Not-so-wayback machine: Remembering the 2013 MLS preseason - Eastern Conference version
We’re three weeks from Major League Soccer’s opening weekend, so expect the preseason hype machine to go into overdrive soon. Particularly as teams return home from their “spring training” locations, the coverage is going to start gathering momentum. As those last spots in squads and lineups are finally nailed down, anticipation for March 8 will build. Before we know it, Seattle and Sporting Kansas City will be kicking off at CenturyLink Field.
Along the way, just remember: A lot of what you’ll hear over the next three weeks will end up wrong. The outlook we have on the 2014 season will quickly change once teams start playing games that force them to adjustments. Once club make their big moves in the summer, squads may barely resemble their March selves.
Those moves, as well as the results, will put a quick end to February’s narratives, not that can’t a little fun looking back on how wrong we were. We’ll get to the Western Conference in a few hours, but for now, let’s just think back on some of the story lines we were focused on last preseason:
1. Houston Dynamo was an Eastern Conference favorite - Not only was Dominic Kinnear’s team coming off their second straight MLS Cup appearance, but they were about to get full season from Boniek Garcia and Ricardo Clark. What happened: Although the team made the playoffs, they never quite met expectations. The team struggled in the summer, had to deal with both scoring droughts (from Will Bruin, mostly) and defensive problems, and finished fourth in the conference. Sporting Kansas City saw them out of the playoffs in the conference finals.
2. D.C. United was ready to push on - A rebounding team with a young core had a year’s experience under their belts. With Perry Kitchen, Bill Hamid, and Nick DeLeon a year better, United were ready to build upon their second place finish. What happened: Ben Olson’s squad set a record for fewest wins in an MLS regular season (three) while claiming the U.S. Open Cup - a strange, dispiriting season.
3. Could Sporting Kansas City replace Roger Espinoza? - And Kei Kamara (though he briefly returned), and Julio Cesar. Coming off a first place finish in the East’s regular season, Sporting was forced into an offseason restructuring, one that saw Benny Feilhaber, Claudio Beiler, and Oriel Rosell move into the starting XI. Hopes were still high, but Houston loomed. What happened: Sporting dropped a place in the East, finishing second, but the team proved stronger in the postseason. Peter Vermes led Sporting to their second MLS Cup.
4. Toronto still looked like a train wreck - This time last year, Toronto’s biggest additions looked like Kyle Bekker and the midfield version of Julio Cesar. Robert Earnshaw would provide some early-season hope, but a team dig face-plant under Aron Winter couldn’t improve in their first offseason under Kevin Payne. With Danny Koevermans’ return uncertain, Toronto looked destined to take up residence at the bottom of the standings. What happened: They weren’t the worst team in the conference, but it took a historic season from D.C. United to save them from last place. Preseason doubts about TFC’s direction proved well-founded.
5. Nobody knew what was going on in New England- A team that finished ninth in the Eastern Conference in 2012 failed to make significant offseason additions. Jay Heaps was back. Saer Sene would start the season on the sidelines. It looked like the Revolution were stepping back into the box with the same broken bat. There’s no way number one pick Andrew Farrell was going to be that influential. What happened: New England survived the season’s early months with a surprisingly strong defense - the José Goncalves effect. Once the attack gelled around Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, a surging Diego Fagúndez, and the rental of Juan Agudelo, the Revolution had a team capable of finishing third, forcing Kansas City into extra time before bowing out in the East’s semifinals.
New York ended up surprising, and Montréal spend half the season looking like the conference’s best team, but the narratives around those teams weren’t there. Chicago, Columbus, and Philadelphia? Mid-conference predictions functioned as a wait-and-see approach.
For Houston, D.C., Sporting, Toronto and New England, the consensus had a pretty good idea of what to expect in 2013. In most cases, that consensus was wrong.