West vs. East: Has MLS power shifted?
Major League Soccer’s Western Conference has widely been considered better than its rival for more than a few seasons.
The West has claimed seven of eight MLS Cup Finals, with the eighth nestled in the hands of a team that no longer resides in the East (Sporting KC). Take away the Red Bulls, and the West has five of seven Supporters’ Shields.
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Things feel a little different this season. The LA Galaxy has questions, with legendary coach Bruce Arena leaving for the U.S. men’s national team and is no longer a juggernaut. Seattle won MLS Cup and, along with FC Dallas, looks the class of the conference, but the East appears to be the beast.
Could a case be made for more Eastern or Western teams as potential champions?
Consider that Toronto returns almost every key piece from its MLS Cup Finalist season, with Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore complemented by players already familiar with their roles.
Consider that New York City FC lost Frank Lampard but has buttressed its stars and has a manager in Patrick Vieira who has a year in the league under his belt. The Red Bulls sent Dax McCarty away to Chicago but has a stable of Academy stars including Sean Davis ready made for the stage.
Oh, and the new boys. Atlanta United has a world class manager in Tata Martino, a batch of elite Designated Players still in their prime, a defensive midfielder with heavy international experience and a youngster in Andrew Carleton some believe could be the Stateside version of Christian Pulisic.
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Earnie Stewart has Philadelphia looking for real, and Chicago has rebuilt itself with vigor. Montreal, DC, Orlando, New England, even Columbus. Each could consider itself positioned for the penthouse or the proverbial poorhouse.
Is it certain that the East has risen above the West? Of course not. Seattle looks fierce and Romain Alessandrini may just arrive in LA and dominate a la Giovinco. But for now, it’s easy to project a prime season for the East. Whether that leads to an MLS Cup winner is another story.