic (declined extension); M Elbekay Bouchiba

Coach: Aron Winter

Stadium: BMO Field (21,140)

2011 Average Attendance: 20,267

Best Finish: Never made play-offs, best finish was 11th overall in 2010

Nicknames: Reds, TFC

Star Men: Julian De Guzman; Danny Koevermans; Torsten Frings

Had another disappointing year in 2011, despite the mid-season additions of Frings and Koevermans. The side failed to get to grips with Aron Winters ‘total football’ policy which may have to be reviewed if they are going to make the play-offs for the first time in what is their 6th season in MLS. They have a decent amount of quality in their side, and if they can get Frings creating rather than playing as a Sweeper (as he often had to do last year) and Koevermans scoring  again (he scored 8 goals in 10 games last season) they have an outside chance of making it.

Prediction: Could challenge for a wild card play-off spot….but can’t see it personally…8th

Overall Prediction:

1. Sporting Kansas City

2. Houston Dynamo

3. New York Red Bulls

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4. Chicago Fire

5. Philadelphia Union

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6. Columbus Crew

7. DC United

8. Toronto FC

9. Montreal Impact

10. New England Revolution

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