MLS Western Conference preview capsules | PostIndependent.com

MLS Western Conference preview capsules

Anne M. Peterson
Associated Press
Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Inbeom Hwang, center, of South Korea, runs during MLS soccer practice in Vancouver, British Columbia, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. The team is scheduled to open the season on Saturday, March 2, when they Minnesota United. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
AP | The Canadian Press

A team-by-team look at Major League Soccer for the 2019 season:

SEATTLE SOUNDERS

Coach: Brian Schmetzer

2018 Record: 18-11-5, second in the West, lost in the conference semifinals

Key Players: F Raul Ruidiaz, MF Jordan Morris, MF Nicolas Lodeiro

Lowdown: Jordan Morris is back after missing the 2018 season because of a torn ACL in his right knee. Consistently a playoff team, the 2016 MLS Cup champions had yet another second-half surge last season, going 14-2-2 to land just behind leader Sporting Kansas City in the standings. Cascadia rival Portland bested them in the West semis. The Sounders didn’t make many moves in the offseason, although Osvaldo Alonso departed after a decade in Seattle. The Sounders open the season at home against expansion FC Cincinnati.

PORTLAND TIMBERS

Coach: Giovanni Savarese

2018 Record: 15-10-9, fifth in the West, lost in the MLS Cup final

Key Players: MF Diego Valeri, MF Diego Chara, F Jeremy Ebobisse

Lowdown: The Timbers have a brutal start to the season with 12 games on the road while their stadium is expanded by 4,000 seats. The good news is that 17 of the team’s final 22 games will be at home. Portland exceeded expectations in Savarese’s first season, going all the way to the MLS Cup title game before falling to Atlanta. A loss in the offseason was veteran defender Liam Ridgewell, who went to Hull City. The Timbers expect to see continued growth from Ebobisse, who emerged last season and made his U.S. senior national team debut earlier this year.

SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES

Coach: Matias Almeyda

2018 Record: 4-21-9, last in the West

Key Players: F Chris Wondolowski, F Danny Hoesen, D Marcos Lopez

Lowdown: The Earthquakes were the worst MLS team last season, with only four wins. It was the league’s worst record since 2013. Coach Mikael Stahre was let go before his first complete season. But the Quakes made a splash with the hiring of Almeyda, a former defensive midfielder for the Argentine national team who had success coaching at Guadalajara. Wondolowski is two goals away from breaking Landon Donovan’s record for goals scored. Donovan had 145 and Wondolowski is sitting at 144.

VANCOUVER WHITECAPS

Coach: Marc dos Santos

2018 Record: 13-13-8, eighth in the West, missed the playoffs

Key Players: F Fredy Montero, M Hwang In-beom, F Joaquin Ardaiz

Lowdown: Teen phenom Alphonso Davies went to Bayern Munich and coach Carl Robinson was let go before the end of last season. New coach dos Santos has since orchestrated a total rebuild, with 21 players from last season now gone, including Kei Kamara, Brek Shea and Kendall Waston. But the Whitecaps are welcoming back a familiar face in Montero, who returns after a stint in Portugal. Hwang and Ardaiz were signed as designated players.

LA GALAXY

Coach: Guillermo Barros Schelotto

2018 Record: 13-12-9, seventh in the West, missed the playoffs

Key Players: F Zlatan Ibrahimovic, MF Emmanuel Boateng, F Giovani dos Santos

Lowdown: So much going on with the Galaxy. Ibrahimovic signed a contract in December that made him a designated player. He was the MLS Newcomer of the Year last season with 22 goals and 10 assists and the Galaxy were 9-2-4 in matches when he had a goal. But he couldn’t manage to get his new team into the playoffs, and the five-time league champions uncharacteristically missed out on the postseason for a second straight year. Argentine coach Barros Schelotto comes to the Galaxy from Boca Juniors.

LAFC

Coach: Bob Bradley

2018 Record: 16-9-9, third in the West, lost in the knockout round

Key Players: F Carlos Vela, D Steven Beitashour, MF Lee Nguyen

Lowdown: LAFC enters its second season coming off a historically successful inaugural year. The team scored 68 goals last season, second only to Atlanta United in MLS. They finished with 57 points, most ever for an expansion team, and their regular-season road wins were most in the league’s post-shootout era. The team added Colombian defender Eddie Segura on loan from Atletico Huila. LAFC lost midfielder Benny Feilhaber, who went to Colorado as a free agent, while Marco Urena moved back home to Costa Rica.

REAL SALT LAKE

Coach: Mike Petke

2018 Record: 14-7-13, sixth in the West, lost in the conference semifinals

Key Players: MF Kyle Beckerman, GK Nick Rimando, MF Albert Rusnak

Lowdown: Real Salt Lake added some offensive firepower in the offseason by signing designated player Sam Johnson, a 25-year-old forward from Liberia. The team also brought in Brazilian midfielder Everton Luiz. Defender Danilo Acosta was loaned to Orlando City. The foundation is firm, with vets Beckerman (who is 36) and Rimando, and there’s plenty of depth. But Salt Lake will need to shore up its defense after conceding 58 goals last season.

COLORADO RAPIDS

Coach: Anthony Hudson

2018 Record: 8-19-7, 11th in the West, missed the playoffs

Key Players: GK Tim Howard, F Kei Kamara, MF Kellyn Acosta

Lowdown: Howard announced in January that this would be his final season in MLS. The 39-year-old goalkeeper, a former standout for the U.S. national team, has made 75 appearances with the Rapids since joining the team in 2016, compiling 257 saves. After finishing last season with just 36 goals, fewest in the league, the Rapids brought in veteran Kei Kamara to boost the offense. Colorado also added MF Benny Feilhaber and Keegan Rosenberry.

SPORTING KANSAS CITY

Coach: Peter Vermes

2018 Record: 18-8-8, first in the West, lost in the conference finals

Key Players: F Krisztian Nemeth, D Matt Besler, GK Tim Melia

Lowdown: Sporting has consistently made the playoffs since winning the MLS Cup in 2013 but they hadn’t emerged from the knockout round until last season, when they made it to the conference finals before falling to the Timbers. The roster remains fairly steady, but the team traded Ike Opara — the 2017 MLS Defender of the Year — to Minnesota. They brought aboard Kelyn Rowe from New England and Rodney Wallace from NYCFC.

HOUSTON DYNAMO

Coach: Wilmer Cabrera

2018 Record: 10-16-8, ninth in the West, missed the playoffs

Key Players: D DaMarcus Beasley, A.J. DeLaGarza, F Alberth Elis

Lowdown: The Dynamo didn’t make the playoffs last season, meaning they’ve missed out on the postseason for four of the past five seasons. But they did get a boost by winning the U.S. Open Cup, which sent Houston to its first CONCACAF Champions League berth since 2013. The trade rumors flew around Honduran winger Elis, who had 11 goals and four assists last season, and will likely heat up again for the summer transfer window.

FC DALLAS

Coach: Luchi Gonzalez

2018 Record: 16-9-9, fourth in the West, lost in the knockout round

Key Players: D Matt Hedges, GK Jesse Gonzalez, MF Bryan Acosta

Lowdown: Coach Oscar Pareja left following the 2018 season for Tijuana in Liga MX. Former academy director Gonzalez is overseeing pro players for the first time. As a result, expect an emphasis on young talent. Dallas brought in Honduran midfielder Bryan Acosta as a designated player. Two of the team’s top scoring threats from last season are gone: striker Maxi Urruti is now with Montreal while winger Roland Lamaha went to expansion Cincinnati.

MINNESOTA UNITED

Coach: Adrian Heath

2018 Record: 11-20-3, 10th in the West, missed the playoffs

Key Players: MF Kevin Molino, MF Osvaldo Alonso, D Ike Opara

Lowdown: The Loons start with four games on the road until the debut of the team’s new $250 million, 19,000-seat stadium. The first game there will be on April 13 when Minnesota hosts NYCFC. The Loons added veterans in Alonso and Opara in the offseason. Additionally, Molino is expected to be back after a knee injury that kept him out most of last season. The top scorer from last season was Darwin Quintero, who had 11 goals and 12 assists and is expected to start.


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