MLS had 19 clubs last season. Nine teams in the Western Conference and ten in the Eastern Conference. Chivas USA was in the West. Now that they're gone, that leaves MLS with 18 clubs and two open spots in the West.
They could be like the National Football League and just not care that the Dallas Cowboys are playing teams in Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, D.C., or they could be like the NBA where the West is a death sentence for small markets.
Both New York and Orlando are on the East Coast last time I checked. MLS put both franchises in the Eastern Conference, deciding to move Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City to the West. This makes total sense geographically and we're starting to look similar to the NBA.
With those two additions, the Western Conference is STACKED! As much as I hate to bring it up, Houston has had a good deal of success in MLS. They've won MLS Cups and make the playoffs almost every year. Kansas City is another strong club with U.S. national team members like Graham Zusi and Matt Besler. They just won the MLS Cup in 2013. Adding these two franchises to the West makes rivalries even better.
Maybe MLS felt bad about stacking the West when they decided to expand the playoffs to 12 teams and become even more similar to the NBA, where it's easier to make the playoffs because more than half can.
Now let's talk about what clubs in the West have done in the offseason to make the West even tougher. I'll break it down club by club and take a look at FC Dallas last.
Key additions: Sam Cronin (CM), Marcelo Sarvas (CM), Michael Harrington (LB), Zac MacMath (GK), Lucas Pittinari (CM)
Key departures: Zat Knight (CB), Jose Mari (CM), Chris Klute (LB), Marvell Wynne (RB), Edson Buddle (ST)
Analysis: Very interesting offseason for Colorado so far. They lost a very good player in Jose Mari, but gained Cronin, Sarvas, and Pittinari. Not a bad group. Losing Buddle and Knight doesn't hurt too much. But, losing Wynne and especially Klute hurts. They picked up Harrington, who to be fair is a solid LB in MLS and MacMath. They drafted a few defenders, but I still think they need a lot of help on the defensive side of things.
Prediction: 10th (last) in the Western Conference.
Key additions: Raul Rodriguez (CB), Nathan Sturgis (CM), Erick Torres (ST), Leonel Miranda (CAM)
Key departures: Tally Hall (GK), Eric Brunner (CB), Andrew Driver (LM)
Analysis: After missing the playoffs last season and finding out they would be moving into the Western Conference, Dynamo had a lot of work to do. They needed help on defense, they signed Rodriguez. They needed more offense, they got it in Torres and Miranda. It really hurts for them to lose Hall. I guess they have a lot of faith in Tyler Deric. Overall this Dynamo team got a lot better in the offseason. Might be the most improved squad on paper.
Prediction: 4th in the Western Conference.
Los Angeles Galaxy
Key additions: Steven Gerrard (CM)
Key departures: Landon Donovan (ST), Marcelo Sarvas (CM)
Analysis: LA didn't really need to change much. They are hot off of winning an MLS Cup. However, they did lose this guy named Landon who was pretty decent at soccer. They had an open DP spot to fill and they filled it with Gerrard. With no room for Sarvas, they moved him to Colorado for their allocation order spot. They didn't end up getting Sacha Kljestan, so they still have that spot.
Prediction: 2nd in the Western Conference.
Key additions: Dairon Asprilla (M/F), Nat Borchers (CB), Jeanderson (LB), Adam Kwarasey (GK)
Key departures: Donovan Ricketts (GK), Michael Harrington (LB)
Analysis: Portland finished in 6th last season and just missed the playoffs. This was a bit surprising to some as they had a pretty good 2013 campaign. Not too big of upgrades so far this offseason, but I do think Portland will play a lot better this year than last year. Doesn't mean I think they make the playoffs though in this deadly conference.
Prediction: 7th in the Western Conference.
Key additions: Jamison Olave (CB), Wellington Paeckart (CDM), Sebastian Jaime (ST)
Key departues: Robbie Findely (ST), Nat Borchers (CB), Chris Wingert (LB), Ned Grabavoy (LM)
Analysis: This team played well last season even with the absence of Alvaro Saborio for most of the season. They picked up Olave and offloaded Borchers. That's a decent tradeoff. They need some help on the wings, but I think RSL will do just fine this season.
Prediction: 6th in the Western Conference.
Key additions: David Bingham (GK), Matias Perez Garcia (CAM), Marvell Wynne (RB), Innocent Emeghara (ST), Leandro Barrea (ST)
Key departures: Jon Busch (GK), Sam Cronin (CM), Yannick Djalo (CAM), Atiba Harris (RB/RM)
Analysis: I kind of want to add in Dominic Kinnear and a new stadium as key additions too, because those are huge. I still think this team needs a lot of help. Specifically in the midfield and wings. They improved some and will play better because of the additions of Kinnear and the new stadium, but I don't think that much better.
Prediction: 9th in the Western Conference.
Key additions: Tyrone Mears (RB), Troy Perkins (GK), Kevin Parsemain (ST)
Key departures: DeAndre Yedlin (RB), Tristan Bowen (ST), Djimi Traore (CB), Jalil Anibaba (CB)
Analysis: This Seattle team had a great regular season, scoring a lot of goals and beating teams handedly. However, they barely squeezed by FCD in the playoffs and LA finished them off. Although they scored a lot of goals, their defense left something to be desired. Seattle gave up 50 goals, which is the same number San Jose conceded. Chad Marshall can't do it all by himself. They need more help on defense to truly dominate this season. But, they don't need to dominate to score butt-loads of goals and win.
Prediction: 1st in the Western Conference.
Sporting Kansas City
Key additions: Jalil Anibaba (CB), Bernardo Anor (CM), Roger Espinoza (CM), Luis Marin (GK), Krisztian Nemeth (ST)
Key departures: Eric Kronberg (GK), Sal Zizzo (RM), Lawrence Olum (CB), Aurelien Collin (CB), Soony Saad (ST), Claudio Bieler (ST)
Analysis: Kansas City had a down year last season after winning the MLS Cup in 2013. However, the additions of Espinoza and Nemeth will help this team greatly. The only place this team will need help is on defense after losing Collin. However, some will say Collin was the problem. Overall, this team got better after barely making the playoffs in the East last year.
Prediction: 5th in the Western Conference.
Key additions: Octavio Rivero (ST), Diego Rodriguez (CB)
Key departures: Omar Salgado (ST), Mehdi Ballouchy (LM), Andy O'Brien (CB), Johnny Leveron (CB)
Analysis: This team was very dangerous in the attack last season and they got even better with the addition of Rivero. Rodriguez will help at the back as well. This team improved, but is it enough to make the playoffs again this year?
Prediction: 8th in the Western Conference.
Key additions: Atiba Harris (RM/RB), Dan Kennedy (GK), Kyle Bekker (CM), Otis Earle (LB)
Key departures: Raul Fernandez (GK), Andres Escobar (RM), Jair Benitez (LB), Adam Moffat (CM), George John (CB), Hendry Thomas (CDM)
Analysis: We haven't made many moves this offseason, but that doesn't mean we should all panic. Oscar Pareja, Fernando Clavijo, and Dan Hunt have repeatedly told us in the past year that this is a championship caliber roster. They like our guys. And after last season, maybe we don't need too many changes to get us to that next level. I still think we need to make two signings. One upgrade on the wing and one upgrade in the center of the park. If Papi trusts Zach Loyd at CB for the long haul, so do I. Are we better than last season yet? I'm not so sure. But will we be when the season starts? We'll see.
Prediction: 3rd in the Western Conference.
So, the Western Conference has gotten a lot better. But, so has the Eastern Conference. Will the West reign supreme over the East again this season? I think so.
MLS is improving every day and took a big leap in its progression this offseason. This season will be much more competitive than any other I've seen thus far. Enjoy it.
Which conference will be better this year? Which team improved the most?