By Ridge Mahoney
The maligned Western Conference, deemed inferior to the East last season, may
not be any stronger in 2006, but still it boasts the MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup
winner (Los Angeles) as well as the team that posted the best regular-season
record (San Jose, now Houston: 18-4-10.)
TOP DOG. How the former Quakes adapt to their new surroundings in
Houston, where the field is lush and the confines aren't much less confining
than Spartan Stadium, dictates how the West will be won. Despite their playoff
collapse to the Galaxy last season and the loss of four players, including
defender Danny Califf, they are still the best team. But ticket sales for the
opener Sunday are lagging.
If Brad Davis recovers from the groin injury that sidelined him for the second
half of the 2005 season, Houston's midfield -- sparked by the sinuous Dwayne
DeRosario -- reigns supreme and the forward triumvirate of Ronald Cerritos,
Brian Ching and Alejandro Moreno (not all at the same time) will score goals.
Coach of the Year Dominic Kinnear has Goalkeeper of the Year Pat Onstad and a
solid lineup, but it's unlikely they'll finish five games ahead of their closest
conference pursuers this time around.
NEXT IN LINE. Los Angeles and Dallas will fight it out for second a few
games over .500, unless the Galaxy's sans-Landon malaise returns while he's at
the World Cup and FC fails to find a solution at goalkeeper. In that case, the
Rapids, overstocked with forwards yet thin in the middle, could make it a melee
The Galaxy has changed little and with the memory of the late Doug Hamilton in
their thoughts, should better their 13-13-6 mark of last year.
Dallas, in their new stadium, has added a towering striker in 6-foot-3 Kenny
Cooper to Carlos Ruiz and two other studs, gets back midfield dynamo (sorry
Houston) Richard Mulrooney, and has some young, talented guys scrapping for time
in midfield. The defense, though, faltered last year and the goalkeeping is
The goalkeeping in Colorado, i.e. Joe Cannon, is superhuman, and there is a glut
of attackers. Holes abound everywhere else.
Among the castoffs to find their way to Colorado last season was Diego Serna.
Coach Fernando Clavijo has upped the ante by importing Clint Mathis. Fasten your
OUT OF THE GLOOM? Speaking of Ante, he's among the feeding frenzy of
changes in Southern California. Bottom feeders CD Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake
combined for a glorious nine wins out of 64 games last year. Both have undergone
Ante Razov and Jesse Marsch have helped Anglo-cize CD Chivas, which will creak
in the back with Carlos Llamosa and Claudio Suarez. Real Salt Lake can point to
Chris Klein, Douglas Sequeira, and Daniel Torres as dependable additions, and it
has shed a dozen members of last year's embarrassment. Progress, of a sort.
CD Chivas USA would seem to have a better chance of cracking the playoff quartet
and must also make a real run at topping the average attendance of 18,037
registered by Real last year. The CD average of 17,080 ranked fourth in the
league and the team ranks first in local sponsorships sold, but partners Jorge
Vergara and Antonio Cue need more customers to pay off the $1 million-plus dowry
owed to AEG each year.