Keeping Tabs On The Rest Of MLS: Good News, Bad News For Western Conference Clubs

FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman has added some big names up front in the process of renovating his team. - John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE

D.C. United isn't the only team with players leaving/coming in. In fact, plenty of clubs have had far more active preseasons in terms of addition and subtraction. B&RU is monitoring the whole league so that the 2013 season won't be so full of surprises. The second in a series that should run for the entire preseason.

We've had a look at the Eastern Conference, where D.C. United appears to be one of the more stable squads despite losing several players and gaining a few new ones. However, it seems to me that it's been even busier in the Western Conference. The top four clubs have all lost an important starter, while those who looked short of "contender" status in 2012 have added attacking talent. Injuries have also struck, with some teams that really needed every good player they had on the field looking for answers.

Let's start with FC Dallas, who are undergoing major renovations. Brek Shea is off to play the beautiful game in a homely fashion with Stoke City. That has left Schellas Hyndman's side with a lot of money to work with, but also means the Toros are very short in terms of wing depth. Jackson and the young, injury-prone Fabian Castillo are essentially it for Dallas on the flanks. As currently comprised, FCD would have to use left back Jair Benitez as a left midfielder the first time a wide player had to miss a match.

However, it's not all bad in Texas. Some of the money acquired from selling Shea was traded to the New York Red Bulls to bring Kenny Cooper back, while Hyndman also worked a very cheap deal - we're talking a 2014 2nd round pick cheap - to snap up Eric Hassli, who Toronto FC needed to move for salary cap reasons. Combine those two with Blas Perez, and it seems likely that FC Dallas will have no trouble scoring. Cooper is coming off of an 18 goal season in Hell New Jersey, and has 66 career goals in just six MLS seasons, while Hassli is a player most teams would love to have as their third-best striker.

Dallas is also looking to switch from the 4231 they've played for years to a diamond 442, which has long been Hyndman's preferred formation. What held him back? An unbalanced squad that essentially forced him to play five midfielders to get his best players on the field. That is no longer the case, as Dallas is suddenly deep at forward and very short in the midfield. With David Ferreira playing the point of that diamond, Dallas could be the most attack-minded team in MLS on paper. They might not end up being solid enough to be a top team, but they'll be a hell of a lot more entertaining at the very least.

Let's move on to the Colorado Rapids, a team that seems to be going in the opposite direction. Normally one of MLS's forgotten teams, they're instead making headlines for unfortunate reasons of late. Playmaker Martin Rivero, who would be a star in MLS if he played for virtually any other club, will be out until May with a broken foot. The Rapids simply do not have a replacement for Rivero, and unlike last year's United they probably also lack the character to switch gears and grind out results without their most creative player.

Compounding matters, utility attacker Jaime Castrillon will be out indefinitely due to a knee injury suffered last season (and bizarrely kept quiet by the Rapids until the first day of their 2013 preseason). Somehow, Castrillon hasn't had surgery on the injury as of yet, months after it apparently happened. As with Rivero, this would be a bigger deal if we weren't talking about the MLS club we're all most likely to forget.

While the Colombian was a bit of an odd fit given his tendency to wander wherever he wanted no matter what position he was lined up in, the fact is that he did lead the Rapids in scoring last season. Their additions in that department - the woefully out-of-form Edson Buddle and rookie Deshorn Brown - aren't likely to fix that issue, either.

Speaking of teams struggling with injuries, it was revealed that promising striker Bright Dike suffered a torn ACL in preseason action with the Portland Timbers. Dike had pushed big-name flop Kris Boyd out of a starting job by the end of last season, and the Timbers were going to use him regularly even with the offseason acquisition of Ryan Johnson.

Johnson's versatility as a striker who can play on both flanks was going to be a big asset for Caleb Porter, who is moving Portland into a 4231/433 hybrid. With Dike out until at least August, however, Johnson will have to be more or less a full-time striker. Danny Mwanga is still available as a back-up for Johnson, but Porter has been experimenting with a midfield role for the former Union attacker.

A few hundred miles to the north, the Seattle Sounders are making waves with the recent news that Shalrie Joseph is in their training camp as they work on a trade with Chivas USA. Such a deal is by no means assured - the Sounders don't have the cap space to sign Joseph at his current salary - but it is an intriguing possibility.

As a midfielder, Joseph might give the Sounders the chance to make up for Fredy Montero's departure by moving to some variation on a 451 formation (or possibly a 433 if Mauro Rosales and Steve Zakuani are pushed up the wing). Joseph could also be a center back for the Sounders, who lost Jeff Parke to the Philadelphia Union and Patrick Ianni to a broken foot. That said, Joseph's play over the last two seasons has been poor by his standards. He has appeared disinterested at times, and it's telling that talent-poor teams like the New England Revolution and Chivas would be willing to part with him.

Real Salt Lake, another club with high standards to meet, have replaced Fabian Espindola with two players. Robbie Findley will return to the club where he made his name, giving RSL a straight-line speed option they've lacked since, er, Robbie Findley left for Europe. Meanwhile, Espindola - a tricky forward who prefers to drift wide and isolate fullbacks - has been replaced more directly by Joao Plata, brought in from Toronto FC.

That last deal is typical of RSL: A very smart piece of business that takes a player that might not fit in elsewhere in MLS and puts him in a team that could get a lot out of him. RSL's possession-based game and narrow midfield means that there's plenty of room for a roaming forward like Plata to go wide and attack outside backs. Most other teams wouldn't trust him up front due to his lack of size, and as a winger he doesn't really defend. For RSL, though, the role he'll have hides his small stature (by letting him get away from burly center backs) and masks his indifferent defending (by making him a forward instead of a midfielder).

So one skillful dribbler pops up in the West, but another has departed: Simon Dawkins had looked likely to spend a third straight season on loan with the San Jose Earthquakes, but on Europe's transfer deadline day he ended up making a last-second move on loan to Aston Villa.

The Quakes will undoubtedly miss Dawkins, whose speed and dribbling ability made him a very tough player to deal with whenever San Jose surged forward on the break. His 8 goals from left midfield didn't get a lot of attention given the presence of Chris Wondolowski, but few MLS midfielders could match that figure. His likely replacement is Shea Salinas, who is faster and works harder but is far less skillful. There's also the fact that Salinas is a conventional MLS winger, whereas Dawkins was always a source of unpredictable runs. San Jose's attack just got less diverse and less skillful, though perhaps they will be slightly stronger defensively.

Finally, the Vancouver Whitecaps - who despite an unremarkable squad and a dour overall strategy came fairly close to knocking the LA Galaxy out at the first hurdle of last season's playoffs - have likely made a big upgrade in the playmaker department. Out goes angry Scot Barry Robson, in comes Japanese #10 Daigo Kobayashi. The former Shimizu S-Pulse attacking midfielder has a reputation for being an entertaining player, with new teammate and fellow J-League veteran Jun Marques Davidson reacting to his signing less like a fellow pro and more like a fanboy. You don't see that every day.

The Whitecaps could use some excitement, though. Since jettisoning Davide Chiumiento, Vancouver basically became a grind-it-out team, relying on Darren Mattocks to more or less be a one-man attack. Robson was less a playmaker than he was a box-to-box midfielder with a decent goalscoring record, and the Whitecaps often struggled with a lack of ideas as a result. Kobayashi should be a cure for that, though time will tell whether he can adjust from the more technical J-League to the physicality of MLS (not to mention the enormous change in terms of travel).

Got some strong feelings about how things will shake out in the West? Surprised I actually spent that much time talking about the Rapids? Let us hear about it in the comments.

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