2014 Season Previews

Season Preview: San Jose Earthquakes by Drew Olsen

Soccer in San Jose has a unique history, going back to the Clash earning MLS’s first ever victory in 1996. The franchise changed its name to the Earthquakes in 1999, and a few years later it started winning MLS Cups thanks to a Landon Donovan-sized gift from Bayer Leverkusen. A young Donovan helped to lead San Jose to MLS Cup wins in 2001 and 2003. But after the 2005 season, the ownership group grew tired of failing to embezzle funds from Silicon Valley’s tax payers and moved head coach Dominic Kinnear and the rest of the team to Houston. The Earthquakes were not reborn until the 2008 season, and since then they have been mired in a streak of mostly 6th and 7th-place finishes, with an out-of-the-blue, historic 2012 season sprinkled in.1

2013 Starting XI

SJ11

Transactions

Player Added Position From   Player Lost Position To
Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi M Out of nowhere Ramiro Corrales M Retired
Atiba Harris F Trade from Colorado Nana Attakora D Option declined
Billy Schuler F Weighted lottery Dan Gargan D Option declined
Tommy Thompson M Homegrown Marcus Tracy F Option declined
Shaun Francis D Re-Entry Stage 2 Evan Newton GK Option declined
Brandon Barklage D Re-Entry Stage 2 Peter McGlynn D Option declined
Bryan Meredith GK Free Cesar Diaz Pizarro F Option declined
J.J. Koval M SuperDraft Mehdi Ballouchy M Out of contract
Justin Morrow D Traded to Toronto FC
Rafael Baca M Transferred to Cruz Azul
Jaime Alas M Loan expired
Marvin Chávez M Traded to Colorado
Steven Beitashour D Traded to Vancouver

Roster churn: San Jose returns 68.8% of its minutes played from 2013, 14th in MLS and 6th in the Western Conference.

2014 Preview

SanJoseINFOComing off a 72-goal, 66-point performance in 2012’s regular season, many thought San Jose would likely find the playoffs again, and even be in the running for an MLS Cup Trophy. But 2013 saw the Earthquakes miss out on the playoffs completely, abruptly ending their hot run during the second half of the season. Striker Chris Wondolowski’s past two seasons mirrored those of the team, eclipsing the league in 2012 with 27 goals, and then failing to reach half that tally in 2013. Our upgraded shot locations data suggest that Wondo scored just 88.5 percent of the goals that a league-average player would be expected San Jose's 2014 Rosterto score based on his shot opportunities. Will 2014 see the return of Wondolowski and San Jose to one of the top seeds in the West, or will it prove to be the franchise that has placed 6th or 7th in five of the past six seasons?

San Jose was a perplexing club from a statistical standpoint last season. Our expected goal differential statistics (xGD) really liked the fact that the Earthquakes earned 4.8 shots per game from zone 2---the dangerous area around the penalty spot---which was good for second best in the entire league. San Jose finished with the league’s third-best xGD at +6.8. Those metrics seem to suggest that the second half of last season, when San Jose earned 33 points over 17 games, was more representative of their true ability. Indeed, it's worth noting that San Jose has been one of the best teams in the league for three-quarters of the past two seasons.

Before we get moving too quickly, though, we have some new data to bring the Goonies partway back to earth. This year’s version of shot locations data will break shots down by how they were taken, specifically headed versus kicked. With almost all the data in, now, it turns out that San Jose took nearly 23 percent of all its shots as headers---second only to Seattle---but headers are finished at about half the rate of kicked shots. The upgraded xGD 2.0 pegged the Earthquakes at an xGD of about +2.0 in 2013, which placed them fifth in the West. Fitting, as our readers picked San Jose to finish 5th in this coming season.

Of course, statistics from last year have a hard time determining the effect of losing players like Steve Beitashour and Marvin Chávez (the team’s assist leader in 2012). The major scoring pieces are still there in Wondolowski, Alan Gordon, and Steven Lenhart, but it’s harder to peg down the importance and replaceability of those midfielders and defenders.

If San Jose can continue to generate dangerous opportunities, as they have in each of the past two seasons, then look for the Earthquakes to regain a playoff spot in 2014.

Crowd Sourcing Results

5th place in the Western Conference; 138 voters (31.4%) felt that San Jose will be either a 4th or 5th seed in the playoffs in 2014, but 228 voters (56.4%) projected them to miss the playoffs completely.

Season Preview: New England Revolution by Drew Olsen

A franchise empathetic to the Buffalo Bills, Atlanta Braves, and every team that chased the Chicago Bulls in the 90's, the Revs have shown over their 16-year history in the league that they are perpetual contenders and forever runners-up---a key member of the 'almost was there' club. That was harsh, but I don't mean to be. The club, with just a little bit of support from Robert Kraft, could have been---and still could be---a super power in MLS. The trio of Clint Dempsey, Shalrie Joseph, and Steve Ralston, and then the often forgotten (outside of New England) prowess of Taylor Twellman dominated the mid 00's period of MLS, and New England reached the MLS Cup finals on four different occasions between 2002 and 2007. Now, after a couple of down years, the franchise has reloaded and found itself a new era of young up-and-comers a decade later. 2013 Review: 51 Points, 3rd in the Eastern Conference, lost to Sporting Kansas City in Conference Semis

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Player Added Position Acquired from: Player Lost Position To
Paulo DelPiccolo M Waiver Draft  Chad Barrett F Option Declined
Brad Knighton GK Trade (Vancouver) Ryan Guy M Option Declined
Charlie Davies F Free (Randers) Tyler Polak D Option Declined
Steve Neumann M/F SuperDraft Matt Reis GK Retired
Patrick Mullins F SuperDraft Clyde Simms M Option Declined
Teal Bunbury F Trade (Kansas City) Juan Toja M Option Declined
Jossimar Sanchez D Supplemental Draft Bilal Duckett D Waived
Daigo Kobayashi M Trade (Vancouver) Matt Horth F Waived
Alec Sundly M SuperDraft Gabe Latigue M Waived
      Juan Agudelo F Out of Contract

2013 opened for the Revs with expectations of justhoping to make the Wildcard round. Really, anything better than finishing above Toronto was the end goal, and while maybe I'm slightly exaggerating the situation a bit, I don't think many thought they would finish 3rd in the East. Jay Heaps definitely sat upon a seat of growing embers, and fans were gradually getting more and more anxious to see progression from their second-year manager after replacing long-term icon Steve Nicol.

2013 will be remembered for many things across MLS, but Revs fans will, perhaps paradoxically, be hard-pressed to think of many good things outside the breakout year of teenager Diego Fagundez---who is being heralded as the foundation of many great, wonderful scoring-type things for the Revs in the future, and one of the future stars of MLS --- and the addition of Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves. Let me be one of the first to throw that "it may be a bit premature" out there. Fagundez is a great talent, but it's probably a bit unfair to place such expectations on an 18-year-old at this point. Scoring 13 goals at that age is going to get you attention, but doesn't guarantee stardom.

NEINFOWhile it's been pointed out that his goal tally was impressive--- partly because it was fifth in the league and not inflated by penalty kicks---I'm not yet convinced that he's bound for all the glory people think. In fact, I'd wager that he won't likely equal his tally from last season for a couple of reasons.

A) An observance I've made over the last few days suggests that he creates many of his own shots at the goal off the dribble. I'm not sure that if he continues this trend he can be as successful.

B)  He creates below-average shots-per-90 minutes rates. Among the top 50 goal scorers, the average shots-per-90 is roughly 2.6. Fagundez averages a paltry 2.0 in comparison.

C) Over half those chances (52%) he fired off hit the target (29 of his 55 shots). While that is above-average, it may be a less-stable metric year-to-year, as is finishing rate. He needs to continue to create a high volume of chances before I'm ready to get on the bandwagon.

Now, there is some hope. The addition of Teal Bunbury gives the Revs someone who is going to take shots at a better-than-league-average clip. This could take some of the pressure off Fagundez, allowing him to be slippery with his electric speed, getting into dangerous locations, and keeping his finishing rate high.

There is also the case that New England has quite the creative midfield core, which only got deeper this week with the addition of Daigo Kobayashi. Adding him to the grouping of Kelyn Rowe and Lee Nguyen is rather intimidating and could help the young attacking midfielder, as he may not have to create so many shots for himself.

I'm not trying to be a wet blanket and 'poo poo' everyone that is drinking the Fagundez Kool-Aid. The youngster is an incredible talent, both on and off the ball, and he'll probably be a large contributing factor to why I watch so many Rev games this year. I do think there could be some undue pressure on him at this stage in his career, and it's crazy to think this club is going to live and die with him.

Outside of Fagundez, the Revs have been stock piling young and exciting talents, such as the aforementioned Rowe, with Andrew FarrellScott Caldwell  and even Dimitry Imbongo. They're a young team that has a lot of helium at this stage. Add to it the top-scoring collegiate talents of Patrick Mullins and lesser heralded (yet equally exciting) Steve Neumann, with the recently acquired Bunbury, and maybe the long-awaited break out season of Jerry Bengston--who seems to save all his goals for the Honduras national team---and you realize 'holy crap' they've got weapons in abundance. Truth is, they shouldn't struggle to find the back of the net this year.

A good indicator for their offensive success last year was, of course, Chris Gluck's Possession with Purpose (PWP Index) stat that ranks them in the upper half (9th) in MLS and 4th among their Eastern conference foes. The loss of Juan Agudelo is a bit disappointing to some of their supporters and certainly with their front office that seemed pretty determined to keep him around against all odds. But with the quality and quantity of the youth available, as well as the off-season additions, this club could very well take a step forward in the attack.

The real question for me is going to be the defense. Jose Goncalves came out of pretty much nowhere to have a lights out season and win defensive player of year honors for MLS. It's not so much a question of whether he'll regress so much as I wonder what the likelihood of the defense as a whole regressing.

The backline should remain, for all intents and purposes, intact from last year. The big question is whether we'll see Bobby Shuttleworth or Brad Knighton between the pipes as a goal keeper. This is an entirely different conversation, and I want to set it aside of the time being. The defense wasn't necessarily great so much as it was a bit lucky in some cases. Sure their PDO as a whole is under the 100 mark, indicating that they have actually gotten a bit unlucky as a whole, but they earned just 95 percent of the shot totals of their opponents, and their overall xGD was negative, which both imply that they not only surrendered more shots than they created but also surrendered shots in more advantageous locations for the opposition. Neither are good things, and both are critical points for the defense. Now those numbers don't tell us that New England will regress or that they will certainly allow more goals than what they last year, but simply what they did produce was not as we expected and that they played above what they likely should have.

Now, as for the Shuttleworth vs. Knighton---WWE Royal Rumble face off---I'm a bit torn. Personally, I know Matt Reis had been there for a decade, but Shuttleworth was---in my opinion---a good keeper, and there was an argument for letting him stay in the net after Reis returned from injury. Now with Reis retired and the Revolution acquiring Knighton, it becomes an interesting battle. Our early advanced indications point to the fact that Brad Knighton, despite only seeing 540 minutes, was a better keeper. Now those numbers are only indicators, and they do come with a clear set of caveats. Neither keeper has enough empirical evidence that one is necessarily better than the other. That said, I expect that Brad Knighton will win the job, and his performances will stick right in and around what we thought of Matt Reis.

Overall I could see really two vastly different scenarios playing out with New England. The first is that they come out like gangbusters. Their defense holds, the youngsters take another step forward, and they overtake New York, who I believe may be somewhat overrated, and possibly even Sporting Kansas City (don't tell Matthias I said that), staying in contention for a supporters shield for most of the year.

The other side is that, with all the significant improvements that other clubs  have made compounded with some struggles by the a young core, it could leave the team in an early hole. Early disappointing results could very well culminate in them missing the playoffs entirely.

The East going to be a dog fight, more so than what the Western Conference is thought to be. Because of that, clubs such as Toronto FC, Chicago, Houston, D.C. United and New England are all fighting for the last three spots, assuming that New York and Sporting play up to their potential. Though, given the strange inconsistencies of both of those franchises, anything remains possible. Youth lends itself to variability, making New England's projection hard to pin down.

Crowdsourcing Results

New England received a wide range of votes, earning at least 10% of all votes for every placement between 4th and 10th in the Eastern conference. Overall, just 34.4% of voters felt that New England was a playoff team.

Season Preview: Colorado Rapids by Drew Olsen

If you are a fan of up-and-coming soccer talent, the 2013 Colorado Rapids were a squad who, seemingly out of nowhere, became a must-watch team. While the trend is for MLS teams to rely more heavily upon experienced and highly paid players to bolster their roster, Colorado, perhaps out of necessity, became a team driven by young, inexpensive talent. They used all available means to assemble their roster: trades (Edson Buddle and Nathan Sturgis), the SuperDraft (Deshorn Brown and Dillon Powers), the NASL and USL (Chris Klute and Clint Irwin, respectively), and international signings (Vicente Sanchez and Gabriel Torres). By the time the 2013 season concluded, Oscar Pareja had lead the Rapids to 51 points and the 5th seed in the Western Conference, a sizeable upgrade over their 37 points accumulated in 2012.

2013 Finish: 14-11-9, 51 points; 45 GF, 38 GA. Fifth place in Western Conference. Lost in Wildcard round.

Colorado Rapids 2013 Formation - 2014-02-24

 

Transactions

Players In

Players Out

Name Pos   Name Pos  
Marc Burch D/M Re-Entry Stage 1 Diego Calderon D Loan expired
Marvin Chavez  M Trade from San Jose Jaime Castrillon M Option declined
Marlon Hairston M SuperDraft Steward Ceus GK Option declined
Grant Van De Casteele D SuperDraft Atiba Harris F Traded to San Jose
Joe Nasco GK Free Jamie Smith M Retired
Jared Watts M SuperDraft Tony Cascio M Loaned to Houston
John Berner GK SuperDraft Hendry Thomas M Trade to FC Dallas
      Kory Kindle D Retired

Roster churn: Colorado returns 76.5% of its 2013 minutes, 9th most in the league.

Colorado Rapids' 2014 Roster

My Kingdom for a Coach

Let’s start at the top.

Oscar Pareja has moved on to become the head coach of FC Dallas, returning to helm the club where he spent eight seasons as a player. Last year, Pareja assembled a young Rapids team that managed to sneak into the playoffs of the highly competitive Western Conference. Pareja was lauded for his ability to identify and acquire young talent. Though that should come as no surprise, considering that he served as the Director of Player Development for the FC Dallas Youth system from 2007 through 2011, fostering the growth of 11 players who have subsequently signed with the senior team.

When the Rapids were plagued by injury early in the season, Pareja was able to slot Sturgis, Klute, and O’Neill into the lineup, and the team continued to get results. Pareja, as coaches often do, made some questionable decisions over the course of the season. He showed unwavering faith in Atiba Harris all season long despite subpar performances, and took some heat for decisions he made in Colorado’s playoff loss to Seattle. Still, starting a rusty German Mera at centerback is not the same thing as, say, deploying Shalrie Joseph at forward. Pareja made some a personnel choice that did not pay off, but his overall tenure as Rapids head coach was a positive experience, one that has left the Rapids in much better position than when he arrived.

So where do they go from here? Well, we don’t know. With only a few weeks to go before the season, the Rapids have yet to name a head coach. But let’s assume that they will hire Pablo Mastroeni (hey, someone has to make a decision here), following the league-wide trend of elevating young ex-players into the head coaching ranks. Sometimes these new hires pay off (Peter Vermes, Mike Petke, 2012 Ben Olsen), but just as often they yield disappointing results (Curt Onalfo, Jesse Marsch, 2013 Ben Olsen). With no prior coaching experience, it is difficult to predict how Mastroeni will fare as coach of the Rapids. Though Mastro will take over a promising young squad, growing pains should be expected as he develops his own coaching personality.

The Departures

COLINFOThis offseason, Colorado parted ways with only seven players (one of whom, Jamie Smith, will remain with the franchise as an academy coach). The two regular starters who will not be returning this season are Atiba Harris, who played in 29 games last season, logging a stout 2,012 minutes attacking down the right flank, and Hendry Thomas, who started 28 games in defensive midfield for the Rapids. The Rapids balked at Thomas’s request for a DP-level salary, and shipped him off to Dallas in exchange for some allocation money.

The other five players combined to tally just 1,463 total minutes. Tony Cascio, who led that quintet with 530 minutes, will spend the 2014 season on loan in Houston as part of the first intra-league loan in Major League Soccer history.* The three other departing field players—Diego Calderon, Jamie Castrillon, and Smith—were plagued by injuries throughout 2013, and were never able to gain a steady foothold in the starting lineup. The final departed player, goalkeeper Steward Ceus, got his 2013 season off to a promising start… for about 10 minutes. In the 11th minute of the season opener, David Ferreira sent a long pass toward the Rapids penalty area. Ceus raced out of his penalty area to clear the ball, only to watch helplessly as the ball—and his chances of keeping the starting GK job—soared beyond him. Clint Irwin would start game two, and Ceus would not see another minute for Colorado in the 2014 season.

*No, Matias Laba is not on intra-league loan to Vancouver. He was traded for pipe dreams and promises.

Clint Irwin: Act II

Nothing has changed in goal for Colorado this season. Clint Irwin will enter the season as the starting goalkeeper, with Matt Pickens—currently on trial in Norway—tentatively set to serve as his backup. The Rapids have signed Joe Nasco---who last season helmed the nets for Atlanta---and rookie John Berner, in case Pickens does depart. Irwin finished 12th in the league in save percentage last season, stopping 69% of shots on target. Though you should take this purely as a descriptive statistic, as it appears that save percentage tells you very little about the quality of a professional goalkeeper. Irwin also failed to crack the top ten in crosses claimed last season, and ranked only 9th in punches, though strong flank play from the Rapids could mean that Irwin had fewer balls from wide areas to deal with.

One aspect of play where statistics say that Irwin did excel was in his distribution: Irwin completed 73% of his passes—6th best in the league—despite his average distribution being 48 meters long. For comparison, average length of distribution of keepers in the top 10 accurate passers is only 38.8 meters. His distribution numbers are likely skewed by the fact that Irwin could hammer a 70-yard ball down the right side of the field and know that Atiba Harris (statistically the best aeriel duelist in the league) would get on the end of it (I guess we can look at Jon Busch’s numbers this year and see). Generally though, Irwin’s decision making and positioning, things not yet easily quantifiable, were solid all season; he looked and played like an MLS-caliber goalkeeper, which is impressive enough for a 24-year-old.

Moor: verb (used with object) … 2. to fix firmly; secure

For the sake of this preview, we will assume Mastroeni will not alter Pareja’s preferred formation of 4-3-3/4-2-3-1. Chris Klute and Drew Moor are locks to retain their spots on the back line. Klute will maraud down the wing and make life difficult for opposing midfielders. Last season he led the league in assists among defenders with 7, and was second (behind only Andrew Farrell) in successful take-ons with 39. Moor provides a solid veteran presence at the back, and provides excellent distribution to a team which often lacks patience in the defensive third. Preseason games would indicate that Shane O’Neill will make way at the other center back spot for either Marvell Wynne or Wake Forest rookie Jared Watts.

Despite a strong rookie season for O’Neill, his biggest shortcoming was his ability to assert his physicality in the air. Whereas Moor finished the season with 3.7 aerial duels won per game (8th in MLS, 5th among centerbacks), O’Neill had only 1.4 aerials won per game (79th in MLS, 34th among centerbacks). Moor won 68% of his aerial duels; O’Neill, 52%. But if you’re the kind of person who prefers their evidence anecdotal, here’s him being completely schooled by Chris Wondolowski (not the most physical specimen himself) on a corner kick. O’Neill should remain a starter, but he will shift to the right side of the field, either in defense or midfield.

Who? What? Where?

The midfield is a much bigger quandary. Hendry Thomas is gone, Nathan Sturgis has spent a considerable amount of time this preseason at right back, and Dillon Powers’ health is in question: not only was he only just cleared to return to game action on February 20 after recovering from a concussion last season, but he is battling tendinitis in his knee. The talent level drops precipitously as you move down the depth chart.

First-round draft pick Marlon Hairston could be the man to replace Thomas. But Thomas is a Premier League and World Cup veteran, who averaged 3.3 tackles per game last season, 7th in MLS, and Hairston is a 19-year-old who, in spite of his physical gifts, was labeled by one college coach as a “lazy” defender, not the ringing endorsement you want for a player who will be shielding your back line. Nick LaBrocca is another option to replace Thomas, but the 29-year-old Rutgers grad lacks the size and athleticism that either Thomas or Hairston can bring. LaBrocca also has the potential to step in for an injured Powers, but with a glut of forwards on the team, Gabriel Torres might find himself deputizing for Powers in the event that he misses time, playing a more direct role in the offense (and leaving Edson Buddle as the center forward).

The Designated Player and Deshorn

If and when Powers returns to full health, Torres will spearhead the attack for Colorado. The first designated player in Rapids history, Torres was signed in August of last season, and immediately demonstrated his value. He notched 3 goals and 1 assist on 15 shots in 507 minutes. The shot total is low for a DP level striker, but so is the sample size. Still, flashes of brilliance like this make it difficult for Rapids fans to keep their expectations tempered.

Deshorn Brown will start to the left of the center forward, in a more advanced role than the typical wide player in a 4-2-3-1. This is because Brown’s speed and size far outshine his technical skills. Last season, Brown notched 10 goals, solid enough on its own, but it should be noted that of the 18 players who scored 10 goals or more last season, Brown had the lowest scoring chance percentage, converting a mere 10.3% of his shots. Though that seems like bad news on the surface (and it may be that Brown isn’t a crack finisher), it comes with a big silver lining.Finishing rates are less predictive of yearly success than Expected Goals, which are determined by number and location of shots taken.

On the right, the Rapids have a choice between Marvin Chavez and Vicente Sanchez, two left-footed players who bring different assets to the table. Chavez is a versatile player who has the speed to stretch the defensive line (as he did with his time in Dallas) and an accurate cross that allows him to play as a more conventional midfielder (as he did in his 12-assist season with San Jose in 2012). Sanchez, who spent most of his career in Mexico, is a more technically savvy (and to be fair to Chavez, slower) player, who in his limited time with Colorado last season provided some of the cerebral play that was often missing from the lineup.

The Prediction

Last year, Colorado’s depth enabled them to overcome a spate of injuries and make the playoffs, bringing a new generation of players to the league’s attention. This year, without any wholesale roster changes, those same players will bear the weight of expectations of a franchise. New coach or not, progress will be expected from this young team, and it will be interesting to see how they will fare in the 2014 season.

Crowdsourcing Results

The readers of American Soccer Analysis don’t seem to think that Colorado will make any progress this season. The plurality (20.2%) of our 406 voters think that the Rapids will drop to 6th place in the Western Conference, with the vast majority (78.1%) anticipating them to finish in the 5th-to-8th-place range.

Season Preview: Chicago Fire by Drew Olsen

The Chicago Fire won MLS Cup in their first season in the league. They qualified for the playoffs in 12 of their first 13 seasons in MLS. But since 2010, they’ve made the postseason only once (in 2012), where they lost in the first round. For such a storied franchise, it’s clear that Chicago has underachieved for the last four years. Hopes in the Windy City are that a new coach with a history of success in MLS, Frank Yallop, will be able to turn around their fortunes and return the club to the promised land. 2013 Finish: 49 Points, 6th in the Western Conference, Missed MLS Playoffs

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Transactions

Players In:

Name Position Acquired from:
Lovel Palmer D/M Salt Lake
Harrison Shipp F Homegrown - Notre Dame
Kyle Reynish GK New York Cosmos (NASL)
Chris Ritter M Homegrown - Northwestern
Jhon Kennedy Hurtado D Seattle
Patrick Ianni D Seattle
Giuseppe Gentile F Waiver draft - Charlotte
Benji Joya M Santos Laguna (Mexico)

Players Out:

Name Position Where'd he go?
Paolo Tornaghi GK Waived
Arevalo Rios M Option Declined
Michael Videira D Option Declined
Corben Bone M Option Declined
Joel Lindpere M Option Declined
Maicon Santos F Option Declined
Shaun Francis D Out of Contract
Wells Thompson D Out of Contract
Daniel Paladini M Columbus
Jalil Anibaba D Seattle

 

Median Age: 25

Their 2013 was really bad followed by pretty good, but ending in disappointment. The Fire began the season looking more like kindling (sorry, that's the only fire-related pun I'll use in this post), losing seven of their first ten matches. But then they started making moves, both in the front office and up the table. Chicago acquired centerback Bakary Soumare from Philadelphia and forward Mike Magee from Los Angeles, and their ascent quickly followed. Soumare brought a much-needed solidity to the back line, and Magee played out of his mind for the remainder of the season in his hometown. After running off six matches unbeaten immediately following their acquisition, the Fire came back to Earth and narrowly missed out on the East's final playoff spot, bowing to Montreal on a tiebreaker.

The season was not without its hardware though, as Magee won the league MVP trophy, despite being tradedCHIINFO

On paper, the Chicago Fire seem like they have the pieces to be a contender in the Eastern Conference. Their offseason moves didn’t floor anyone, but they do appear to have improved, both on the bench and in the coaching box. The head coach position is where Chicago made their most substantial move: out went Frank Klopas after last season, and in came Frank Yallop. Yallop won two MLS Cups with the San Jose Earthquakes as well as the 2012 Supporters’ Shield, so he certainly has pedigree to match that of his new employer.

As far as the roster he will be working with, it seems like it should fit with his general style of play pretty well. In San Jose, Yallop was well known for his team’s propensity for quality wing play and crossing it to the forwards, something to which the Fire should be fairly well-suited. In Patrick Nyarko and Dilly Duka, Chicago has two wingers that are both lightning quick and love taking on defenders. As for who they’ll be crossing to, number one on the list is reigning league MVP Mike Magee. ‘Magic Mike’ is unlikely to repeat his career year from 2013 when he scored 21 goals in stints for both Chicago and Los Angeles. But even if he doesn’t approach that number in 2014, Magee is an instinctive finisher who always seems to bag more goals than you project for him.

The other options up front are long time Fire player Chris Rolfe and the Ecuadorian Designated Player Juan Luis Anangono. Rolfe got much of the action up top alongside Magee last year, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Anangono play a bigger role in his first full season with the club. Anangono is a big, physical presence up top that would seem to match Frank Yallop’s desired style, as he could be an asset getting on the end of crosses. Meanwhile, Rolfe is a solid technical player in his own right, but to me is a bit like a poor man’s Mike Magee. While they combined very well at times last season, having two players with fairly similar styles up top leads to diminishing returns.

The rest of the starting eleven will likely see more shakeups from last season. Along the back line, Chicago traded away Jalil Anibaba---who played every minute for the Fire last season---to Seattle in exchange for centerbacks Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni. How those two duke it out for playing time with returning starters Austin Berry and Bakary Soumare will be interesting to watch. On the outside, Costa Rican Gonzalo Segares returns to his normal left back position, while right back may be manned by newly acquired Lovel Palmer. Both of those fullbacks are solid if not spectacular options who should get the job done.

My biggest questions come in central midfield for Chicago.Jeff Larentowicz looks like a shoo-in for one of the spots there, as he has long been a solid two-way midfielder in this league. But who starts alongside him will be an interesting puzzle for Yallop to put together. Does the Brazilian Alex become a full-time starter? Does the newly acquired young starlet Benji Joya get deployed in an attacking midfield role from the get-go? Or will veteran captain Logan Pause return a starting spot to bring a strong veteran presence onto the field?

From top to bottom, the Chicago Fire look like they should be one of a host of teams competing for the playoffs in the East. They’ve done well to bring in an established MLS coach in Frank Yallop, and they have a roster without many glaring holes. If Mike Magee can deliver another MVP-caliber season, this team could vault to near the top of the Eastern Conference table. But without that, the rest of the roster is still long on solid players, but a bit short on difference-makers. Yallop’s guidance and a re-jiggered backline might just be enough to return the Fire to the playoffs, or at least another year where their playoff fate comes down to the final day of the season.

Crowdsourcing Results

6th in the Eastern Conference; the Chicago Fire were picked to make the playoffs by just 120 of 404 voters (29.7%)

Season Preview: Vancouver Whitecaps by Drew Olsen

The Vancouver Whitecaps are still one of Major League Soccer’s newest teams, as 2014 will be just their fourth season in the league. However, the franchise has already shown a penchant for rather high turnover, both among its players and coaches. Seen through an optimist’s viewpoint, this could be commendable, as the front office is never satisfied with mediocrity and clearly strives for success. From a pessimist’s point of view, the constant tinkering robs the club of any semblance of stability and contributes to the team’s mediocrity. Either way, 2014 will be a fascinating time to watch Vancouver as they look to return to the postseason. 2013 Finish: 48 Points, 7th in the Western Conference, Missed MLS Playoffs

vancouverXI

Player Added Position Acquired from: Name Position To
Christian Dean D  2014 SuperDraft (Cal) Lee Young-Pyo D Retired
Andre Lewis M 2014 SuperDraft (NY Cosmos) Greg Klazura D Option Declined
Mehdi Ballouchy M San Jose Joe Cannon GK Option Declined
Steven Beitashour D San Jose Simon Thomas GK Option Declined
Sebastian Fernandez M/F Loan - (Boston River) Brad Rusin D Option Declined
Nicolas Mezquida M/F Free Transfer (Boston River) Jun Marques Davidson M Option Declined
      Daigo Kobayashi M New England
      Tommy Heinemann F Option Declined
      Corey Hertzog F Option Declined
      Brad Knighton GK New England
      Camilo F Queretaro (Mexico)

Roster Churn: 58.82% returning minutes (4th lowest in MLS)

Vancouver Whitecaps' 2014 Roster

Their 2013 was underwhelming, and could probably be filed as underachieving. Based on roster talent alone, Vancouver probably should have made the playoffs in 2013, just as they did in 2012. But for a variety of reasons, the Whitecaps never quite got it together and missed out on the postseason by three points. As mentioned, the individual talent was certainly there: Brazilian striker Camilo won the Golden Boot by hammering home 22 goals, Nigel Reo-Coker is as powerful a central midfielder as you'll find in MLS, and Russell Teibert flashed the potential of a franchise cornerstone. Truth be told, a lot of issues seemed to stem from the chronic indecision in the franchise, whether it was the front office acquiring goalkeepers like they're penny stocks, or manager Martin Rennie changing tactics as though he was in an Old Navy dressing room.

VANINFOAll in all, Vancouver finished above .500 with a positive goal differential, but an awful, late-season stretch saw them win just two of twelve games, surrendering any real hopes of title contention. According to a key off-season personnel decision, Vancouver may believe the main culprit for underachieving was Rennie himself, who was relieved of his duties. Some of his lineup choices often seemed like puzzles for team beat reporters---who were constantly guessing as to who was being shifted to what position---and his apparent inability to see eye-to-eye with talented players like Darren Mattocks can't have helped his chances at keeping the job in 2014. Regardless of the front office's reasoning, Vancouver will return in 2014 with a new coach, and a few key faces missing. 

Vancouver’s offseason was, in a word, turbulent. First, they swung for the fences in filling their coaching vacancy by approaching former US and Egyptian national team coach Bob Bradley. They struck out on that front, but ‘Caps fans will be hoping they knocked a solid base hit with the appointment of former assistant Carl Robinson.

Then, there were a couple of ugly sagas revolving around a few players---chiefly Camilo, last season’s Golden Boot winner. Basically, Mexican club Queretaro came to an agreement for the Brazilian forward to join their club despite the fact that Camilo’s contract with Vancouver was supposed to extend through the 2014 season. The player made it clear that he planned to play in Mexico this year, so eventually a fee was agreed to compensate the Whitecaps, but they still lost their top player from last season. Finally, fans were surprised to find out that draft pick Andre Lewis had apparently already signed a contract to play for the NASL’s New York Cosmos. The team and league both eventually covered themselves by saying that an agreement was already in place for Lewis to play this season in MLS with the ‘Caps, but all in all, a boring offseason this was not.

As the 2014 season gets set to begin, Vancouver is one of just a few teams in the league that don’t appear to be as good as last year. Camilo and fullback Lee Young-Pyo are both huge losses, as they were easily two of the club’s best players last season. They did fairly well in replacing Y.P. Lee by trading for Steven Beitashour, who is probably an above-average left back in the league. However, none of this offseason’s other additions appear to have the potential to help replace Camilo’s goal-scoring ability.

That said, the Whitecaps still have a good deal of talent on their roster. Even without Camilo, their forwards include former #1 overall draft pick Omar Salgado as well as #2 overall pick Darren Mattocks. Both have had issues staying healthy and on the same page as the coaching staff, but their draft position alone should signal some of their potential. They’ve also got Kenny Miller, a long-time Scottish international who is a very good playmaker in his own right, as well as Kekuta Manneh, another young phenom who was rumored to have interest from super-clubs Chelsea and Arsenal. And that’s just the forwards!

In midfield, Nigel Reo-Coker is an absolute beast in the center of the pitch, and it was always a curiosity that he saw time at right back last season. Russell Teibert can provide some fantastic service from out wide, and Gershon Koffie and Matt Watson are both serviceable, at the very least. The defense in 2014 should get a pretty huge boost from captain Jay DeMerit’s return to health – that is, if he can maintain it for a full season. But there are no glaring holes on the backline, as Johnny Leveron and Jordan Harvey both enjoyed quiet breakout seasons last year. There is the slight oddity of Vancouver only having one goalkeeper on the roster as of this writing. I’m sure a second will be added after training camp, but David Ousted had a couple of wobbly moments last season and a trustworthy backup is likely high on the shopping list for Vancouver.

Overall, Vancouver's a tough team to figure. Last year they probably should've been better than their record indicated, but is first-time head coach Carl Robinson the right man to help them reach their potential? And as other teams around them got better this offseason, the 'Caps mostly stood around and watched people flee Vancouver. Steven Beitashour seems like he should be an adequate replacement at left back, but by watching guys like Jun-Marques Davidson, Daigo Kobayashi and Camilo walk, Vancouver guaranteed that they’ll be giving a lot of minutes to unproven and inconsistent young players like Gershon Koffie and Darren Mattocks. 

Again, this roster has the talent to stay in the fight for a playoff berth, but a lot rides on some of that talent finally stepping up and performing this season. In the brutal Western Conference, they’ll need a number of performers to make that leap if they hope to return to the postseason in 2014.

Crowdsourcing Results 

7th place in Western Conference; 89 of 404 voters ranked Vancouver 7th in the West (21.9%), and 307 felt that the Whitecaps would miss the playoffs (76.0%).

Season Preview: D.C. United by Drew Olsen

Few teams had more turnover in the offseason than DC United. With a slew of injuries last season, the worst record in MLS , and a deal for a new stadium on the verge of breaking down, things can only get better for United in 2014. Fresh off of an appearance in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, and with another year of experience for young players like Perry Kitchen and Nick DeLeon, 2013 was supposed to be a return to contention for the club with more trophies than any other MLS team. Instead, they finished a full 10 (!) points behind Chivas USA for last in MLS. While their third US Open Cup trophy helped alleviate some of the pain (a consolation many supporters from other clubs would covet), the team has brought in some bigger names – including an entirely new defensive line – which they hope will turn things around in 2014.

2-25-2014 9-11-08 AM

Player Added
Position From Player Lost Position To
Davy Arnaud M Traded from Montreal Carlos Ruiz F Being Old (Option Declined)
Sean Franklin D
Re-entry Stage 1 (LA Galaxy)
Lionard Pajoy F Option Declined
Bobby Boswell D Re-entry Stage 1 (Houston) Marcelo Saragosa M Option Declined
Jalen Robinson D Homegrown Dwayne De Rosario M Option Declined
Nana Attakora D Re-entry Stage 2 (San Jose) Syamsir Alam M Option Declined
Jeff Parke D Traded from Philadelphia John Thorrington M Option Declined
Steve Birnbaum D
SuperDraft (California)
Daniel Woolard D Option Declined
Christian Francois D Waiver draft (Maryland) Dennis Ipichino D Out of Contract
Christain Fernandez D Free transfer (Almeria) Dejan Jakovic D Transferred to Shimizu S-Pulse
Conor Doyle F Tranfer from Derby County Ethan White D Traded to Philadelphia
Eddie Johnson F Trade from Seattle Casey Townsend F Waived
Fabian Espindola F Re-entry stage 2 (New York)

DCRosterRoster Churn: 55.48% of minutes returning (2nd fewest returning minutes in MLS)

It was an offseason of additions and addition by subtractions for United, which will need to see significant improvement if Coach and United legend Ben Olsen is to keep his job. United’s multiple offseason moves culminated with DCUINFOwinning the sweepstakes for US national team striker Eddie Johnson, a player everyone expects to outpace DC’s 2013 leading goal scorer “Own Goal” (seriously, though). Despite a -37 goal differential last year, our shot location data suggests that they were a bit unlucky to finish so low. Having EJ paired with MLS veteran Fabian Espindola, DC’s strikers should score many more goals than the three Linonard Pajoy and an over-the-hill Carlos Ruiz combined for last year.

The loss of Dwayne De Rosario will be felt in the midfield, but even the 2011 MVP lost his starting spot late last season. Stepping in will be former Impact captain Davy Arnaud, who will bring leadership to an otherwise young midfield. United will really hope for a healthy season from likes of Nick DeLeon and Chris Pontius who were both hampered by injuries last year, and will look to continue the progress of Canadian international Kyle Porter. Perry Kitchen returns as the backbone of a young midfield that remains mostly unchanged from 2013, but is poised to be more productive in 2014.

While Klinsmann favorite Bill Hamid remains in goal, United is likely to see a 100% turnover in their defensive backline from a year ago, having brought in proven MLS defenders Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, and Jeff Parke, as well as Christian Fernandez, a 28 year old who comes from Almeria in Spain. By drafting Steve Birnbaum #2 overall in the SuperDraft, they also added depth and potential for the future.

Franklin will provide them an attacking option up the right flank that they haven't had since Andy Najar left the team to join Anderlecht in Belgium. Boswell and Parke will combine to bring 19 years of MLS experience to the central defense, which should give Hamid a stronger confidence in the leadership and organization in front of him. Fernandez has spent time in La Liga and Spain's Segunda Division, and looks to bring bring a similar attacking style to the left back position, having scored 6 goals in 36 appearances for Almeria over the last two seasons. Finally, Birnbaum looks to be one of their players of the future, and will fill in for Boswell and Parke in the center of defense during a packed schedule that will include the CONCACAF Champions League in 2014.

DC has taken the anti-Toronto FC route, investing across the roster rather than adding big-name DPs at a few positions. While none of their backline is cheap – United picked up Franklin in the re-entry draft because the Galaxy deemed his salary too high, and Parke isn't a bargain either – United was able to take three of their five highest paid players off the books with the subtractions of DeRo, Jakovic, and Pajoy (who was making an inexplicable $205k per year). They have invested heavily in more experienced, and simply better defenders. With no Designated Players currently on the roster, United have managed to endure more roster turnover than nearly every other team in MLS this offseason without breaking the bank.

All these significant changes make this a year of questions for United; after dominating MLS 1.0 for years, they played a middling role in more recent seasons, a short slump that seemed on the verge of ending in 2012. Was 2013 a regression to the mean, or an outlier as the club turns itself around? Will this be the year Perry Kitchen finally turns into an MLS star, or will he remain atop the list of players on the verge of a breakout season?  With a stadium deal being called into question, can they find a new home? Will Ben Olsen save his job, or make the ownership group look stupid for keeping him this long? Can the team begin to turn around record-low attendance numbers, or can they give their supporters something to cheer about?

At ASA we like to look prior data to help us understand what may happen for teams in the future, but the case of DC is a difficult one for us; no team is likely to look or play more differently than United next season. Because of their unpredictability, and because they have nowhere to go but up, the potential for DC’s season might be greater than any other team in the league this year. Will we see them do what the Timbers did last season, improving by over 20 points between seasons and going from conference doormat to MLS Cup contender? Or will they go the route of Chivas USA, and remain at the bottom of the table as the epitome of incompetence.

DC United hopes this will be a transformative season that returns them to the elite of the Eastern Conference. Crucial additions to the attacking and defensive corps have the potential to turn things around, and coach Ben Olsen’s job is riding on it. Supporters are cautiously optimistic, but the public (as evidenced by our ASA poll numbers) remains skeptical. The 2014 season is an important one for United, both on and off the field. We will soon see if one of the most storied clubs in MLS history can turn their form on the pitch around, and if their important stadium plans can get back on track.

Crowd Sourcing Placement: 8th place in Eastern Conference; 263 of 404 (65.1%) voters felt that D.C. United would not make the playoffs in 2014. 

Season Preview: FC Dallas by Drew Olsen

Over the past three seasons, fans of the Hoops have seen their team crash down from the high of a 2010 MLS Cup Finals appearance . In 2012, those same fans endured a 13-game winless streak, to be followed by another 11-game winless streak in 2013, resulting in Dallas missing the playoffs each of the past two seasons. What made matters worse was their red hot start to 2013, where they raced out to a 7-2-3 record and 24 points by the end of May, good for first place in the West. After missing out on the post season following such a hot start, Schellas Hyndman was shown the door (officially resigned), and former FC Dallas player and long time assistant Oscar Pareja was hired to right the ship. There is much optimism surrounding Dallas as they look to put the past behind them and get themselves back into the playoffs in 2014.
2013 Finish: 44 Points, 8th in the Western Conference, Missed MLS Playoffs FCDallasXI
Player Added Position Acquired from: Player Lost Position To
Ryan Hollingshead M 2013 SuperDraft Ugo Ihemelu D option declined
Adam Moffat M traded from Seattle Ramon Nunez M option declined
Brian Span M weighted lottery Erick M option declined
Hendry Thomas M traded from Colorado Jackson M traded to Toronto
Andres Escobar F Loan (Dynamo Kiev) Victor Ulloa M out of contract
David Texeira F Free (FC Groningen) David Ferreira M option declined
Kenny Cooper F traded to Seattle
Roster Churn: 77.97% returning minutes (12th lowest in MLS)
roster-dallasLots of optimism surround the Hoops after the theft appointment of Oscar "Papi" Pareja as head coach, and for good reason. The former Colorado Rapids head coach was highly regarded by the front office, was a contender for MLS DALINFOCoach of the Year after Colorado overachieved last season with their young roster, thanks in some part to Pareja's guidance.
 
While the optimism is high, there are also some concerns with the team, as they jettisoned off a few key pieces from last year (Captain David Ferreira, striker Kenny Cooper, and winger Jackson), and now FC Dallas must work through that awkward transition where new faces and a new coach try to get on the same page. Will the front office and Dallas fans be patient enough to wait for Pareja to work his magic, given they've missed the playoffs two season in a row now? His first season in Colorado was forgettable (11-19-4, no playoffs), but there were clear signs of improvement in his second year (14-11-9, knock out rounds). 
 
With the exception of Blas Perez, the Dallas attack is young. [Fabian] Castillo (21), [Andres] Escobar (22), and [Mauro] Diaz (22) make for a very dangerous trio if they can develop their chemistry together. Diaz has been handed the number 10 jersey and will hold the keys to driving the Hoops offense this season. Much like it was with his predecessor, Captain Ferreira, where Diaz goes, FC Dallas will follow. And while the short glimpses we saw of Diaz were promising last season, being the focal point and main man for the entire season in a new league is another thing to handle altogether. 
 
Last season's Achilles heel had to be the central midfield for Dallas. When holding midfielder Peter Luccin went down with an injury before the season began, FC Dallas was left without any adequate cover, and it lost its midfield bite and any real quality in linking the defense to the attack. That has been addressed strongly this off season with the acquisition of former Rapids midfielder Hendry Thomas (who is basically a tank on cleats) and former Sounder Adam Moffat (better link up player). Not to mention Luccin is back and healthy, and Andrew Jacobson got a good solid year of starter experience under his belt. Dallas' thinnest spot in 2013 has suddenly become their greatest depth in 2014.
 
The Dallas defense looks largely the same with everyone from last year who got significant playing time returning. The debate now is whether that's a good or a bad thing. Jair Benitez is now a year older, and while he provides help in offense (hello golazo!), his defending remains inconsistent. Zach Loyd had a subpar year by his standards in 2013. Whether he can regain his form that led him to be a USMNT call up waits to be seen. 
 
Finally, the last question mark for Dallas is what will Pareja do with homegrown standout Kellyn Acosta? His breakthrough 2013 was a huge step in the right direction for the Homegrown Player program, but where does he fit on this team? In 2013 he filled in admirably---at times better than Loyd at right back---but the teenage star has spoken that his preferred position is defensive midfield. Regardless of where he plays, Acosta is a talent that needs to see the field as much as possible. 
FC Dallas finished 2013 as the epitome of average statistically, posting the 10th best expected goal differential, as well as the 10th best shot attempt ratio. Hope rests in Pareja's ability to work with a team that has added six new players to date, and to inject this team with a little magic that worked for Pareja's former team last season.
 

Crowd Sourcing Placement: 8th place in Western Conference; 107 of the 406 8th-place votes (26.35%), and 321 of 404 (79.5%) of voters felt that FC Dallas would not make the playoffs in 2014.

*ExpGD is the same as our metric xGD.

 

Season Preview: Chivas USA by Drew Olsen

Most people would associate Chivas USA with the pinnacle of terribleness within MLS. They've accrued all of 56 points combined the last two seasons which barely eclipses the LA Galaxy totals, their evil timeshare neighbor, over the course of just one year. The club from the beginning has sported a feel that was awkward---almost insulting---and it has been a bit of an outcast from the rest of the league. Despite what we all know about them now, it's easy to forget that as few as five years ago they were the more dominant LA brand, earning top-three finishes in 2006, 2007 and in 2008. They were lead by the likes of US internationals Brad Guzan, Sacha Kljestan and Jonathan Bornstein. They boasted the scoring prowess of Ante Razov, one of the premier scoring talents in MLS history, who is still the club's all-time goal scorer. Despite the recent woes, it's not outside the realm of possibility that they could return to a run of strong form. But it will likely need to be built upon the youth and Academy products they've been working to develop, as Chivas USA has been cited as one of the more talent rich organizations at the youth level.

Make no mistake about it; things are just starting to get interesting in the City of Angels.

2013 Finish: 26 points, 9th in the Western Conference, Missed Playoffs ChivasXI

Player Added Position From Player Lost Position To
Andrew Jean-Baptiste D traded from Portland Timbers Patrick McLain GK Option Declined
Tony Lochhead D Free (Wellington Phoenix) Mario de Luna D End of Loan
Andrew Ribeiro D Free (Harrisburg City Islanders) Jaime Frias D End of Loan
Fejiro Okiomah D Free (Charlotte Eagles) Steve Purdy D Option Declined
Donald Toia D Free (Phoenix FC) Daniel Antunez D Option Declined
Thomas McNamara M SuperDraft (Clemson) Jorge Villafana D traded to Portland
Austin Pelletieri M Free (Racing Club) Edgar Mejia M End of Loan
Mauro Rosales M traded from Seattle Sounders Marvin Iraheta M Option Declined
Adolfo Bautista F Free (Unattached) Josue Soto M Option Declined
Gabriel Farfan M loaned to Chiapas
Jose Manuel Rivera F Option Declined
Tristan Bowen F traded to Seattle
Julio Morales F End of Loan

Roster Churn: 52.24% returning minutes (lowest return rate in MLS)

Okay, we know this team sucks. They've sucked each of the last four years. So they'll suck again this year right? Well... maybe. Or perhaps they're a team that could catch a couple of early wins and find some teams napping---much like what they did last year---and continue stealing points right up to a fifth-place finish. They've injected some talent, and there is the possibility, if the rumors about Luke Moore are true Chivas confirmed Moore has signed for the club yesterday, that they're not done yet and that's a very good thing for the club moving forward.

roster-chivasYes, Erik 'Cubo' Torres is perhaps the most talented piece on the roster. Yes, he will head back to his native Chivas Guadalajara in June which will pretty much bone the forgotten leftovers of Jorge Vergara. Which is sad because the talent level and parity for MLS is close that it really wouldn't take much for Chivas to become a club that could quietly sneak into MLS playoff contention.

The Goats off-season was largely productive if you forget about the addition of AdolfoChivasINFO Bautista---who, to me, is a worrisome deal considering the 34-year old didn't even score a goal last season through his 16 games (international appearances included) and could very well turn out to be a scrub.

Looking specifically to the defense, the club acquired Andrew Jean-Baptiste for pretty much being at the right place at the right time. This is an unequivocal boon for a defense that was just plain bad through the 2013 campaign, posting a league worst expected goals against (xGA) total of 55. This speaks not just to the volume of shots the line-up allowed, but also the quality at which they were fired at Dan Kennedy's goal. Baptiste isn't necessarily an earth-shattering piece now, and he's still raw, but getting him starts and placing him alongside Carlos Bocanegra could cultivate the young 21-year-old's potential, and he could grow into a top-level central defensive player with the aspirations of being involved with the USMNT.

Recs/90

The midfield has it's share of questions, as they lacked effectiveness, if not bite, with Oswaldo Minda in central  defense. Recoveries are a good thing and "even have a positive correlation with long term results". The other side of that is fouls are mostly bad (duh). Yet, I'm not sure that fact was ever explained to Minda. When Minda was able to find his way on to the pitch healthily, he committed a lot of fouls (35) and it limited the helpfulness of the recoveries (95) that he procured. Top central defending midfielders (think in this case of Osvaldo Alonso and Kyle Beckerman) usually boast twice that ratio. What that means is simply that Minda must play more minutes, foul less, and gobble up more free balls if the goal is to lessen the load for the youthful defense.

KP/90We've now reached the part of this segment where I try to convince you that Mauro Rosales will help Chivas USA, and that he's not done yet. In fact, I feel that with his help, Cubo Torres could become more Torres than you could likely handle or imagine---and yet, at the very same time, Rosales could rip what heart is left from the limited Chivas USA faithful. He was 9th in MLS in creating shots (65 total key passes), but in reality he was further up the chain in the per -90 version of the stat, which I prefer as I feel it's a stat that is better in ratio format.Rosales isn't just about delivering passes though. The guy still has some pace to him, puts forth a ton of effort, and can score a few goals too. While he doesn't even average a shot per 90, that wasn't his role with Seattle. He averaged roughly one goal every 500 minutes, and I wouldn't be surprised if there was a slight bump in those numbers. With that in mind, he's getting older, and part of the reason why the Sounders parted ways with him (beyond the issue of his contract) is that he's declined in each of his three seasons with in the Emerald City. He's going on 33 years old this season, and after visibly losing a step last year, there is reasonable concern that he might not make 2,000 minutes, let alone a full season. Despite all that, what minutes he manages to get he'll make an impact for The Goats.Looking at the roster as a whole, there is quite a disparity in age. There are 7 of the 23 individuals on the roster that are over the age of 30. Then on the other side of the coin there are 6 of 23 that are 21 or younger. If---and perhaps a better word is "when"---injury strikes, they could to be forced to throw those young players to the rest of the league. This is obviously going to affect their play, as there is a drop off in not just talent but also experience.I see a situation where they could improve over their season last year. Then again, it could be a situation where we find the team forced to play younger players of lesser quality, getting stuck in the same trend they were last year where they have some interesting players without the supporting cast to take them into contention for a playoff spot. Either way this is a club that, in our pre-season survey, 93% of voters rated as a non-playoff club. That's the highest percentage of any club, even in the East where there is an extra team left out of the playoffs.This off-season was an improvement---you'll get no argument from me about that. Major League Soccer purchasing the club and preparing for a rebrand, is again, a good thing not just for the league but the fans that support Chivas. As the organization adds talent and continue to bring in the young players from their once promising academy, the club will only move closer to contention. Finding a new owner that can and will match the dollars that LA Galaxy throw around is another key item on the list.Crowd Sourcing Placement: 9th place in Western Conference; 286 of the 406 9th-place votes (70.44%).*ExpGD is the same as our xGD statistic on the site.

Season Preview: Montreal Impact by Drew Olsen

The newest franchise in Major League Soccer, the Montreal Impact, has carved out its niche pretty distinctly since inception in 2012. With strong ties to Serie A through multiple Italian players, Montreal has seen decent success for such a new franchise. They just missed the playoffs in their expansion year, and sneaked in as the five seed last year. But with the success has come another reputation: they already seem rather fond of changing coaches. Entering their third season of play, Montreal’s owner Joey Saputo is already onto his third manager, with Frank Klopas taking the wheel in 2014. 2013 Finish: 49 Points, 5th in Eastern Conference, Qualified for MLS Cup playoff, lost in conference play-in round.

MontrealXI

Name Position Acquired from: Player Lost Position To
Eric Miller D SuperDraft (Creighton) Alessandro Nesta D Retired
Santiago Gonzalez F Free (Sud America) Paolo DelPiccolo M Option Declined
Maximiliano Rodriguez M Option Declined
Sinisa Ubiparipovic M Option Declined
Davy Arnaud M DC United
Zarek Valentin M Transfer to Bodø/Glimt

Roster Churn: 82.98% returning minutes (4th highest in MLS)

roster-Montreal2013 started out about as perfect as any Impact fan could have hoped. But the team then coughed, sputtered, and wheezed its way into the wildcard round of the postseason, where thMTLINFOe coughing and wheezing turned to seizing, and Montreal's campaign met an early demise. Marco Schallibaum's tenure started with a bang, as Montreal won each of its first four games by one tally each, all of them by a scoreline of 1-0 or 2-1. Those close, low-scoring victories figured to set the tone for the season---Montreal was a stout defensive team who would get bodies behind the ball and look to finish swift counter-attacks through Marco Di Vaio. This formula helped them to win the Canadian Championship for a second year running, qualifying them for next season's CONCACAF Champions League. Unfortunately, their tactical secret wasn't particularly well-kept throughout the league, as opposing teams figured out how to counter the Impact's strategy after about the first third of the season. The regular season's final 20 games saw only five Montreal victories, as they earned just a point per game during that span while simultaneously crashing out of last year's CCL.

Still, their hot start was enough to squeeze into the Eastern Conference knockout round, as they slipped into the five seed thanks to a superior goal difference to Chicago. But the luck would run out for Schallibaum and the French-Canadian club in a hurry, as they were beaten and outclassed by the Houston Dynamo in the do-or-die playoff, 3-0. The game was as damaging to Montreal's reputation, too, as Nelson Rivas, Andres Romero and Di Vaio were all ejected for various infractions. The last moments of the match devolved into more of a cat-fight than a soccer match, with the men in blue performing the side of jealous aggressors. In the end, not only was the season over but so too was Schallibaum's tenure in Montreal; he was fired a few weeks later.

I’ll be frank: it’s hard to imagine that this year’s Montreal Impact is much improved over last year’s iteration. And with seemingly every other team in the Eastern Conference signing big name Designated Players, it would follow that Montreal’s stagnation would see them drop a few rungs in the standings this season. Don’t take my word for it – just ask central defender Matteo Ferrari. Here’s a clue for the future expansion sides in MLS: it’s never a good sign when your club has to release a statement clarifying that one of your top players is in fact on the same page as your technical director.

With that bit of harshness out of the way, Montreal does still have some pretty good players. Troy Perkins is still a quality MLS goalkeeper, the aforementioned Ferrari is a good back line anchor along with Hassoun Camara, and Di Vaio is arguably the best pure goal scorer in MLS. They also return the very good Justin Mapp, Patrice Bernier and Hernan Bernardello in midfield. But there remain holes for this club, largest of them being how they might set up tactically.

As outlined above, Montreal's plan A, B and C last year was to get behind the ball, make it hard for opposition to score and then counter through Di Vaio and squeak out low-scoring victories. But other teams figured that out, and the Impact’s effectiveness waned as the season continued. With a new coach on board in Frank Klopas (formerly of the Chicago Fire), it’s likely that the side’s tactics will undergo an overhaul. What type of overhaul remains to be seen: Klopas’ teams in Chicago were, for lack of a better word, bleh.

They weren't a particularly high pressing team or an all-out possession attack, nor did they sit deep and only look to attack on the counter. They did a little of each of these things, but often did none of them well enough to be a real contender. I suppose from a Montreal fan’s standpoint, it might be better to have a team that can give multiple looks than the one-dimensional side last year, but I’m still not sure Klopas is the one to bring the club to the top.

Turning to the players, there are some holes to be filled from last year. All-world defender Alessandro Nesta retired, leaving a combination of Nelson Rivas and Adrian Lopez to fill his shoes. Despite Nesta’s pedigree, he had lost a step or eight at his age, so replacing him shouldn't be too huge of a concern – if those other guys can stay healthy. Also departed from last season was versatile midfielder, Davy Arnaud, whose leadership will be missed. Felipe Martins and Andres Romero both return and should hope to build on seasons in which they showed flashes of quality, if not consistency, in MLS.

When it comes to conclusions though, it’s hard to be optimistic about Montreal’s season. They added basically no one of impact (no pun intended), and all of their best players are a year older, and in most of their cases, a year further past their prime. Not to mention that our expected goal differential statistic suggests they were one of the worst teams in all of MLS last season. Frank Klopas may find more success in Montreal than he did in Chicago, but I think it’s safe to say he’s not expected to be a coach of the year candidate. Unless the Impact have more moves up their sleeve, or some of the unproven youngsters become stars this season, I can’t see Montreal winning a playoff berth.

Crowd Sourcing Placement: 9th place in Eastern Conference; 65 of the 404 9th-place votes (16.09%).

*ExpGD is the same as our statistic xGD under the shoot table.

Season Preview: Columbus Crew by Drew Olsen

There have been ups, and there have been downs for the Crew over the last four seasons, perhaps even more so than with other teams. Since winning MLS Cup in 2008 the departure of coach Sigi Schmid, the club made Robert Warzycha head coach. But then a steady fall ensued that has seen the club completely miss out on the playoffs each of the last two seasons. This led to the dismissal of long-time fixture Warzycha, who had been a part of the club since it's inception in 1996.  Add this to the Hunt family finally selling off its ownership of the club, and you have a full docket of changes that have occurred around Crew Stadium. Unfortunately for Columbus, none these are indicators that the club will improve, at least in the short term. 2013 Finish: 41 Points, 8th in the Eastern Conference, Missed MLS Playoffs

ColumbusLineup

Player Added
Position From Player Lost Position To
Steve Clark GK traded from Seattle (Hønefoss BK) Andy Gruenebaum GK Traded to Kansas City
Brad Stuver GK
Unattached
Chad Marshall D Traded to Seattle
Ben Sweat D USF (SuperDraft) Drew Beckie D Option Declined
Giancarlo Gonzalez D Free (Valerenga) Gláuber D Option Declined
Michael Parkhurst D Free (FC Augsburg) Kyle Hyland D Option Declined
Ross Friedman D HPG Danny O’Rourke D Option Declined
Waylon Francis D
Free (Herediano)
Eddie Gaven M Retired
Matt Wiet D HGP Matías Sánchez M Waived
Kingsley Baiden M SuperDraft (Cal-Santa Barbara) Konrad Warzcha M Option Declined
Daniel Paladini M traded from Chicago Fire Aaron Horton F Waived
Hector Jimenez M traded from LA Galaxy
Matt Walker M HGP

Roster Churn: 72.03% returning minutes (7th lowest in MLS)

roster-crewThe Crew didn't exactly stand still this off-season. Columbus found new homes elsewhere for both Chad Marshall and Glauber, courtesy of new head coach Gregg Berhalter's tactics and spending style, which in turn opened up salary cap space.  With those maneuvers, it created a void that was filled by returning US National Team figure Michael Parkhurst, followed up this week with the addition of Giancarlo Gonzalez---obviously placing an emphasis on the rebuilding of the backline to a point of strength. Taking Ben Sweat during the SuperDraft added to that growing defensive depth, and he may even end up the starter by the beginning of the season, depending how the position shakes out with Tyson Wahl. These changes make up much of the 72-percent roster turnover.

There is a gaping hole in the midfield due to the stunning retirement of Eddie Gaven. The acquisition of Hector Jimenez helps to mitigate some of that loss, and there is a reason to believe that youngster Will Trapp is ready to take that next step forward. However, Gaven has been an integral, if not an altogether vital, piece of the midfield---for more than just his leadership. His departure stings and will reverberate throughout the season.

The forward tandem of Federico Higuaín and Jairo Arrieta remains intact, and CLBINFOdespite a rough season, Arrieta should look forward to some positive regression to the mean. 2013 was a season where he took more shots (64 vs. 41 attempts) in more playing time (1862 vs. 1534 minutes) than in 2012, yet he scored six fewer goals with at finishing rate of just 4.7 percent. That finishing rate is likely to rebound toward the league-average rate of 10 percent. This is somewhat the opposite outcome from we saw with Dominic Oduro, who "regained his form" in 2013 after a down year in Chicago.

What Crew fans saw from Oduro in 2013 is what they hope to see from Arrieta in 2014. Oduro had more playing time, more shots taken with more of them hitting the target, and he saw his finishing rate jump to 14.1 percent. All he is doing is proving himself with the ball at his feet, and creating shots and scoring opportunities. As we're learning more and more, it's less about the supposed skill of the shooter and more that he's taking high-percentage shots. Couple quality and volume, and it leads to more goals.

Looking to the 2014 season there are a couple of different ways that you can look at this club and judge how their season might end up.

First, it's a club that has had its issues with allowing high-percentage shots. They've added to their defense and seemingly upgraded their keeper, adding American abroad Steve Clarke and making him their conceivable number one. Though I'm not sure that it will change the amount of goals they're going to give up, given that Andy Gruenebaum rated quite highly himself in our Goalkeeper ratings 1.0. With a modified backline and a new set of tactics, you never know how the change of approach might reduce opponents' possessions in advantageous locations, but it's an uphill battle for the Crew.

Yet, despite the defensive leaks, they still took more shots in 2013 than they allowed, and their expected goal differential was actually better than that of New England and Montreal, two playoff teams. Should they continue that trend of producing more shots than their opponents, there does still remain a possibility that they score more goals than they allow. Despite posting a -4 goal differential this past year, there is a chance that going forward their luck improves, and they ride a high PDO to some extra goals in opportune moments.

Columbus, like the rest of the league, has talent. They have some perennially underappreciated talents. Federico Higuaín is consistently an MVP candidate, and while I haven't taken much time to talk about him, he's easily the best player on the club and possibly in the league. The shocking thing is, and I often forget this, he's only 29. The biggest thing surrounding the Crew with Higuian is whether or not they can keep him. There was talk that a club in Liga MX was gearing up to make a move for him.

The best-case scenario for Columbus in 2014 is that it finds a way to get into a #4 or #5-seed position. It would play out something like this: the Crew gets lucky with limiting opportunities, and then on the other side of the pitch they strike it rich on goal-scoring chances. However, the possibility of the Crew reaching those heights at this point seems a rather lofty aspiration at this stage. Too many balls would have to bounce their way, and it leads most fans to believe that this will likely be another season that teeters on the wrong side of the playoffs.

The worst-case scenario, and the one that I find to be the most likely, is that the Crew end up the anchor of the standings, sitting near the token Toronto FC position and fighting for respectability through the season. I remain on the fence that both conferences are going to have an incredibly high amount of parity. On the right side of the country, the Crew could pull out a season much in the vein of the past two years where they continue to press for a playoff position, falling short about two or three weeks prior to season's completion. Or they could just be a club that gets bossed around, taking bad shots, limiting their true goal scoring opportunities, and surrendering too many goals.

Crowd Sourcing Placement: 10th place in Eastern Conference; 102 of the 404 10th-place votes (25.25%).

*ExpGD is the same as our metric xGD.

Thanks to reddit user xynto for pointing out we had initially given given Warzycha credit for the Crew's MLS Cup, when it actually came in 2008 under Schmidt.