Column: A preview of the 2012 MLS Eastern Conference
Chicago Fire – After a horrible start to their 2011 season, (three wins in their first 25 matches) the Fire put together a late run and look to continue this into 2012. The core of the team is back again for 2012 and is supplemented by the additions of striker Federico Puppo who used to play for River Plate, and midfielder Rafael Robayo from Millonarios. The Fire will rely on Sean Johnson, Logan Pause, Marco Pappa and Dominic Oduro to lead them back to the playoffs.
Columbus Crew – The Crew finished last season in ninth place but regressed after winning the Supporters Shield in 2009, and coming fifth in 2010. During the off-season midfielder Robbie Rogers moved on to Leeds United in England, but they brought in Universidad Católica attacking midfielder Milovan MiroševiÄc while they continued to look for someone to replace Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Columbus should get into the playoff but a trip to MLS Cup may be too far for them.
D.C. United – D.C. United collapsed in their final nine matches last season going 1-2-6 to finish in 13th, just seven points off bitter rivals the New York Red Bulls. DCU kept most of their key players, as only Charlie Davies left the club to return to Sochaux. United brought a trio of players from other MLS sides with Robbie Russell, Maicon Santos and Danny Cruz. When DC re-signed Dwayne De Rosario, they made sure that they will continue to improve and should be competing for a playoff spot come the end of the season.
Houston Dynamo – Houston hopes that they can replicate Sporting Kansas City's success from last season when they open their new soccer specific stadium, BBVA Compass Stadium. Starting the season with eight away matches may not be ideal, but if the Dynamo can keep their head above water during the long trip the extended time at home could give them the rest they need to have a great 2012 season. After losing striker Brian Ching to Montreal for a few months, the Dynamo eventually got him back. They will rely on him and Brad Davis to create and score goals so the team can return to the MLS Cup Final.
Montreal Impact – The Montreal Impact are the newest addition to MLS, becoming the 19th team in the league (third from Canada). Montreal may be new to MLS, but the team has been around since 1992, playing in a variety of different leagues including NASL, USL, and the A-League. As is the case with most expansion teams, the Impact are a bit of a mish-mash of players, but Donovan Ricketts, Sanna Nyassi, Justin Mapp, Siniša UbiparipoviÄc and Justin Braun are all solid pieces to build around. The front office has made vague inferences about a big designated player that represents the French-Canadian city, and after a failed attempt at Nicolas Anelka the bar has been set high. If Montreal can find a DP of the quality of Anelka or Drogba, then a playoff appearance should be in the cards for them.
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