Changes in Columbus are one of the many items going on in the east this winter. (Getty Images)

December is about a lot of things to people. You have Christmas and all of that fun festive stuff but for MLS clubs its about getting their rosters in order for the new year. Today I’ll be looking at each club in the Eastern Conference to see what items they need to get to have a better 2011 than they did in 2010. For some clubs the list is rather long while the others could be shorter.

I’ll look at the Western Conference either tomorrow or Wednesday. This is just one of the few things I wanted to touch base on before next week when I’ll be away on holiday.

Chicago Fire

What can we say about the 2010 Chicago Fire? Not much other than the fact that they at least tried to make moves in the midseason to make things work. Carlos de los Cobos never found a lineup that worked for him and with two Designated Players on the roster the team couldn’t afford to do anything extra. But a few things can change to make 2011 all the better and 2010 just a thing of the past for their fans to quickly forget.

  • Find a center back – One thing was certain all season, the once solid Fire defense lacked a punch in the middle. C.J. Brown wasn’t anything what he used to be and is now gone to retirement and if Wilman Conde does leave town it could present a giant hole in the back for the Fire. If they can keep Conde somehow this winter (he’s a free agent so to speak), adding a complimentary part to him would do them wonders.
  • Add a finisher – With Brian McBride gone the club really has limited options up top. Sure they have Nery Castillo or possibly Freddie Ljungberg to play the withdrawn role but they need that main guy up top to finish chances created by their midfield. They could go young here with the draft but if they’re smart they find a cheap yet experienced striker that can gobble up chances in the penalty box.
  • Make Ljungberg happy – I know Freddie can leave and go back to Europe if he pleases but in all honesty he needs to stay with the Fire and the Fire need him to stay. The club looked better with him in the lineup so keeping him should be a priority this winter.
  • Get a plan, stick to it – Its a rebuilding winter for the Fire, no doubt about it but there are plenty of nice pieces in place that if they can come to an agreement on style of play they can easily build around it. They had one of the best drafts last January so duplicating it next month will have to be expected. If they want to be a possession-heavy club they need to build for it now.

Columbus Crew:

It already appears that this winter is a rebuilding phase in the history of the Columbus Crew. They’ve decided to go younger by dumping the likes of Frankie Hejduk and Guillermo Barros Schelotto and by letting guys like Eric Brunner and Adam Moffatt go in the expansion draft. Oh and they’ve also traded a fairly consistent defensive midfielder in Brian Carroll away. So filling these big gaps won’t be easy.

  • Find that leader – With Hejduk and GBS gone the Crew lack that punch of an emotional and experienced leader. More specifically they need that leader and offensive-minded guy in the center of their midfielder now. They need that “Number 10″ guy in their roster to create and keep possession like GBS would do so well.
  • Get some forwards – Columbus could score but just not very well from their forwards these last couple years. Once GBS took over the scoring reign’s I thought it was a bad move for the club. They were far more successful when he was creating chances, not finishing them. I know a goal is a goal no matter who it is from but they need that guy to create and they need a pair of strikers that can finish consistently.
  • Get some speed – Their solid in this on the wings in guys like Robbie Rogers and Emmanuel Ekpo but in the back they lack that speed to stay with clubs like Colorado. Getting speedy wing backs will go a long way in getting this club back to that level their fans have gotten used to over these last couple years.
  • Promote from within – Its time to dip into that youth system. The Crew are one of the few to not sign an academy player to a MLS contract yet they host one of the better academy systems in the league. Its time to find a kid or three to sign and move through the system to the first team. They want to go young, this is the way to do it.

D.C. United

This season for D.C. United was never pretty. As they head into another winter after a disappointing season a few things are clear, they have to re-do what hasn’t been working for them over the last couple years. Maybe not so drastic to hit the reset button but now that they’ve got Ben Olsen as the head coach they can focus on getting his style of players in camp.

  • Find a leader – It could easily be newcomer Dax McCarty. The ginger had some troubling times in Dallas but showed himself to be a leader when needed for Schellas Hyndman. Now in D.C. he could be just the guy to take over the role as field general.
  • Get a goalscorer, not from South America – I’m not saying they stay away from South America this winter all together but lately their trips down south have yielded them nothing but headaches and big contracts. Time to scout differently if they do go down there as they need a scorer, one that can hit from all angles and sides like Luciano Emilio first did when he came to the club a few years back.
  • Dip into the Academy – We’ve seen how successful they’ve been with the likes of Bill Hamid and Andy Najar. With the restrictions gone on the academy signings why not dip into it a bit further. Start with Maryland’s Ethan White, sign him before the SuperDraft and add one or two more after him.
  • Patch the defense – With Clyde Simms and McCarty in the midfield now the pressure should be a little bit better on the United backline. Still it has to improve. Finding a couple quality backs will go a long way in getting this club back to the playoffs.

New England Revolution

Just like most clubs in the eastern conference, the Revs had a bad 2010. If it weren’t the vast amounts of injuries it was an offense that couldn’t score or a defense that couldn’t hold up. Either way you look at it the Revs needed this offseason more than they’d probably like to admit to get healthy and to retool their lineup to fit a MLS that looks to have passed them by a bit.

  • Draft smart – The Revs always draft smarter than most teams in MLS but it seemed like in 2010 their draft wasn’t what it used to be. They snagged a couple decent players but nothing like they had before. Time to reset and get back to what they did best in the draft. Getting quality defenders and underrated attackers to do amazing things.
  • Sign a couple proven strikers - I hate saying it but they waited too long to replace Taylor Twellman these last couple seasons. Doing so ensured them they’d remain limited up top with their options. Either go out and get a quality scorer or go home. They really need a pair of strikers out of this offseason, one maybe even needs to be a DP.
  • Go back to Africa - Their scouting of players in Africa proved to be a smart move a couple years ago but it seems like they went away from it more last year. Time to go back and find some cheap yet quality players in that part of the globe.
  • About that DP – They said they’d sign at least one if not two but they must make sure they sign ones that fit Nicol’s system. Just signing a “name” to sell tickets doesn’t cut it like we’ve seen before with clubs and DPs. In other words they need the less sexy DP to score goals and win games than the ones that just sell tickets.

New York Red Bulls

This season was a big step forward for the Red Bulls. Hans Backe and company improved on one of the worst seasons in league history to make the playoffs and win the eastern conference. Still injuries and some sloppy play kept them from reaching their full potential.

  • Get a true playmaker - The goal scoring is there in Thierry Henry and even potentially with Juan Agudelo. But now that Juan Pablo Angel is out of the picture it is time to find a guy in the midfield to create chances and allow Rafa Marquez to focus more on the defensive side of the ball in the midfield.
  • Improve the backline – Yes Tim Ream was an amazing rookie but for me it stopped there on the backline. Carlos Mendes played decent at times as did Mike Petke who is now retired. With Ream being the main consistent part of the defense Backe must figure out who to pair him up with and also find guys on the outside to improve that area.
  • Find another keeper – I like Bouna Coundol as a person but not as a starting keeper. He got bailed out plenty of times this past season and I always imagined he was one blunder away from costing his club big time in the post season. I don’t believe you can win consistently in this league with a keeper like Coundol either, you need someone more consistent to his post and someone that doesn’t cost you games with silly mistakes.
  • Continue to develop from within – We hear a lot about how good the Red Bull academy is, well I think it is high time that we see it more in action. They’ve made a couple signings but I think they need to take it to the next level in 2011 by signing a couple more. You never know when lightening could strike again for this club.

Philadelphia Union

I think the expansion season for the Union went about what most folks expected. Not Seattle/Chicago-good but not Chivas/RSL-bad. There are plenty of things they can still do to improve going into their sophomore campaign.

  • Sort out the keeper situation – We know Chris Seitz, a guy tabbed as a big part of their franchise is no longer with them. That leaves Brad Knighton and potentially 39-year old Colombian keeper Faryd Mondragon. Sorting out probably one of their bigger messes from 2010 has to be done sooner rather than later.
  • Continue to draft well – Peter Nowak and company knocked a grand slam out of the park last January at the SuperDraft. Duplicating that next month won’t be easy but if they stick to their roster style then it shouldn’t be too hard for them to find a gem or two.
  • Build around Le Toux – He’s your guy Philly, reward him both in pay and with players around him. Anytime you have a guy that scores 14 and sets up another 11 you have to reward him. But giving him more options up top to play to in 2011 will go a long way in keeping him happy and wanting to stay in Philly.
  • Improve the D – This area got better over time in 2010 but it still has its issues. Finding some outside back help with speed will go a long way in improving this bunch in 2011.

Sporting Kansas City

We already know the offseason for Kansas City is all about the new brand. Well that’s good because they have a lot of work to do from building off their 2010 season that saw it’s shares of ups and downs. This past season could be split into a couple sections; a hot start, a long early summer drought, a late summer surge, and a fall collapse.

  • Improve the central defense – The talent was there in 2010 defensively for KC. But in the middle things lacked a bit and with Jimmy Conrad potentially on the way out via the Re-Entry system, Sporting needs to find a leader in the back to replace Conrad and to improve an area that caused them to slip up in games.
  • Build on the Bunbury-Karma-Smith package – When Teal Bunbury finally came on strong late in his rookie season it helped make Kei Kamara that much more dangerous and it allowed Ryan Smith more freedom on the wings. Throwing in Omar Bravo to this mix will be good but challenging for Peter Vermes as he needs to find a balance for the four to do what they all do best.
  • Build to that high-pressure style - When KC saw success in the late summer it was due to their high pressure out of Smith and their midfield. When the pressure went away late in the season so did their playoff chances. They need a guy in the midfield to be that motor that keeps possession in their favor and keeps their defense free for more movement.
  • Make Bravo MLS-ready - A lot will be expected out of Bravo this year as a DP but this winter is all about getting him ready and fit for the MLS style of play. KC has a chance to do what few teams have been able to do with DPs, bring them in before the season starts and get them used to their style of play.

Toronto FC

2010 was expected to be a big year in Toronto. First they got the Canadian Championship and won a birth into the group phase of the CONCACAF Champions League. But the summer hit and things went crazy with this bunch. Mo Johnston and Preki clashed and both exited and the club went down hill from there.

  • Make De-Ro happy - He’s your guy, keep him happy and reward him for it. Also build around him and his style of play too will go a long way.
  • Find a coach for the long-term – Two things with this one really, not just a coach for the long-term but be patient with that coach. Look at what Colorado and Dallas have done with their coaches, it was rough at the start but after a couple seasons they’ve built their teams into winners. Jurgen Klinnsman needs to find a “Toronto guy” for the club and one that the fans can support and keep the owners happy.
  • Speed – I felt they were one of the slower teams in the league last year and due to that lack of speed was a team that got burnt on the wings a lot. They have a couple young guys that are fast but build with speed around the edges will go a long way in improving this club.
  • Find depth – This is for all areas but mainly for their offense. I believe the defense can get better with depth but offensively they’ve been a mess due to their busy schedules and for the lack of talent that they’ve had up top recently. Finding guys who can score and create are vital.