MLS new season preview - part 1
Threats of a player strike have been averted
and the MLS is all ready to kick off it's 15th season tonight when Seattle Sounders welcome league new boys Philadelphia Union in front of a 35,000 sell-out crowd.
The proposed strike could have ended badly with the beginning of the season seriously in doubt up until last weekend when the league and players agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement
for 4 years. I have read through the agreement, I don't understand a lot of it to be honest, but what jumps out of me is that the minimum annual salary for first-teamers, that is first team players is now $40,000. Compare that to the riches to found in the Premier League.
Anyway I will follow my adopted team Chicago Fire
, who lost again in the Eastern Conference
Final last season but have gone through some changes in the winter. Firstly and I think most significantly their 'designated player' Cuauhtemoc Blanco has returned to Mexico in an effort to make their world cup squad. I was never impressed with him personally but he was hugely popular especially with Chicago's Mexican soccer-mad immigrants, of which there are millions and he did become Fire's talisman. It will be interesting to see what the loss of Blanco does to the home attendances as well.
Fire also have a new manager, previous El-Salvador national coach Carlos de los Cobos who has promised an attractive attacking style, which will be a new direction for a team for over a decade built on firm defensive foundations. Joining de los Cobos is Salvadoran international winger
Julio Enrique Martínez and ex-Fulham striker Collins John, who is surprisingly still only 24. Mind you goals will be needed from Brian McBride, 14 years older than John.
Chicago can still be a force in the MLS and play on Saturday night at Austrian-owned New York Red Bulls
new 25,000 capacity stadium in New Jersey. The stadium took donkeys years to become a reality and I wonder how well it will be filled. Star-man is ex-Villa striker Juan Pablo Angel but otherwise it is mostly a young team and new manager Hans Backe, late of Notts County's aborted world dominance fame, has a big job on his hands.
Still the team to beat in the Eastern Conference are Columbus Crew
. They have in effect won the league in the last two seasons with the best record (almost every club then enters the play-off's to decide the eventual champion). Crew under Polish head coach Robert Warzycha's have the deepest squad and kick off at home against Toronto FC
The Canadians now have MLS legend Preki at the helm which should give them more joy this season after inconceivably missing out on the play-offs. Toronto's squad without the now retired Danny Dichio looks a bit threadbare but in midfield they do have the Canadian pairing of Nana Attakora and local hero Dwayne DeRosario.
New boys Philadelphia Union
are the MLS' 16th team (I hate the word franchise) and will move in July to a new stadium on the banks of the River Delaware. Ex-Chicago manager Piotr Nowak has had a long time to prepare his team who will wear navy blue and gold, representing the primary colours of the Continental Army's uniforms during the American Revolutionary War. Philly's first season aspirations might be just short of surrender but with strikers called Fred and Torres there must be goals surely?
Steve Nicol has pretty much rebuilt the New England Revolution
after nearly a decade as one of the countries soccer powerhouses. The Revs will miss Taylor Twellman this, who no doubt will be joined on the treatment table by new signing Cory Gibbs. Kansas City Wizards
hit the media spotlight
by signing Indian football's superstar Sunil Chhetri. Linked with Celtic last summer and 'signed' by QPR only to be refused a work permit the diminutive striker is only the 3rd Indian footballer to play outside of the country and generated feverish interest in back in India. Ex-Arsenal, Millwall and Palace midfielder Ryan Smith also joined the Wizards for the new season.
Kansas City play DC United
this weekend and the Capital boys also begin the season with a new coach. Curt Onalfo late of the Wizards has added some bodies including Australian Danny Allsopp signed from Qatari side, Al-Rayyan. Allsopp played a fair bit in England and scored goals at Notts County and Hull City. Star man again for United will be the eternally dangerous Bolivian forward Jaime Moreno, the MLS' all time leading goalscorer
with 131 goals.
My predictions for final Eastern Conference placings: 1. Columbus 2. Chicago 3. Kansas City 4. DC United 5. New England 6. Philadelphia 7. Toronto 8. New York.
Western Conference preview tomorrow.