I guess we should start this thing off right. These are my predictions for how the East and West Conferences (it will be done in two parts; Part 2 found here) will stack up come the end of the season, although (I admit) for as much thought as I put into these rankings (and I have put quite a bit of thought into it), it all ends up being somewhat arbitrary. Also, I originally posted this in SoccerVegas, where I wrote with the assumption that my readers had a somewhat extensive knowledge of MLS (and soccer in general). I will not make that assumption here (at least initially), so I have added some flavor to my predictions to help everyone know why I rank teams the way I do, and divided them into the two conferences. Enjoy, or be bored (depending on your love for the beautiful game).
1. DC United (DCU) - Both because of--and despite--the fact that DCU is my favorite team, I am picking them as the top team not only in the East, but for the whole of Major League Soccer. They won the Supporter's Shield (the award given to the team with the best regular season record) the past two years in a row, and I fully see them doing it again. They brought in some defensive grit and seem to have fixed the defensive holes from last year. They have added greater depth in their subs and are an offensive team from an incredible amount of angles. The loss of Christian Gomez (see Colorado Rapids) could end up hurting them if their Designated Player, Marcelo Gallardo, doesn't pan out, but so far he has shown well. They have a VERY busy season (not only are they plaing in the 30 regular season games, they are also in the CONCACAF Champion's Cup, U.S. Open Cup, Superliga, and the first ever CONCACAF Champion's League), but I think that they have the ammunition to deal with it.
2. New England Revolution (NE) - This team has proven themselves as contenders for the past few seasons. They have made it to the MLS Cup finals the past three years in a row (each time barely losing by a one goal differential--LA beat them 1-0 in overtime in '05; the '06 final against Houston went to penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie in overtime. NE once again lost by one; and last year's 2-1 loss to Houston). They lost both Pat Noonan and Andy Dorman during the off-season, but I don't see that as being too great a problem for the Revs; head coach Steve Nicol has an incredible eye for young talent, and the core of the team has stayed intact. In fact, the addition of Chris Albright in the backline is a good sign for this team. Parkhurst and Albright together ought to make for a pretty formidable defensive pair.
3. Kansas City Wizards (KC, and sometimes the Wiz) - I like what head coach Curt Onalfo did with this team last season (any coach that can get Eddie Johnson scoring like that again is great in my book), and I think we'll see them take it to the next level this season. They did lose Eddie to English side Fulham, but they brought in two time Argentine World Cup veteran Claudio Lopez to take his place, and frankly I don't think they will miss him (as much as I want Eddie to succeed on the international level, he has been inconsistent his whole career).
4. Red Bulls New York (RBNY) - Osorio has begun to prove himself a rather capable coach in MLS, and given the strong attacking duo of Juan Pablo Angel and Jozy Altidore up top, he'll be able to focus on and address the defensive weaknesses that killed this team last season. However, as tactically savvy as Osorio can be, I don't see him being able to get this team to win consistently. I expect waves of quality followed by waves of drudgery. The quintessential "middle of the pack" type team (in the East at least--where the competition is just a bit more stiff than out West).
5. Chicago Fire (CHI) - You can't discount Blanco. He came in last season and almost single0handedly turned this team around. Can he do it again this year over the course of a full season, or will he run out of gas? whether or not he is able to will determine the fate of this team in '08. Their inconsistencies up front will continue to be a problem for this team, despite the return of Andy Herron to the ranks. Add the controversy surrounding the departure of Juan Carlos Osorio to NY, and the discontent that defender Wilman Conde is causing (with his very public pleadings to follow Osorio to NY) in the locker room, and former Assistant Coach Dennis Hamlett has a lot to overcome. I see too many problems for this team to deal with to really consider them as title contenders.
6. Columbus Crew (CLB) - I can see this team having a fairly strong run at the end of the season as some of its younger players come into their own, but there just isn't enough going on over there for anyone to take them too seriously. Schellotto's midfield play was astounding last season, but there just aren't enough of the right pieces to complement his brilliance. However, the addition of Brian Carrol will definitely add some defensive grit, and make it possible for them to turn things around if their forwards can get it together and start scoring.
7. Toronto FC (TFC) - This team slept through their first season and didn't wake up during the off-season. The new head coach is disturbed with what he is seeing, and frankly I'm not convinced that the crew that former head coach (turned General Manager), Mo Johnston, put together last season is strong enough to take them anywhere even if they can all manage to stay healthy. I expect this team to continue the tough road they started down last season, but I sure hope that won't diminish the fire that is burning in the hearts of their incredible fans up north.