It is time to get down to it. I’ve already gone through each MLS side, along with several other previews. But now it is time to get down to where I think things will shake out once the dust settles later this year.
Yes, I am talking predictions folks.
First up is the Eastern Conference.
Right now I see the Eastern Conference as a pretty deep group of clubs. I feel confident that it could end up being a eight team race for the long haul of the season. Yes, eight teams folks. I think the top part of the conference is pretty well stacked but the middle group from about 3-8 is closer than some might think.
I won’t go into whether or not this is a better conference than the West. I’ll let the play on the field for a few months decide that.
So where we go, my 2013 predictions for order of finish in the Eastern Conference.
1. Sporting Kansas City
There are some slight concerns with this team in my mind with the loss of Roger Espinoza and Kei Kamara but I love what this team did this offseason. Adding Claudio Beiler and Benny Feilhaber was a win, not to mention landing Ike Opara in a swap with San Jose was clever as well. If the club can navigate the tricky summer months where Graham Zusi, Matt Belser and Feilhaber are out with Gold Cup duties and figuring out how to deal with the CCL in the fall, they’ll be set. They have the depth to do it in my mind and as long as injuries don’t creep up I think they are a contender for the Supporters’ Shield.
2. Houston Dynamo
Houston is right there on SKC’s heels. I was a huge fan of what Dominic Kinnear was able to pull off this offseason. I do have some slight concerns over their defensive depth but other than that I think this team is solid top to bottom. Also, I fully expect a huge year out of Will Bruin, he is a dark horse in my mind to win the league’s Golden Boot.
3. D.C. United
Call me nuts but adding Carlos Ruiz may very well work for Ben Olsen’s club. They also got some clever pickups this offseason in Casey Townsend, James Riley, and journeyman John Thorrington. If Rafeal can be say as half as good of a young DP as FC Dallas’ Fabian Castillo, then I see this club doing very well yet again. A lot will be riding on Dwayne De Rosario to stay healthy and Nick DeLeon to continue improving in his second season. But overall, I like this team and where they are going.
4. Chicago Fire
Another team that I think made good strides in the offseason was the Fire. Adding Joel Lindpere and Jeff Larentowicz was very smart. But don’t sleep on the addition of Dilly Duka either. I think he’ll do very well in Chicago now that he is out of Columbus. I do have concerns about the lack of depth up front to score. If they can sort those issues out this season and prove they can hang with the big boys of the league, then I expect them to be in the thick of things all year long.
5. New York Red Bulls
I see some growth spurts and pains in Mike Petke’s first year. But truth be told, I like where New York is headed after this offseason. Petke will have his bumps but with veterans like Thierry Henry and now Juninho, I think this team could easily contend yet again in 2012. Their depth is still a question mark and the big if in my mind is if Tim Cahill will finally show up to play. I think he will but we have to see it. Also, how the club does in the summer transfer window may be key to whether or not they are a contender or a pretender.
6. Columbus Crew
I keep going back and forth on this club. One day I have them as high as four and the next as low as eight. So six seems about right for this piece. They made a ton of moves and added more South American flare across the field. The big question will be if Jairo Arreita and Federico Higuain can handle the full season with teams starting to figure them both out. The key in my mind though is Eddie Gavin. If he can step up even more this season and be the leader that I think he is capable of being, this will be a playoff team.
7. Philadelphia Union
The Union are another team that I keep going back and forth on. I think they are right there but they just need one final piece to the puzzle to really set them over the top. I love the additions of Conor Casey and bringing Sebastien Le Toux back. The defense should be better with Jeff Parke as well. Depth is still a concern and what they do about Freddy Adu may continue to dominate the headlines, not to mention their salary cap situation.
8. Montreal Impact
One day I think I could see them make the playoffs then the next I have them as far as this spot. So what gives? To me, it is their style of play. The relying on being a counter attack team can only take you so far in MLS. I think teams will be able to figure them out fairly quickly in that regard too. They do have some talent but their depth up front is a concern. Should Marco Di Vaio be hurt for any extended time, I worry that they don’t have an experience attacker that can replace him just yet.
9. New England Revolution
The Revs will be better in year two under Jay Heaps. They will. But the Eastern Conference is super crowded now. I think they’ll compete with teams and potentially be way better than this with a better defense but there are a lot of “ifs” in my mind that hold me back. Their offense needs a little more punch to it in my mind with Saer Sene out and Jerry Bengston going cold from time to time. Their midfield needs a true number 10 too in my mind. Again, they’ll be better but standings wise I don’t know how much.
10. Toronto FC
Will Toronto win more than five games in 2013? I think so. But I don’t see them escaping the cellar just yet. They certainly didn’t do enough in the offseason to suggest that they will be better offensively. And while their defense looks better on paper, will the midfield in front of them actually keep some pressure off of them? Too many questions still surround how Ryan Nelsen will actually coach this team too.