Colombian Juan Pablo Angel, a final candidate for Major League Soccer's MVP award in 2007, will once again spearhead the New York Red Bulls' attack this season. (Rob Tringali/Getty Images)
2008 Major League Soccer season preview - Eastern Conference
Last Updated Tues., March 25, 2008
Last year in Major League Soccer there was one story that dominated the headlines: the arrival of David Beckham.
This year will be different.
A series of captivating storylines make the 2008 MLS regular season, set to kick off on March 29, one of the most intriguing campaigns to watch in a long time.
This year, MLS expands to 14 clubs as San Jose is welcomed back into the fold. Following a two-year hiatus from MLS after the original San Jose franchise relocated to Houston, the Earthquakes return to the league in 2008 with Frank Yallop, the Canadian coach who guided them to league championships in 2001 and 2003.
Toronto FC, the league's lone Canadian club, will be looking to improve on its anemic first season in 2007, when it won just six of 30 games and sported the worst offence (25 goals scored) and worst defence (49 goals against) in MLS. Regardless of how Toronto does on the field, you can expect to see the club's passionate supporters pack the 21,000-seat BMO Field stadium each and every week, solidifying Toronto's reputation as the best-supported club in MLS.
Of course, everybody will be watching Beckham and whether or not the Englishman, who failed to make an impact on the field last season due to injury problems, can turn the Los Angeles Galaxy into title contenders and further raise the public profile of MLS.
A lot of attention will also be focused on the two-time defending MLS champion Houston Dynamo, led by Canadian midfielder Dwayne De Rosario, and whether it can become the first club in MLS history to win three consecutive league titles.
This will also be a critical year for the New England Revolution, the league's perennial bridesmaids. After finishing runner-up four times in five years (2002, 2005, 2006 and 2007), New England is anxious to finally deliver a championship to their long-suffering fans — and demanding owner Robert Kraft — and prove that they can win the big one.
Here's a breakdown of the league's seven Eastern Conference teams and the top players to watch on the road to the MLS Cup on Nov. 23 in Carson, Calif.
2007 record: 16-7-7, 55 points (1st in Eastern Conference)
2007 result: lost in conference semifinals
Key additions: Midfielder Marcello Gallardo, defenders Gonzalo Peralta and Gonzalo Martinez
Key losses: Midfielder Christian Gomez, goalkeeper Troy Perkins, defender Bobby Boswell
Outlook: United was the class of the East last season, but its lack of defensive depth was badly exposed in the playoffs, as they were upset by Chicago in the first round. The club has retooled its back line by trading Bobby Boswell to Houston and bringing in Colombian Gonzalo Martinez and Argentine Gonzalo Peralta. Veteran goalkeeper Troy Perkins is also gone, but the club has a capable replacement in Zach Wells (part of the Boswell trade). Of course, the big move by D.C. in the off-season was signing Argentine playmaker Marcello Gallardo as their first designated player under the "Beckham rule." This is a bit of a gamble — Gallardo is coming off a poor campaign with French club Paris St. Germain, and D.C. let former league MVP Christian Gomez leave to make room for Gallardo. Also of concern is the ankle injury to influential midfielder Ben Olsen. The American is expected to miss the first few weeks of the season, and if Olsen struggles to recover, United doesn't have another quality defensive midfielder to take his place. Luciano Emilio and Jaime Moreno provide D.C. with a lethal 1-2 scoring punch up front, and will lead the attack.
Difference maker: Luciano Emilio — The Brazilian striker scored a league-high 20 goals and was named the league MVP last season, his first in MLS.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
2007 record: 14-8-8, 50 points (2nd in Eastern Conference)
2007 result: MLS Cup finalists
Key additions: Midfielder Mauricio Castro, defender Chris Albright
Key losses: Midfielder Andy Dorman, forward Pat Noonan, winger James Riley
Outlook: If one team has a point to prove this season, it's New England. Losers of three consecutive MLS Cup finals, the Revs can't afford to have another strong regular season that doesn't lead to anything meaningful. Expect coach Steve Nicol to impress that message upon his players every chance he gets. New England underwent some pretty big changes in the off-season — influential midfielder Andy Dorman joined Scottish club St. Mirren, forward Pat Noonan signed with Aalesunds FK in Norway, and winger James Riley was lost to San Jose in the expansion draft. Still, the club has a solid nucleus and boasts a steady midfield that dominates games with its possession and passing skills. Forward Taylor Twellman hopes to improve on his 16-goal campaign from a season ago, but the club lacks depth up front (the Revs didn't find a suitable replacement for Noonan), so more pressure will be put on wingers Steve Ralston and Khano Smith to chip in offensively. New England boasts an impressive mix of youth and experience, and has enough flexibility to switch between a 3-5-2 and a 4-4-2 formation.
Difference maker: Taylor Twellman — The American forward has been one of the most prolific scorers (91 goals in the regular season) in MLS since joining the league in 2002.
NEW YORK RED BULLS
2007 record: 12-11-7, 43 points (3rd in Eastern Conference)
2007 result: lost in conference semifinals
Key additions: Forward Oscar Echeverry, goalkeeper Zach Thornton
Key losses: Midfielder Clint Mathis, goalkeeper Ronald Waterreus
Outlook: The team from the Big Apple (well, actually New Jersey, as they play at Giants Stadium) was pretty quiet in the trade market during the off-season. That doesn't bode well for head coach Juan Carlos Osorio, who takes over for the departed Bruce Arena. Osorio worked wonders in Chicago last season, but the Colombian will have his task cut out for him in New York, especially with a team that lacks defensive depth. A lot of pressure will be put on central defender Jeff Parke to hold the back line together. Questions will also be asked of veteran playmaker Claudio Reyna, who struggled in 2007 with injury and consistency problems. Many critics doubt whether Reyna, 34, has anything left to give. Oscar Echeverry joins a deep stable of forwards that includes Juan Pablo Angel and American teenager Jozy Altidore, but the team is very weak on the left side and lacks an attacking midfielder, making you wonder why the Red Bulls haven't already filled those holes on the roster. Maybe Osorio's presence alone will make a difference, but it's doubtful — he needs reinforcements on the field.
Difference maker: Juan Pablo Angel — The Colombian is a class act and a dangerous goal scorer who was an MVP candidate in his first MLS season in 2007.
2007 record: 10-10-10, 40 points (4th in Eastern Conference)
2007 result: lost in conference finals
Key additions: Defender Brandon Prideaux, forwards Tomasz Frankowski and Andy Herron
Key losses: Goalkeeper Matt Pickens, defender Jim Curtin, midfielder Chris Armas
Outlook: New coach Denis Hamlett has some big shoes to fill. Juan Carlos Osorio, now in charge of New York, took over a Chicago team that was floundering last season and turned them into contenders. The Fire struggled offensively in 2007, but scoring shouldn't be a problem this year. The club has an embarrassment of riches up front in team veterans Chris Rolfe and Chad Barrett, newcomers Tomasz Frankowski and Andy Herron, and top draft pick Patrick Nyarko. Defender Jim Curtin was traded to Chivas USA, but Chicago is still solid in defence with veteran CJ Brown anchoring the back line. The team does have a problem between the posts, though. Goalkeeper Matt Pickens left for England (Queens Park Rangers) and the club has yet to find a standout shot stopper. Also, the retirement of Chris Armas leaves the team without a defensive midfielder and proven team leader. And the right side of midfield continues to be a problem. But with Mexican Cuauhtemoc Blanco, the league's most exciting player, Chicago boasts one the most potent attacks in MLS and should cause plenty of problems for opposing defenders.
Difference maker: Cuauhtemoc Blanco — The Mexican joined the team in the middle of last season and instantly lit a fire under Chicago with his mazy dribbling skills and scoring prowess.
KANSAS CITY WIZARDS
2007 record: 11-12-7, 40 points (5th in Eastern Conference)
2007 result: lost in conference finals
Key additions: Forwards Claudio Lopez and Ivan Trujillo
Key losses: Defenders Jose Burciaga and Nick Garcia, forward Eddie Johnson
Outlook: The big story in Kansas City is the addition of two South American forwards: Argentine Claudio Lopez (the team's first designated player) and Colombian Ivan Trujillo. Together the duo more than make up for the loss of 15-goal man Eddie Johnston (now with Fulham in England). And if either Lopez or Trujillo gets injured, Scott Sealy, who looks set for a breakout season, will pick up the slack. Another big change is coach Curt Onalfo's decision to switch to a 3-5-2 formation from the 4-4-2 employed last season. The Wizards have plenty of midfield depth, and the new formation should give Argentine Carlos Marinelli more licence to roam, which will lead to plenty of scoring chances for Lopez and Trujillo. The defence has been overhauled — Jose Burciaga and Nick Garcia were traded, which means captain Jimmy Conrad will anchor a young defence, while top draft pick Chance Meyers will be expected to make an immediate impact. Kansas City also has a pretty deep bench, led by midfielder Sasha Victorine, although the team will be in trouble if starting goalkeeper Kevin Hartman gets injured.
Difference maker: Carlos Marinelli — The Argentine gives the Wizards a dangerous option in the centre of midfield and he'll drive the Kansas City attack.
2007 record: 9-11-10, 37 points (6th in Eastern Conference)
2007 result: didn't make playoffs
Key additions: Midfielder Brian Carroll, forward Nico Hernandez
Key losses: Forward Andy Herron, defender Marcos Gonzalez
Outlook: Once again, Guillermo Barros Schelotto will carry the burden of leading the Columbus attack, but that could prove difficult for the Argentine, as the Crew don't have a quality forward he can play alongside. Goal-scoring was a bit of a problem last season, and if Schelotto, who turns 35 in May, suffers through injury problems like he did in 2007, the Crew's offence will sputter, unless Nico Hernandez (acquired in a trade with Colorado) can re-discover his best form from two seasons ago. Defence is also an issue for Columbus. The loss of Marcos Gonzalez leaves a gaping hole in the middle of the back line. Chad Marshall played alongside Gonzalez last season and will now be expected to marshal the defence, but that's a lot of pressure to put on a 23-year-old. Midfield is one area where Columbus looks solid. Robbie Rogers, 19, and Eddie Gaven, 21, look like promising prospects and will be midfield pillars for the Crew for years to come. The addition of Brian Carroll, for so many years overshadowed at D.C. United, was a smart move, as he'll be eager to show he can quarterback the midfield.
Difference maker: Guillermo Barros Schelotto — The veteran Argentine forward will be looking to improve on his haul of five goals from a season ago.
2007 record: 6-17-7, 25 points (7th in Eastern Conference)
2007 result: didn't make playoffs
Key additions: Midfielder Kevin Harmse, defender Marco Velez
Key losses: Midfielder Ronnie O'Brien, defender Chris Pozniak
Outlook: Mo Johnston's move from head coach to general manager was made so that the Scot could concentrate on wheeling and dealing. He hasn't done much of that, though — the only significant trade he's made was dealing Ronnie O'Brien to San Jose for a draft pick. Johnston has yet to find a replacement for the Irish playmaker or spend a significant portion of the salary cap money he has left, which has a lot of Toronto fans worried. Johnston did, however, make some nice moves in the draft, picking up solid defenders Julius James and Pat Phelan. The two rookies, along with the addition of Puerto Rican defender Marco Velez, should help to bolster a back line that gave up a league-worst 49 goals last season. Toronto also scored a league low 25 goals in 2007, so it makes you wonder why they haven't added any new strikers. Jeff Cunningham showed flashes of brilliance and Danny Dichio was a workhorse last season, but both had their share of injury problems. If either of them is injured this season, Toronto will be in big trouble. Midfield is another problem area. The loss of O'Brien leaves the team without a proven playmaker. Newcomer Kevin Harmse adds some defensive steel, but what the club badly needs is an attacking midfielder and a playmaker, players who can make things happen offensively.
Difference maker: Jeff Cunningham - He's 31, but Cunningham still has great speed and gives Toronto a legitimate scoring threat up front (if he can stay healthy).
1) New England Revolution *
2) D.C. United *
3) Kansas City Wizards *
4) Chicago Fire *
5) New York Red Bulls
6) Columbus Crew
7) Toronto FC
* will make playoffs
More from CBCSports.ca
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Toronto FC | East | West
- Q&A: MLS deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis
- Photo Gallery: 10 players to watch in 2008
- Toronto FC on CBC Sports: Broadcast schedule
- Nigel Reed blog: Extra Time
- John Molinaro blog: Planet Soccer
- Meet the new boss: John Carver is no soft touch
- Toronto FC has been too quiet in the trade market
- South American stars add flair to MLS
- WATCH NOW: One-on-one with John Carver
- WATCH NOW: Top 10 Toronto FC moments from the 2007 season
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More on MLS
The top pro soccer league in the United States and Canada, Major League Soccer was officially formed in 1993 and the 10-team league played its first season in 1996. MLS expanded to 12 teams in 1998, but contracted two clubs (Miami and Tampa Bay) at the end of the 2001 season. MLS currently consists of 14 teams. The league will expand to 16 teams with the addition of Seattle (in 2009) and Philadelphia (in 2010).
- Chicago Fire
- Columbus Crew
- D.C. United
- Kansas City Wizards
- New England Revolution
- New York Red Bulls
- Toronto FC
- Chivas USA
- Colorado Rapids
- FC Dallas
- Houston Dynamo
- Los Angeles Galaxy
- Real Salt Lake
- San Jose Earthquakes
The top three teams in each conference at the end of the season automatically qualify for the playoffs. In addition, the next two teams overall with the best records, regardless of which conference they play in, will also make it to the post-season.
The conference semifinals are a two-game series, while the conference finals are one match with the winners advancing to the MLS Cup, the league's championship game.
In every round of the playoffs, draws will be broken by two 15-minute periods of extra time, followed by penalty kicks if necessary.
Key Dates for 2008 MLS season
First game of regular season
(Toronto FC at Columbus Crew, 4:00 p.m. ET)
Toronto FC's home debut
(vs. Real Salt Lake, 12:30 p.m. ET)
David Beckham in Toronto
(vs. Toronto FC, 3:30 p.m. ET)
MLS All-Star Game in Toronto
(West Ham United vs. MLS All-Stars, 7:00 p.m. ET)
Toronto FC's last regular season game
(vs. San Jose Earthquakes, 10:00 p.m. ET)
Last game of regular season
(D.C. United at Columbus Crew, 5:00 p.m. ET)
2008 MLS Cup final
(at Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif., 3:30 p.m. ET)