2009 MLS Season Preview Part Two: The Western Conference

Joe GSenior Writer IFebruary 20, 2009

Part one can be found here

The Western Conference was the lesser of the two conferences in 2008. While it contained a powerful team in the Houston Dynamo, neither MLS Cup finalist ended up coming out of the West. Three of the four semifinalists in the playoffs came from the East.

That said, there is a great deal of excitement surrounding the Western Conference heading into the 2009 season. The conference welcomes a new franchise in Seattle, and stars such as Kenny Cooper and Sacha Kljestan return to the West for another season.

What does the West look like for 2009?

Chivas USA

2008 result: 12-11-7, lost in the first round of the playoffs to Real Salt Lake

Key additions: None

Key subtractions: None

Analysis: Chivas were essentially completely inactive in the transfer window during the offseason, and this will likely hamper them during 2009.

They lost Brad Guzan to Aston Villa late in the summer of 2008 and are now faced with the prospect of an entire season without their American international goalkeeper. He has not been replaced and thus the backline figures to be a weakness for Chivas this season.

Chivas does have the talent necessary to score goals. Sacha Kljestan is budding into a star, and he has Ante Razov up front to aid in the offense. Razov is aging, but he is still second all-time in the MLS goalscoring books. He should provide an important veteran presence.

Jonathan Bornstein and Claudio Suarez provide some stability in the backline, but Chivas is without an experienced goalkeeper like Guzan to tie everything together.

Colorado Rapids

2008 result: 11-14-5, missed playoffs

Key additions: Matt Pickens, Ivan Guerrero

Key subtractions: Mike Petke, Bouna Coundoul

Analysis: Thanks to a goal by Real Salt Lake in stoppage time of the final match of the season, Colorado missed out on the playoffs by a single point. The Rapids should be very hungry heading in to the 2009 season.

Colorado figures to be a very stout defensive club with the addition of Matt Pickens in goal and Ivan Guerrero in the midfield. The two will join forces with MLS vets Pablo Mastroeni, Ugo Ihemelu and Cory Gibbs in what looks to be one of the league's best defensive units.

Defense will be no problem, but where will the club find goals? Conor Casey is talented but an inconsistent producer. The other options at striker, Omar Cummings and Jacob Peterson, have produced even less over their MLS career than Casey.

Colorado may be forced to play a very defensive style out of necessity. We could see a season similar to Inter Milan of a few years ago, filled with 0-0 draws and 1-0 victories.

FC Dallas

2008 result: 8-10-12, missed playoffs

Key additions: Dave Van Den Bergh

Key subtractions: None

Analysis: Dallas was a very puzzling club last season. They have an excellent collection of talent, yet consistently underperformed. They were a trendy dark horse pick at the beginning of 2008 and ended up missing the playoffs by three points.

The club should rebound nicely with the addition of Dave Van Den Bergh, one of the best crossers in the league. Kenny Cooper, who scored 18 goals last season, should reap the benefits and add even more to his total. Cooper is playing for a possible European contract and regular spot in the US National Team.

Joining Cooper and Van Den Bergh are Jeff Cunningham and Dax McCarty. This gives Dallas a potent combination of veteran experience and youth talent. They'll have an explosive offense. Add into the mix an experienced back line, and Dallas is primed to make a deep playoff run in 2009.

Houston Dynamo

2008 result: 13-5-12, lost in the first round of the playoffs to New York

Key additions: Julius James

Key subtractions: Dwayne De Rosario

Analysis: Houston was the other party in the biggest MLS deal of the offseason, sending Dwayne De Rosario to Toronto in exchange for some defensive help, among other things.

The Dynamo finished 2008 with the second-best regular season record in the league, but the season will be seen as a disappointment to players and fans alike. They were coming off two straight victories in the MLS Cup final and had hoped to make it a three-peat. Instead, they were dumped out of the playoffs in the first round by the surprising New York Red Bulls.

Houston elected not to make any major changes (aside from De Rosario) in the offseason because they believe that they are strong enough to make another succesful run as is. A quick glance at the roster confirms that belief.

Stuart Holden provides plenty of talent in midfield, as does Ricardo Clark. Brian Ching will provide goals in bunches, and Wade Barrett and Eddie Robinson will stabilize the back line.

Los Angeles Galaxy

2008 result: 8-13-9, missed playoffs

Key additions: Jovan Kirovski, Donovan Ricketts

Key subtractions: None as of yet

Analysis: LA finished with an identical record to San Jose despite having Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Edson Buddle on the books. In short, a team with title-level talent couldn't even outperform an expansion club.

2009 could be even worse to the Galaxy. Early reports have both Landon Donovan and David Beckham rejoining the club, and both players are likely less than pleased about the news. Beckham could yet move to Milan, but it would probably happen too late for the club to do anything with the transfer fee for the start of the season.

LA's foolish pride may have cost them a chance to rebuild their squad. If Beckham returns, he'll be leaving for free at the end of the season anyway.

The Galaxy do have one big thing working in their favor: the services of Bruce Arena for a full season. He's a great fit for a club that needs some discipline and looks to be the right person to lead them back into serious contention for the first time since Sigi Schmid was roaming the sidelines.

Real Salt Lake

2008 result: 10-10-10, lost in the second round of the playoffs to New York

Key additions: None

Key subtractions: Nathan Sturgis

Analysis: Real Salt Lake squeaked into the playoffs on a late goal against their competitors for the last slot, the Colorado Rapids. Once there, they managed an upset of Chivas USA in the first round in their first ever playoff appearance. Expectations for 2009 are running high.

Salt Lake will be spending an entire season in their beautiful new stadium and hope to christen it with a second straight playoff appearance. The big strength for this club is their depth at goalkeeper, with US U-23 player Chris Seitz and MLS vet Nick Rimando on the books. Those two would instill confidence in any backline.

Nobody on the Salt Lake roster is a superstar, but the players all understand their roles and play well together. Robbie Findley is the main option up front and he is making the most out of his chances. Kyle Beckerman bolsters the midfield and forces opponents to account for his deadly right foot. Clint Mathis supplies the veteran international presence, while Nat Borchers and Chris Wingert anchor the defense.

Their results won't be flashy 3-0 scorelines. This team is instead built to grind out wins with a solid defense capable of starting a counterattack. They will be in the mix for a playoff spot towards the end of the season.

San Jose Earthquakes

2008 result: 8-13-9, missed playoffs

Key additions: Bobby Convey

Key subtractions: Jovan Kirovski

Analysis: San Jose recently made a great move that was under the radar with their signing of Bobby Convey. Convey had fallen out of favor at Reading FC and decided to make the move back to MLS in the hopes of reviving his career with the National Team. And, while it seems like Convey has been around for ages, he's only 25 years old and still has plenty of great football ahead of him.

The club still has a long way to go before they are competing for titles but they are an intriguing case. They've got a great goalkeeper in Joe Cannon. They've also got the 2008 MLS Newcomer of the Year in Darren Huckerby, who scored six times in 14 appearances for the club last season.

San Jose also has the underrated MLS vet Ned Grabavoy, a man who contributed significantly to LA's MLS Cup and US Open double in 2004.

The Earthquakes have the quality necessary to string together a couple of hot streaks, but ultimately it will be another season or two before they have the necessary depth to string together an entire season of competitive football.

Seattle Sounders FC

2008 result: None

Key additions: Kasey Keller, Freddie Ljungberg, Sigi Schmid

Key subtractions: None

Analysis: Seattle is a team to be very excited about. They've sold around 19,000 season tickets, have a lucrative sponsorship deal with Microsoft's Xbox 360, and have been making shrewd signings throughout the entire offseason. This team isn't behaving like your typical expansion team, and it's quite refreshing.

Kasey Keller, like his compatriot Brad Friedel, is still capable of performing at a high level even nearing the end of his career. Keller spent last season helping save Fulham from relegation and remains one of the best goalkeepers that the United States has to offer.

The team will undoubtedly go through some growing pains, but they seem to be the strongest expansion team yet. There are many players who have had success at the club level before, both in MLS and abroad. Most normal expansion franchises don't bring that kind of experience to the table.

The key for Seattle to succeed will be staying healthy. Ljungberg and striker Nate Jaqua have had injury problems in the past. If those two can stay healthy, Seattle's attack should be quite effective and the Sounders might find themselves in the playoffs.


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