As the 20th MLS season kicks off this Saturday, March 8, there are quite a few new faces directing teams from the sidelines. Among the nine teams in the Western conference, six are led by new coaches. In the Eastern Conference, there are four new coaches among the teams. This may be mainly due to parity and the very tough competition in MLS. Here is a look at the challenges that the new coaches in the Western Conference face.
Colorado Rapids (14-11-9, 5th in West)
The new coach is a veteran MLS and USA national team defensive midfielder Pablo Mastroeni, who played most of his MLS career with the Rapids; he was named interim coach after Oscar Pareja left for FC Dallas. Mastroeni’s offense is pretty much intact with speed on the flanks and up the middle provided by Kris Klute and last year’s leading scorer Deshawn Brown with 10 goals.
Veteran striker Edson Buddle, though in the twilight of his career, can still be a threat on the front line, which is substantially improved with the new man Gabriel Torres of Panama. Torres is a proven scorer as he showed in the last Gold cup as he led Panama to the final against the USA. Another addition to the Rapids that would please Mastroeni is Marvin Chavez, the Honduras national player and tricky dribbler. Chavez has sped and dazzles defenders with his skills.
The midfield supplier is Dillon Powers, who pulls all the stings in middle, but the middle is now unbalanced now that defensive midfielder Hendry Thomas left for Dallas with his old coach. Mastroeni has an adequate replacement in Jose Mari of Spain, who will bring defensive stability in the crucial middle of the park. Mari is a veteran of Spain’s La Liga and must provide the critical defensive presence in midfield. The Rapids seem well balanced and Mastroeni feels that way. “I’m not counting on one guy to save us from a defensive standpoint, and I’m not counting on any one guy to be the hero on the attacking end,” Said Mastroeni after a recent practice.
San Jose (14-11-9) 6th West
The new man in San Jose is Mark Watson, who took over from Canadian Frank Yallop last season; Watson was an assistant on staff and is in only his second season. San Jose finished 6th in the Western Conference and just missed the playoffs; one reason was the under production of 2012 leading scorer Chris Wondolowski, who had a record 27 goals that year, but only tapped in 11 last season. Watson though has newcomer Jean Baptiste Pierazzi, a veteran of the French League I. He is a central midfielder, a big 6-foot-1 presence in midfield and can score.
The Quakes are confident that he can be a pretty solid two-way threat – there have been comparisons from some corners of their front office to Michael Bradley, which seems a touch over-enthusiastic – despite the fact that he’s scored just twice in his nine years as a pro.
Watson says he that he wants lots of movement; he look for that movement from …
Young Trinidadian Cordell Cato, a speedy winger, Steven Lenhart, Kittitian Atiba Harris, Alan Gordon and Wondolowski. U.S. defender Clarence Goodson will help to shore up the defense
Vancouver Whitecaps (13-12-9) 7th West
The Whitecaps announced that assistant coach Carl Robinson will be the head man to lead the team this season. The new coach played at the higest level in England and Scotland and is highly regarded by the players. Robinson’s headache is replacing Camilo Sanvezzo, who scored 22 goals and six assists last year. According to reports, the player hasn’t been replaced, but forward Kekuta Manneh could well be more than an adequate replacement for Sanvezzo. He is consider one of the most exciting players in the league and has the potential to be a “breakout player” for 2014.
Also, Canadian Russell Teibert, a mainstay in the team, is a talented left-footer who is being tabbed as the team’s creative midfielder. He will be flanked in midfield by veteran English Premier League player Nigel Reo-Coker and Matias Laba, both solid two-way players. Newcomer Steven Beitashour is an overlapping full back who can send quality crosses into the goal area.
FC Dallas (11-12-11) 8th West
FC Dallas will have Blas Perez full time this season since Panama is out of the World Cup. The Panamanian scorer notched 11 goals for Dallas and is expected to continue to carry the scoring torch with new coach Oscar Pareja at the helm. Support on the forward line will come from David Texeira.
Outside midfielders Fabian Castillo and Andres Escobar and attacking midfielder Mauro Diaz should have more freedom to attack now that defensive midfield stalwart Hendry Thomas has come over with Pareja. On defense, George John, when fit, is a solid defender and American Zach Lloyd is expected to be his steady self again at full back.
Chivas USA (6-20-8) 9th West
Chivas USA was a very poorly managed club, run by owners of the original Mexican Club, Chivas Guadalajara of Mexico. MLS bought the club with intentions of finding new owners by 2015. Head coach Wilmer Cabrera, brought in to steady the ship that leaked a league-worst 67 goals, has much work ahead of him.
One good thing is that Cabrera has veteran USA defender and former national team captain Carlos Bocanegra to anchor the defense. Cabrera was lucky to get strong central defender Andre Jean-Baptiste, who was a stalwart defender at college powerhouse University of Connecticut. He was off to a good start to his MLS career in Portland, but found himself on the trading block at season’s end. This defensive pair will lead a young defensive unit.
New acquisition Mauro Rosales will lead the offense. Rosales came from the Seattle Sounders, where he was once a prominent feature; he as the experience and although approaching his mid-thirties is still a deadly striker.
Real Salt Lake
MLS Cup finalist Real Salt Lake has a new coach in Jeff Cassar; long time coach Jason Kreis has moved on and will lead the New York FC franchise in 2015. Returning are Louis Gil, Chris Schuler, Devon Sandoval.