OUR analysis man Will Dyer (@w2Dyer) takes an in-depth at all the sides in the MLS Western Conference.
Rapids were probably the busiest franchise in the window aside from the two new clubs. The defence is almost completely different but actually looks quite strong. The only real mainstays are Gabriel Torres, Carlos Alvarez, Marc Burch, Deshorn Brown and Nick LaBrocca. Their understanding of the club should help the new players settle in somewhat but it’s still a big ask.
The Rapids won the MLS Cup in 2010 but such is the up and down nature of soccer in America they haven’t really reached those heights throughout their history and look unlikely to mount any sustained challenge over longer periods of time.
With so many changes you’d expect to see some improvement but Colorado finished second bottom last year conceding 62 goals, the most of all 19 teams last season and whilst they did score a few more that new defence has a lot of compensating to do. Be careful of opposing them at home as they play almost a ‘mile high’ in Commerce City and altitude is on their side.
Season prediction – 9th
Dallas have been quiet since the end of last season. They’ve brought in Canadian Kyle Bekker who could be fairly useful but more exciting is the signing of Atiba Harris from San Jose Earthquakes; he’s a tall and fast winger with an eye for goal.
They have plenty of Home-grown Players (HGP) and a lot of youth coming through so knowing exactly how they will play up front looks tough to call. They favour the 4-2-3-1 that many coaches like in MLS.
Dallas are one of the toughest home sides around but are fairly average in every department. I’m expecting them to be fighting for a top 5 finish but history doesn’t favour them winning anything with only one first place finish and one league final appearance in their history.
Season prediction – 6th
Dynamo had a pretty emotional season last time round with their boss of nine years Dominic Kinnear stepping down after a below par year and heading to San Jose. Owen Coyle now takes the reigns and the Orange have plenty of reasons to be excited about this season. He brings with him his right hand man Sandy Stewart and a passion and knowledge of the game that is probably unrivalled in MLS.
Raul Rodriguez comes in from Espanyol and he should be a great player and should help that back four out which was Dynamo’s greatest problem last year. They conceded the most goals in the Eastern Conference, 58 in 34 games. World Cup veteran and one of the most experienced American players of all time, DaMarcus Beasley remains at the club and he is just one cog in a powerful attack.
With a new defensively strong Head Coach in Owen Coyle and a couple of tweaks this side could be really threatening. Dynamo won the Carolina Challenge Cup in pre-season and I think that’s a sign of what’s to come. Forget last season, this club has a winning mentality and I expect them to be very good under Coyle though winning the Conference would perhaps be a step too far.
Season prediction – 4th
LA’s goal tally of 69 was the highest in the 2014 season and Robbie Keane scored 19 of those proving age is just a number. Gyasi Zardes was another key player. His partnership with the Irishman is the foundation of Los Galacticos’ attack and I would be surprised if the flashy home-grown player outperforms Keane this time round.
Losing a bit of experience in Sarvas and Donovan could have a bit of an effect on the side though they are still very strong in all areas. Jose Villareal scored twice in pre-season and looks likely to make more appearances this season up front. Robbie Keane isn’t getting any younger and I would be surprised to see him equal his 2014 goal tally. 68 goals in just 113 games in the US is incredible.
The strongest defence and the fiercest attack in 2014 makes it pretty hard to oppose LA but they haven’t been able to build on their roster and instead will hope the younger players progress more. They sneaked past Seattle last year but fell short of them in the regular season and I think they will again. A sixth MLS Cup could be pushing it.
Season prediction – 3rd
Finished sixth last year just one point off a play-off spot, they are one of the chasing pack, considerably better than the worst sides but not as good as the top sides in MLS. They were hard to beat last year in fact lost less games than Seattle who won the Conference!
The experienced defender Nat Borchers has joined Portland from RSL, a player with over 200 MLS appearances to his name and has been playing in pre-season so should feature alongside ex-Birmingham City centre-back Liam Ridgewell.
I think they will be decent this year and if they can shore up their defence a little they will be very tough opponents. They get goals from all over the side so watch out for big prices on defenders and midfielders to score. They started very poorly last season but improved a lot and Caleb Porter is no stranger to success. I don’t see them as a serious challenger for the Conference title but they could quite easily cause problems in the play-offs of which I think they will just about qualify for.
Season prediction –5th
Real Salt Lake
The experienced Nat Borchers has left the club and I think his departure will have a negative impact. Ned Grabavoy moves to NYCFC and will also be sorely missed in midfield. His exit is accompanied by veteran Chris Wingert who also goes to New York City, whilst Carlos Salcedo moves to his native Mexico. That’s a lot of good players gone. In total seven players left and only three came in.
Real only conceded 39 goals last year, a feat that was only bettered by LA and DCU. Those defensive changes could hurt them and I’m not completely sure Jamison Olave will be up to the same standard as his previous stint. At home they were W11 D5 L1 in 2014 so look out form them at around Evens when playing good sides they could still do the job. Away from home they are certainly opposable this season.
Real have been playing with the idea of a 4-3-3 formation compared to their normal midfield diamond, this might take some getting used to. Joao Plata is out for a few months with a broken foot and that spells trouble as he was their top scorer last year. However, Alvaro Saborio and Javier Morales are quality players. There’s not much depth at the back and CONCACAF competition could hold them back too. Oppose them when it seems right.
Season prediction – 7th
San Jose Earthquakes
The Earthquakes welcome back former coach Dominic Kinnear to the hot seat this year after some great years in Houston. Atiba Harris has left but in comes Sanna Nyassi who should be a straight swap in the wing department. Other notable incomings are Innocent Emeghara a pacey Swiss forward who’s been around the European scene for a while and could be their answer for a few more goals.
They finished rock-bottom last year managing just six wins and only one on the road. They might be well worth backing to draw games when playing better sides at home or equally weaker sides when on the road. The Goonies, as they are affectionately known, have had a habit of scoring late goals in the last few years so watch out for that if betting in-play.
As usual captain Chris Wondolowski will be instrumental to their season and alongside Innocent Emeghara moving in from Azerbaijan I think they will have a bit more bite about them up front, but I don’t expect much improvement overall and with all the teams improving they might just finished bottom again. It could take a few years until they emulate the heady heights of their 2012 Conference title and 01 and 03 MLS Cups.
Season prediction – 10th
The Sounders won the Western Conference last year and that was no surprise to me with their array of talent. Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey are passionate players that complement each other well and create bundles of chances. Martins averages just over a goal every other game for Seattle whilst Clint Dempsey is arguably the best American footballer at present. Between them they had 32 regular season goals last year. DeAndre Yedlin was terrific in the World Cup and was probably the best home-grown player in MLS but has left for Tottenham Hotspur.
Sounders are not far off a MLS Cup win. I think they might get pipped to first place this time around but I would not be surprised to see them lift the cup.
They are like a bull in a china shop at times and if they have worked on their defending well in the off-season I sense they might go all the way. Meeting LA Galaxy in the 2014 play-offs in Donovan’s last season was always going to be difficult.
Season prediction – 2nd
Sporting Kansas City
I really like this team and I think they will take to the Western Conference like a duck to water. They finished fifth in the East last season and were very strong defensively. In comes Bernardo Anor, a goal scoring winger from Venezuela, Jalil Anibaba is now at Kansas too, he impressed in his time at Seattle last year. Coach Vermes has also brought back Roger Espinoza after his time with Wigan Athletic and if you’d seen Espinoza play for the Latics you’ll see why he wanted him back.
Service from Graham Zusi is first class. Michael Nemeth could be a great addition to the attack after impressing in the Eredivisie for Roda. Mix in the reliable Dwyer and you have a recipe for goals.
One of the main reasons I think Sporting will do well this year is the prolific Dominic Dwyer. People are expecting even more from the English striker and I think he could be the top-scorer in MLS this season. Add to that a brilliant depth in the squad overall, strength at the back and a record of success and I think you have a winning formula.
Season prediction – 1st
Darren Mattocks and Pedro Morales are their biggest threats going forward but there are better offensive players in MLS and I personally think they are quite weak in those positions despite a lot of optimism around the fans and club.
There have been three changes at the back this season with Pa-Modou Kah, Tim Parker and Diego Rodriguez coming in and Johnny Leveron, Andy O’Brien and Carlyle Mitchell going the other way. Two of those outgoing players were starters last year and could be sorely missed because the Whitecaps conceded just 40 goals last season, the second lowest in the West.
Whitecaps have 22 ‘returning players’ which basically means they are staying at the club. That’s a record for Vancouver which in my opinion is not necessarily a good thing as they could do with some improvement up front. Changes at the back might not be the answer either and with promising new kids on the block in the Conference I think they will regress.
Season prediction – 8th
MLS Cup – Sporting Kansas City to win (25/1 Bet365)
MLS Cup – Seattle Sounders to win (11/2 William Hill)
Do you follow MLS? Is Will on the right track? Let us know your thoughts and your best bets for the new season?