MLS 2012 Season Preview: Eastern Conference

Philadelphia Union 

Biggest Gain: Forward Josué Martínez, the 21 year-old from Costa Rica scored 19 goals in three years at his home club Saprissa. Look for the young talent to emerge and score plenty goals for the Union this season.

Biggest Loss: Forward Sébastien Le Toux scored 25 goals in his two seasons in Philadelphia, his absence will leave a large gap in the goal scoring department.

Summary: Philadelphia lost some key figures in the offseason including Le Toux and Justin Mapp, which is questioning new squad’s ability to score goals. The Union  have established themselves as a quality MLS franchise from top to bottom; but unless they make some transfer window moves, Philadelphia will not have enough fire power to go deep in the playoffs.

Game to Watch: vs Portland 3/12 on ESPN2- It will be the season debut for both clubs that are looking to become part of the MLS elite.

Toronto FC

Biggest Gain: Defender Miguel Aceval will bring something Toronto FC has been lacking–stability.

Biggest Loss: Defender Danleigh Borman/ Midfielder Nathan Sturgis

Summary: Toronto’s ups and downs of 2011 finished at the bottom of the Eastern Conference but a chance to play in the CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinals. Toronto gained some depth over the offseason and if the players can begin to mesh with head coach Aron Winter’s philosophies it could be a special year. Expect the Reds to be fighting all season for their coveted first playoff appearance.

Game to Watch: At Montreal 4/7 on TSN- Toronto will travel to play fellow Canadian club Montreal for the first time as MLS franchises.

Houston Dynamo

Biggest Gain: Forward Brain Ching, who really only left for a few weeks and then returned again with a new contract that will keep him in Houston to finish out his career.

Biggest Loss: Midfielder Danny Cruz, a young potential talent that could become a star in the MLS.

Summary: The Dynamo made an amazing late-season run and found themselves competing for another MLS Cup. With the veteran talent, incredible team chemistry , and a brand new stadium on the way, anything is possible for Houston. Expect the Orange to be right in the thick of things come playoff time.

Game to Watch: vs LA Galaxy- The rematch of the 2011 MLS Cup will be replayed in Houston, where the Dynamo will seek revenge from their loss last November.

Montreal Impact

Biggest Gain: If there was one player that could lead this team to a playoff appearance it would be on the shoulders of the number one overall pick Andrew Wenger. The former Duke standout has plenty of talent to score goals in the league, but will he become a consistent starter on the Montreal squad? Wenger will need to play just as good if not better than former number one picks Danny Mwanga and Steve Zakuani if Montreal want to make an impact in the MLS playoffs.

Summary: The Montreal Impact enter their first season as an MLS expansion team with a bright future but with plenty of challenges. The late trade for Seattle’s Mike Fucito and Lemar Neagle will add depth and goal scoring ability they so desperately need. An expansion team hasn’t made the playoffs their first year since Seattle in 2009, and the Impact will need to have a magical season in order to stay with the best in the Eastern Conference.

Game to Watch: vs Chicago 3/17 on TSN- The Impact will make their home MLS debut at the Olympic Stadium in front of sell-out crowd.

D.C. United

Biggest Gain: Midfielder Danny Cruz (see Houston preview)

Biggest Loss: Midfielder Santino Quaranta

Summary: After a brilliant second half of the season, D.C. United just missed the playoffs in a tight late-season race. 2012 is bright for United, who didn’t lose much and will have MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario returning and ready to lead a once glorious organization back to the playoffs. If the bright stars that include Andy Najar can support De Rosario on the goal-scoring responsibilities, look for D.C. United to possibly return to the playoffs in 2012.

Game to Watch: vs NY Red Bulls 4/22 ESPN2- United will host the rival Red Bulls as they look to make a statement in conference play.

Chicago Fire

Biggest Gain: Defender Arne Friedrich, the former German National Team defensive and Bundesliga standout signed with the Fire this week and will be commander of the squad’s backfield. Although Friedrich comes to the MLS in the later part of his career, his experience and great form could help bring Chicago to another level in 2012.

Biggest Loss: Forward Diego Cháves, the Argentine striker scored six goals for the Fire in 2011 which was the third highest total on the team.

Summary: Forward Dominic Oduro was brilliant in a rather disappointing 2011 season. But with added strength at midfield and a fresh start, Chicago has a chance at redemption. With the young squad another year older, the Fire will strive to challenge for a top playoff spot largely through the feet of their two strikers Patrick Nyarko and Oduro. But with another preseason of high expectations will the Fire be able to live up to their potential or collapse under pressure like 2011?

Game to Watch: vs NY Red Bulls 6/17 NBC Sports- A matchup at home versus New York will be a test to see if the young squad is up to par with the Eastern conference best.

New England Revolution

Biggest Gain: Forward Saër Sène, the Frenchman will bring excitement and goals to an organization lacking both.

Biggest Loss: Forward Milton Caraglio, a young talent who didn’t pan out in the United States.

Summary: After parting ways with legendary coach Steve Nicol, the Revolution turned to former player Jay Heaps who will make his managerial debut in 2012. After only winning five games in 2011, this season can only go up as the organization cleaned house and added big name forwards Saër Sène and Jose Moreno. With a veteran midfield that includes Sainey Nyassi, Benny Feilhaber, and Shalrie Joseph, the New England could have a revolutionary year that could return them to the winning years of the mid 2000s. Depth and health will be the issue for the Revolution, but don’t count the Revs out to make a late playoff run in 2012.

Game to Watch: At Philadelphia 7/29 NBC Sports- A midseason clash with the Union on the road could be a win that vaults the Revs on hot streak to end the year.

Columbus Crew

Biggest Gain: Midfielder Milovan Mirosevic, the Chilean attacking midfielder was a goal scoring machine in Chile and will look to bring his talent and wisdom to the MLS.

Biggest Loss: Midfielder Robbie Rogers, the California native looked to further his career over in England at Championship club Leeds United.

Summary: The Crew were in the middle of the 2011 Eastern Conference playoff battle and had a tough draw playing at the defending champion Rapids. But with a new year comes new hope and potential for the franchise who will need to revamp an offense who will be without Andres Mendoza an Robbie Rogers. Although they might lack the firepower from last season, the 2012 Crew have a better well-rounded team that will once again be battling for a playoff spot in the competitive Eastern conference.

Game to Watch: vs LA Galaxy 8/15 NBC Sports- Hosting the 2011 MLS Cup Champions will be a challenging prospect late in the season as the Crew push for a playoff spot.

Sporting Kansas City

Biggest Gain: Midfielder/Defender Bobby Convey, MLS veteran and tough defender will bring the experience, wisdom, and composure Sporting lacked late last season.

Biggest Loss: Forward Omar Bravo, with nine goals scored for Kansas City, Bravo’s departure won’t be too devastating for an already stacked offensive roster.

Summary: After a surprising success in 2011 regular season claiming the best record in the Eastern Conference, Sporting’s dream season fell short in the conference finals at home. Kansas City hosts arguably the youngest in brightest stars in the MLS that include a slew of forwards C.J. Sapong, Teal Bunbury, and Soony Saad. Defense was what hurt KC in the end last year and it was addressed in the offseason with drafting of Cyprian Hedrik and Seth Sinovic trade which happened last November; still the backfield will be the team’s main weakness. Kansas City has one of the best teams and organizations in the league, expect to see Sporting to be vying for an MLS Cup in 2012.

Game to Watch: vs Houston 9/14 NBC Sports- The last time Houston played at Kansas City they shocked the boisterous home crowd with a 2-0 win in the Eastern Conference finals. The KC Cauldron will be sure to give the Dynamo a warm welcome at Livestrong Sporting Park come September.

New York Red Bulls

Biggest Gain: Forward Kenny Cooper, the former Portland Timbers goal-scorer adds more depth to a strong New York offense.

Biggest Loss: Defender Tim Ream, although Ream had an up and down year in 2011, a move to EPL’s Bolton shows the potential the youngster has.

Summary: After high expectations in 2011, Hans Backe was unable to figure out what lineup worked together the best. Although the Red Bulls had a successful postseason run, the 2012 regular season needs to be much better if New York wants to be MLS Cup Champions. It is obvious that they have the talent–possibly too much–now they need to corral that talent into a championship team, which takes a little more than a smile. Note to Hans: what the heck is Juan Agudelo doing on the bench?

Game to Watch: vs LA Galaxy 5/5 ESPN- It’s obvious that this is the league’s premiere rivalry and most watched nationally. Unfortunately it will be the only time they play due to the addition of a 19th team and schedule changes.

Eastern Conference Roundup: The West may have the better talent and teams, but the East could prove to have the best competition in MLS. Last season’s playoff positions came down to the last day of the regular season with only five points separating first and fifth place. 2012 could be even more close as the conferences bottom dwellers have only gotten stronger. Kansas City and New York are the conferences best, but the rest will have to battle the entire season for the final three playoff positions.

How They Will Finish 

1- New York

2- Kansas City

3- Chicago Fire

4- Philadelphia

5- Houston

6- D.C.

7- Toronto

8- New England

9- Columbus

10- Montreal

Wild Card: Houston over Philadelphia

Conference Semifinals: New York over Houston, Kansas City over Chicago 

Eastern Conference Finals: Sporting Kansas City over New York Red Bulls