Right, then. I promised you the Eastern Conference, and here it is in its full glory. Normal service will be resumed by Saturday morning, I promise. Consider this broadening your horizons.
Who Are They, Then? They’re the new kids on the block, actually. Formed in May 2006, and elected straight into the Eastern Conference. You may be surprised to see a Canadian team playing in MLS, but they’re doing it with the full permission of the Canadian Soccer Association, who presumably think that having a team playing in a professional league will increase interest in a country that isn’t, to be honest, a native football playing country. Such is the fervour surrounding them that they’ve sold out their allocation of season tickets, but they started their season by losing 2-0 to Chivas USA.
Are They Any Good? It’s difficult to tell this early in their first season, and one would expect them to struggle in their first season. Mindful of this, they had the first pick of the MLS draft, and chose the highly-rated Maurice Edu. I’m not sure that his signing will make too much difference in what could be a very tough season for them.
Will I Have Heard Of Any Of Them? Their best known UK-born player is the former Wolves, Sunderland and Norwich winger Carl Robinson, who has also won 35 caps for Wales. The geekier amongst you may also vaguely recall former Sunderland player Andy Welsh and Ronnie O’Brien, late of Dundee United. Their coach is the flame-haired former Celtic, Rangers and Watford striker, Mo Johnston.
New England Revolution
Who Are They, Then? They were amongst the founder members of MLS back in 1996, but they’ve never won a major trophy. They’ve come close several times, having reached three MLS Cups, and last season lost on penalties to Houston Dynamo. However they lost their best player, Clint Dempsey, to Fulham during the close season.
Are They Any Good? Well, it all comes down to whether they can replace Dempsey who was, by MLS standards, an excellent player. Their only incoming players have come from the draft, which seems to indicate leaner times ahead. They lost 1-0 to Chicago at the weekend.
Will I Have Heard Of Any Of Them? Umm, no. Well, not the players, anyway. There’s one Brit on board – Andy Dorman is Welsh by birth but came through the draft system in the USA and has never played senior football in the UK or represented the Welsh national team. The coach is a more familiar name – Steve Nicol was one of the bedrocks of the great Liverpool team of the 1980s.
Red Bull New York
Who Are They, Then? Well, yes. They are named after the hyperactivity-inducing soft drink. Formed as the unwieldly-named New York/New Jersey Metrostars, they are the massive under-achievers of MLS. They’ve never even managed an MLS Cup appearance, and last season scraped into the play-offs on goals scored before going out over two legs against DC United.
Are They Any Good, Then? Well, they had a busy close season, for sure. They brought in the former US coach Bruce Arena, and he has brought in experienced players to bolster his squad – more of them shortly. They also lost veteran goalkeeper Tony Meola (who I never thought was up to much anyway) and the presumably 60 year-old former French international Yuri Djorkaeff. They drew at Columbus on the opening day.
Will I Have Heard Of Any Of Them? If David Beckham hadn’t signed for LA Galaxy, they would have had two of the biggest signings of the close season. Claudio Reyna is something of a legend in US football. He was one of the first American players to have a successful Premiership career, playing for Sunderland and Manchester City, as well as Rangers, and also played for the USA in three World Cups, won 112 caps for them and captained them. Clint Mathis has won 46 caps for the USA, and was a transfer target for Bayern Munich for a while. You probably remember him best for his mohawk haircut at the 2002 World Cup.
Who Are They, Then? The Fire joined MLS in 1998, and won the competition at their first attempt, but have failed to repeat their success ever since then (although they have won the US Open Cup, their equivalent to the FA Cup four times). Their supporters are, by common consent, said to be amongst the rowdiest in the league. In a good way, since you ask.
Are They Any Good? Well, they might just come good. They opened the season with a win against RBNY, and made the play-offs last season, as well as winning the US Open Cup. Their enthusiastic support might be worth a few points at home, as well.
Will I Have Heard Any Of Them? They pulled off a major coup just last week, signing the Mexican legend Cuauhtemoc Blanco from Club America. He looked a little out of shape when I saw him play at the end of last year, but if he’s got his fitness back, he has all the wile of an experienced professional. Some of you may also recall Ivan Guerrero from his brief spell at Coventry City in the 1990s.
Who Are They, Then? Peh. Only the most successful club in the history of MLS, that’s who. Four times champions of MLS. The team that gave Freddy Adu his break in US football. They haven’t won anything for the last two seasons though, so maybe their star is on the wane.
Are They Any Good? Well, they played in a pre-season tournament for a couple of Europe’s heavyweights last season, beating Celtic 4-0 and holding Real Madrid to a 1-1 draw. So they can’t be that bad. They picked up an excellent signing in the Brazilian Luciano Emilio (he played in Europe for FC Koln and Alemannia Aachen), and have other experienced players.
Will I Have Heard Of Any Of Them? Yes. Yes you will. They lost Freddy Adu, the wonderboy, during the summer, but Jaime Moreno has been playing for Bolivia seemingly since the beginning of time, and Cristian Gomez played 90 games for the Argentinian giants Independiente.
Who Are They, Then? Pretty anonymous, so far as I can see. Brian McBride played for them for seven years, and they won the US Open Cup in 2002, but they’ve never made the MLS Cup final and look unlikely to do so again this season.
Are They Any Good? They’re well supported, but underachievers. They didn’t start well, either – drawing 0-0 with RBNY. Andy Herron is a decent enough striker (signed from Chicago on the eve of the new season), but they’re depending very heavily on young players signed through the draft system.
Will I Have Heard Of Any Of Them? Umm, no. Not unless you’re already an afficianado of MLS. So, let’s focus on the amusing names instead: Frankie Hejduk, Ricardo Virtuoso and Rusty Pierce. Ouch.
Kansas City Wizards
Who Are They, Then? Kansas City Wizards were started by Lamar Hunt, the recently-deceased godfather of football in the USA. They won the MLS Cup once, in 2000, but by and large have been one of the more anonymous teams of the league.
Are They Any Good? They lost the MLS Cup and won the US Open Cup in 2004, but failed significantly to build upon it. Last year, they couldn’t manage better than the last 16 of the US Open Cup, and missed out on the play-offs.
Will I Have Heard Of Any Of Them? Eddie Johnson, you’ll probably have heard of. He was in the USA squad at the World Cup last summer and looked impressive in an otherwise poor USA team. However, his form last season was atrocious last season (two goals in nineteen games). Other than him, Carlos Marinelli played, without conspicuous success, for Middlesbrough, Torino and SC Braga before heading to America.
So now you know. Or maybe you don’t. I could have got this completely wrong. Stay tuned for more tomorrow night and plenty more besides. If I get the time, that is.