Eastern Conference preview for '05

A look at the fortunes of the clubs in the Eastern Conference for the 2005 season:

Chicago Fire

A dozen or so new players have moved to the Windy City for the 2005 season. There is plenty of individual talent; the question that remains is how they will jell as a group.

A vocal, experienced leader like Zach Thornton in goal should provide a calming effect for the defense, which is braced by C.J. Brown and Tony Sanneh. Samuel Caballero and Mario Ivan Guerrero are both fighting injuries but will be looking to help the Fire allow fewer goals this season. Jim Curtin is back for a fifth season in the Fire defense.

The new face in the midfield will likely be John Thorrington. After testing the waters in Europe, the winger is finally giving MLS a shot and how he adjusts to the game in the U.S. will impact his productivity. Chris Armas and Jesse Marsch will probably patrol the middle, though a younger, quicker player may need to be thrown into that mix. Justin Mapp is back from injury and needs to consistently play at the high level that he displays too infrequently.

Andy Herron appears to have a lock on a starting job up front, but he could be partnered with a number of guys including Nate Jaqua or rookies Chad Barrett or Chris Rolfe. Dave Sarachan's side looks to be a little back heavy on paper.

Columbus Crew

Greg Andrulis' team in 2005 will much resemble his '04 squad, with a few key exceptions. Gone is one of the USA's top defenders in Sanneh, traded to the Chicago Fire for the services of striker Ante Razov. Robin Fraser will again lead the defense, but at 38 years old, he could have a hard time keeping up with younger, faster forwards. Chad Marshall will look to match his rookie-season performance and avoid the sophomore slump.

Simon Elliott, Kyle Martino and Ross Paule should lead the midfield and Andrulis will be looking for more production from Danny Szetela, as well as contributions from draftees such as Marcus Storey and Domenic Mediate.

How Razov adjusts to a new team and a new city will be the offensive key for the Crew. Jeff Cunningham was sent to the Colorado Rapids, but Edson Buddle, Dante Washington and a few younger players will battle for time alongside Razov.

D.C. United

Peter Nowak's side knows what it takes to win a championship. They know that the MLS season is a long one and they aren't likely to get too down on each other if they hit a rough spot, as they did at several points in 2004. Their deadly striking tandem of Alecko Eskandarian and Jaime Moreno are both back and fully fit.

The midfield looks strong behind returning players Brian Carroll, Ben Olsen, Christian Gomez, Freddy Adu and Josh Gros. Dema Kovalenko will miss the first few weeks after suffering a broken foot in the offseason, but his injection into the lineup after missing early matches could help spark the team if they get off to a slow start. Steve Guppy, a veteran of English soccer, could make an impact by providing quality service to Eskandarian and Moreno.

The only real question mark is in defense, a huge gap in their back line appearing with the departure of Ryan Nelsen to England. However, Mike Petke, Bryan Namoff and Brandon Prideaux are all experienced MLS defenders capable of getting the job done. David Stokes still has a lot of learning and improving to do, so Nowak could look to shore up the defense with an additional player sometime in the near future.

Kansas City Wizards

The Wizards have essentially the opposite problem of D.C. United. The Kansas City defense is one of the tops in the league, though the offensive threats are few and far between. Jimmy Conrad, Nick Garcia, Jose Burciaga and Alex Zotinca will protect Bo Oshoniyi's net again this season, which will make it hard for opponents to find the net too often.

The midfield is anchored by Kerry Zavagnin defensively, while the more attacking-minded options include Preki and Chris Klein, both of whom are finally healthy after long injury layoffs. Newcomer Sasha Victorine could also help generate some offense from his position out wide.

Up top the duties will fall to Josh Wolff and Davy Arnaud. With both likely to miss some time this season due to World Cup qualifying and the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the production of draftee Scott Sealy will be very important.

MetroStars

Bob Bradley is putting a lot of faith in young players and those untested in MLS this season, starting in the back with Zach Wells, who will open the season in goal while Jonny Walker recovers from injury.

Jeff Agoos provides leadership out of the defense and he has a proven winning record, but his age and lack of pace mean his associates will often have to cover for him. Chris Leitch will be there to help out, leaving a couple of other defensive spots open for the taking. Rookie Tim Ward, Jeff Parke and a few others will fight for time there.

The big question on everyone's mind is how much of an impact Youri Djorkaeff will make for the Metros. He already is going to miss the first couple of weeks of action due to injury and dealing with the playing surface at Giants Stadium and the summer heat could take their toll on the French veteran. Amado Guevara and Eddie Gaven will make things happen (when they aren't with their respective national teams) and Mark Lisi is a good assist man. Bradley needs those guys to stay healthy for the Metros to score goals.

John Wolyniec, Mike Magee and Sergio Galvan Rey are the returning strikers, with Cornell Glen and Fabian Taylor both being shown the exit after their 2004 campaigns. Ramon Bailey and Abbe Ibrahim are newly signed players who come in as virtual unknowns. Galvan Rey's strike record (two goals in 2004) is not impressive, while neither Wolyniec nor Magee have ever shown in seasons past that they are capable of carrying the offensive load. Goals could be hard to score and equally hard to prevent for this team.

New England Revolution

The Revs are a team with very few players with star power. That's not to say that they don't have quality, they just appear to be a side mostly made up of hard-working, gritty players.

Matt Reis has a lock on the starting goalkeeper job and he will be fronted by some combination of Jay Heaps, Joey Franchino, Avery John, Carlos Llamosa and a few first-year defenders. Llamosa turns 36 this year and Heaps and John have sometimes shown defensive lapses.

The strength of this New England team is its midfield, headed up by Steve Ralston. Clint Dempsey had a fantastic rookie season on his way to the Rookie of the Year award. Both players could miss a significant amount of time while with the U.S. national team, though. That will give a lot of the playmaking responsibilities to Jose Cancela, who has a tendency to drift out of games for long spells. Sharlie Joseph and Andy Dorman will also see a lot of the field and Brazilian Cassio has a chance to be an impact player.

Again the Revs will look to Pat Noonan and Taylor Twellman for goals. Where the scoring will come from aside from these two is anybody's guess, as the only other out-and-out strikers on their roster (Jamie Holmes and Ryan Latham) are both new to MLS.

Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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