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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

MLS returns

Okay, so a couple of weeks went by without additions to my blog. Been busy but also very involved in all things MLS at the moment. From a friendly I went to between the New York Red Bulls and the Carolina Railhawks to joining the mlsrumors.net team to watching nearly 100% of the MLS games offered via cable (thanks, DVR!) minus HDNet to starting up my own statistical analysis of league attendance, I've had plenty to ingest and process. So where does the league stand? Tough to say just yet. Let's take it one team at a time. (All stats are based on official MLS numbers plus my own statistical analysis for the percentage)

The West
  • The LA Beckhams (a.k.a Galaxy): Ruud Gullit will have a difficult time building a team from the midfield down to the goalie since almost 2/3 of the team capital is spent on the top third of the group. What good is Landon Donovan's wonder goals or Carlos "el pescadito" Ruiz's sneaky goal intrusions or even Beck's amazing services if at the back the defense looks less efficient at stopping attackers than traffic cones. Colorado tore them up 4-0 in the first game. Game 2 against expansion San Jose doesn't count... and just when you thought it was safe in Beckhamland, boom! ... in comes Jeff Cunningham at the 88th minute to give the one-year-old TFC franchise its second ever away victory. Yikes! (Mean attendance so far this season: 23,713 or 88%)
  • Houston Dynamo: It's often said in MLS soccer that one shouldn't trust the first month's action as a prelude to the playoffs. Houston sure hopes so. The reigning champs haven't won a game yet and their international play in the Concacaf Champion's Cup yielded a scoreless home tie and a thrashing at Saprissa that saw the Costa Rican side victorious by the score of 3-0. With Onstad and Holden and a couple of other starters still nursing injuries, we'll see how well they fare when they visit the Beckham circus. (Mean attendance so far this season: 20,102 or 63%)
  • San Jose: It will be a tough year for Frank Yalllop's expansion team. Expansion? Yes, they were one of the originals but the franchise moved to Houston and won 2 MLS cups. SJ already had 2 MLS cups won with basically the same team (DeRosario, Ching, and co.). Not much to say here except good luck and hopefully they'll be able to secure their own stadium soon. (Mean attendance so far this season: 20,038 or 191% since they played in a bigger stadium for their first game due to Blanco's presence)
  • Chivas: The goats are awesome. Be it coach Preki or the crafty play of Sacha Kljestan, Maykel Galindo and Brad Guzan, it doesn't matter. The team is clicking. They've got berths in the Champions League (not UEFA) and the SuperLiga (I don't really like this tourney but more on that later). They beat their opponents with style and hopefully they'll be able to get a designated player soon. Bofo, your new team is waiting. (Mean attendance so far this season: 17,982 or 67%)
  • Real Salt Lake: So the name's a little weird. Who cares? They have an awesome fanbase and a great stadium that will open this year that looks to be the envy of many. Beckerman is showing his prowess and the new influx of talent is lighting things up as well. Esky is a welcome sight and Findley should be able to build on his experience and perhaps evolve into a more complete player. Bring it on, salties! (Mean attendance so far this season: 16,733 or 65%)
  • Colorado Rapids: This team is always a toss-up. Yes, they beat LA with a vengeance and a win at New England is also impressing. Still, the attack needs help. Cooke is showing his age and Cristian Gomez can only do so much. Potential, yes. Let's see how the crowds respond when Beckham's not the main attraction. Their new stadium is one of the nicest new additions to the league's arsenal of soccer-specific venues. I've heard nothing but praise for their facility from the spanish-peaking media. (Mean attendance so far this season: 18,713 or 103%)
  • FC Dallas: Dulio Davino may not be the ultimate answer to the empty stands at Pizza Hut Park, but it's a start. It's certainly nice to see Kenny Cooper back to his old form and Arturo Alvarez making things interesting on the pitch. Juan Carlos Toja certainly makes things more fluid in the midfield. After the sad failure of former World Cup veteran Denilson last season I can't blame FCD managers being a bit uneasy in hiring a new Designated Player. Hopefully it won't take long and hopefully they'll pick a prominent Mexican player to capitalize on the border state's demographics. (Mean attendance so far this season: 14,552 or 73%)
The East
  • DC United: 4 time champs. Overall best team in the 2007 season and winners of the supporter's shield. If this were England, DC would be champs, but since MLS operates in a cup system all bets are off if a team makes the playoffs. That said, this year DCU looks even more impressive on paper than any other team in the league. The addition of 31-year-old Marcelo Gallardo, Argentina veteran of World Cups 1998 and 2002, upgrades in the attack with Franco Niell and a resigned Santino Qaranta, the 2007 top goal scorer Emilio, Fred and McTavish mixing it up in the midfield and a back line that boasts Peralta and Martinez, this should be a hard team to contain. Yes, they've dropped 3 of their first 4 MLS games. The last was hard fought against the Crew but a couple of mishaps in the defense and lack of a finish touch up top got the better of them. Also, they've managed to play 5 games in just 2 weeks. That's enough to stretch even the deepest of European teams. As the dust settles from this early season batch of games that include the now defunct Champions Cup, we should see a dominant DCU that will remain as one of the bona fide contenders to raise the cup. (Mean attendance so far this season: 16,745 or 68%)
  • New England Revolution: A couple of losses early on are never hard to swallow--especially one at home to a middle-of-the-table team like the Rapids, but things look bright for NE if they can get Ralston and Twellman to good health soon. Their Gambian acquisitions have proved phenomenal in the attack and should make up for Pat Noonan leaving for Norway. Still, a DP is necessary if NE is hoping to retap into their previously raucous crowds that are running well below the average. (Mean attendance so far this season: 9,713 or 49%)
  • New York: What to say about this team? This is a team reminiscent of LA in terms of attack. They still have Angel and Reyna and Altidore. Van Der Berg is still in the midfield and Echeverry is a nice option for when Altidore leaves (most probably) for Europe in the summer. Coach Osorio's defensive-minded protocol should help the team in that sector but some extra work in the defensive midfield will require further player signings. This, according to sources, should come in the summer transfer window. (Mean attendance so far this season: 17,119 or 67%)
  • Chicago: Enter Cuauhtemoc Blanco. In my humble opinion and soccer-wise a much better signing for the league than captain Becks. Here's why: last year Chicago was sinking in the table with as few as 4 games into the middle of the season. Once Blanco joined and Osorio took over as head coach the team gave a complete 180 and became dominant in the east trailing only DCU and a feisty New England team that went on to the MLS Cup final. This year the Fire is already a force to be reckoned with: unbeaten in three games and with a resounding victory over New England in their home opener. Frankowski and Barret up top look impressive. Blanco right behind them make them nothing less than formidable. Does the Fire get their second MLS Cup star this year? Signs point to yes. (Mean attendance so far this season: 15,553 or 78%)
  • Kansas City: The former "Wiz" of 1996 became the "Wizards" in 1997 due to copyright infringement. Then again there's also the NBA Wizards but I don't do basketball so no hard feelings there. Finally removing that conspicuously cheesy rainbow from their logo was a step in the right direction. In terms of their game... a revamped and reinvigorated offense after losing Eddie Johnson to Premier League relegation-bound Fulham is already playing well for them. Adding an aging, albeit still dominant player, Claudio "el piojo" Lopez as their DP should make things more interesting for them. Playing in a much smaller venue that sits a little over 10,000 was genius since they attract only as many fans to their games each week. Now their home games are almost always full and much more intimate. Good move for a team centered in an american football dominated region. (Mean attendance so far this season: 9,200 or 89%)
  • Columbus: The "Crew" return to the big soccer scene with a young but nonetheless talented lineup. Eddi Gaven and Robbie Rogers highlight their young contingent while veterans Frankie Hejduk and former Boca Juniors star Gillermo Carlos Schellotto anchor the team and provide leadership in the back line as well as midfield. Alenjandro Moreno up top is another bright star. A win at DCU this past Thursday shows what they are capable of. Beating Houston on their home turf next week should consolidate them as playoff contenders. Now only if they could get their attendance numbers up. Speaking of that, I think bringing home 1996 rookie of the year, biggest US star outside of the country, and World Cup veteran Brian McBride for a sendoff season would surely bring people back to the stands. (Mean attendance so far this season: 10,288 or 46%)
  • Toronto FC: Last but certainly not least is Canada's only team in MLS. In a brilliant move by the league and FIFA, TFC was allowed to be a part of the league even though it's not in US soil simply by having a majority of Canadian players in the team. Last season was a flop on the field due to their being an expansion side. Sellout crowds for every game in their brand new stadium was nothing short of impressive. Surely these are the biggest fans of the game in the league, although DCU supporters might find that insulting. In any case, DCU is not exactly selling out their venue (not even their MLS attendance). Dichio, Lombardo, and Cunningham up top look great. New signings in the form of former MLS MVP Amado Guevara, 32-year-old and former French international Robert as well as Championship side Barnsley midfielder add leadership to the team. Wynne and Edu in the back form a great defense even if other teams tend to exploit the other 2 defenders' weaknesses. A DP signing looms near. Watch out for this team if not late in the season then certainly in 2009. (Mean attendance so far this season: 20,219 or 101%)


Alastair McCandless said...

Two comments. One: Ruud Gullit probably doesn't swallow. Two: Whatever happened to the Wiz and the Burn? Back in their day the MLS was less of a soccer league and more like a urinary tract infection symptom.

R. Mera Velásquez said...

Very true. Long gone are the days of ridiculous team names like Wiz, Burn, Clash, Mutiny and MetroStars. I'm not terribly happy with the Fire or Revolution names or even the Crew, but nobody's perfect.
As a caveat, other countries have funny names for their teams, such as Comunicaciones in El Salvador, Municipal in Honduras and even my own team in Ecuador: Emelec... which actually stands for Empresa Electrica Ecuatoriana, a.k.a. the Power Company.

Alastair McCandless said...

I am not terribly surprised that a team is named after a power company. You just wonder how much longer it may be until the players have billboards running electronic ads on their chests.