Five of last year's eight Major League Soccer playoff berths went to Eastern Conference teams, but with a ton of turnover among the East's elite teams, it's tough to tell how things will shake out in 2008.
Not only did D.C. United part ways with MVP midfielder Christian Gomez, but Eddie Johnson left MLS to join Fulham of the English Premiere League, while several other teams made major changes.
With the 2008 MLS season kicking off this weekend, here's a look at predictions for the 2008 season.
1. D.C. United
2007 record: 16-7-7 (55 points)
Conference finish: First
Coach: Tom Soehn (second season).
Outlook: This franchise is always one step ahead of everyone else, so it's hard not to view the departure of Christian Gomez as anything but a positive. Last year, D.C. United sent Freddy Adu to RSL, a move that freed up salary cap space to sign Luciano Emilio and Fred. As evidenced by their combined 27 goals, and Adu's one goal for Salt Lake before heading to Europe, it was a brilliant move. With the money freed up by Gomez's departure, along with a slew of other guys like Troy Perkins, Bobby Boswell, Joshua Gros and Brian Carroll, D.C. added a bunch of new faces. Most notably is Argentine midfielder Marcelo Gallardo, the team's first designated player. For D.C. United to be successful in not only MLS but the CONCACAF Champions Cup, the SuperLiga and the CONCACAF Champions Cup, he'll need to prove that D.C.'s gamble paid off. The health of Ben Olsen, currently rehabbing offseason ankle surgery, and several other international signings are just as critical.
2. New England Revolution
2007 record: 14-8-8 (50 points)
Conference finish: Second
Coach: Steve Nicol (seventh season).
Outlook: Don't write off the perennial runner-ups just yet. Sure, players like Andy Dorman, Pat Noonan, James Riley and Avery John are no longer with the team, but coach Steve Nichol is the best coach in the Eastern Conference and still has plenty of talent to work with. Matt Reis is still one of the league's best keepers, midfielders Steve Ralston and Shalrie Joseph are among the league's best, and Taylor Twellman should be even more motivated than ever after the league vetoed his transfer to Europe. Don't be surprised if he starts the season red-hot to revive his interest abroad, perhaps hoping for a summer transfer. Either way, the addition of defender Chris Albright will improve the team's backline and there are several youngsters eagerly in the wing to be New England's next rookie of the year. Will it be enough for New England, losers of two straight MLS Cups, to take the next step?
3. Kansas City Wizards
2007 record: 11-12-7 (40 points)
Conference finish: Fifth
Coach: Curt Onalfo (second season).
Outlook: This team got off to a hot start in 2007, only to tank it down the stretch and barely hold on for a playoff spot. Despite losing some key pieces to that '07 team, the Wizards made plenty of upgrades and should be a force in the Eastern all year. Replacing Eddie Johnson and his 15 goals will be tough, but the addition of Argentine forward Claudio Lopez, the team's designated player, should bring more consistency to the position. Kansas City is strong in the midfield with Carlos Marinelli and Kerry Zavagnin, and out wide any number of players can step in and play quality minutes. There are some question marks defensively, but it's nothing a veteran like Jimmy Conrad in the middle can't help get under control. The Wizards are replacing veteran defenders like Jose Burciaga Jr. and Nick Garcia with the likes of second-year player Michael Harrington and No. 1 overall draft pick Chance Myers. There will definitely be a bit of a learning curve, but the Wizards are talented enough offensively that they don't need the backline to keep clean sheets every game.
4. New York Red Bulls
2007 record: 12-11-7 (43 points)
Conference finish: Third
Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio (first season).
Outlook: There's unquestionable talent up top with Juan Pablo Angel and Jozy Altidore, and coach Juan Carlos Osorio proved in Chicago he can get a lot out of his players, but there are too many other question marks. First, can Claudio Reyna remain healthy over the long haul playing on the Giants Stadium turf? There are countless needs as well. As one Red Bulls beat writer reported, the team lacks a quality playmaker, as well as a left midfielder and a left back. With opening day this weekend, RBNY is running out of time to make a deal. With so many uncertainties, it's hard to imagine New York not getting off to a slow start, and in a conference with teams like D.C. United and New England, that will be too much to overcome, even with one of the league's best players in Angel.
5. Columbus Crew
2007 record: 9-11-10 (37 points)
Conference finish: Sixth
Coach: Sigi Schmid (third season).
Outlook: Year three of Sigi Schmid's rebuilding project should have the Crew fighting for a playoff spot until the final weekend. It starts with the health of Guillermo Barros Schellotto, the crafty 35-year-old Argentine midfielder, who played in just 19 games last year. The Crew need him to be on the field for at least 85 percent of the time to have a chance because there isn't much creativity on the bench behind him. The complementary players around Schellotto are getting better each year. More is definitely expected of Eddie Gaven and Robbie Rogers, even though they'll miss significant time this summer at the Olympics. The addition of midfielder Brian Carroll is a marked upgrade at holding midfield, someone who can help Columbus keep possession more effectively. The Crew, however, lack dangerous strikers up top and will have to win a lot of games with defense.
6. Chicago Fire
2007 record: 10-10-10 (40 points)
Conference finish: Fourth
Coach: Denis Hamlet (first season).
Outlook: The Fire were a surprise Eastern Conference finalist last year, eventually losing to New England. If Chicago sorts out its defensive question marks soon, it might be in the hunt again, but there are too many to ignore. Not only is the team being guided by its third head coach in less than a year, but its top defender, William Conde, wants out. He'd like to head to New York to follow former coach Juan Carlos Osorio, but as of Monday, nothing had been worked out. Without him, Chicago's defense is a patchwork unit that doesn't look all that impressive. At the other end of the pitch, Chicago's attack should be pretty decent. Led by Mexican National team veteran Cuauhtemoc Blanco, the Fire could be a pretty dangerous attacking team with Chris Rolfe, Justin Mapp and Chad Barrett. Depth, however, is an issue at those positions, as well as uncertainty who the starting keeper will be in 2008.
7. Toronto FC
2007 record: 6-17-7 (25 points)
Conference finish: Seventh
Coach: John Carver (first season).Outlook: MLS's Canadian contingent has made improvements and will be much improved in 2008, but the rest of the East is too good for Toronto to battle for a playoff spot. The most rowdy fans in MLS will have to wait another year to experience playoff soccer. Last year's rookie of the year, Maurice Edu, is one of the most talented up-and-coming players in U.S. Soccer and is a player Toronto can build around for years to come. The rest of the midfield is pretty thin, however. Up top, the scoring tandem of Jeff Cunningham and Danny Dichio looks like a strength on paper, but it's tough to forget that this team didn't score a goal for 824 straight minutes during one stretch last year. Defensively, Toronto should be better, particularly with Andrew Boyens entering his second year and rookie Julius James providing depth.
The Deseret Morning News asked its online readers to make predictions about the upcoming season as well, and here are the results of the 25 readers who contributed.
Seven points were awarded for a first-place vote, followed by six for a second-place vote, etc. First-place votes are in parenthesis.
Team ... Points
1. D.C. United (16) ... 158
2. New York (6) ... 134.
3. New England (3) ... 113
4. Chicago ... 110
5. Kansas City ... 79
6. Columbus ... 63
7. Toronto ... 43
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