I now present my predictions for the Western conference in season 13 of Major League Soccer. Part 1 can be found here.
1. Chivas USA (CHV) - This team found themselves last season and it was incredible. Razov and Galindo up top terrorized defenses until the very end, when injuries took them both out of the post-season. They have addressed that issue and brought in greater depth at forward. With a midfield that mixes young talent with hard-nosed veteran leadership, I can see this team coming out on top of the Western conference. Their inclusion in the newly created CONCACAF Champion's League and the highly entertaining Superliga, the club's depth truly will be tested, but I think that they are up for the task.
2. Houston Dynamo (HOU) - You can never count out Houston. This team has a solid core of hard-working winners, and they are solid from front to back. They lost defender Ryan Cochrane, and forwards Joseph Ngwenya and Nate Jaqua, but frankly I don't see that being a problem for this team. They picked up '06 Defender of the Year Bobby Boswell (who disappointed last season in DC, but is quite capable of regaining his form if head coach Dominic Kinnear can provide the right spark--something he has proven himself quite capable of), and it should be remembered that Kinnear has proven himself able to make those vital mid-season acquisitions to keep the team strong.
3. Real Salt Lake (RSL) - This is my dark horse pick (and yes it is partly because I like them a lot). Every year has begun with great promise, and every year has been a disappointment for this still young team (they entered the league in '05 season; the same year as Chivas USA). A drastic overhaul has taken place over the course of those three years, and ex-Captain (now head coach), Jason Kreis, has finally had that off-season he was hoping for to get this team headed in the right direction. This team will need time to gel, but I think that they will surprise us all and finally make it into the playoffs. The biggest change that has taken place, and the one that really matters in my book, is the depth that has been added. The old approach of bringing in "stars" has been abandoned for a group of sound players with the passion to win. The defense has been shored up, and there will be competition for the starting position at every spot. This is a make or break year for the team--not in the sense that they have to win the Cup, but that they finally learn to win. I think they will.
4. Los Angeles Galaxy (LAG) - Superstars of the world (ok only one of the world, the other two from Central and N. America) unite! General Manager, Alexi Lalas, finally has the "superteam" he wanted (I'm sure that isn't entirely true, but they are off to a start) in David Beckham, Landon Donovan, and Carlos Ruiz. Sadly, it has come at the expense of quality everywhere else on the pitch. The back line (along with Cronin in goal) looks to be just as ineffectual as last year, but, with the attacking prowess of the three aforementioned stars, I can see the Galaxy eeking out wins. My guess is that we can expect a lot of scoring to go on in their games from both ends. They are my middle of the pack for the West--they'll win a lot and they'll lose a lot. It will all depend on whether their offense shows up in any given game.
5. FC Dallas (DAL) - This is a team with a lot of potential, but too many missing pieces to truly be great. The loss of Ruiz will hurt them; I don't see Cooper as enough of an offensive threat to carry the goal scoring of this team. A lot will fall on the shoulders of Juan Toja, and he will show up, but there is just too much inconsistency for this team to be real title contenders. They'll be tough to beat, but doable.
6. Colorado Rapids (COL) - I love Christian Gomez, but--despite his incredible consistency--I don't think he'll be enough to help this team find their groove. Their corps of forwards have potential and I am secretly rooting for Herculez Gomez to step up and deliver on the quality service that Christian Gomez will bring, but I don't see this team climbing out of their cess-pool as long as head coach Fernando Clavijo is around. He is a dead weight and will continue to drag this team down until he is relieved.
7. San Jose Earthquakes (SJ) - A strong pre-season does not convince me that this team is ready for anything else than to be hammered. It is their expansion year, and, with the exception of Chicago winning the MLS Cup in their first season ('98), expansion teams traditionally have a rough go of it for at least their first season. I do like what head coach Frank Yallop is doing down there, and I'm excited for him to be able to regain some of the prestige he lost with last year's LA debacle.