New Year’s Resolutions: MLS Eastern Conference
Please give a warm welcome to new contributing writer Zach Hall as he brings you his 2013 MLS Eastern Conference advice column.
It’s that time of the year where the number of gym memberships bought and salads ordered skyrockets. Making New Year’s resolutions can be a healthy way to give you a long-term goal and set expectations for the year, and I think all MLS clubs could use some goal-setting help of their own for 2013. What should the Eastern Conference clubs resolve to do you ask?
Perhaps the only reason the Fire didn’t make it farther in the 2012 post-season is because Dom Kinnear and the Dynamo seem to have Chicago’s proverbial number. The Fire looked great coming down the home stretch, but after a couple of losses during the waning weeks of the regular season, Klopas and company were forced to play the Men in Orange in a one-off match and Kinnear’s boys came to play. If Chicago can minimize the number of matches in which they go to sleep for long periods of time, I see the Fire making it back to the playoffs in 2013 and having a good run.
Maybe this seems unfair. It is, after all, Columbus-freaking-Ohio. But the Crew have a storied history and they are under-performing. Before signing Frederico Higuain in the summer transfer window, I would’ve had trouble naming more than two Crew players (Andy Gruenebaum and Eddie Gaven, by the way). In the second half of the season, they made some ripples, but it wasn’t enough to get them into the postseason. Instead of ripples, Columbus needs to make waves. Waves cause momentum, and well-timed momentum is what gets a team into the playoffs.
Goalkeeper Bill Hamid’s post-game tirades are well-known among MLS followers, especially among DC fans – so much so that United supporters put together a tifo quoting Hamid saying, “They can’t hold us back.” I say: prove it. In 2012, DC not only made the playoffs for the first time in five years, but they also finished third in the league. If DC can fill the hole left by the departure of veteran midfielder Branko Boskovic and make a Frankenstein-esque combination of forwards Hamdi Salihi and Leonard Pajoy (or perhaps sign a DP striker), United will end up back near the top in 2013.
Twice Houston made it from the bottom of the playoff bracket to the MLS Cup final. And twice they lost to the LA Galaxy. Yet the Dynamo are under-appreciated and underestimated. But that seems to be the way they like it. If Brad Davis stays healthy, Will Bruin continues to develop his technique as a goal scorer, the defense stays stout, and Oscar Boniek Garcia keeps up his late-season form, the Dynamo will have a good chance to get back to the MLS Cup final for the third consecutive year. They just need to hope that if they do, the Galaxy aren’t at the other end of the pitch.
…and make Marco Di Vaio and Alessandro Nesta about eight years younger. It’s great that a new expansion team signed veteran, world-class Italian players, but these guys are on the wrong side of 30. Actually, make that the wrong side of 35. But, youngsters like Andrew Wenger, Sanna Nyassi, and Felipe give L’Impact’s faithful hope for a brighter tomorrow, and it’s up to Joey Saputo and company to make the necessary changes to bring more wins to Quebec. First order of business: bring in a head coach that can cultivate L’Impact’s young talent.
This could apply to DC too, and I think both New England and DC will make progress in their search for a new home. At least New England doesn’t have to pay rent to use Gillette Stadium. That said however, I think DC and their new owners made more progress on the new stadium front in 2012 than the New England front office did. And while the Revs’ on-the-field issues certainly need to be addressed, I think that long-term goals like a soccer-specific stadium will take some significant steps forward by this time next year, regardless of the Revs’ on-field performance.
If I had to give the Red Bulls a letter grade for their offseason so far, I would give them a solid “B.” Bringing in ex-RSL stalwarts like Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola are steps in the right direction. Juninho’s no slouch either. Once again, the squad looks good on paper, but that’s the definition of being Metro: big names, big salaries, and underperformance. First job for 2013? Sign the right coach. Bring in someone who knows the North American game and has experience dealing with Major League Soccer and its unique roster rules. Bottom line: this franchise needs a trophy. Now.
Yes, Piotr Nowak screwed the team and its fans before getting the boot midway through the 2012 season. Shipping out fan favorites is generally a no-no – especially when it’s your captain and your scoring leader. But relax Philly fans, you all have a lot to look forward to. John Hackworth looks to be the right man for the job and the Union’s young talent is on the up and up. The Farfans, Zach MacMath, and Jack McInerney will all look to lead this club back to the playoffs in 2013. And don’t forget – the “U” just brought back Sebastian LeToux and signed veteran striker Conor Casey. If Hackworth can keep his players’ and the Sons of Ben’s loyalty, and simultaneously figure out how to get his best eleven on the field, Philly will be a handful for opponents in 2013.
Much like Houston doesn’t want to play LA in the finals, Sporting Kansas City (like Chicago Fire) wants to avoid Houston in the playoffs. That said, SKC is the only team to get a solid “A” in the off-season so far. GM Robb Heineman brought in new South American DP forward Claudio Bieler for some scoring punch up top and kept the league’s most formidable back line intact by wisely resigning 2012 MLS Defender of the Year Matt Besler to a long-term contract. Plus, Benny Feilhaber left New England to join Sporting and compensate for the loss of midfielder Roger Espinoza to BPL’s Wigan. The 2012 US Open Cup victory earned SKC a spot in the CONCAF Champions League, and the squad has a shot at going far in the tournament if they stay healthy. Sporting is my early pick for MLS Cup 2013.
2012 is the year TFC fans want to forget. Who can blame them? And while new president/general manager Kevin Payne (formerly of DC United) is a long-term solution, the Canadian club is in need of a new beginning (and perhaps a shot of whiskey) as they look to earn their first ever MLS playoff appearance. Prevailing gossip claims head coach Paul Mariner has ten games to make a good impression in 2013 or he’s out. If this is the case, the Reds will need to find a head coach they can trust, then give him two or three seasons to make Toronto’s playoff dreams a reality.
– Check out contributing writer Zach Hall at longdistancegoals.com and follow him @LDGoals