MLS 2010 Preview pt2: Shock of the new
With the MLS set to kick off on Thursday, FFT.com's Stateside expert Jason Davis introduces the rest of the Eastern Conference
Yesterday we looked at four Eastern Conference teams: title contenders Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire plus historically successful outfits New England Revolution and DC United. The rest of the Eastern Conference is a morass of teams looking to either break through or recapture former glories (although if weÃ¢ÂÂre being honest, the Revs and DC United also fall into that latter group.)
New York Red Bulls will be a focus of much attention this season, but largely due to their new stadium. Red Bull Arena, $200 million in the making and apparently worth every penny, opened to great fanfare with a game against legendary Brazilian side Santos.
But if they're to match the grandness of their new ground, the Red Bull on-field product will need to improve dramatically (try one or two hundred times over), considering that they came within a whisker of the worst record in the history of the league in 2009.
Juan Pablo Angel is the club's biggest name and star attraction, though rumours of a high-priced signing have been swirling around the team for months. A few of the honoured: Thierry Henry, Raul, and most recently, Ze Roberto.
Christening the stadium with Brazilians
Up to Canada Ã¢ÂÂ yes, MLS has teams in TWO countries; Celtic and Rangers should be jealous Ã¢ÂÂ where Toronto FC is brilliantly supported and desperate for a first play-off appearance. The club is heading into year four with new head coach Preki, who moved over from Chivas USA in the off-season.
Toronto has ample talent in former league Most Valuable Player Dwayne DeRosario and La Liga veteran Julian de Guzman (both Canadians, by the way), but suffers from deficiencies up front and along the back line. It's a new coach and a new surface, since TFC dumped the plastic grass in favour of the real stuff during the break as well. It was by far their best acquisition heading into 2010.
Oh, it's quiet now...
There's not much to say about the Kansas City Wizards, funny name notwithstanding. A team in apparent transition, the Wizards dumped their manager (Curt Onalfo, now with DC United) and starting goalkeeper (Kevin Hartman, now with FC Dallas) while making wholesale changes to a squad that finished sixth in the Eastern Conference.
The best thing the Wizards have going for them is construction on a new stadium. Kansas City currently plays in a minor league baseball stadium that seats just over 10,000; now if the Wizards could only find a decent second baseman...
Stick with me: Josh Wolff and Davy Arnaud survived the cull
That leaves for last in the East the newest kids on the block; the Philadelphia Union, aptly named in a town known for its blue-collar ethic, begin play as an expansion franchise.
The club called up MLS veteran Piotr Nowak to manage the team and culled reasonable talent from around the league through an expansion draft (in which the other league clubs were required to make a certain number of their players available to be taken by the Union; remember, in MLS, the league holds the contracts).
Still, expansion teams generally struggle, and though the Union have a pre-installed passionate supporters' group in the Sons of Ben, they're sure to experience growing pains. A new stadium of their own should help, but since it won't be ready until June, they'll play their first few home matches at the home of the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles.
Exultant fans celebrate Union's acceptance into the MLS
Tomorrow: Western Conference, Pt 1