Western Conference Season Preview Capsules

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Associated Press

Posted on March 7, 2014 at 4:03 PM

PORTLAND TIMBERS

LAST YEAR: 14-15-5 (Third overall, first in Western Conference).

WHO'S BACK: MF Jack Jewsbury, MF Darlington Nagbe, MF Will Johnson, MF Diego Valeri, MF Diego Chara, GK Donovan Ricketts, D Rodney Wallace, D Pa Modou Kah, D Michael Harrington, F Maximiliano Urruti.

WHO'S GONE: D David Horst, D Andre Jean-Baptiste, D Ryan Miller, D Mikael Silvestre, MF Sal Zizzo, F Jose Valencia.

WHO'S NEW: F Gaston Fernandez, D Norberto Paparatto, MF Steve Zakuani, D Jorge Villafana.

WHAT'S AHEAD: The Portland Timbers lost just five games last season, a dramatic 23-game turnaround from the previous season, and finished atop the Western Conference for the franchise's first-ever playoff appearance. The Timbers went to the conference finals where they fell to rival Real Salt Lake. Portland expects to build on that success under coach Caleb Porter, who was named the MLS Coach of the Year his first season in the league. The nucleus of that team remains largely intact, including Goalkeeper of the Year Donavan Ricketts, top scorer Diego Valeri and All-Star Will Johnson. Forward Rodney Wallace had surgery in December to repair a torn right ACL and is expected to miss five to seven months. The Timbers will also play in the U.S. Open Cup and will make their first appearance in the CONCACAF Championship League. If that wasn't enough attention on the team, Portland will also host the MLS All-Star game on Aug. 6, with the All-Stars facing Bayern Munich. Porter will coach the MLS side.

REAL SALT LAKE

LAST YEAR: 16-10-8 ( Fourth overall, second in the Western Conference).

WHO'S BACK: GK Nick Rimando, D Kyle Beckerman, F Alvaro Saborio, D Nat Borchers, F Robbie Findley, F Joao Plata, MF Luis Gil.

WHO'S GONE: D Lovel Palmer, MF Khari Stephenson, D Brandon McDonald, GK Josh Saunders.

WHO'S NEW: MF Luke Mulholland, D/M Jordan Allen.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Real Salt Lake promoted assistant coach Jeff Cassar to replace Jason Kreis, who stepped down after nine seasons with the club to become coach of the expansion New York City FC. A former goalkeeper, the 39-year-old Cassar has been with Real Salt Lake since 2007. Cassar takes over a team that went all the way to the MLS Cup, falling in the end to Sporting KC on a shootout. It's understandable that the Western Conference champions would not make a whole lot of offseason changes. The team hopes to see big things from Alvaro Saborio, who led the team with 12 goals — despite playing in just 16 league matches because of international absences and injuries. Injuries are already impacting Real Salt Lake this season in advance of their opener against the Los Angeles Galaxy, with forwards Robbie Findley and Devon Sandoval sitting out.

LA GALAXY

LAST YEAR: 15-11-8 (Fifth overall, third in Western Conference).

WHO'S BACK: F Robbie Keane, M Landon Donovan, D Omar Gonzalez, M Robbie Rogers, D A.J. DeLaGarza, F Gyasi Zardes, D Todd Dunivant, M Juninho, D Leonardo, F Jack McBean, D Tommy Meyer, G Jaime Penedo, M Marcelo Sarvas.

WHO'S GONE: M Greg Cochrane, D Sean Franklin, G Carlo Cudicini, M Michael Stephens, M Hector Jimenez, M Pablo Mastroeni, M Laurent Courtois.

WHO'S NEW: M Stefan Ishizaki, F Samuel, F Rob Friend, M Baggio Husidic, F Bradford Jamieson IV, F Raul Mendiola.

WHAT'S AHEAD: The Galaxy's quest to defend back-to-back MLS titles ended early, but a little extra offseason could be a major long-term benefit for a team expected to contend for a championship again this year. Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, Omar Gonzalez and their crew all got plenty of time to recover from three straight years of punishing play, with Keane undergoing Achilles tendon surgery and Donovan healing up fully from an ankle injury. Coach Bruce Arena continued to retool his inconsistent attack with the addition of Ishizaki, a Swedish veteran who should bring steady play to the Galaxy's right side. They also added Brazil's Samuel and Canada's Rob Friend to make sure Keane and Donovan don't have to do everything up front by themselves, and Zardes appears ready to make another leap forward. The Galaxy are expecting more out of Robbie Rogers, who should be more familiar with his new team after his midseason arrival. A spotlight will shine on Jaime Penedo, the Panamanian goalkeeper who played well after being acquired late last year. Donovan should become MLS' career goal-scoring leader early in the season, but his absence along with Gonzalez during World Cup activities this summer will require his teammates to keep the Galaxy moving toward another playoff run.

SEATTLE SOUNDERS

LAST YEAR: 15-12-7 (Sixth overall, fourth in Western Conference).

WHO'S BACK: F Obafemi Martins, M Clint Dempsey, M Brad Evans, M Lamar Neagle, M Osvaldo Alonso, D Zach Scott, D Leo Gonzalez, D DeAndre Yedlin, D Djimi Traore, GK Marcus Hahnemann.

WHO'S GONE: F Eddie Johnson, M Mauro Rosales, D Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, D Patrick Ianni, M Alex Caskey, GK Michael Gspurning.

WHO'S NEW: F Kenny Cooper, F Chad Barrett, F Tristan Bowen, M Marco Pappa, D Chad Marshall, GK Stefan Frei.

WHAT'S AHEAD: After a late-season slide cost Seattle a chance at the Supporters' Shield and a semifinal round loss to rival Portland, the Sounders overhauled their roster. Johnson was the most notable departure but the moves Seattle made were significant in changing the locker room as much as who takes the field. Dempsey will miss chunks of the season because of his U.S. national team duties. The midfield will be the Sounders' strength with Dempsey, Evans, Pappa and Alsonso, but the biggest addition could be Chad Marshall as the anchor to a defense that struggled for stretches last season. Frei is back after barely playing the last two seasons because of injuries. Finding scoring will be the question with Johnson gone, but Seattle hopes the combo of Martins and Cooper can work with the talented midfield to keep goals coming.

COLORADO RAPIDS

LAST YEAR: 14-11-9 (Eighth overall, fifth in Western Conference).

WHO'S BACK: D Marvell Wynne, D Drew Moor, M Nick LaBrocca, F Deshorn Brown, F Edson Buddle, D Chris Klute, GK Clint Irwin, M Dillon Powers, M Nathan Sturgis, F Gabriel Torres, D Shane O'Neill, F Vicente Sanchez, F Kamani Hill, D Brian Mullan, F Danny Mwanga, M Dillon Serna.

WHO'S GONE: Coach Oscar Pareja, M Martin Rivero, M Hendry Thomas, D German Mera, D Diego Calderon, M Jaime Castrillon, M Jamie Smith, D Anthony Wallace.

WHO'S NEW: F Marvin Chavez, F Charles Eloundou, M Marlon Hairston, M Jose Mari, D Grant Van De Casteele, M Jared Watts.

WHAT'S AHEAD: The Rapids haven't named a permanent head coach just yet after Oscar Pareja left in January to take the same job with his former club, FC Dallas. Pablo Mastroeni has been leading the team through the preseason and could possibly be given the title before the season opener. As the longtime captain for the Rapids, Mastroeni left with several club records, including most games played. The new coach inherits a youthful team, with several players turning in breakout seasons in 2013. That list includes Brown, the team's leading goal scorer, and Klute, who led the club in assists. Powers was the MLS rookie of the year in 2013 and Irwin played so well down the stretch that starting keeper Matt Pickens couldn't get his job back once he returned from a broken arm. Colorado will again rely heavily on its youth this season, counting on draft picks such as Hairston, Van De Casteele and Watts to step up.

SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES

LAST YEAR: 14-11-9 (10th overall, sixth place Western Conference).

WHO'S BACK: G Jon Busch, D Clarence Goodson, D Víctor Bernárdez, M Shea Salinas, F Steven Lenhart, F Chris Wondolowski, D Sam Cronin, M Jordan Stewart.

WHO'S GONE: D Steven Beitashour, D Justin Morrow, D Ramiro Corrales, M Rafael Baca, M Marvin Chavez, M Mehdi Ballouchy, D Dan Gargan, D Nana Attakora, M Jaime Alas.

WHO'S NEW: M Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi, D Brandon Barklage, D Shaun Francis, G Bryan Meredith, M Atiba Harris, D Andreas Gorlitz.

WHAT'S AHEAD: The Earthquakes are accustomed to playing in the postseason, and that is the plan after last season's disappointing miss. Coach Mark Watson likes the mix of youth and experience on his roster. Watson was promoted from his interim coaching position after he took over the team in June when the Earthquakes reached a mutual agreement with Frank Yallop to part ways. San Jose went 11-5-3 under Watson and just missed the playoffs based on a tiebreaker after overcoming a rough start to the season. The Earthquakes were 3-6-6 with 15 points and in second-to-last place in the Western Conference when he assumed coaching duties. ... The 28-year-old Pierazzi is the Earthquakes' prized offseason pickup after the French midfielder made the move to MLS after playing his entire eight-year career with hometown club AC Ajaccio and was the team's longtime captain. ... Wondolowski, on a nice scoring run during his appearances with the U.S. national team in a bid to make the World Cup roster, hopes to take better advantage of his scoring chances this season after getting only 11 goals — his lowest total in four years — one season after scoring a career-best 27. ... Corrales, who had been the last original member of the MLS from 1996, retired after last season.

VANCOUVER WHITECAPS

LAST YEAR: 13-12-9 (13th place overall, seventh Western Conference).

WHO'S BACK: D Jay DeMerit, D Jordan Harvey, D Andy O'Brien, D Sam Adekugbe, F Darren Mattocks, F Kenny Miller, M Gershon Koffie, M Russell Teibert, M Aminu Abdallah, M Andre Lewis, G David Ousted, G Marco Carducci.

WHO'S GONE: F Camilo Sanvezzo, M/F Jun Marques Davidson, F Corey Hertzog, D YP Lee, D Brad Rusin, G Joe Cannon.

WHO'S NEW: M Mehdi Ballouchy, M Matias Laba, M Sebastian Fernandez, M Nicolas Mezquida, D Steven Beitashour, G Paolo Tornaghi.

WHAT'S AHEAD: After failing to make the playoffs last season, Vancouver decided not to renew the contract of coach Martin Rennie. The Whitecaps went through a lengthy search before promoting assistant coach Carl Robinson, who has promised an attacking style of play. Vancouver will have to rely on veterans DeMerit, O'Brien and Ousted along with finding a way to cover for the loss of top scorer Camilo. Fernandez and Mezquida, a pair of talented Uruguayan strikers, should help with the attack. The club also hopes to have Chiliean midfielder Pedro Morales at some point this season, while Laba's arrival from Toronto FC should also provide some stability in the midfield. Altogether, Vancouver should have one of the youngest and most inexperienced teams in Major League Soccer, not only on the pitch but also in the coaching box, and how quickly they come together will determine whether they are able to qualify for the playoffs.

FC DALLAS

LAST YEAR: 11-12-11 (15th overall, eighth Western Conference).

WHO'S BACK: D Kellyn Acosta, F Tesho Akindele, D Jair Benitez, F Fabian Castillo, M Mauro Diaz, G Raul Fernandez, F Eric Hassli, D Matt Hedges, M Andrew Jacobson, D George John, D Stephen Keel, D Zach Loyd, M Peter Luccin, D Michel, F Blas Perez, G Chris Seitz, M Je-Vaughn Watson, D London Woodberry, D Walker Zimmerman.

WHO'S GONE: F Kenny Cooper, F David Ferreira, D Ugo Ihemelu.

WHO'S NEW: Coach Oscar Pareja, F Andres Escobar, M Adam Moffat, M Brian Span, F David Texeira, M Hendry Thomas.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Pareja left Colorado after two seasons to rejoin the team he was with for eight years as a player and several more as an assistant coach and youth development director. He takes over for Schellas Hyndman, the highly successful former SMU coach who led FC Dallas to its only appearance in the MLS Cup but missed the playoffs the past two seasons. Perez led FC Dallas in scoring the past two years and won't be away with Panama this season. He should get some offensive help from Castillo and newcomer Texeira. Thomas comes over from the Rapids with Pareja and could help stabilize a back line that has struggled since the departure of former SMU star Daniel Hernandez. FC Dallas decided to move on without Cooper, a Dallas high school product, and Ferreira, one of the most prolific scorers in league history. Diaz, who joined FC Dallas in the middle of last season, is seen as the player who has to pick up where Ferreira left off.

CHIVAS USA

LAST YEAR: 6-20-8 (18th place overall, ninth in Western Conference).

WHO'S BACK: G Dan Kennedy, D Carlos Bocanegra, F Erick Torres, M Eric Avila, M Carlos Alvarez, D Bobby Burling, M Oswaldo Minda.

WHO'S GONE: M Edgar Mejia, F Tristan Bowen, F Jose Correa, M Jorge Villafana, M Gabriel Farfan.

WHO'S NEW: D Andrew Jean-Baptiste, M Mauro Rosales, M Agustin Pelletieri, M Tommy McNamara, F Luke Moore, F Adolfo Bautista.

WHAT'S AHEAD: MLS' most miserable franchise is back from another tumultuous year for a fresh start, even if it doesn't translate into victories right away. After two head coaches were dismissed and the Goats finished last in the West in 2013, the league bought the club from owners Jorge Vergara and Angelica Fuentes, putting their future in flux. Chivas also overhauled its roster and hired coach Wilmer Cabrera, a veteran Colorado assistant and U.S. national under-17 team coach, to assemble this intriguing collection of returning players and new additions. The Goats added some undeniable talent in front of Dan Kennedy, still one of MLS' best goalkeepers: 21-year-old Andrew Jean-Baptiste is a gifted center back who should benefit from playing alongside U.S. national team veteran Carlos Bocanegra, while Argentines Mauro Rosales and Agustin Pelletieri should provide some punch in the midfield alongside youngster Tommy McNamara. Moore is a tantalizing addition from England via Turkey, and he should partner up front with promising second-year forward Erick Torres. The Goats aren't thinking about winning the league title just yet, but Cabrera is hoping Chivas is at least a credit to its owners.

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