MLS Eastern Conference Preview
Published: Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 17:08
Chicago Fire – The Chicago Fire look to rebound after a disappointing 2010 campaign. A busy off-season saw John Thorrington, Freddie Ljungberg, Nery Castillo and captain Brain McBride all move on, while they brought in a pair of Uruguayans and Serbians to bolster the squad. Marco Pappa and new captain Logan Pause will be given a more prominent role this season in absence of last season's stars. The big question for this team is: who will score goals, since last season's scoring leader only had seven goals?
Columbus Crew – The Columbus Crew will look for their fourth straight top two finish in the 2011 season. In the off-season the Crew moved on quite a few starters in an attempt to bring youth onto their side. Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Frankie Hejduk, Steven Lenhart, Brian Carroll and Adam Moffat all left the club while bringing in Jeff Cunningham, Sebastián Miranda and eight other draft picks. The Columbus Crew has become an MLS powerhouse, consistently being MLS Cup challengers, but this season has all the traits of a rebuilding campaign.
D.C. United – The 2011 D.C United team will attempt to rise like a phoenix from the ashes after a dismal 2010 campaign. After finishing dead last (16th) in 2010, DCU retooled in the off-season, bringing in Dax McCarthy, Josh Wolff, Fred, Pat Onstad and third overall pick Perry Kitchen. The biggest off-season move in all of MLS happened in DC when USMNT fan favorite Charlie Davies joined the club on a 12-month loan from Sochaux. Adding all these proven players to a squad, which already featured Branko Bošković, Chris Pontius and Honduran-American wonder kid Andy Najar, sets DC up to be the most improved MLS team in 2011.
Houston Dynamo – The 2011 Houston Dynamo will begin their season in uncharted water as they switch conferences and join the East. This year's team will look to improve after a disappointing 2010 season that saw the team lose Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clarke, both USMNT players. Orange Crush had three first-round draft picks and will need the youth to improve quickly if they hope to compete this season. Led by Brian Ching and Brad Davis, the fans in Houston have grown accustomed to success, and hope last season was just a hiccup and not a trend.
New England Revolution – After two straight third place finishes in the east in ‘08 and '09, the Revs struggled and could only manage a 13th place finish last season. New England's management have long been criticized for their reluctance to spend money on quality players to improve the squad. But this off-season saw the Revs bring a pair of French players in defender Didier Domi from Olympiacos and midfielder Ousmane Dabo from Lazio. All-time leading goal scorer Taylor Twellmen retired and is now the Philadelphia Union color commentator. Again, captain Shalrie Joseph will be heavily relied on and will need to have a huge season if the Revs hope to make the playoffs.
New York Red Bulls – Without a doubt, the New York Red Bulls threw down the gauntlet last year when they signed Thierry Henry and Rafa Márquez. Despite joining the team midseason, the team finished 3rd in MLS and 1st in the East. Now, with a whole off-season to gel, the Red Bulls have set their sights on winning the Supporters Shield and MLS Cup. During the off-season, the Red Bulls were again one of the busiest teams, shipping out 11 players and bringing in nine. The outgoing players were headlined by captain and all-time goal scorer Juan Pablo Ángel being released and fan favorites Mike Petke and Seth Stammler retiring. Additions to the club are Corey Hertzog, Jan Gunnar Solli and Wayne Rooney's brother, John. The 2011 New York Red Bulls are stacked at almost every position but the team has been criticized for not devolving and blooding young American talent, the original purpose of MLS.
Philadelphia Union – Expansion is tough for almost every team and last season was no different for the U. Finishing seventh in the east, the Union struggled to hold down a solid back five all season long and paid the price, giving up 49 goals last season. The Union management acknowledged this and signed Columbian national team goalie Faryd Mondragón and defender Brian Carroll from the Crew to address the issue. Forward Carlos Ruiz was also added to partner with Sébastien Le Toux up top. The Union has built a fairly solid roster and could be the surprise team in 2011.
Sporting Kansas City – The first year after a rebranding is extremely important to show intent to the fans and the rest of the league. But the off-season Sporting Kansas City may not have filled the fans with confidence. They lost captain Jimmy Conrad to Chivas USA and Josh Wolff to DC United. New players Omar Bravo and Júlio César will need to have an immediate impact for SKC to do well. Young forwards Teal Bunbury and Kei Kamara will have a lot of pressure to perform and if these two misfire it could be a long season for Sporting Kansas City.
Toronto FC - Since Toronto FC's inception in 2007 the team has yet to qualify for the playoffs and their best finish has only been 11th place. With fans and management tired of the mediocre play - 14 players left during the 2011 off-season, only brining in eight - the mantra "quality over quantity" seemed to ring true for TFC. Nathan Sturgis and Alan Gordon are the only incoming players with MLS experience, with a trio of Dutch players added to the squad. Again Dwayne De Rosario will have to have a stellar season if TFC expect to get into the playoffs
2011 will be a very exciting year for MLS, with an all-time high number of teams and expansion to an already soccer-crazed Cascadia region. This summer will see MLS's best have a second shot at playing the biggest club on earth: Manchester United, this time in Red Bull Arena. In a league that has been called the most competitive anywhere on earth, the beginning of a season brings hope to every team that it could be them lifting the Cup in November.