MLS Western Conference Round Up – July 2017

Following our recent article looking at the teams in the MLS’ Eastern Conference, let’s take a look at how the teams in the the Western Conference have got on so far this season…


Western Conference


Colorado Rapids

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Owned by Stan Kroenke, the Rapids had a good season last year; finishing second in the Conference and reached the Play Off Semi-Finals. Their biggest achievement is arguably their Play Offs win in 2010. However, this season doesn’t look like it’ll be even half as productive as last.

The Rapids are currently second from bottom in the Western Conference, with just Minnesota below them. They won their opening game of the season 1-0 at home to New England, but then went seven games without a win and picked up just one point.  Colorado are the lowest scoring team in the Conference (19 goals scored at the time of writing), second lowest in the entire MLS (D.C. United are the lowest with just 14), and they’ve mustered the least shots on target in the whole league – a measly 56 (to put it into context, the league average is 83!).  Worst still, the Rapids haven’t picked up a single point away from home all season and things don’t look like they’ll improve anytime soon.

Premier League veteran, Tim Howard, is the stand out name in the Colorado squad along with Irishman Kevin Doyle, but both are very much past their best, and Colorado’s squad leaves a lot to be desired.


FC Dallas

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Last season was Dallas’ most successful in their franchise history. The “Hoops” won the double; the Supporters’ Shield for the best regular season record, as well as the 2016 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and reached the Conference Playoffs Semi-Finals

In terms of high-level footballing experience; Dallas’ squad contains Honduran international and former Wigan Athletic stalwart, Maynor Figueroa, as wells as Roland Lamah, who won the English League Cup with Swansea City. However, these two aren’t exactly Dallas’ key men this season, the two players who have been leading the goal scoring and creating for the Hoops, are Maximiliano Urruti and Michael Barrios. Urruti has scored 11 MLS goals so far this campaign (4th highest in the league), three of which have been game-winning goals. Barrios has scored one goal, but has assisted his teammates 10 times – the joint highest in the league.

Dallas are second in the Conference, despite playing two games less than Sporting Kansas City, who are currently top. Things are going well for the Hoops this season; they’ve only lost three games, but what’s let them down is they’ve tied (drawn) seven games. This is something they’ll need to pick up on if they want to finish the season top of the Conference. Dallas are a well organised team and I don’t think they’ve got anything to worry about – they’ll make the Play Offs – it’s just a matter of whether or not they can get it together enough to finish in top spot of the Conference.


Houston Dynamo

The star on the crest is an ad hoc adoption, likely a nod to Texas as it was its own nation.

Houston Dynamo were formed in 2005, after the owners of the previous incarnation of the San Jose Earthquakes decided to relocate the franchise. Dynamo are owned by a consortium which includes boxing champion, Oscar De La Hoya.

Dynamo finished 10th in the Western Conference last season and naturally missed out on the Play Offs. This season, the club intends to finish much higher and they started the campaign in the right vein; winning three and losing just one of their first four fixtures. However, as the season’s wore on they’ve only won a further five games, tying four and losing a further six. They’re currently third in the Conference, but they’ve every reason to believe that they can improve on that with their remaining fixtures. The most notable name in the squad is arguably DaMarcus Beasley, once of Manchester City. However, Beasley’s better days are a long way behind him and Dynamo’s main man this season has been Erick Torres, he’s currently on 12 goals in the league and that makes him the third highest scorer in the MLS season so far. Three of Torres’ goals have been match-winners. The only issue is that the majority of his goals came right at the start of the season and he’s somewhat faded off as the season’s gone on.

Houston need to get a good run of wins together in order to capitalise on the good start that they’ve made to the campaign. I think it’s safe to say that they’ll finish higher than they did last year, but too early to say whether or not they’ll make the Play Offs. They definitely have the potential, but they need to improve to make the most of the opportunity.


Los Angeles Galaxy

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Los Angeles Galaxy are arguably one of, if not, the most well-known franchise in the MLS. Their acquisition of David Beckham really put them, and Major League Soccer, on the map. Since then, they’ve had the likes of Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane and Ashley Cole play for them, and it’s these former English Premier League names that make people notice a franchise. Aside from signing star names, Galaxy have a number of major honours to their name; having won five MLS Cups and four Supporters’ Shields amongst a number of other accolades, making them the most decorated franchise in the league.

The current Galaxy squad features Giovani dos Santos, Ashley Cole, Jermaine Jones and Belgian international, Jelle Van Damme as captain. Despite the strength of their squad, Galaxy have made a poor start to the season, and there’s a long way to go if they’re to make a success out of it. Galaxy lost five out of their opening seven games this season and they’ve only managed six wins out of 18 games so far. They did manage to go unbeaten to muster an eight game unbeaten run, starting at the end of April and continuing through to mid-June; winning four and tying (drawing) four. Despite this, Galaxy have since endured three straight defeats; the worst being the latest, a 2-6 loss at home to Real Salt Lake.

The season is far below Galaxy’s usual standard, but I still expect them to make the Play Offs. However, unless things improve dramatically, this season will go down as a disappointment for LA Galaxy.

 


Minnesota United FC

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Nicknamed “The Loons”, Minnesota are currently experiencing their first season in the MLS.

The Loons have a modest squad, with no stand out names and are currently bottom of the Western Conference, joint bottom of the league as a whole with D.C. United. It was always going to be difficult for a new team in their first season, but despite their league position, Minnesota can be pleased with the way that their team have started so far. The statistics show that they’re able to compete with the more established teams, even with a comparatively inferior squad; they’re creating chances and they’ve managed to rack up a good number of attempts on goal. At the other end of the pitch, goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth has made 62 saves from 91 shots faced, which is a good ratio by MLS standards and puts him as the ‘keeper with the fourth highest number of saves in the league.

Expectations need to be realistic; Minnesota need to make the most of this season, enjoy it. There’s really no pressure on them. The inaugural season is a big learning experience. There’ll likely finish bottom of the Conference and it’ll be close between them and D.C. United, as to who finishes bottom of the MLS standings as a whole. However, there’s no reason to be disappointed with the football that they’ve produced this season. Things can only get better.


Portland Timbers

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Portland won the MLS Cup and Play Offs in 2015, but the 2016 season was relatively disappointing. They finished 7th in the Conference last season and failed to qualify for the Play Offs. With that in mind, this season has got fans expecting improvement.

The Timbers invested in the squad during the off-season, with the priority being the reinforcement of their defence and midfield. They acquired the Costa Rican pair of Roy Miller and Diego Guzman, a centreback and defensive midfielder respectively. They also still have former Premier League defender Liam Ridgewell in the squad. Timbers started the season superbly, winning there first three games, but since then their form has dropped off and they’ve lost as many games as they’ve won (seven each) so far. Despite the drop in form, Portland are 4th in the Conference and 10th in the league.

The Timbers haven’t been able to get a run of wins together for quite a while now and the drop in form is a cause for concern. This could end up being a disappointing season for Portland and I think they’re more likely to drop further down the standings than they’re to move up.


Real Salt Lake

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Real Salt Lake, also known as “The Royals”, “Claret & Cobalt” or just “RSL”, joined the MLS in the 2005 season and have seen the attendances grow steadily. Having won the MLS Cup in 2009 and finishing in the top three of the Conference each year consistently between 2010 and 2014, RSL have since found themselves finishing falling short of expectations these last two seasons. They finished 9th in 2015 and 6th last year, so this season fans will have been hoping for an improvement. However, they’ve had a poor start to the campaign and they didn’t register a win in the league until their sixth game. At the time of writing, they’ve lost 12 games so far this season, and currently sit 9th in the Conference and 18th in the overall league.

The two most notable names in the Royals’ squad are the former Manchester City Academy player and Slovakia international, Albert Rusnák, and MLS veteran, Chris Wingert, who was previously at New York City. Rusnák has registered four goals and seven assists this season. However, Salt Lake’s top scorer this season is currently Yura Movsisyan, the Armenian striker is in his second stint with RSL, after being signed from Spartak Moscow.

Given the poor start that they’ve had to the season, it’s difficult to see the Royals turn this season into a positive. There’s still a good chance of the Royals making the Play Offs this season, but they need to start picking up wins soon, before they fall too far behind.

 


San Jose Earthquakes

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San Jose have won two MLS Cups and two Supporters’ Shields, but the last few seasons have seen them finishing towards the bottom end of the standings.

Captain Chris Wondolowski is the stand-out name in the Earthquakes’ squad; the US international has scored 125 goals in 239 appearances for San Jose, since 2009. He’s the team’s topscorer in the MLS this season with eight goals so far. The other notable name in the Earthquakes’ squad is Simon Dawkins; the Jamaican midfielder has previous played for Tottenham Hotspur, Leyton Orient, Aston Villa and Derby County.

The Earthquakes won their opening two games of the season, but followed them up with back to back defeats and a run of four ties (draws). Their form has been inconsistent to say the least and whilst they’ve shown that they’re capable of winning games, they’ve dropped too many point in narrow loses and low scoring ties. There’s still a lot of games left and, so long as they can get a run of wins together, I think they’re more than likely to find themselves in the Play Offs come the end of the season.


Seattle Sounders FC

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Seattle are the current holders of the MLS Cup, after they topped the Conference last season and won the Play Offs. However, in the last 18 months, they’re probably more well known internationally because of that video of their fans “chanting” that went viral – You know what video I’m on about – the “Fight! & Win!” video. It would be remiss of me not to pass a comment on the video; it was, in all honesty, the single most cringey and embarassing form of “chanting” at a football match that I’ve ever seen in my life. There’s a reason that video went viral; it was so bad that it was funny.

Now, back to the serious stuff, the Sounders’ squad features the Premier League veteran Clint Dempsey and Swiss international Stefan Frei. Dempsey is Seattle’s leading scorer this season, with seven goals in 16 appearances coming from just 19 shots on target. He’s arguably Seattle’s talisman too, given his experience and leadership skills.

Seattle haven’t had the best of seasons so far, they’ve not been able to get a run of wins together all season. They’ve looked like they weren’t prepared for the campaign and their fans should be disappointed with performances. They’ve simply lost more games than fans would have reasonably been expected. Sounders are currently 7th in the Conference and 14th in the league, but they shouldn’t be written off yet. They are an experienced outfit and there’s every reason to believe that the second half of the season will be much better. If I were putting money on it, I’d say Seattle will probably rally and finish 5th in the Conference.


Sporting Kansas City

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Also known as the “Wizards” because of a previous incarnation, Sporting Kansas City have come along way in recent years. Not only have they had relative success on the field, but their attendances figures have also increased dramatically. Lamar Hunt US Open Cup victories in 2004, 2012 and 2015, as well as MLS Cup wins in 2000 and 2013, have certainly helped draw in the bigger crowds.

Sporting have a modest squad, with one of the more high profile names being Roger Espinoza. The Honduran international was signed from Wigan Athletic in 2015, where he won the FA Cup in 2013. Gerso Fernandes is currently Sporting’s leading scorer this season with six goals and one assist, but British-born United States international, Dom Dwyer, is closely behind with five goals and one assist.

Kansas have actually had a mixed start to the campaign. Not mixed in the sense that they’ve had such a varied set of result, but in the sense that they’ll have mixed feelings over the results. Put simply, they’ve only lost four games, which is very impressive, but they’ve tied eight games, some of which they wasted very good opportunities to win. On the other hand, they’ve also won eight games and they currently sit in first place, at the top of the Western Conference. I’d like to think that they can continue to build on the strong start that they’ve made to the campaign, but there’s a very real possibility that some of those early season ties may comeback to haunt them, come the end of the season. I think they’ve a very real chance of topping the Conference this season, but they need to keep up the good performances and pick up a few more wins and a few less ties.


Vancouver Whitecaps FC

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The Whitecaps have been owned and managed by the same group since their USSF days, having graduated to MLS after the conclusion of the USSF’s 2010 season. In 2012, they became the first Canadian team to qualify for the MLS Cup Play Offs and they won the 2015 Canadian Championship and they’ve settled into the MLS well.

The Blue and White Caps have a relatively stable and experienced squad, but the only really notable name that fans from outside the US would know, is Fredy Montero (currently on loan from Tianjin TEDA). The Colombian has scored six goals so far this season and he’s the Caps’ leading scorer, closely followed by Cristian Techera, who has five goals and four assists, and has arguably been one of the stand out players this season.

Head coach Carl Robinson has seen his team struggle to get a solid and consistent run of form together this season. They’ve won seven, lost seven and tied three games so far this season, and typically the results have come in the form of loss-win-loss-win. This will will have been disruptive to the team, particularly in terms of them trying to build confidence. The Whitecaps are currently 6th in the Conference and 13th in the league overall. Whilst they’ve been quite inconsistent this season, they’ve managed to pick up wins and there’s every chance of them making the Play Offs. Realistically, I think 5th or 6th position in the Conference standings will be their most likely position come the end of the regular season.


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