There'll be celebratory pies aplenty for Kevin Hartman at the end of the season.
After being rudely pre-empted by this week's Concacaf Champions League action, MLS is finally ready to hog the spotlight, with 8 games this weekend (though very considerately no Toronto FC game). These include the all Canadian glamour tie of Montreal's first game, in Vancouver, LA with what should be a very good game (if it can also be tiring and full of minor injuries, well, I won't complain) against Real Salt Lake, and erm, Colorado v Columbus, yeah I'll be looking out for that one.
As is traditional, and as you've no doubt already seen in many different places, it's time for a season preview, including predictions of where the teams will finish. Looking back at my efforts last year, I didn't do badly at all, so for the Western preview at least (Dave's doing the East) I'm going to stick with the same format, which is no research, no googling as I write this. Just my impressions from last year and whatever happened in the off-season that was big enough for me to notice and remember, getting progressively drunker as I write this on Friday night. Let's do it.
1. Real Salt Lake.
Last year's CCL involvement really messed up their schedule to start the year, they don't have that problem this year, and even the 2012/13 CCL shouldn't be that much a problem as it'll only be 4 extra games at the end of the year. They've still got the home field advantage of Rio Tinto Stadium's altitude, they've still got Nick Rimando, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers and the rest of the league's best defence. I can't remember any of their off season acquisitions, but getting Javier Morales back from injury will be all the help they'll need.
2. LA Galaxy.
Chad Barrett, Robbie Keane, Edson Buddle, Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Juninho etc etc, it's a wealth of attacking talent, but Omar Gonzalez's injury will cause all sorts of problems at the back against teams brave enough to have a go at them. The reigning Supporters Shield and MLS Cup winners had a fabulous salary cap defying off season, aside from that Gonzalez injury, bringing back Juninho and Leonardo and adding Edson Buddle while only getting rid of aging expensive players like Frankie Hejduk and the no longer needed Donovan Ricketts. They'll be the team to beat again, but that defence will cost them plenty of points through the season.
3. Seattle Sounders.
They just keep going really don't they? It'll be another successful season for the Sounders, at least until they make the playoffs, though I do think they'll at least win a round this year. Michael Gspurning should be an adequate replacement for Kasey Keller, and upfront, there's the return from injury of Steve Zakuani and the gamble they took on Eddie Johnson. One of those two should pay off nicely and when added to Fredy Montero and Mauro Rosales they'll form a potent attack. Defence remains a bit of an issue, and a busy schedule will cause problems but they'll get their usual high finish in the West, and keep the supporters annoyingly full of themselves, though I think they'll actually lose the US Open Cup and finish trophyless this year.
4. FC Dallas.
After an MLS Cup final appearance in 2010, they looked good last year before fading fast. There'll be no CCL distractions this year which will definitely help, as will the return of David Ferreira. I can't think of anyone they signed who'd have an impact, and I somehow doubt they'll be ruing the loss of Jeremy Hall or Maicon Santos. If Brek Shea spends significant time with the U.S Olympic team, that'll hurt them, but they'll have enough for a solid mid table finish, wild card spot and surprising run to MLS Cup Champions. Yeah, that's right, champions.
A good but not great first season last year will be built upon and they'll clinch a first playoff spot, though only a wild card spot due to being in the West. Losing Kenny Cooper will be more than made up for with the signing of Kris Boyd, and the man with the greatest first name in MLS, Darlington Nagbe will also improve to being a 10+ goalscorer. They'll improve away from home, but it's obviously their Jeld-Wen form that will carry them to a wild card spot. Unfortunately that game will be played away, and they'll lose it.
After a hilariously bad first season, Tommy Soehn has retreated back behind the scenes and Martin Rennie seems like he knows what he's doing. At first it looked like he was just bringing in his favourites from the NASL, but then all of a sudden they got serious, with defensive improvements in the sake of the man with the best last name in MLS, Martin Bonjour, and Young Pyo lee (broke my rule, had to look up his name). Add in Sebastian le Toux up front with Eric Hassli and Camilo, and Barry Robson coming over when he's done with Middlesbrough (though wasn't signing kinda over the hill British guys laughed at when Mo Johnston did it?) and things look quite good. Of course a lot of people thought the Whitecaps were geniuses last year as well, and look how that ended up. They'll be improved, and would probably cruise to a playoff spot in the East, but 6th is the best they'll do out West.
7. Colorado Rapids.
From MLS Cup champs to conference semi final losers, the descent will continue and they'll find themselves out of the playoffs. Manager Gary Smith is gone, as are Macoumba Kandji and Caleb Folan, but the late addition of Martin Rivero salvaged a sleepy off season. Basically they're still going to be very reliant on Conor Casey, and I think that particular plan is past it's sell by date, even if he does stay fit all season. Altitude will be nice to them, but they won't be anywhere near competing in the West.
Is Frank Yallop still going? He is? Well ok then. Bobby Convey's gone and all I really noticed was a lot of MLS mediocrity coming in (Shea Salinas) and going out (Jacob 'Captain America' Peterson). Presumably they've still got Alan Gordon, I'm a big fan of his, if he can get a good partnership going with Chris Wondolowski they'll have a chance. It won't happen for them though, and they'll be left clinging on to the promise of a new stadium as the one shiny good thing left to look forward to.
9. Chivas USA
They re-signed Juan Pablo Angel, that's a good thing. Aside from that? Yeah, I got nothing. They did some minor trading around the expansion draft, but they'll be nowhere close to being a contending team, finishing last overall, even worse than the Revs, even if Nick Labrocca continues his all star form..
Playoffs, Dallas will beat Portland in the Wild Card game. Dallas will beat Salt Lake and Seattle will beat L.A. Dallas will beat Seattle and go on to beat the East's representative in the final.