April 5, 2007

Heard Around the League: The 2007 Western Conference Preview Edition

1. Houston Dynamo: Foo Fighters
Much like the Foo Fighters, the Houston Dynamo sprung out of a successful predecessor to immediate glory. Nirvana provided the springboard for the success of Dave Grohl's Foo Fighters. As the drummer for Nirvana, Grohl had been working on some songs of his own. After Kurt Cobain's death, Grohl went into the studio and recorded the first Foo Fighters album completely on his own. Grohl put together a band and hit the road. Five albums later, the Foo Fighters are one of the most respected bands in rock.

The Dynamo aren't there yet, but a championship in their first season is a nice start. The previous successes of the San Jose Earthquakes (2005 Supporters' Shield, 2001 & 2003 MLS Cup) gave the Dynamo a perfect platform. Coach Dominic Kinnear took Dwayne De Rosario, Pat Onstad, Brian Ching, Eddie Robinson, and Wade Barrett to their new home in Houston.

The only major player Houston is losing from '06 is Adrian Serioux, the one guy the Dynamo could afford to replace. Ryan Cochrane slides into the starting lineup, something he's ready to handle. The strength of the team is in the midfield, with DDR in the middle and excellent wingers in Brian Mulland and Brad Davis. Chingy will be seeking to impress the new USMNT coach and put his name down in place of Brian McBride up top. With the talent behind him, he should score buckets of goals this year.

The Dynamo aren't up 2-0 on the reigning Copa Sudamericana champs by accident...

2. Chivas USA: Gorillaz
Gorillaz are one of the more creative side projects in music history. Blur frontman Damon Albarn got together with Jamie Hewlett, the co-creator of the comic book Tank Girl. Gorillaz is comprised of animated band members and they've created their own little virtual world around the band. The first album was a success, but you couldn't avoid the second one with hits like Feel Good Inc. and DARE.

Chivas USA also got started as a side project. Jorge Vergara wanted to expand his Chivas brand in the US and bought into MLS. Originally, they tried to field a team of primarily Hispanic (mostly Mexican and Mexican-American) players, but saw little success in their first season. Last year, Bob Bradley was able to change that and put a much more competitive team on the field. They fell in a hard fought conference semifinal series to eventual champions Houston.

Bradley is trying to win the USMNT job now, so Preki will be making his head coaching debut for the Goats this season. The biggest change on the roster is the addition of Amado Guevara, just a year removed from an MVP season in New York. Guevara will be faced with replacing the popular Paco Palencia, who's returned to Mexico with Pumas. It's a very talented midfield Guevara will be headlining. Young American Sacha Kljestan and young Mexican Francisco Mendoza hold down the flanks, with veteran Jesse Marsch doing the dirty work. Claudio Suarez returns in the back, along with the newly capped Jonathan Bornstein. Ante Razov will see a new partner up front in Cuban Maykel Galindo, who joined Chivas from the Seattle Sounders.

It might take the newcomers a few games to settle in, but there's tons of potential for success in the renters at the Home Depot Center.

3. Los Angeles Galaxy: Kenny Chesney
Alexi Lalas and the his staff are working very hard to build the image of the Los Angeles Galaxy. He's recycled his former MetroStars talk about a super club. He talks about making the Galaxy one of the biggest clubs in the world. Adding a player who is known more for his image (unfairly, but it's the truth) in David Beckham is a huge step in raising the overall profile of the Gals.

Kenny Chesney is also known for his image, more so than his music. He achieved a great deal of success through his videos, winning awards each of the last 3 years. He's attracted quite a large following among female fans, mainly based off his looks. He was on top of the tabloids and entertainment shows with his marriage to Renee Zellweger. He got even more attention after the marriage was annulled, with "fraud" listed as the cause. Sorry, no Peyton Manning jokes here (but there are some here).

Things won't be easy for the Gals this year. Half of the season will be spent waiting on Becks' arrival, the other half will be spent trying to get used to playing with him and all the flashbulbs popping off. Alexi made two other nice acquisitions in the offseason in Colorado GK Joe Cannon, probably one of the most consistent keepers in the league, and Chicago F/M Nate Jacqua. Coach Yallop's biggest problem might be figuring out the best system to play. He seems committed to a 4-3-3, with Beckham eventually playing in the center of midfield. I guess that would mean that you'd slide Donovan out wide at forward or midfield. I'm not sure if that will be what they stick with, but it's way too early to tell.

The team will also be looking to send the retiring Cobi Jones out on a good note. He's been a lifer with the Galaxy, and deserves to go out on top.

Due to the Beckham Tour, the schedule is brutal for the Gals. I think that will be the main thing that will put them behind Houston and Chivas in the West. Look out for them to catch fire in the playoffs though.

4. Colorado Rapids: Kid Rock
Somehow, Colorado just always seems to get more out of their roster than they should. They basically single handedly got FC Dallas' coach Colin Clarke fired, somehow knocking the more talented FCD squad out of the playoffs two years running. They play hard, physical, and in your face.

Kid Rock knows all about an in your face type of style. He's somehow figured out a way to combine rock, rap, and country into a style that has brought him success. He's the guy who brought a song called You Never Met a Motherfucker Quite Like Me to VH1 of all places. He was also married to Pamela Anderson, which baffled lots of guys.

The Rapids open their new stadium, Dick's Sporting Goods Park, this Saturday against DC United. They've made some strong moves to ensure success at the Big Dick, bringing in lots of depth on the roster. Defenders Brandon Prideaux, Ugo Ihemelu, and Greg Vanney will shore up an already solid defense. Their additions will allow the central midfield tandem of Kyle Beckerman and Pablo Mastroeni to stay together, Pablo won't be forced back into the center of defense to cover. Herculez Gomez and Roberto Brown will help the attack.

The Rapids a
lso have two of the more underrated players in MLS. Terry Cooke led the league in assists last year from his right wing position. Nico Hernandez was the recipient of many of those wicked crosses. The Argentine forward scored seven times last year, and was more than a handful late in the season. I expect both of these two to improve in '07.

The bigges
t issue with the roster is at keeper. Zach Thornton replaces the steady Joe Cannon after the big man lost his job in Chicago. He's definitely not what he once was, and I don't know if he'll be the starter at the end of the season.

5. Real Salt Lake: Sex Pistols
I have no idea what to expect out of RSL this season, and I don't think Coach Ellinger does either. He traded for Junior Captain America, Freddy Adu. He said that he wanted him to play in the center of midfield, Freddy was excited because he never got that chance in DC. It was going to be a 3-5-2, then they decided to try a 4-4-2. Now, Ellinger is telling the media that he's looking at playing a 4-3-3, with Freddy lining up at left forward. Let's just hope Freddy doesn't lose it and go all Freddy Rotten on us.

The Sex Pistols were also quite unpredictable. They turned the music world on its ear in the late 70's, mainly through a lot of hype and publicity. They'd be booked for a gig, only to last a few songs before Sid Vicious fell down drunk on stage. You'd expect things to fall apart, then they would somehow pull out a great single and keep going. An American tour through the South and Midwest is what eventually did them in, with everything falling apart in San Francisco in 1978.

re's lots of expectations for RSL this year, but I have a feeling things could fall apart for them. With Ellinger changing his mind on the formation this many times, it makes me wonder how happy he is with his squad. A three man midfield of Carey Talley, Chris Klein, and the aging Jason Kreis probably won't be effective for very long in MLS. There's firepower up front in Jeff Cunningham, Freddy, and Mehdi Ballouchy, but that's not enough. The backline is also pretty unheralded, except for veteran Eddie Pope. Nick Rimando will probably be really busy between the posts.

If RSL is to be successful this year, they'll likely have to win some high scoring games. That could be fun for a while, but it will probably just end up blowing up in their face. We'll see if Anarchy in the SLC becomes a big hit this summer.

6. FC Dallas: Beck
I'm not so sure about FCD this year. Two consecutive years of underachieving in the playoffs cost Colin Clarke his job. Coach Morrow is anxious to make some changes, starting with a 4-2-3-1 formation. He thinks it's the best way to make use of his talented roster. However, it will take quite a bit of getting used to since it's not a typical system of play.

Beck is also a fan of taking this less traditional route to success. His talents are all over the musical map, sometimes he makes the best use of them, sometimes not. He's had hugely successful singles and albums, and some that only sold to a few hardcore fans. You have to give him credit though. Back with Loser became a huge hit as an independent release, all the big record labels threw all sorts of money at Beck. He chose Geffen, who offered the least amount of money, but gave him the most creative control.

Morrow now has the creative control in Dallas, and he wants to push forward more, interchange more, and play quicker. He thinks that his 4-2-3-1 formation will enable FCD to do this. I'll give him credit for trying something different.

I just don't know if it's the best play. He has talented forwards in Carlos Ruiz, Kenny Cooper, and Roberto Mina. However, two of them will have to play wide in this formation. A hoss like Cooper needs to be used more in the middle, if you ask me. I do like Morrow's confidence in Ramon Nunez, Clarke never really gave the kid a chance. Two new strong defensive mids, Juan Carlos Toja and Pablo Ricchetti, will provide some teeth in the middle. I'm not sold on the backline though. Chris Gbandi will miss the start of the season, Adrian Serioux is out with knee problems, and that leaves a rather untested group in the back. Shaka Hislop hasn't exactly been shining in preseason either, which makes the Dario Sala six-game suspension even more of a problem.

If things work out for the best, FCD could end up with an Odelay type of season. If not, and that's what I'm thinking, it will be more like Stereopathetic Soulmanure.

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