MLS: Previewing the Eastern Conference Contenders
With more offseason moves than most fans can keep track of, Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference will be up for grabs in 2014.
Not only does the conference already have the reigning Supporters’ Shield winners in the New York Red Bulls and the MLS Cup Champions in Sporting KC, but the bottom dwellers from 2013 have made numerous signings that should put them right in the mix this season.
Here’s a breakdown.
No team in MLS has done as much as D.C. United this offseason to improve their chances in 2014. Despite the fact that United were abysmal in 2013, finishing dead last in the Eastern Conference, they have a strong chance at the playoffs in 2014 considering their talent level.
It loses 35-year-old Dwayne De Rosario, but they return Bill Hamid, Perry Kitchen, Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon. And Coach Ben Olsen will have plenty of new talent to work with as United have brought in MLS veterans Bobby Boswell, Sean Franklin, Davy Arnaud, Eddie Johnson, Fabian Espindola and Jeff Parke.
They also have some promising youngsters in Conor Doyle, Jared Jeffrey and Luis Silva. If Olsen can get the chemistry flowing, D.C. could have a fantastic 2014.
New England Revolution
The New England Revolution were one of the darlings of the 2013 MLS season, using a trio of talented attackers in Juan Agudelo, Diego Fagundez and Kelyn Rowe to make some real noise and earn a late playoff berth.
Agudelo is gone, as is goalkeeper Matt Reis (who retired), but the Revolution still have plenty of talent left. Jose Goncalves and Andrew Farrell are considered two of the league’s best defenders, and they’ve still got Fagundez, Rowe and Lee Nguyen in the midfield.
The Revolution also pulled off the coup of the MLS SuperDraft and bagged two highly rated attacking prospects, Patrick Mullins and Steve Neumann.
It’s hard to believe that Toronto FC could contend in 2014 considering the debacle their 2013 campaign was, but few, if any, teams have made as much noise as Toronto in the offseason transfer market.
Heading into the squad are U.S. international Michael Bradley, considered by many to be the best American player in the game right now, English international Jermain Defoe and one final designated player, Brazilian striker Gilberto.
In addition, Toronto is bringing in MLS veterans Justin Morrow, Jackson and Dwayne De Rosario while shipping out many of its underperforming “stars” from the past few seasons.
It's still a massive longshot to win the league, but a playoff berth isn’t out of reach.
New York Red Bulls
The New York Red Bulls won the Supporters’ Shield in 2013, but once again, they came up short in the playoffs. However, they must feel confident they can do better in 2014 without many changes because they haven’t done much in terms of offseason moves.
They lost Heath Pearce, Markus Holgersson and forward Fabian Espindola over the winter, but they return a number of key players in Eric Alexander, Jamison Olave, Luis Robles and Jonny Steele. And of course, they are anchored by Dax McCarty, Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill.
Sporting KC are the defending MLS Cup champions heading into 2014 and have to believe they can repeat.
They were relatively quiet in the offseason, but considering the talent they already have on board, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Coming back in 2014 are stars Graham Zusi, Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler, as well as a host of talent in Benny Feilhaber, Seth Sinovic, Claudio Bieler, Dom Dwyer, C.J. Sapong, Chance Myers and Oriol Rosell.
It’s tough to know what to expect out of the Houston Dynamo heading into 2014. They were MLS Cup finalists in 2011 and 2012, but they never seemed to hit top form in 2013. Whether that was simply age catching up with some of their veterans or just bad luck is the real question.
Coach Dominic Kinnear is one of the best in the game, and the Dynamo still have plenty of talent, even with the loss of veteran defender Bobby Boswell.
Coming back in 2014 are Brad Davis, Tally Hall, Corey Ashe, Will Bruin, Ricardo Clark, Boniek Garcia and Kofi Sarkodie—all of whom are among the league’s best at their respective positions.
The Philadelphia Union just missed a playoff place in 2013, and all things considered, they will probably be a bubble team again in 2014. Their big offseason signings include bringing in U.S. international Maurice Edu, Argentine midfielder Cristian Maidana and drafting highly touted University of Connecticut goalkeeper Andrew Blake.
Returning for the Union are Amobi Okugo, Conor Casey, Sebastien Le Toux, Jack McInerney and Sheanon Williams while Jeff Parke and Michael Farfan have left the club.
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