The countdown to first kick continues to wind down into the final days as we continue our preview of the 2014 MLS season. Next up in our series of preview articles is a look at some of the biggest story-lines that four of our writers are going to be following this season. Surprisingly, there are other interesting stories to watch this year than the last go round for Chivas USA.
Definitely Chivas USA. Yes, the old owners made MLSE look good, but being owned and run by the league is a bit of an out of the frying pan and into the fire situation, there's massive potential for it to be just as dysfunctional in a different way this season. Hopefully new ownership comes along sooner rather than later. When that does happen though, we're then into devil you don't know category, the league is talking a big game about keeping them in L.A but will the new owners want to go with that, even if they abandon the rest of the Chivas connection?
Real Salt Lake, and NYCFC. Under Jason Kreis, RSL were a model of stability and steadiness. Appointing former assistant Jeff Cassar seems like a continuation of that stability, but can they just keep going under Kassar, or was Kreis' influence big enough to be seriously missed. As for Kreis, I can't imagine he and New York will just sit idly by twiddling their thumbs waiting for next season, how they go about building the foundations of the club, ie the stadium, academy stuff, coaching staff, perhaps even players will be something to watch given their resources.
I expect a lot of people will say Chivas USA but I'm going with DC United, our rivals (along with Chivas) for the worst teams ever in MLS history - can you imagine the tournament of futility that would be? However, DCU has made some interesting moves in the off season; the most intriguing being the signing of disgruntled former Sounders striker Eddie Johnson - EJ (along with the rest of the team) will be looking to prove to the rest of the league that last year was an aberration. Plus, Nana Attakora!
Seattle - Clint Dempsey's return to MLS was underwhelming and Seattle's struggles last season nearly cost Coach Sigi Schmid his job. The Sounders front office and fans alike think highly of their place in the league and merely making the playoffs is not nearly enough to satisfy their desires. Can Deuce find his footing after a meek loan to Fulham instead of a preseason, or will Seattle part ways with the only coach they've known before it ends?
Salt Lake - Real Salt Lake have been the darlings of the league since their shock run to the MLS Cup back in 2009. One half of the brain-trust, Jason Kreis, has seen his time at the club come to an end, departing to take the helm of NYC FC, and the effect of his departure from a club who puts the team first leaves many questions hanging. Namely, will the relatively unknown Jeff Cassar easily fill those dapper shoes?
It is a bit of an artificial story-line but one thing that I will be watching closely this year is how things play out between the have's and the have not's. The teams that are operating on smaller budgets always love to stick it to the big spenders and show them that there are better ways to build a team than just spending money. The likes of the Philadelphia Union and Columbus Crew who pride themselves on what they consider wise spending will be gunning for the likes of Toronto FC, LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, and New York Red Bulls and it should be fun to watch just which style of team building comes out on top even if in reality every competitive team in MLS is at least going to be around the salary cap and all of them have designated players so it is hard to say that any clubs are not spending money even if they don't quite splash around 10's of millions of dollars at a time.
The East vs the West - The Western Conference has a lot of strong teams. In fact, there could be a very good team that winds up missing the playoffs this season because of the depth of that field. With Seattle, Portland, LA, RSL likely to be in the top four it leaves solid teams like the Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas, San Jose Earthquakes and the Vancouver Whitecaps likely fighting just to make the playoffs. So with all that depth of talent one would think the West is easily the better conference but the catch there is that in 2014 the four big trophies all went to Eastern conference teams. D.C. United brought home the US Open Cup, the Montreal Impact won the Voyageurs Cup, New York Red Bulls claimed the Supporters Shield, and Sporting Kansas City won the MLS Cup. Not bad for the supposedly much weaker conference. I doubt the East repeats that trophy haul in 2014 but the best teams in the conference should still be in the mix for the major trophies even if the field is not quite as strong from top to bottom. This is another manufactured narrative for those who love to claim how hard their conference is to explain their position in the table but it is always an interesting one to follow.