Armchair Analyst: Dynamo automatic contenders in the East
Houston, we might have solved a problem.
After an offseason of
fevered debate among hardcore fans all over the map, MLS announced on Friday that
two-time MLS Cup champions Houston Dynamo will be switching to the Eastern
Conference. The switch will make room for expansion teams Portland Timbers and
Vancouver Whitecaps in the Western Conference, and keep the numbers in each
conference even at nine apiece.
And following a disappointing 2010 that saw the Dynamo miss out on the postseason for the first time since their 2006 inception, coach Dominic Kinnear & Co. must certainly welcome the change.
After all, the Western Conference is very, very
top-heavy at the moment. All four semifinalists from last year’s MLS Cup Playoffs – FC Dallas, Colorado Rapids, LA Galaxy, and San Jose Earthquakes – are Western teams. Throw in
two-time defending US Open Cup champions Seattle and 2010 Supporters' Shield runners-up Real Salt Lake, and it's plain to see the West is simply stacked.
In the East, it's a very different story. The once-proud Dynamo, fully ensconced in
rebuilding mode, join a host of other clubs under reconstruction.
D.C. United are coming off
their worst season in team history, and have a new coach and many new faces. Chicago are replacing stalwarts in
defense, midfield and up top. New England, Houston’s great
postseason rivals in the middle of the last decade, were MLS’ worst defensive team
in 2010 and missed the postseason.
Meanwhile Columbus have overhauled their roster in the wake of the departures of Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Frankie Hejduk,
Brian Carroll and Gino Padula, to name just four. And Toronto FC can be thrown
into the group of Eastern Conference teams in flux as well, as they’re on their
fifth head coach in the past two years.
looking good to improve upon their inaugural season – the addition of Carroll
is one of the most significant offseason moves any team has made, not to mention the signing of goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón – and Teal
Bunbury looks a good bet to solve Sporting Kansas City’s scoring woes.
Still, the only
team in the East who looks remotely whole at this point is the New York Red
Bulls, and all they have to do is replace the franchise’s leading scorer and
the franchise’s all-time leader in games played. All while hoping Thierry
Henry reaches full fitness and finds his form early and often.
So, yeah, the playoff
door just opened a bit for Kinnear's orange crush. The Dynamo were likely to play second fiddle to the current powerhouses out West, but in the East they have a legitimate chance of cracking
the top two if Geoff Cameron, Brian Ching and Brad Davis stay healthy. Sure, they’re going to have their ups-and-downs, but if Kinnear figures out a
winning formula before Ben Olsen, Carlos de los
Cobos, et al, do the same, Houston will be dancing into the postseason.
Houston fans, unaccustomed
as they are to staying home in November, can smile at that.
The East, at least
for now, is a good place to be.
Matthew Doyle can be
reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org
and followed at twitter.com/mls_analyst.