MLS 2010 Preview pt3: Classic Westerns
The MLS kicks off on Thursday; let our Stateside expert Jason Davis introduce the teams from way out West...
So far, you've met the Eastern Conference teams. Now it's time to turn our attention further West, to the conference from which most of the MLS Cup winners have come...
Eastern Conference Pt 1: Columbus Crew, Chicago Fire, New England Revolution & DC UnitedEastern Conference Pt 2: Toronto FC, Kansas City Wizards, New York Red Bulls & Philadelphia Union
Out west, the eye is naturally drawn to the LA Galaxy, for better or for worse (most fans around the league think the latter). "Beckham's team", as they're surely known outside of the US, have yo-yo'd from terrible in 2008 to runners-up in 2009, only losing out to Real Salt Lake on penalties in the final of the MLS Cup.
(Remember, that's the end-of-season play-offs which decide the overall champions; those who eventually top the league which decides the play-off contenders are given the Supporters Shield. For more explanation, see MLS: The Structure.)
Though the Galaxy do get the boost of Landon Donovan returning from his English sojourn with Everton, they now know they'll have to face most, if not all, of the season without their English star Ã¢ÂÂ I mean Beckham, not Chris Birchall; obviously, he's Trinidadian.
Former US national team manager Bruce Arena remains at the helm for one of the league's flagship franchises, and will hope to replicate the 2009 success with the likes of Edson Buddle (five goals last season) and a strong defence led by Jamaica international and ex-Bradford City keeper Donovan Ricketts.
Galaxy: Western champions 2009
How the MLS Cup champions of 2009 get second billing is a mystery, even to me; nevertheless, Real Salt Lake aren't what one would call an exciting side, and their run to Cup glory last year might be termed a bit of a fluke. Play-off qualifiers through the wildcard places, RSL switched over to the Eastern Conference for the second season and found their form at the perfect time.
They have a rising young coach in former MLSer Jason Kreis, their own Argentine midfield maestro in Javier Morales, and American internationals in defensive-minded midfielder Kyle Beckerman (notable for his epic dreadlocks) and young, speedy striker Robbie Findley. Despite their underwhelming record in 2009, the championship and returning quality makes RSL a dangerous team for the new year.
No name jokes from me, unfortunately Ã¢ÂÂ "Real Salt Lake" just makes me sad, to be honest Ã¢ÂÂ but you're more than welcome to have a go yourself.
Real pride: RSL celebrate shootout victory last season
Moving on to the Houston Dynamo, one of the league's perennial powerhouses. Formerly the San Jose Earthquakes (of which more later), the Dynamo moved to Houston in 2006 and proceeded to win back-to-back MLS Cup titles.
Managed by Scottish-born ex-US international Dominic Kinnear, generally regarded as one of the top coaches in the league, Houston made the Western Conference Final last year, losing out to both the LA Galaxy and the Home Depot Center lights Ã¢ÂÂ they went out more than once during the match, and just when Houston were bossing things...
Turnover is an issue for the men in orange in 2010, with the loss of their two central midfield stars Stuart Holden (to Bolton Wanderers) and Ricardo Clark (Eintracht Frankfurt). If anyone can find a way to fill the holes it's Kinnear, though less than usual will be expected of the Dynamo in 2010.
Double fantasy: Champions again in 2007
Houston's Texan neighbour to the north is FC Dallas. FCD finished strongly in 2009 on the back of Jeff Cunningham's Golden Boot-winning performance (17 goals in 28 appearances), but ultimately failed to make the play-offs.
The club has a nice purpose-built stadium (something still somewhat noteworthy in the States) way out in the middle of nowhere, draws poorly in part because of that, and seemingly lacks a coherent tactical strategy much of the time.
But the squad does have young talent (FC Dallas has a number of American youth internationals), and could be something of a surprise should a few of them mature.
Hit the Hut: Soccer-specific Pizza Hut Park
Other teams: Eastern Conference Pt 1: Columbus Crew, Chicago Fire, New England Revolution & DC United Eastern Conference Pt 2: Toronto FC, Kansas City Wizards, New York Red Bulls & Philadelphia UnionWestern Conference Pt 2: San Jose Earthquakes, Chivas USA, Colorado Rapids & Seattle Sounders