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Here comes the season, Part 3

March 7, 2012 | 3:31 pm No comments
By Shaun Schafer

Continuing our trip West, we look at teams that the Colorado Rapids will be battling for a playoff spot in 2012.

FC Dallas: Pizza Hut Park is home to one of my two enigmas for the coming season. The defense looks better with George John’s return, but there are questions on whether Dallas is closer to the 2010 team that went to the MLS Cup finals, or a squad likely to scrape by into the playoffs.

Kevin Hartman continues as the goalkeeper of choice, and the defense in front of him will be better. Midfield is still unsettled. But the big question will be answered up top.

Blas Perez and Fabian Castillo will have to be the scoring punch for Dallas, because there is little hope on the bench. Seriously, Scott Sealy, who last scored in the MLS in 2008, is third on the forward depth chart.

If Perez and Castillo click, this team could go back to the MLS Cup.

Real Salt Lake: Here’s the other enigma. The team at the Rio Tinto Stadium has a formidable defense, an experienced midfield and a productive forward line. Real is deadly at home, and still boasting many of the parts that led to the 2009 MLS Cup.

Real also doesn’t have the pressure of playing for a CONCACAF Champions title to start the season. So what’s to stop them? Age.

This team is getting old at key positions. The little injuries that nagged players are turning into spates of missed games. However, with the depth on the roster, Salt Lake should go far.

The playoffs are inevitable, but it will take some inspired additions from the bench to put this side in the chase for the Western Conference title.

Portland Timbers: Welcome to mid-pack land and welcome to the team that Colorado is going to have to watch. Portland handled the move to the MLS well. A year’s experience only makes this team better.

Troy Perkins is strong in the net, Jack Jewsbury leads from the midfield, and the attack may be improved by the loss of Kenny Cooper. Too often in the freshman campaign the Timbers looked to Cooper for magic. Without a go-to guy, the Timbers may actually be stronger.

Look for Portland to host a playoff game.

San Jose Earthquakes: The ‘Quakes lost Bobby Burling and Bobby Convey, but retained Chris Wondolowski and got much better on defense.

Frank Yallop coached this team to relevancy with less than ideal talent. His talent level is better and Wondo has proven that all he does is score goals. And that is all this team needs.

Playoffs are a given. Second round is likely. A challenge for the top? Maybe.

Seattle Sounders: You avoid losses through the midfield. You generate wins through the midfield. Arguably no one has a stronger midfield than Seattle.

I don’t see any weakness in the middle of the field. There’s a great blend of speed, experience and ball skills. This team could dominate possession all season.

The question will be who can score next to Fredy Montero. Eddie Johnson has been brought in as the answer, but this move seems dubious at best. Johnson looks like a one-trick pony who is now years removed from that trick. He hasn’t gotten faster or more skilled in his stops overseas. However, he gets the chance to take plenty of shots this season.

Find a goal scorer and this side will add an MLS Cup to the trophy case alongside a growing supply of U.S. Open cups.

Los Angeles Galaxy: We finish with the champs, who enter the season wearing the title and showing their age.

We didn’t know before 2011 if David Beckham had a championship left in him. Now we get to wonder if there is a second. Robbie Keane is past his prime, and his partnership with a returning Edson Buddle is a work in progress. Omar Gonzales is out with a knee injury.

OK, those are all the problems in LA. Leading the league and winning the MLS Cup has given the side an air of invincibility. It will only fade if the Galaxy starts to falter after the first eight weeks of the season.

A fast start will ensure a playoff spot, but look for LA’s time at the top to come to an end. Seattle has the organization, and Dallas and Salt Lake make for difficult matches. LA would be lucky to repeat as conference champs.

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