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01 February 6:10 de la tarde

Okay, so we're still more than a month away from the first games of the 2012 MLS season on March 10. But that doesn't mean we can't start having a little fun.

Check out MLSsoccer.com on Thursday as we reveal our preseason power rankings, looking back at all the offseason moves, injuries and coaching changes that will shape how each team performs in 2012.

And for a refresher course, here's a look at how the teams finished after the MLS Cup last season...

(Before you get bent out of shape about Montreal's absence or any other perceived slight, please remember that these are the final 2011 rankings.)

1. LA Galaxy

2. Houston Dynamo

3. Real Salt Lake

4. Sporting Kansas City

5. Seattle Sounders

6. Philadelphia Union

7. Colorado Rapids

8. New York Red Bulls

9. FC Dallas

10. Columbus Crew

11. Chicago Fire

12. Portland Timbers

13. San Jose Earthquakes

14. D.C. United

15. Toronto FC

16. Chivas USA

17. Vancouver Whitecaps

18. New England Revolution

01 February 5:17 de la tarde

It's been a frustrating few days for Union fans.

As has been well documented here at MLSsoccer.com, Philadelphia parted ways with 2011 stalwarts Faryd Mondragon and Sébastien Le Toux this week. From the very start, neither move went over particularly well – a massive understatement – within the club's core fanbase, which has been making plenty of noise online and elsewhere in the wake of losing their offensive and defensive MVPs from last season.

Particularly frustrating for MLS fans in the city of Brotherly Love was the way Le Toux characterized his treatment by the club. The Union's reponse was simple: They are building for the future and Le Toux was in the final year of his contract. The trade was simply a calculated business move with Danny Mwanga and Jack McInerney waiting for their time to shine.

The following tidbit from manager Peter Nowak didn't exactly endear him to fans attached to Le Toux, though – “feelings are not included in my job description.”

Feelings are certainly a large part of Union fans' job description, however, and they've apparently been giving Nowak an earful (monitor full?) on Twitter today.

So much so that Nowak felt compelled to clear the air a little bit. The following tweets are Nowak's response Wednesday afternoon. Clearly, some people are having a hard time keeping their emotions in check.

01 February 4:17 de la tarde

The Canadian Soccer Association is set to make a few big announcements on Thursday, but who saw this one coming?

Rumors are that the CSA will not only announce the sites for Canada's World Cup Qualifying matches on Thursday, but it appears they'll also drop the news that Canada will host the US sometime in a friendly tuneup before the qualifiers. The US - who beat Canada in Detroit during the group stage of the CONCACAF Gold Cup last summer - have not played in Canada since a 3-0 win in Vancouver in 1997.

The Canucks lead the series 6-3-1 in matches played in Canada all-time, dating back to 1925. (CBC Sports - Canada to face US in World Cup qualifier tuneup)

 

01 February 2:22 de la tarde

For the first time in league history, "Embarrassment of attacking riches" really is an appropriate phrase. There's never been a team as stacked as the 2012 LA Galaxy.

In Robbie Keane, they have a Designated Player striker who would be the odds-on favorite for the Golden Boot if he weren't going to miss at least a month for Euro 2012. In Landon Donovan, they have a former Golden Boot winner, MLS MVP and the all-time leading US goal scorer.

That David Beckham fella you've probably heard of, and lest you think he's merely a set-piece specialist, I suggest you re-watch the MLS Cup Playoffs and see how he constantly played the ball early and into stride, making it easier for the likes of Donovan and Keane to carry the ball at pace or pick passes themselves. And Mike Magee proved his worth several-fold over the second half of last season, showing a knack for one-touch passing in the final third and bagging timely goals when it mattered most.

Bringing back Edson Buddle – one of the league's all-time leading scorers – and adding him to that mix, then, is almost unfair.

So does it mean a repeat of this...

is inevitable?

Nope.

A solid chunk of those chances that Chad Barrett and Adam Cristman sent into the Angel City Brigade will land cozily in the net now that Buddle's back, which does eliminate one of the few weaknesses the Galaxy had. The big man never did get starter's minutes in Germany with Ingolstadt, but he did producing starter's goals, leading his team from the bench this year before the bizarre cancellation of his contract.

And, of course, we've seen what he can do in MLS.

For LA, though, the real issue is figuring out who's going to replace Juninho and Omar Gonzalez. Once Gonzalez got healthy last year, the Galaxy ran off a string of 24 league games with just one loss. During that stretch, they lost their starting 'keeper to injury, lost Donovan to the Gold Cup (and got him back injured), saw Beckham battle through a series of knocks including a fractured back, and had Leonardo and Gregg Berhalter go down for the year and for two months, respectively.

One loss in 24 despite that. Gonzalez got my MLS MVP vote – he was that important – and the Galaxy, for all their stars, were a team that was defined by their defense.

With Juninho, the appreciation was a little more subtle, and the (justifiable) worry among Galaxy fans is that his absence will become very, very tangible this season. The Brazilian was one of those "little things" midfielders, a guy who always managed to play the smart pass, always kept the central defensive pair shielded, always make sure his team kept its shape. And he came through with several big goals when the Galaxy needed it.

The difference between having him on the pitch and not was best illustrated in the playoffs. One game LA struggled to subdue a pretty mediocre New York Red Bulls side as Juninho served his suspension for the Rafa Márquez affair; the next, they tore through a very, very good Real Salt Lake team with relative ease, dominating the tempo for nearly the full 90 minutes.

Those were the two pressing issues for Bruce Arena and Co. heading into 2012, and landing Buddle doesn't answer either. Defense wins championships, and the Galaxy still have questions about theirs.

But ... man are they going to be fun to watch in attack. It could be 1998 all over again.

01 February 12:49 de la tarde

 

La camada de colombianos que han llegado a la MLS este año es de muy alta calidad. O si no que lo digan los hinchas del Millonarios, que vieron partir a su capitán y estrella Rafael Robayo al Chicago Fire.

A pesar de sentirse contento con su nuevo equipo, el volante mostró mediante su página de Facebook su preocupación de perderse del radar de la selección Colombia, como suele pasarles a jugadores que llegan a la MLS.

¡Pilas! Este jugador está enterito y Colombia conoce su talento. Es injusto que se le cierre la puerta de la selección solamente porque juega en una liga a la que su tierra no sigue como a las demás.

Duélale al que le duela, la MLS tiene un nivel de competencia que la Liga Postobón ya no tiene… 

01 February 11:05 de la mañana

Forget the official word from the club. Luke Rodgers told fans this morning from his personal Facebook page that he's sorted out his issues in England and will join the club this week.

Further invesitgation indicates that Rodgers, who scored nine goals and added three assists in his first MLS season last year, isn't Facebook friends with Red Bulls newcomer Kenny Cooper. Not yet, anyway.

 

31 January 11:04 de la tarde

Buried deep in the latest Hot Stove piece from Jack Bell of the New York Times is word of yet another alleged midfield target for the Red Bulls. This time it's not a Scandinavian or Nordic name but one a little more mainstream but equally European: former Manchester City and Republic of Ireland attacker Stephen Ireland.

Could he be Hans Backe's third DP or is he just another name on the always-expanding list of rumored Red Bulls?

31 January 8:44 de la tarde

According to Steven Goff of the Washington Post, there are rumblings that the Red Bulls will be meeting with the reps for Michael Ballack in Germany this week.

Just due diligence on RBNY's part, or the prelude to a move for the 35-year-old German midfielder who's on the outs at current club Bayer Leverkusen? And if they bring Ballack in, is he the "final piece" for the New York attack, or an injury-prone albatross whose best days are far, far behind him?

31 January 8:34 de la tarde

In the history of US youth soccer, there are three absolute stand-outs, guys who were so can't miss that they made coaches, teammates, scouts and – especially – agents giddy at what the future would hold.

First was Claudio Reyna, who turned down Barcelona to play at the University of Virginia in the early 1990s.

Next was Landon Donovan, who won the Golden Ball at the 1999 U-17 Youth World Cup.

And then there was Charles Renken.

(No, Freddy Adu was not in this group. While considered a very good prospect, most serious scouts and managers didn't consider him to be "can't miss.")

Renken was as polished a prospect as they come. In the 2007 Nike Friendlies against Brazil, the midfielder – then just 14 – didn't dribble circles around the Samba Boys. He didn't explode out of the pack at a gallop, displaying a sprinter's turn of pace.

Instead he just feinted, the ball glued to his foot, and slipped a pass to a teammate. Time and again three yellow kits would close around him; time and again he'd slip Joe Gyau or Stefan Jerome through. Renken was possessed of an otherworldly ability to handle pressure, a sort of soccer aikido that you're either born with or not.

This was the American Xavi. Every team in the world wanted him, and wanted him badly.

Then he blew out his right knee in a training session. A year later, he did it again.

It's been three years since that second ACL injury, and now Renken has slipped quietly through the waiver wire to land with the Portland Timbers. 1899 Hoffenheim let him go for nothing, and 18 MLS teams passed on the chance to sign him on a free.

Does that mean he's broken beyond repair? That the Timbers ponied up for damaged goods, similar to how Chivas USA brought John O'Brien in for a cup of coffee in the 2006 season?

I don't know – no one really does, and no one really will until the kid has some time under his belt in the Rose City.

But we can hope. This isn't just for Timbers fans, or US fans; it's for soccer fans. Renken has the kind of talent that everyone can enjoy, the ability and preternatural gifts that make you think "This is why I love this game."

That's what we saw on the field four years ago against Brazil. If the soccer gods are kind, I'd love to see it again.

31 January 8:01 de la tarde

Kris Boyd doesn't know it yet but he has more than just MLS defenders he'll be contending with every weekend in the USA.

Portland's new designated player already has a minimum goal target he MUST hit in 2012 to even qualify as a moderately successful signing: nine.

That's the total that would surpass Kenny Cooper's production from last year in a Timbers jersey.

And make no mistake about it: By offloading Cooper on SuperDraft day and committing the big bucks to Boyd, the Timbers absolutely need Boyd to have the better season this year.

It will be the game-within-the-game to watch throughout 2012. Who is the more productive player in MLS? Boyd may not know who New York's Cooper is yet, but you have to figure Cooper, for one, will be checking Boyd's stat line every weekend.

They are very different players -- Boyd is considered a natural scorer while Cooper enjoys playing outside the box -- but in the end both will be judged by the ultimate measure of a striker's success: balls in the back of the net (and assists). And Boyd has the edge going into it purely based on his characteristics.

If the Scotsman does not bang them in for Portland, then it would likely point to wider personnel issues for the Timbers (do the wingers provide enough service? do the central midfielders have enough ideas?).

And in that scenario, the much-maligned Cooper would come out smelling like, well, roses.