The bottom six
8. Colorado Rapids: Fernando Clavijo's side has earned a reputation for playing dull, cynical soccer, with Kyle Beckerman and Pablo Mastroeni brutalizing the opposition in midfield. Don't expect much to change. A retooled back line still looks suspect, and Bouna Coundoul (or tubby Zach Thornton) looks to be a serious downgrade in goal. Rugged Panamanian import Roberto Brown (pictured above) should tally his share of goals, especially with Terry Cooke sending in marvelous crosses.
9. Chicago Fire: Their marquee off-season signing was Cuahtemoc Blanco, the angry, hunchbacked Mexican striker, who's on the downside of his career. The Fire shipped out useful forwards Andy Herron and Nate Jaqua, along with St. Paul native Tony Sanneh (who can't seem to find a club, despite making a grand comeback in central defense last year). Justin Mapp, who's already rumored to be headed to England, will have to be a consistent menace if Chicago's going to have any success. It will be the last season for one of MLS's all time greats, defensive mid Chris Armas.
10. Chivas USA: Much will hinge on Amado Guevara. The temperamental Honduran playmaker is scintillating when he decides it's worth his while. But even if first-year coach Preki can convince Guevara to put forth some effort it won't be enough to keep the Goats off the bottom half of the table. The defenders are mostly old (38-year-old Claudio Suarez) or inept (Lawson Vaughn). Cuban speedster Maykel Galindo will add some excitement up top.
11. Columbus Crew: It might be hard to believe, but this squad was much worse last year than their 8-15-9 record would indicate. Coach Sigi Schmid deserved consideration for coach of the year for turning an already suspect roster that was decimated by injuries into a semi-respectable outfit. Jacob Thomas was a revelation up top, terrorizing defenders with his wild-man routine. Eddie Gaven seems to have matured sufficiently to do a respectable job as the central playmaker. Danny O'Rourke will take over the league lead for fouls from traditional title holder Simo Valakari (where is that guy?).
12. FC Dallas: Can anyone explain what the hell first-year Dallas coach Steve Morrow is up to? He shipped out the aforementioned pitbull Valakari, along with veterans Greg Vanney, Ronnie O'Brien, and Richard Mulrooney, and replaced them with ... nobody. Well I guess Adrian Serioux counts, but he's out for quite awhile with a bum knee. The defense looks atrocious, with unproven (that's putting it kindly) kids Clarence Goodson, Drew Moor, and Alex Yi expected to hold down regular spots. Carlos Ruiz and Kenny Cooper will need to combine for at least two dozen goals if they're going to have any chance.
13. Toronto FC: I have a bet with Bruce that Mo Johnston's squad will have a better campaign than the disastrous debuts of Chivas and Salt Lake two years ago. But after watching Toronto get thoroughly outplayed by Chivas last night I'm starting to regret the wager. The two Brit midfielders, Andy Welsh and Carl Robinson, will have to prove themselves much more skilled than they've initially shown. The only competent defender looks to be Jim Brennan. Goalkeeper Greg Sutton will lead the league in saves. Unfortunately the veteran Canadian will also lead the league in goals allowed.
On tap tonight: L.A. v. Houston, 6 p.m. (CST) on Telefutura.