Perhaps the biggest thing separating Major League Soccer from other domestic soccer leagues around the world is the variance in the quality of teams from season to season. The salary cap, despite the seeming ability of some clubs from New York and LA to circumvent it, has the effect of keeping the level of talent from team-to-team relatively similar. From season-to-season the maturation of a couple of young players, the aging of a couple of older ones, a change of coach/system, or the acquisition of an effective designated player can dramatically change the fortunes of a club. This is in stark contrast to the Premier League, Serie A, or La Liga where every season features a limited competition between a few clubs that have the resources to legitimately compete for the title.
In the Premier League, Swansea finishing mid-table or Newcastle hovering around bottom of the Champions League spots qualifies as about as big a surprise as you'll see. In Major League Soccer, a team like San Jose can find themselves rated likely to bring up the bottom of the Western Conference by the experts in February and by May they're tied for first place with two matches in hand over the team they're tied with. On the downside, the star-studded LA Galaxy can have the title virtually handed to them by the experts in February and find themselves 7th among the 9 Western Conference teams in May.
The talent is definitely a notch below the big leagues but it is improving and the opportunity for teams to ascend from mediocrity to title contention without a billionaire taking over and buying players that would otherwise not be available does add to the experience.
This concludes my unpaid advertisement for MLS and now we'll get to the schedule (which features 6 teams with two matches - New England, Colorado, Seattle, LA, San Jose and DC - and one team on a bye week in Houston) and my player picks.
- New England Revolution v Colorado Rapids
- Seattle Sounders FC v Los Angeles Galaxy
- San Jose Earthquakes v DC United
- Chivas USA v Chicago Fire
- Seattle Sounders FC v Philadelphia Union
- Toronto FC v DC United
- Vancouver Whitecaps v San Jose Earthquakes
- Los Angeles Galaxy v New York Red Bulls
- Real Salt Lake v New England Revolution
- Sporting Kansas City v Montreal Impact
- Portland Timbers v Columbus Crew
- FC Dallas v Colorado Rapids
Here's a quick look at the teams with two matches:
New England - One at home to an OK Colorado team and a tough one on the road at Salt Lake. Not thrilled about the match-ups.
Colorado - Both on the road against OK-but-not great competition in New England and Dallas. Not great but not bad.
Seattle - Both matches are at home against teams in LA and Philly that started out very badly but who have righted the ship over the last couple of weeks. Solid for the Sounders but not an "all-in" situation either.
LA - Away to Seattle and then home for the high scoring but defensively challenged Red Bulls. Hard not to be in on LA at least a bit over these two matches.
San Jose - Home to hot DC United and then away to a very tough-defending Vancouver team. Hard not to be on Wondo and you might want to get in on the San Jose defense as well.
DC - A tough trip to San Jose followed by another road match but a much more manageable on at Toronto. I'd stick with the players you have from DC but not invest too much further since the San Jose match could be a wash the way the Quakes have been playing.
Forwards: Chris Wondolowski > Robbie Keane > Omar Cummings; Bargain: Maicon Santos (still)
Midfielders: Dwayne DeRosario > Landon Donovan > Nick DeLeon; Bargain: Kelwyn Rowe
Defenders: Steven Beitashour > Daniel Woolard > Justin Morrow; Bargain: Any of the three recommended
Goalkeepers: John Busch > Matt Pickens >Michael Gspurning; Bargain: Joe Willis
Captain: Wondo > Lando > DeRo
Good luck with your picks