By JOSE M. ROMERO
The MLS playoff field is set, with 10 teams playing at least one more game and the other nine going home following this weekend’s regular-season finales. It’s always a bittersweet time of the year, when the teams who failed to make the postseason dwell on what wrong while probably being somewhat relieved that it is over and they can look ahead to hopefully better days and more success in 2013.
In the Western Conference, there’s reason to be optimistic for 2013 for each of the four teams not in the playoffs. From new hires at the higher ends of organizations to good finishes to close out 2012 to promising talent from young players, FC Dallas, the Colorado Rapids, the Portland Timbers and Chivas USA have been active in planning ahead, or certainly will be.
Interestingly enough, FC Dallas and the Rapids were MLS Cup finalists only two seasons ago and were playoff teams last season. The Timbers have yet to live up to very high expectations in the city known as Soccer City, U.S.A, and Chivas USA still seems far from becoming a contender.
But the only way is up for these teams, or so they and their fans can only hope.
What went wrong- FCD was in the playoff race right until last Sunday, and had only to get a win or draw in Seattle that night to stay alive for the fifth spot. It wasn’t to be, as the Sounders rolled to a 3-1 victory and handed Vancouver the fifth playoff seed while ensuring that Dallas could not catch the Whitecaps. A 15-match winless streak that lasted three months from April to July also hurt — one of those was a deflating 2-0 U.S. Open Cup loss at home to the lower-division Charlotte Eagles.
Silver lining- Nine goals and four assists for first-year striker Blas Perez, in only 19 league games. Perez is 31, but is an effective scorer and still a huge part of the Panama team that will be in the CONCACAF World Cup hexagonal. Plus, the core of this team is still intact with goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, midfielders Daniel Hernandez and David Ferreira, defenders George John and Ugo Ihemelu and midfielder Brek Shea, among others.
Outlook- If Dallas can keep its core players injury-free, continue to develop young talent and ease them into matches for meaningful playing time and Julian de Guzman comes back with a better understanding of his role and how to play with his teammates, FCD can get back into the postseason again.
What went wrong- The Rapids lost eight of nine league matches in June and July — all losses, no draws — and went 2-11-1 in June, July and August. Forward Conor Casey’s goal production dropped to its lowest since 2007, when he came to the Rapids in April of that year from Toronto FC and scored two goals for Colorado. He has just two this season in 18 matches/13 starts.
Silver lining- Colorado has something in scoring midfielder Jaime Castrillon, who leads the club in goals with eight, and 22-year-old Argentine midfielder Martin Rivero, who leads in assists with eight. It might have something in rookie Tony Cascio, who started the season well and played significant minutes this season.
Outlook- It might be time to at long last move on from the Casey-Omar Cummings forward duo, as Casey just can’t stay healthy — he was limited early in the season by an Achilles injury he suffered in 2011 — and the Rapids need to develop younger players to eventually replace both scorers. Also, 19 losses led the West, so Colorado must look to shore up its back line as well.
What went wrong- Almost everything. The troubles really got worse on the fateful night of May 30, when the Timbers lost to USASA club Cal FC in a U.S. Open Cup match at Jeld-Wen Field. The fans turned on the Timbers that night, and although the sellouts and devotion continued, the Timbers could not better reward the loyalty this season. Designated player Kris Boyd never panned out and will end the season injured, and coach John Spencer was fired at midseason.
Silver lining- The Timbers are very formidable at home and that will only continue in the madhouse known as “The House of Pane.” Portland captured the Cascadia Cup last week with a 1-0 win at Vancouver, giving the club a trophy and something tangible to take with it as a memory of one positive from 2012. Portland is undoubtedly the kind of place players are attracted to, and highly successful Akron coach Caleb Porter gets to come in and make his mark on a club and city starved for soccer success.
Outlook- This could be an interesting offseason for the Timbers with Porter coming on board. He’s young (37) and he’ll likely bring a faster and more attacking style to the Rose City. Portland has a ton of young talent at the attacking positions with Darlington Nagbe, Franck Songo’o, Danny Mwanga, Bright Dike, Mike Fucito, Sebastian Rincon and Jose Adolfo Valencia, among others, but needs a finisher. They’re good at holding midfielder with Diego Chara. The defense will need upgrading.
What went wrong- The Goats would rather forget 2012, with a league-leading minus-34 goal differential that is minus-21 at home. They have been outscored 22-56 this season and at least don’t have to end this miserable 2012 at the Home Depot Center, finishing up at FC Dallas this weekend. Chivas hasn’t won a single league match since July 28 at Portland and has been shut out eight times in that span.
Silver lining- Club ownership has apparently had enough, at least to some extent, and brought in Jose David as president and Jose Luis Real as supervisor of soccer operations this week. Will that translate into better players and wins? Who knows? One thing is certain. Chivas USA would have fared much worse if not for the play of goalkeeper Dan Kennedy.
Outlook- Will David and Real clean house? Will Robin Fraser lose his job as coach? Will the Mexican parent club in Guadalajara take a stronger interest in its American subsidiary? So many questions for Chivas USA. With talent like Juan Agudelo, Miller Bolanos and Shalrie Joseph, this should be a better team than it is. But there is bound to be roster moves from right in front of Kennedy up to the forwards.
What did you think of the 2012 seasons for these teams? Which of the five East teams to miss the playoffs do you give the best chance of making the post-season in 2013?
Share your thoughts below.