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2015 Western Conference Preview, Part 1

Here comes the 2015 MLS season. We kept you up to date on all the moves that your Colorado Rapids made. But how does the rest of the Western Conference stack up?

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

We here at Burgundy Wave are looking forward to the 2015 season, Major League Soccer Strike be damned!  With that in mind we begin our look at the Western Conference and who the Colorado Rapids will be playing in 2015.  We will culminate this with our prediction of the Rapids season in early March.

FC Dallas

2014 Record: (16-12-6) 54 Points--Fourth in the Western Conference Table.  Hosted Wild Card Round Playoff.  Won 2-1 in the Wild Card vs Vancouver Whitecaps FC.  Lost to Seattle Sounders FC in Western Conference Semifinals

2014 Goals For: 55, Fourth in MLS

2014 Goals Against: 45, Eighth in MLS

2014 Key Statistic: Matt Hedges led all MLS players with 369 CBI (Clearance, Blocks and Interceptions).  Hey Jurgen, WTF?  Start this guy already!

Key Additions: Dan KennedyKyle Bekker, Otis Earle

Key Subtractions: Jair BenitezAdam Moffat

2015 Forecast:  Playoff team, MLS Cup Finalist Hopeful

What they have going for them: Dallas had a quiet offseason: no big name signings or dramatic coaching changes. That's probably to their credit. This is a team that, at times, looks like a top contender. Oscar Pareja is settling in comfortably to his second year with the team. They have recent USMNT callup Matt Hedges at CB, playmaking midfielder Fabian Castillo, and twin battering-ram forwards in Blas Perez and Tesho Akindele. Victor Ulloa gives you steady possession, and Mauro Diaz and Kellyn Acosta are excellent and probably underrated two-way players. Add to the mix Dan Kennedy, an excellent goalkeeper on a terrible Chivas USA team last year, and you have a lot of potential.

What's Troubling? Last year's defense was adequate.  Michel is 35 this year and Benitiez was not renewed.  This means that the Hoops will be relying on players like Walker Zimmerman, Stephan Keep and Earle.  If they are not able to do so, a lot of work will fall on the talented attacking crew and it begs the question if there are enough goals in them if the defense struggles.

Houston Dynamo

2014 Record:  (11-17-6) 39 points--Eighth in the Eastern Conference Table.  Missed Playoffs

2014 Goals For: 39, 16th in MLS

2014 Goals Against: 58, 16th in MLS

2014 Key Stat: In all of MLS, Brad Davis was 5th in 2014 in Key passes with 72, and 4th in Crosses with 63.

Key Additions: Erick 'Cubo' Torres, Owen Coyle, Raul Rodriguez, Samuel Inkoom

Key Subtractions: Dominic Kinnear, Mark Sherrod, Tally Hall

2015 Forecast: Miss the playoffs

What they have going for them: Houston picked up possibly the most exciting striker in MLS in Cubo Torres. Don’t agree? Fine. Look at this. And this. But mostly, this.

If there’s one reason not to like Sounders fans, it’s because they voted for this as GOTY over the Cubo levitating-bicycle-volley-golazo. As if! But I digress. With Brad Davis giving service and Will Bruin supporting, Cubo should score more goals than he did for the disheveled Chivas USA; Torres scored 15 of the teams 29 goals. Stop and think about how ridiculous that is for a second. Damarcus ‘Run DMB’ Beasley will have a full season to settle into the Houston backline.

What's Troubling: I was a little pessimistic on Dallas, and they have one of the best defenders in MLS. Houston was one of the worst teams in defense last year, allowing 58 goals. GK Tally Hall blew out his ACL midyear, then went to Orlando in the winter, so they go to an unproved Tyler Deric to mind the net. He’s good enough that they let a great keeper go in order to give him the starting job. He is going to need to be good, since the team will likely start Kofie Sarkodie and David Horst again. New La Liga import Raul Rodriguez from Espanyol will hopefully be an upgrade that helps the backline.

The midfield after Davis and Boniek Garcia is also a question mark; they need to be better both in linking the offense and in winning and holding the ball. Ricardo Clark was out hurt for some of the year, so that might have contributed to the midfield talent vacuum. I remember Clark coming back from his injury wearing a scary-ass phantom-of-the-opera mask on the pitch. I wasn’t hallucinating that, was I? Even fully healthy, he’s on the backside of his career. Others that pitched in were forgettable. This was a team that willingly and purposefully acquired Nathan Sturgis. That should tell you something right there.

The team also has a new manager, in Owen Coyle. With a new manager from a different league, there should be the expectation of a period of adjustment. Coyle is hard to read; he found success with Burnley, but couldn’t coax greatness out of Bolton or Wigan, and paid for it with his job. If he’s not the right fit, this could be a rough season for the orange.

LA Galaxy

2014 Record: (17-7-10) 61 points--Second in Western Conference.  Won MLS Cup Championship

2014 Goals For: 69, First in MLS

2014 Goals Against: 37, Second in MLS

2014 Key Stat:

Key Additions: Steven Gerrard

Key Subtractions: Landon Donovan, Marcelo Sarvas

2015 Forecast: Mid-table finish, MLS Cup Playoffs Semi-finalist

What they’ve got going for them: Another year, another championship for the LA Galaxy. They claimed their fifth MLS Cup in November on the strength of, well, everything. Gyasi Zardes emerged as a pace-y and exciting young striker. Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan paired to pour in the goals. Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho’s play in midfield distributed the ball to the scorers and were also key for possession and defense in Bruce Arena’s 4-4-2. Robbie Rogers, AJ De La Garza, Omar Gonzalez, and Dan Gargan formed arguably the best backline in MLS. (Note: Jurgen Klinsmann said last week that he partially ran the 3-5-2 against Chile because MLS didn’t have any quality fullbacks. Jurgen Klinsmann is an idiot.)

If Keane and Zardes can recapture the magical partnership that Donovan and Keane had, it’ll be something special to watch.

What’s Troubling: The Galaxy’s trade to Colorado for a higher allocation slot was almost certainly to get Sacha Kljestan, but they were outmaneuvered by NYRB, who claimed him first. This team would be a lot better if he was running the midfield. Losing Donovan and Sarvas are a big hit for this team; LA are going to have to deal with a downgrade there, no doubt. As of right now, the midfield will be Husidic-Ishizaki-Juninho-??? . Todd Dunivant might start on the backline and Rogers would play up on the flank, or Zardes could slide back and they could put MLS cheap-shot artist Alan Gordon up top to pair with Keane. Nevertheless, this midfield got worse since MLS Cup. How much worse will determine how far LA goes.

Of course, I haven’t mentioned that LA went out and got Steven Gerrard, who will join the team midseason. I’ll be blunt: Gerrard is 34, will be coming in July off a full EPL season with no break, and was possibly the least effective component on the field for Liverpool this season. He still is dangerous around the goal and makes the nice passes, but the assumption that a once-great player for a mid-table EPL team can slot into an MLS lineup and just dominate is crazy talk. The Western Conference is full of midfielders who are faster, or stronger, and those guys had all winter to recoup. (Note: While I was writing this, I imagined Kyle Beckerman going in on a 50-50 with Gerrard, knocking him ass-over-tea-kettle, then glowering down at his crumpled body and saying ‘Welcome to Major League Soccer.’ That’d be awesome.) If Gerrard merely replaces the steady Marcelo Sarvas, I’d consider it a victory. I have my doubts. But that would still leave this team worse than they were in November.

Lastly, LA will likely miss Gonzalez, Zardes, and maybe Robbie Rogers for the Gold Cup this summer. Last year during the World Cup, and also when AJ De La Garza was out, the Galaxy looked pretty mortal; even mediocre. They have some youngsters like Bradford Jamieson IV and that whole Los Dos team that might fill in and impress. They will need them to. With a roster that will be the 4th oldest in MLS next year, injuries are inevitable. Any extended loss of a key player or two, and the Galaxy might be fighting this season for the sixth playoff spot instead of the Supporters Shield.