[SA POSITIONAL RANKINGS] There's no area of the field where roles and positions overlap more than with midfielders of attacking ilk and flat-out forwards interchanging, working combinations, and occasionally getting in each other's way. For ranking MLS's teams' frontlines consideration is given to how a team's forwards performed last year, a projected assessment of newcomers, age and experience of the group, and how the unit as a whole might perform.
1. COLORADO. The prolific Omar Cummings-Conor Casey tandem has been buttressed by Macoumba Kandji, whose long injury absence isn’t comforting, and Irish striker Caleb Folan. If the latter two get on form, the defending champion Rapids rule the roost.
2. REAL SALT LAKE. This category could be another top shelf listing for RSL as the season unfolds. Alvaro Saborio is a class unto himself and his presence should spur the streaky Fabian Espindola to be consistently sharp. Paulo Junior is an exciting (22) young talent and Arturo Alvarez can be effective in spot starts or off the bench.
3. LOS ANGELES. If Juan Pablo Angel comes anywhere close to his MLS per-season average of 15 goals, the Galaxy won’t need more than reasonable production from Adam Cristman and Chad Barrett. That might be too much to expect from a 35-year-old, but if the midfield is strong enough that Landon Donovan plays up top, LA is ultra-potent.
4. NEW YORK. The age extremes of Juan Agudelo (18) and Thierry Henry (33) shouldn’t be a concern, assuming newcomer Luke Rodgers can contribute. Yet that’s a lot riding on a teenager and an older player with a lot of mileage. Spot duty up top might be in the cards for Dane Richards, Tony Tchani and rookie Corey Hertzog if a DP isn’t Jersey-bound.
5. PHILADELPHIA. Signing Carlos Ruiz, who left MLS two years ago dogged by ouchy knees and fitness issues, is a real gamble. On the other hand, if Sebastian Le Toux and Danny Mwanga are producing, the Union need not rely on The Fish. Jack McInerney and Chris Agorsor are eager youngsters suited for second-half heroics.
6. PORTLAND. In a 34-game season Kenny Cooper should have no trouble hitting double-digits in goals yet the Timbers’ fate depends just as much on newcomer Jorge Perlaza and No. 2 overall draft pick Darlington Nagbe. The other Eddie Johnson and on-loan striker Brian Umony are the backups.
7. COLUMBUS. Jeff Cunningham has returned to his first MLS team, but at 35 (this year), he’ll need the assistance of Emilio Renteria and Andres Mendoza, who has been upgraded to DP status. Rookies Tom Heinemann and Justin Meram boosted their stock by scoring in preseason.
8. SEATTLE. Blaise Nkufo’s departure is more worrying as per the team’s direction rather than for the five post-World Cup goals he scored last year. Fredy Montero got bogged down in 2010 when his support staff crumbled; there’s no wiggle room this season if a reliable partner can’t be found amongst Nate Jaqua, Pat Noonan, O’Brian White, or a new acquisition.
9. SPORTING KANSAS CITY. Omar Bravo made headlines for the wrong reasons in preseason during a melee with RSL, but the veteran of a decade of international play for Mexico should be a sharp edge for SKC out on the wing. Teal Bunbury overpowered a few teams in his rookie season, Kei Kamara set a season mark with 10 goals.
10. HOUSTON. Rookie Will Bruin hit the net consistently enough in preseason to join the battle with Dominic Oduro and Jason Garey for the starting slot alongside Brian Ching, who played only 20 games (seven goals) last year because of injuries. With a healthy Ching the Dynamo has the other pieces in place to get back into the playoffs.
11. SAN JOSE. If the Quakes use Chris Wondolowski primarily as a midfielder in a 4-3-3, technically this makes Bobby Convey (left) and Joey Gjertsen (right) as first selections on the wings. The central spot could go to Ryan Johnson, Scott Sealy or trade acquisition Steven Lenhart, who suffered a torn meniscus while the team was in England and underwent surgery earlier this week.
12. D.C. UNITED. All eyes will be on Charlie Davies, yet an injury to Chris Pontius greatly hampered the attack last year. The cracking goal Davies scored in the Carolina Challenge Cup was inspiring. The power of Joseph Ngwenya and the guile of Josh Wolff should enable D.C. to greatly improve on last year’s miserable total of 21 goals.
13. NEW ENGLAND. Aside from Marko Perovic, who is best suited to playing as a second forward or attacking mid, the Revs’ front men have not been consistent. Newcomer Ilija Stolica might turn out to be the perfect partner; if not, the choices are Kheli Dube and Kenny Mansally, who have been iffy, and Zack Schilawski, who scored five goals in 25 games last year as a rookie. Current rookie Ryan Kinne might get a shot, too.
14. CHICAGO. Is there a reliable scorer in the group of new faces that includes Uruguayans Diego Chaves and Gustavo Puerari, and young Israeli Orr Barouch? Calen Carr and Patrick Nyarko can slash and drive for goal, so a focal point would draw defenders and open up gaps. Gabe Ferrari has been with the team in preseason but isn’t yet signed.
15. FC DALLAS. There must be a plan to replace Jeff Cunningham and Atiba Harris; Milton Rodriguez is a capable forward, but he’s 34, and the rest of the forwards – such as Fabian Castillo (18) and Peri Marosevic (21) – are very young. Some of the scoring burden can be shouldered by David Ferreira and Marvin Chavez, who could be slid up top if Coach Schellas Hyndman opts for a 4-4-2 rather than last year’s 4-1-4-1. So could Brek Shea.
16. CHIVAS USA. Justin Braun got nine goals last year with sporadic service. Alejandro Moreno, taken from Philly in the Expansion Draft, is a proven veteran and honest worker whose last two seasons (six goals in 48 games) haven’t been stellar. A rebound is possible. Tristan Bowen is being tested in midfield, which is where Argentine forward Marcos Mondaini can also play. Ecuadoran Victor Estupinan looked good at the Combine and scored just once in preseason.
17. VANCOUVER. Brazilian Camilo, officially signed this week, joins perhaps the most eclectic forward corps in MLS: U.S. youth international Omar Salgado, Erik Hassli of Norway, Long Tan of China, and veteran Atiba Harris of St. Kitts and Nevis (and several MLS teams). Salgado has not been cleared to play before his 18th birthday in September.
18. TORONTO FC. Last July Maicon Santos bounced to TFC after a brief stint with Chivas USA; he has the size (6-foot-1) and range to feed on the work of Dwayne De Rosario. Dutch League veterans Javier Martina (24) and Nick Soolsma (23) did all right in the preseason but how quickly can they adjust this league is a major question, as is how Alan Gordon reacts to crossing the continent for his second change of teams in seven months.