2011 Season Preview
And now: the exciting conclusion…
We now head East to see the Canadian champions and their insistence that they will be playing “Total Football” this season under Aron Winter. The New York Red Bulls are still here and are vying for the city’s affection with the New York Cosmos desperately attempting to become an MLS club; while in the capital the only way is up following a disastrous 2010 for DC United.
New England Revolution
Head Coach – In the previous introduction we made a bit of a glaring mistake which has been eating away at us since. John Spencer is in fact the only Scottish manager in the Western Conference, as opposed to the entire league. New England Revolution’s head coach is ex-Scotland international Steve Nicol and has been since 2002 making him the longest serving manager in the league. He has an unfortunate record of guiding the team to 4 MLS Cup finals only to be on the losing side every time. Though he has brought the team some silverware when winning the 2007 US Open Cup and the 2008 North American SuperLiga.
Key Player – Former Celtic target Shalrie Joseph is the Revs’ on pitch leader having been rewarded for his loyalty and many impressive performances with the captaincy in 2010. We’re going to put reputation on the line and say that he is probably the best full Grenada international of all time (Ed- But Jason Roberts has an MBE for god’s sake!). He does a cracking job in his defensive midfield role for New England and also starts numerous attacks for them, frequently assisting and also proving to be a threat whenever he ventures forward- scored 4 and set up 5 in what was a low scoring season for New England.
One to Watch – The youngest professional in the league, 15 year-old Diego Fagundez, is New England’s first ever “home-grown” player. Originally from Uruguay, the tricky forward impressed for the Revs academy team last season scoring 21 goals in his 30 appearances last season with a further 9 assists. His performances earned himself a place on the all-stars teams for the US Soccer Development Academy and the Eastern Conference Starting XI whilst also being called into the USA under-15 side.
Prediction – Unlikely to improve much on last season’s overall 13th placing, unless a goalscorer is brought in. It is likely that they may bring in a Designated Player to perform this role for them.
Sporting Kansas City
Head Coach – In his first full management role, Peter Vermes, has a tough job ahead of him with the new look Sporting Kansas City. Vermes was previously technical director at the old Kansas City Wizards but was given the job on an interim basis before doing enough to convince the board to make him full time manager following the sacking of Curt Onalfo in 2009. He was also Assistant at USA under 20s side. Having guided Kansas to 3rd in the East last season, 9th overall, he hasn’t lost too many players from 2010 but hasn’t brought many in outside of the draft.
Key Player – Last season’s top scorer and one of their most creative players Kei Kamara will need to be back among the goals if Sporting Kansas City (it’s a terrible name isn’t it?) have any aspirations of a play-off place. The Sierra Leone international scored 10 and set up 6 in the last campaign. One of the few at Kansas capable of producing something magical out of nothing (they should at least be called Kansas City Wizards for the sake of the poor journalists).
One to Watch – 2008 SuperDraft pick, Chance Myers (another ridiculous name, right?) is starting to mature as a right back and should find himself in Bob Bradley’s national team plans soon enough as he keeps impressing and Steve Cherundolo (…) keeps being old. Myers is another player that first came to prominence in the Milk Cup, this time in USA’s runner-up performance in 2006 and was part of the 2008 Olympic squad in Beijing.
Prediction – Will struggle to make the play-offs again especially without improvements and if the Toronto revolution goes as well as planned.
Head Coach – Following a disappointing 5th place in the Eastern Conference, the Canadian champions enlisted the help of Jürgen Klinsmann as a soccer consultant for what they needed to do to make the next step forward as a club. Having already fired Preki (Manager) and Mo Johnston (Director of Football) for the offence of losing to DC United, they were advised to take a different approach for the 2011 season. Ajax’s reserve team manager Aron Winter was appointed as head coach with Paul Mariner brought in as “Director of Player Development”. This is Winter’s first foray into full-time management and has promised to unleash a slick “total football” style on Toronto this season, a polar change from the Johnston regime.
Key Player – The Canadian champions can boast some of the finest talent from their national team’s history. Former Deportivo La Coruña midfielder Julian de Guzman is a crucial part of Aron Winter’s plans for possession football which should build the team around the creative holding midfielder. He has so far failed to display his obvious talent in MLS since joining in 2009 as a Designated Player for Toronto but this was in teams built to include him rather than built around him.
One to Watch – 21 year-old defender Nana Attakora has represented Canada at every level since his selection for the under 15 side. A solid defender who has been a part of the Toronto squad since joining the league in 2007. His performances in 2010 confirmed that he was a major part of the future of this team and was named as the “Most Improved Player” in MLS. He has also developed a strong understanding with countryman Adrian Cann at the back for Toronto which has been showing signs of great development.
Prediction – I took the executive decision that former Toronto FC midfielder and professional Tweeter, Rohan Ricketts, was not going to act on his promise to collaborate with us on this one. With the promise of more additions and the revelation that Dwayne de Rosario can’t just decide to go on trial at Celtic without telling anyone meaning that he, their captain and top goalscorer, will be staying for the 2011 season gives them a good chance of going far in the Eastern Conference.
Head Coach – The Fire have stood by last season’s head coach, Carlos de los Cobos for this season’s campaign. The Mexican had only ever previously managed outside of the United States he had done enough to convince Chicago to hire him by leading the El Salvador national team to the final stages of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying for the first time since 1998, essentially he had been managing the Scotland of Central American international football. He also coached his native Mexico in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic games.
Key Player – There is a void left by the release of the frustratingly ineffective Freddie Ljungberg and retirement of national hero Brian McBride. That void is meant to be filled by Mexico international Nery Castillo who Chicago have an option to make a move permanent following his loan from Shakhtar Donetsk last season. The Fire will have to wait another 6 months until they can select him again, however, as Shakhtar have loaned him out to Aris Thessaloniki during the close season. If he chooses to stay at Chicago following that then he will be a vital first team player for them and he can prove to European clubs that he has not burned out just yet (sorry).
One to Watch – The first homegrown player in Chicago Fire’s history, Victor Pineda, is the youngest player in the squad at 18 years old and a member of the USA under 18s squad. The midfielder was signed to a professional deal last season after guiding the Under 16 Academy side to the USSFDA National Championship. You might say he was on fire that season.
Prediction – Not much strength or depth in this squad. Though they have a decent spine of the time with the signing of Cory Gibbs and USA international Logan Pause, goals should be hard to come by with a lack of creative spark from midfield. Will do well to improve on their overall 10th place last season.
Head Coach – Polish manager Piotr Nowak has been in charge since Philadelphia’s acceptance into MLS in 2009. In his playing days he was seen as something of a legend for Chicago Fire becoming the first member of the Ring of Fire and was voted into the MLS All-time Best XI in 2005. Also in 2005 he was honoured with the Knight’s Cross Order of Merit by his native Poland for his positive promotion of Poland abroad, along with Polish sausage, bus drivers and other stereotypes. His first foray into management was also the last time DC United won the MLS Cup in 2004. He also coached the 2008 USA Olympic squad and was assistant to Bob Bradley in the run up to the World Cup.
Key Player – New signing from FC Köln, Faryd Mondragón, has the distinct honour of being both the best player on the team and the player with the coolest name. His best spell of football came between 2001 and 2007 when he played for Turkish power Galatasaray, where he aided them to winning two Super League titles. At the time of writing the goalkeeper has earned 50 caps for Colombia and earned praise from Franz Beckenbauer for his performances in the 1998 World Cup, the last that Colombia qualified for. He was a fan favourite whilst at Galatasaray renowned for his great shot-stopping, lively celebrations and for his prayers before and after matches.
One to Watch – 16 year-old Zach Pfeffer is Philadelphia born and raised, on the playgrounds is where he spent most of his days. Well, probably not but he is Philadelphia’s first ever homegrown player and one of the youngest players in the league. He has represented the USA at Under 14 and Under 15 levels and has also trained with the IMG Academy in Florida.
Prediction – They have a good chance of a play-off place and if the speculation linking them with Nuremburg striker Marek Mintál is true then they should have a decent chance of a play-off place especially if Sebastien Le Toux can carry on his impressive form from last season when he scored 14 and set up 11 for Philadelphia.
Head Coach – Robert Warzycha has been at Columbus for 8 years, initially as an assistant to Greg Andrulis and then Sigi Schmid. He finally landed the job on a full-time basis in 2009 and the former Polish international guided Crew to the Supporters’ Shield in his first season. In his 2nd season Columbus finished 2nd in the Eastern Conference, 1 point away from big-spending New York. Warzycha has been at Columbus since the inaugural season in 1996 and was previously one of the few foreign players in the initial English Premiership whilst at Everton.
Key Player – Their best player since 2007 has been Guillermo Barros Schelotto but he has now returned to his hometown club of Gymnasia de la Plata and will need replacing. They have brought in FC Dallas’ top scorer from last season, Jeff Cunningham, who may prove to be a shrewd addition. The role of creator will be passed on to USA international Eddie Gaven who will act as the link between midfield and the strikers. Bizarrely, Gaven earned himself an MLS Save of The Week award last season when he had to “do a Robbie Winters” and replace the injured Will Hesmer in goals in a 3-1 win over Philadelphia- it’s versatility like that that can win you the championship.
One to Watch – Columbus welcome back 23 year-old forward Tommy Heinemann to their squad this season. He had previously been training with Columbus but wasn’t deemed ready for the MLS so was let go to prove himself in the lower US leagues. In 2010 he got his breakthrough at Charleston battery when he helped them win the USL 2nd Division by scoring 8 goals and assisting with 7 before joining the Carolina RailHawks to help them reach the D-2 final with 6 goals in 12 games for them. This should be a make or break season for Heinemann as he gets his second chance at Columbus and other sports movie clichés.
Prediction – Aside from losing Barros Schelotto, Columbus haven’t lost much of their squad from last season which saw them reach 2nd place in the Eastern Conference. Warzycha has bought wisely and a similar season to last year is very possible.
Head Coach – There is no doubting that last season was exceptionally bad for the most successful club in MLS history, languishing on only 22 points for the entire campaign. Curt Onalfo was, rightfully, dismissed in August with the season already a write-off. The interim replacement was Ben Olsen who now finds himself as a full-time head coach for the first time. Olsen impressed in the short time he had towards the end of last season in charge of DC but will his legendary status from being a DC player be enough to turn around the fortunes of the ailing capital side?
Key Player – The one saving grace of last season was the individual form of DC’s academy graduate Andy Najar. The Honduran winger was a stand-out in his first professional season and earned the individual honour of MLS Rookie of the year. Despite being the youngest player at DC United he stepped up to be a major figure in first team affairs and was top scorer with seven goals and two assists in all competitions last season.
One to Watch – Because DC United were so bad last season they were given the chance to choose early in the SuperDraft, crucially whilst University of Akron defender Perry Kitchen was still available. He describes his playing style as “intense, smart and simple” and looks up to DC United legend Eddie Pope as an inspiration. He will also sport Pope’s number 23 on his shirt in the coming season. He is currently a USA under 18 and under 20 internationally and competed in 2009‘s World Youth Cup in Nigeria.
Prediction – It’ll be interesting to see Ben Olsen’s style of play throughout a whole season with a fresh start and not chasing a lost cause is like. Will push for a play-off spot and with a few additions they have a squad capable of doing so. They need to prove that last season was just an unfortunate blip for the 4 times MLS Cup winners.
New York Red Bulls
Head Coach – New York have one of the more well travelled managers in the league in Hans Backe. He has managed in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Greece, England before finally settling down across the Atlantic. Has also been assistant at Manchester City and the Mexico national team. His biggest success came during a great spell of FC Copenhagen’s dominance in the Danish Superliga, leaving to go on to greatness at Panathinaikos where he would be sacked after 3 games. With airmiles like his it must be a relief that Red Bull gives you wings. He is popular with the New York fans who have created the “Hans Backe Viking Army” in his honour.
Key Player – One of the more obvious choices in the league, World Cup and Champions League winner, Thierry Henry leads from the front for New York. The Arsenal legend is a great creator as well as a great goalscorer. His cool head and leadership also makes him an ideal tutor to New York’s young strikers Juan Agudelo and Giorgi Chirgadze. His likely partner up front this season is to be Agudelo following the departure of Juan Pablo Angel to rivals LA Galaxy. He also strongly aided by his former Barcelona team mate Rafa Marquez who has switched to a midfield role since signing for New York.
One to Watch – New York have a strong crop of youngsters at the moment. Juan Agudelo is the one who is shining brightest at the moment, at 17 years old he was called into Bob Bradley’s senior team for November’s friendly away to South Africa. When he came on as a half-time substitute, along with Red Bulls teammate defender Tim Ream, he became the youngest ever goalscorer for the national team. The Colombian born striker has the unenviable task of replacing Juan Pablo Angel this season.
Prediction – New York have long been a laughing stock in Major League Soccer, ever since the days of being Metrostars, but last season may have been the start of something wonderful. Our tip to win the MLS Cup this season. Expect to see another big name arrival in the summer as they try and steal some limelight from a resurgent New York Cosmos.