SA RANKINGS: Fire has the most firepower

[MLS] In the final edition of Soccer Amerca's team-by-team positional rankings for each team on the eve of MLS's 15th season, Ridge Mahoney runs down the forwards, explaining what could make Chicago lethal and why New England may struggle upfront.

Many teams will move forwards and midfielders around, depending on strategies adopted for different opponents, playing home and away, availability of players, etc. These factors are incorporated to some extent, as are players new to MLS and how much of an impact they might have.

1. CHICAGO. Only if Collins John comes through can this ranking be retained. There’s already a good base in place, as a 37-year-old Brian McBride is still a good option, and the pace of Patrick Nyarko is always menacing. Like Calen Carr, Nyarko can also play wide.

2. SEATTLE. Coach Sigi Schmid often uses Nate Jaqua and Freddie Ljungberg and Fredy Montero on the field together, with either Jaqua or Ljungberg as one of the flank midfielders. He also has a decent backup in Roger Levesque and would like left mid Steve Zakuani to play higher up the field at times to get into the interchange that can flummox defenses.

3. LOS ANGELES. The presence of Landon Donovan is one of the league’s most significant, even if he plays some midfield this year in the absence of David Beckham. The Galaxy won’t hold this ranking if Edson Buddle (15 goals in 2008) can’t shake off the injuries and malaise that plagued him in 2009, if Clint Mathis can’t provide some spark up top, and Alan Gordon, Jovan Kirovski, et al, aren’t consistently effective.

4. COLUMBUS. It shouldn’t be hard to pair up somebody with Guillermo Barros Schelotto and there are viable candidates: Steven Lenhart is a bustling goalmouth scrapper with surprisingly good feet, Jason Carey is an American kid who just signed a new contract, and Sergio Herrera joined the team in preseason and set up two goals against Toluca in the Concacaf Champions’ League.

5. COLORADO. The one-two punch of Conor Casey and Omar Cummings may be the league’s best, yet the Rapids don’t have much depth. Harvard product and former U.S. U-20 Andre Akpan has some good tools but another solid veteran could upgrade this position significantly.

6. REAL SALT LAKE. Robbie Findley hit a career high of 12 goals last year; he’ll be a marked man with Yura Movsisyan gone to Denmark. Newcomer Alvaro Saborio has scored a lot of goals at club level for Deportivo Saprissa and Swiss club Sion as well as the Costa Rican national team. Fabian Espindola is part playmaker, part goalscorer; Pablo Campos (6-foot-3, 200) is the big man.

7. HOUSTON. The toughness and production of Brian Ching is a given; who is his best partner up top is yet to be determined. Can journeyman speedster Dominic Oduro follow in the path of many other forwards, who have blossomed under Coach Dominic Kinnear? There’s also ex-Quake Cam Weaver, and a very pricey Mexican striker, Luis Angel Landin.

8. FC DALLAS. Top scorer Jeff Cunningham (17 goals) will be  banged and harassed every time he gets the ball. Atiba Harris has bounced from Real Salt Lake to Chivas USA to FCD as a sometimes midfielder. He scored two goals in 12 games last year. Rookie Andrew Wiedeman and former U.S. U-20 Per Marosevic are the young bucks.

9. CHIVAS USA. New head coach Martin Vasquez has the rugged and reliable Justin Braun and many questions about Maykel Galindo (health), Eduardo Lillingston (consistency), Ante Razov (age, 36), and Maicon Santos (see Lillingston).

10. SAN JOSE. By the end of last season, Ryan Johnson and Cornell Glen had formed a good partnership. Brazilian striker Eduardo is a mix of set-up man and finisher, which the new Quakes have never had. Arturo Alvarez is fast but chronically hot-and-cold. Quincy Amarikwa is still learning the ropes of the pro game.

11. D.C UNITED. Jamie Moreno goes into his 15 th MLS season as the league’s all-time leading scorer and at age 36 still among its craftiest players. He will be as good as the players around him, which could be newcomer Danny Allsopp, journeyman Adam Cristman, or promising youngster Boyzzz Khumalo. Much depends on one of last year’s top rookies, Chris Pontius, to be productive and consistent.

12. KANSAS CITY. Coach Peter Vermes believes he has the right ingredients up top with speedy veteran Josh Wolff, another experienced if streaky striker in Kei Kamara, and options such as rookie Teal Bunbury and Zoltan Hercegfalvi, who managed to play only 298 minutes and score two goals in his first MLS season.

13. NEW YORK. Juan Pablo Angel, scorer of 45 goals in his first three MLS seasons, needs a steady striker partner to emerge. Macumba Kandji is a fast, powerful bundle of inconsistency, Giorgi Chirgadze is only 19 and suffered a preseason injury, so the fall-back is tried-and-true John Wolyniec. Sinisia Ubiparipovic might get some games as a second forward as well.

14. TORONTO FC. Ali Gerba has been sent home for more seasoning, so ex-Rapid Jacob Peterson can establish himself as Dwayne De Rosario’s preferred partner. Or the pick could be Chad Barrett, who took tons of stick for the chances he missed last year while scoring five goals in 29 games. O’Brian White missed much of the season through injury; he’s strong and fast.

15. PHILADELPHIA. There’s a lot of potential but not much proven in the Union front line, aside from Alejandro Moreno, who has won titles with three different teams yet scored just four goals for the Crew last year. Sebastian LeToux performed well for Seattle in the USL but netted once in 28 MLS games. No. 1 pick Danny Mwanga, former U.S. U-17 star Jack McInerney, and ex-Red Bull Nick Zimmerman are talented but raw.

16. NEW ENGLAND. With Taylor Twellman still sidelined by neck problems and post-concussion issues, the Revs have scant resources up top other than Kheli Dube, who scored eight goals last year while playing with a bevy of forwards. Edgaras Jankauskas also labored with injuries, Kenny Mansally is still maturing, Jack Schilawski and Zak Boggs are rookies.

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