MLS Western Conference Season Preview, Predictions

Portland TImbers


As Major League Soccer enters its 21st season, we are taking a look at all 20 teams. Today, I preview the Western Conference, which has in recent years been the stronger of the two conferences.  I think that will remain true in 2016.

Vancouver Whitecaps

2015: 16-13-5, lost to Portland in conference semifinals

Additions: Blas Perez, Christian Bolanos

Losses: Steven Beitashour, Gershon Koffie

2015 ended on a sour note for the Whitecaps. A strong summer, including their first ever Canadian Championship, gave way to a fall slump. In the end, they looked futile trying to score against their Cascadia rivals Portland in the playoffs, and the franchise is left seeking its first MLS playoff win.

The turning point of their playoff tie with Portland may have been the injury to Kekuta Manneh. The young winger emerged in 2015 as a truly dangerous force, but too often he was the only one on a team that still struggled to find goals. The foundation of their success was a defense that allowed the fewest goals in MLS. The offseason additions of Christian Bolanos and Blas Perez were designed to address that problem.

Glass half full: The Whitecaps were built around young talent last year, and have six homegrown players on their roster for 2016. In the winter they brought in some grizzled veterans in Perez and Bolanos to add that attacking edge and leadership they’ve been lacking. The end result is a balanced team that could go all the way this fall. Robinson deserves a lot of credit for what he’s building in Vancouver.

Glass half empty: Where are the goals going to come from? Octavio Rivero’s spring dried up quickly last year, and Blas Perez will be 35 in a couple weeks. Darren Mattocks is reportedly on his way out, and Manneh still hasn’t shown himself to be consistent in the final third. Vancouver’s toothless attack cost them last year; have they done enough to fix that? Meanwhile, the league’s best defense lost Steven Beitashour and the midfield presence of Gershon Koffie. The Whitecaps might not be ready to make that jump into the league’s elite just yet.

FC Dallas

2015: 18-10-6, lost to Portland in conference finals

Additions: Carlos Gruezo, Maxi Urruti, the Hall of Fame

Losses: Blas Perez, David Teixeira

Last season was a breakthrough year for Oscar Pareja and FC Dallas. In his first season, Pareja got Dallas to the playoffs; in 2015 he showed that a team built around youth and its academy could have sustained success over the course of the year in MLS. Dallas finished atop the West while fielding lineups half-filled by homegrown players. Jesse Gonzalez took over as keeper in midseason, while the midfield duo of Victor Ulloa and Kellyn Acosta looked wise beyond their years in the center of the park. Portland buzzed through them in the playoffs, but the trajectory is upwards for Dallas.

Pareja looked upon his success and said “more of the same, please,” this offseason. He fended off interest for the talented Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz, and signed a designated player in 20-year-old Carlos Grueza, who comes with Bundesliga experience. Expect even more kids (including some teenagers) to get playing time in 2016; the youth revolution is only beginning.

An off-field sidebar to Dallas in 2016: while construction is underway on the National Soccer Hall of Fame at Toyota Stadium, capacity will be reduced to 16,000. That is the smallest in the league for a team that has seen improving attendance in recent years.

Glass half full: Another year older should mean another year better for most of Dallas’ key players. The midfield trio of Diaz, Ulloa, and Acosta, none of whom are yet 25, emerged as among the league’s best in 2015. Expectations are high for Castillo after his best year yet. Tesho Akindele is only a year removed from winning Rookie of the Year, mind you. Don’t let their age fool you. Dallas can win MLS Cup this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they did.

Glass half empty: The decline and departures of Blas Perez and David Teixeira left Dallas seeking a true number nine who could be clinical with the chances Dallas’ creative players provide. Offseason signing Maxi Urruti has a burden on his shoulders to finish chances and get goals up top; if he can’t do that, Dallas could have some hiccups in the year ahead. By hiccups, I mean they could drop to third or fourth in the West.

Portland Timbers

2015: 15-11-8, won MLS Cup

Additions: Chris Klute, Jack McInerney, Jermaine Taylor

Losses: Jorge Villafana, Will Johnson, Rodney Wallace

The Timbers got hot at the right time, headed into the playoffs with momentum, and rode that all the way to their first ever championship. After struggles finishing plagued them through the regular season, they found the goals they were looking for. Combined with good possession play and a staunch defense, that was the final piece to Caleb Porter’s puzzle.

Portland’s biggest loss of the winter was Jorge Villafana, who became the regular starter at left back, but was promptly sold to Santos Laguna. Rodney Wallace left to ply his trade in Portugal. Will Johnson had faded from the starting lineup in the fall, and now he is in Toronto. Still, the core of the team, namely Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri, remain, and Lucas Melano should have a larger role in his first full season with the team.

Glass half full:Why shouldn’t the defending champs be confident? Most of the key players from last year’s run have returned for 2016, and they have seen what that team looks like at its full potential. They have seen  Nagbe turn his jinking runs into chances, assists and goals as he develops into a strong midfielder. They have seen Fanendo Adi boss defenses around with his strength. And, most importantly, they have seen Porter make the adjustments needed to bring the most out of his players. Portland should be right there at the end again.

Glass half empty: Lest we forget, this was a team that was two posts away from an early playoff exit last year. Even their regular season was rocky before they finished third. UnderPorter, we have only seen flashes of the consistency and success the Timbers had last fall, and there’s little reason to believe they can stretch that out over a full season. In the tight Western Conference, missing the playoffs is not out of the question for the defending champs.

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  • Andrew

    I think SKC is missing “Justin Mapp” under Additions, and their summary in the predictions got cut off. Great read though!

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