Thursday, March 27, 2008

Pre-Season Power Rankings and Other Silly Things

I could have done a DCU season preview but there are already nearly half a dozen out there. Shatz, for example, has been doing the roster dance for weeks. Ives turned his out for ESPN a couple weeks ago. Jon at DCU Offside did his the other day. Even has one up. That's some good coverage. Why compete?

Instead I think I'll go thirteen further and do an in-depth response to Ives' power rankings (with significant help from I-66's "Preview in Haiku").

MLS 2008 Pre-Season Power Rankings:

  1. Houston
  2. D.C. United
  3. New England Revolution
  4. Chivas USA*
  5. Kansas City*
  6. Chicago Fire*
  7. Red Bulls
  8. FC Dallas
  9. Colorado Rapids**
  10. Los Angeles Galaxy**
  11. Columbus Crew
  12. Toronto FC***
  13. Real Salt Lake***
  14. San Jose Earthquakes
Asterisks mark the changes I made to Ives' power rankings.


Let's go from top to bottom:

1. Houston over DC United simply because the Western Conference has not improved as much as the Eastern during the offseason. Houston will have an easier time asserting their dominance and winning points. Their self-confidence and home support will carry them through the season, That said, in terms of talent, any of the top 4 could be argued for the #1 spot. They are the class of the league.

2. DCU has improved their defense, which wasn't the worst, and their playmaker, who was one of the best. Their preseason ended on a very positive note. They entered last season as a solid, title-challenging side and will enter this one the same, only more so. (What remains to be seen is the quality of roster depth: the starters are solid, but the subs? Quaranta can step on for any of the attacking corps, but can Stratford really come on for Simms, Carvallo for Wells, Dyachenko or Kirk for anyone? Let alone Moose, Barlow, and potentially Cezar and Curtin. We simply can't know until those boys see significant playing time, and they will, thanks to a hectic schedule. I predict another end-of-season slump, which is growing into an unfortunate franchise tradition.)

3. New England has a lot to prove and so does Twellman. Reis should have another solid season, as should Ralston. WVHooligan has even gone so far as to predict Shalrie Joseph as 2008-09 league MVP. I don't think I can agree with that assessment at this point, but I will predict that Foxboro will be the birthplace of many a nightmare this season.

4. Raphael Wicky is bringing in a lot of positive press for Chivas USA already. Sacha Kljestan had a very solid showing with the U-23's. Preki has a glut of starting options up top, namely Razov, Galindo, and Eskandarian. Bornstein at left back and Suarez as center back are two of the best in the league. Make no mistake, Chivas are title contenders this year. (On the other hand, lack of depth could prove a problem for the Goats. What's more, with Burpo gone to San Jose, who will step in for Guzan when he leaves?)

5. I dropped Kansas City in the rankings for two reasons. First: their offense is now an unknown quantity. The Trujillo/Lopez front line could prove miraculous, but it could also fizzle. Second: they've traded Burciaga and Garcia and brought in draftee Chance Meyers. As good as they are, I don't see Conrad and Hartman picking up that kind of slack.

6. Cuauhtemoc Blanco will draw crowds and fouls, converting the former into team chemistry and the latter into goals. He is the reason Chicago Fire should be respected. But he is the only reason. Ranking them sixth is an optimistic estimation. The Fire will be plagued by questions this year: will Hamlett succeed? Will the Fire miss Armas or Pickens more? Are Rolfe and Barrett really capable of socring? Will Conde play to his best? Is Frankowski still good? Positive answers will be hard to come by.

7. Oscar Etcheverry just signed with RBNY, giving Altidore both relief from and competition for his starting position. If Altidore leaves, New York has adequate cover. Still, let's go from the top down on the Bulls' starting XI, asking whether or not they will succeed this season. Angel? Of course. Altidore? Certainly. Reyna? Probably. Van den Bergh? Err, potentially. Stammler? Uh, possibly. Freeman? Mendes? Parke? Um... maybe. Conway? Well, no. Osorio is known for breeding strong defenses, but he has his work cut out for him.

8. Juan Toja is the buzz of Dallas' preseason, as is Davino and Caraccio. Each has enormous potential, but will they fulfill it? It's hard to say. That said, top to bottom, the Dallas side is more than decent and could easily leapfrog Kansas City, Chicago, or RBNY.

9. Everyone is being very hard on the Rapids because of their ill form at the end of last season plainly because they failed to score goals. They have one of the strongest defenses in the league, backed by Coundoul and spearheaded by the league's best d-mid (Mastroeni) and one who has to potential to be even better (Rafael Gomes), but their offense is dismal. Christian Gomez is verging on legend status; if he can orchestrate the impotent Rapids offense into something lethal, he'll go down in the books as a superhero. I think he can do it, and that's why I've bumped the Rapids up a couple notches.

10. The Galaxy have the biggest burden of proof in the league. Gullit is the most internationally accomplished coach in the league just as Bex is the most accomplished player. The Beckham/Ruiz connection has already proven effective in Asia. Donovan is headed for another double/double season. So what gives? Infrastructural instability could cripple this side. So could an injury crisis. As it stands now with everyone healthy, there's no doubt in my mind that the Galaxy have the capability to succeed in the MLS; but will they?

11. The Crew have a big problem: who will finish Schelotto's service? There are serious doubts about Alejandro Moreno and Nico Hernandez. Robbie Rogers and Eddie Gaven have yet to produce their best, and I'm not entirely sure it will come this year. Couple this with a mediocre Brian Carroll, a flawful back line, and a half-decent keeper and there isn't a whole lot to be optimistic about, especially when you consider the possibility that Schelotto leaves mid-season.

12. Toronto FC are poised to do much better than last year, but that's not saying much. They've pursued many and signed few, indicating either choosiness or contract faults or administrative conflicts or all three at once. But here's the bottom line: they're going to do better than last year, I can feel it. Their home support alone will render them not-the-last throughout the summer. The efforts of Maurice Edu, Jeff Cunningham and Danny Dichio might push them even further.

13. Kreis, now's your time to shine. Bring Real Salt Lake to life. You've got no Esky, no Adu, no DP, and nothing to lose. This goes for you too, Robbie Findley.

14. San Jose, to the contrary of many another MLS side, have nothing to prove and plenty of leeway about it anyways. Yallop will be well-esteemed whether this year ends well or badly. I'm hankering after Ramiro Corrales for my fantasy side; I think his value will increase exponentially once the season starts.


Also, Houtson's video preview of the 2008 season. I think it's all very cute and silly. Houston should have a motto, and only a puppet of Jose Mourinho can say it, and it should be this: "Be champions."



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