MLS Eastern Conference preview, part one
Major League Soccer finally begins life without David Beckham, or as I call it Year 1 A.B. - this Saturday when 12 of the 19 teams kickoff their league campaigns.
MLS is reaching a milestone in 2013, finally turning 18. And with the age of legal adulthood comes more responsibility. The league and its core group of passionate fans has come into 2013 unapologetic to those who dismiss it and at the same time welcome with open arms any new fans it earns.
Without a doubt the level of play in MLS has shot up exponentially in the last five years and fan attendance is at an all time high (with average attendances higher than the NBA and NHL).
MLS Eastern Conference Preview Part 1
Chicago Fire - After finishing 4th in the Eastern conference in 2012, the Chicago Fire look to continue to steadily climb towards a MLS Cup which would be the clubs second. During the off-season the Fire added much more than they lost; as they brought in reserve striker Maicon Santos, the industrious left midfielder Joel Lindpere, defensive midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, and left winger Dilly Duka. The Fire didn't lose much in the off-season, just third leading scorer Dominic Oduro who joined the Columbus Crew. Consistency will be the name of the game for the Fire in 2013, but a similar finish to last season should be expected.
Columbus Crew - The 2013 Columbus Crew will look to rebound after a disappointing 2012, which was their first season in five years that didn't result in a playoff birth. The Crew got rid of some dead weight during the off-season, when they let go of 11 players including Emilio RenterÃa, and Milovan MiroÅ¡eviÄc who were both disappointments in 2012. Star striker Federico HiguaÃn will have all season to work his magic but will need center back Chad Marshall to find his form like he did in 2008 and 2009 when he was named MLS Defender of The Year, if the Crew hope to win an MLS Cup.
D.C. United - 2013 marks the first time in MLS history that D.C. United do not enter a season (other than the first) as the leagues most successful team. Last season the L.A. Galaxy finally caught up to D.C.'s four MLS title tally, but head coach Ben Olsen will look to quickly recapture the top spot. After finishing 2nd in the East in 2012, D.C. lost attacking mid Branko BoÅ¡koviÄc to Rapid Vienna and young star Andy Najar to Anderlecht in Belgium and failed to add any major pieces. D.C.'s season will directly be influenced by the growth of young players like Nick DeLeon and Perry Kitchen.
Houston Dynamo - The Houston Dynamo have been the losing finalists of the last two MLS Cups and will look to finally get over the hurdle in 2013 using primarily the same team. Last season was focused on opening the new BBVA Compass Stadium, which caused the Dynamo to be on the road for their first seven matches, but also allowed them to have many home matches come the end of the season and gain momentum heading into the playoffs. In 2013 the American trio of Ricardo Clark, Brad Davis and Will Bruin will all need to stay healthy and play at a consistently high level for the Dynamo to win their third MLS Cup.
Montreal Impact - The Montreal Impact had some growing pains last season in their inaugural MLS campaign, finishing in 7th in the East and failing to make the playoffs. New Swiss head coach Marco SchÃ¤llibaum reflects the Euro-centric makeup of this team that owner Joey Saputo wants to reflect the make up of Montreal. The playing style will be typically Italian, relying on great defenders like Alessandro Nesta and Nelson Rivas, and then counter attacking with Marco Di Vaio as the point in a 4-2-3-1. Like always Montreal will be looking for another big name in the transfer market, and perhaps will find the missing piece in the puzzle to earn a playoff birth.
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