Monday, December 22, 2014

MLS Eastern Conference Preview

The 2014 MLS Cup victory for the LA Galaxy had a romantic feel to it - as if the narrative of the league's biggest icon and all round American hero, Landon Donavan, was destined to sign his career off with victory in the final. However, it was also a landmark occasion for Eastern Conference side New England Revolution.

Seemingly adrift of the play-offs after having lost 8 in a row - the Revolution were revitalised by the signing of Jermaine Jones and strung together a sequence of 10 wins from their final 12 MLS games to make the play-offs, where they remained undefeated until meeting LA Galaxy in the MLS Cup final.

Canadian hopes

Such a turnaround in fortunes will give fellow Eastern Conference rivals - Montreal Impact and Toronto FC - fresh hope that they too can revive their own flagging fortunes and finally join the market leaders in the MLS.

Toronto FC fans will be hoping to make their play-offs in 2015 for the first time in their history, but it looks like they will have to do it without the MLS' highest earner Jermaine Defoe.

The former Spurs striker, in typical Toronto FC fashion, arrived with much fanfare and expectation, with the club’s management pinning their hopes on the 32 year-old English striker to end their playoff drought. However, persistent niggling injuries and upheaval behind the scenes saw Defoe play only 19 MLS games, although he was Toronto's top scorer with 11 goals in 2014.

Instead, the Canadian side will look to 25 year-old Brazilian Gilberto to spearhead the attack next year, but his profligacy in front of goal is a problem. An off-season working on his finishing wouldn't go a miss, as the striker clearly needs three or four bites of the cherry before finding the net.

But the real problem for the Canadian outfit has been defence. 54 goals conceded in 34 regular season games is a woeful statistic, only Houston Dynamos and the Montreal Impact conceded more in the Eastern Conference.

Toronto FC coach, Greg Vanney, should be looking towards building his side around former Serie A star Michael Bradley. If Toronto can keep their defenders injury free and add some more steel to their backline, that can give Bradley more freedom in an advanced role - something that the USMNT coach JurgenKlinsmann believes is Bradley's best position.

With Defoe heading towards the exit the door, the side appear to be ditching the 4-4-2 formation that contributed to conceding more goals than it helped score. If Toronto FC can sort out their defence, then the play-offs are well within reach in 2015.

Making an impact

Meanwhile, the Montreal Impact can't do much worse than they did in 2014 with just six wins from 34
Eastern Conference games. The Impact, nevertheless, will have to make do without their top scorer Marco Di Vaio who left the club at the end of last season. But they have already moved for former Premier League midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker as their first pick in their MLS waiver draft.

Reo-Coker is already the third addition to the Impact's roster for 2015 as last season's whipping boys are clearly looking towards adding depth and leadership to their line up. Marco Donadel, who played over 100 Serie A games for Fiorentina and more recently Napoli and Verona, has also joined Montreal and looks set to partner Reo-Coker in the centre of the park. It has the makings, on paper at least, of a top class partnership that could excel in the MLS.

The Impact have a relatively young side and will need every ounce of experience that Reo-Coker and Donael can bring with them. The off season transfer business has been positive so far, but despite a solid looking base emerging it's going to be a hard task to replace the goals and talismanic qualities of Marco Di Vaio.

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