2006 MLS Predictions: East is East
If anything, the east is even more difficult to forecast than the west. There are those that the top seed is New England's to lose. Others that say "No, wait, the world cup is really going to mess them up." On the other side, the SE Podcast thinks that Columbus could be one of the worst teams since the 1999 Metrostars. Or perhaps it's Red Bull New York that's the patsy of the group. The point is, the situation is murky, and I've drafted this list six or seven times, and the top seed and bottom seed and last place were never the same on any of those lists. So, in the absence of any real statistical reason to point to, I give you the haziest of all justifications: My instinct.
- DC United: I know what you're thinking. "D's an objective guy, and he knows that RSL and Chicago Fire fans are trying to jinx DCU, there's no way he'll pick his own team to finish first." Well, jack the superstition and bring the expectations. I do know that DC has unanswered questions, but so do all of the teams. So ultimately, as a fan, I asked myself "Do I believe this team can take the top spot?" And the answer is "yes, yes, a thousand times, yes!" At some point, I figure that it is possible to get so close to a team all you notice are the flaws. Screw that. I believe in this team, its coaches, and its staff. Are they favorites to win it? Probably not. But reasonably, you can believe that they will, and that's enough for me.
- New England Revolution: Plenty of talent, the World Cup may cost them a few points, but not enough to seriously damage the team. In fact, I think a few results in July may surprise people from the depleted Revs. I do think they'll give up more goals this year, but the flip side is that at full strength they may score more goals as well.
- New York Red Bulls: Here's where people are going to seriously question my sanity, given the preseason performance of this team, it's untested attacking options, and overall tawdry ownership situation. So let me break this out for you: Alexi Lalas is better than people, including me, give him credit for. He may not have the coach he want, but that's only because Coach Mo managed to get results to make him impossible to fire. Gaven for Buddle will pay dividends. If this team has a glaring weakness, it's that Lisi is weak in the middle, and they'd have been better off with Bradley (an impossibility given the politics of the situation, but there you go). This team has some really decent players, and I expect the system to struggle at first, then click and go on a tear.
- Columbus Crew: Yes, the other team that people think are going to be awful, and I have them in the playoffs. I'm a fan of Sigi Schmid as a coach. I'm actually prepared to believe in Johnny Walker (?!) between the posts. What's more, this team is largely one without an identity. But all the indications are that the organization as a whole has its act together this year, and I believe in leagues like MLS, a strong organization can actually trickle down and impress itself on a team with a new coach and no major headcases.
- Chicago Fire: This is a team that could almost be looking for an excuse to underperform. A tough opening schedule and immature cast of characters will give them every excuse, and even a strong finish may not help them. Last season, the stars aligned for this team, but I don't expect it to happen again.
- Kansas City Wizards: Yes, they have Eddie Johnson, but they lose him to the World Cup, and potentially to Europe mid-season. I expect them to struggle during the Cup, much more than the Revs. On paper, defense shouldn't be a problem, but I don't see depth and I do see goalkeeper situation with Bo Oshoniyi and, well, nothing really, that even makes the most ardent Rimando/Perkins debater say "Damn, that's a mess."