[MLS]With a new CBA in place and many teams featuring untested foreign players, plus the possibility of rosters changing again following the World Cup, this might be the most unpredictable season in league history. A balanced schedule of 30 games – one home and one away – with each opponent will nevertheless be disrupted by the World Cup, Concacaf competition, and the SuperLiga. Two teams – Chicago and New York – have coaches new to MLS, and four other teams have familiar faces in new places. Soccer America's Ridge Mahoney predicts how conference competition will play out and who will lift the 2010 title.
Only three Eastern teams made the playoffs last year, and it was the lowest-seeded qualifier from the West – Real Salt Lake – that ended up winning the title. Columbus won the Supporters’ Shield just one point ahead from Western co-leaders Los Angeles and Houston; three teams tied for the eighth and final playoff spot with 40 points, and one of them went all the way.
The 2010 race may not be quite that tight, but even with a new CBA, parity is expected to carry the day.
Unless the sophomore jinx hits, the Sounders will be tough at home once again this season, and the conference regular-season crown will likely come down to the 2009 expansion revelation and league champion Real Salt Lake. Houston will have to rebuild somewhat without Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark, but that’s nothing compared to the effect Landon Donovan could have by leaving the Galaxy if major post-World Cup offers come in. FC Dallas finished strongly last year but still has questions in the back, one of which is whether Kevin Hartman or Dario Sala gets the starting keeper job. Improvement in San Jose might not be enough for a playoff slot, Chivas USA has a new coach, Martin Vasquez, and perhaps a severe makeover, and the Rapids are tough up top but questionable in defense.
2. REAL SALT LAKE
4. LOS ANGELES
5. SAN JOSE
6. FC DALLAS
7. CHIVAS USA
The Crew has to be motivated by last season’s playoff hiccup against RSL; Coach Robert Warzycha needs smart decisions to win back his players. The Fire might have Cuauhtemoc Blanco back after the World Cup, yet new coach Carlos de los Cobos has already shaken up the roster by jettisoning keeper Jon Busch. New York has nowhere to go but up and D.C. United has enough veteran leadership and youthful ability to get back into the playoffs. Preki takes over in Toronto with a suspect back line, New England has only one forward and two midfielders to speak of, and an injured keeper, Matt Reis, to start the season. Expansion Philly has good potential but the short-term looks rough, and a slew of new faces in Kansas City is a gambler’s throw by Coach Peter Vermes.
3. D.C. UNITED
4. NEW YORK
6. NEW ENGLAND
7. KANSAS CITY
2010 MLS CHAMPION: COLUMBUS.