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Haters Guide to the 2018 MLS Season: Western Conference Part 2

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This is the worst contest ever

MLS: Western Conference Knockout Round-San Jose Earthquakes at Vancouver Whitecaps Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Parker and J. Sam are back talking about the Western Conference because they have to. It is a bad soccer conference and not good at soccering. We’ll explore this further and make jokes that only we get. Join us. You may not like it though. As one commenter eloquently put so long ago:

“This was a waste of time folks. Nothing to see here.”

J. Sam Jones

FC Dallas

2017

Fresh off winning the US Open Cup and the Supporters’ Shield in 2016, the Fightin’ Tex Hoopers failed to make the playoffs by virtue of finishing in seventh place in the trash as hell West. They finished one place behind San Jose despite having having an even goal differential and and an equal number of points as the Quakes. Dallas finished behind San Jose because San Jose had more wins. San Jose finished with a -21 goal differential. Over the last 14 games Dallas won two. One of those was against last place Los Angeles and the other was against almost last place Colorado.

In summary:

via Twitter

What’s New?

The Hoops offloaded defender Walker Zimmerman to LAFC and declined aging defender Hernan Grana’s loan option. They brought in Bulgarian international Anton Nedyalkov and Rito Ziegler as defensive upgrades. Pretty much the same team everywhere else.

Hot Take

This is a good team. Not a great one but definitely good. In the West that can take you a long way. They should be improved defensively and are almost definitely a playoff team. They’ll still be lackluster going forward but in a conference where parity (see: bad soccer teams) is the norm they’ll have enough to get by. Maxi Urruti (12 goals, 5 assists in 2017), Michael Barrios (14 assists) and Roland Lamah (11 goals, 4 assists) are good enough to earn this team playoff soccer.

Cold Take

They might keep being bad. That horrendous stretch at the end of 2017 could be a sign that this team just isn’t good enough. They peaked in 2016 and will have to begin making big moves to even imagine reaching the same heights. If this team can’t shake off last year’s disastrous second half then missing the playoffs for a second straight year is a real possibility. At least they’ll still have this song.

Will we beat them?

We’ll see Dallas just once this year. The Five Stripes travel to Texas on July 4 where we will honor America by winning 1776-0.

Vancouver Whitecaps

2017

Vancouver was one of the surprise stories of 2017. The Caps finished third in the West and picked up 52 points while only accruing a +1 goal differential. They won six times in their last eleven games and carried that momentum into the playoffs where they torched San Jose 5-0 in the knockout round before falling 2-0 in the second round to Seattle. Vancouver was very good at being tall and scored 16 goals off set pieces, the second-most in MLS. Nine of their regular starting XI is 6’ 2” or taller. They are tall.

What’s New?

They signed another tall person. 6’ 3” forward Kei Kamara heads to Canada after two years and 19 goals with New England. I’m told they’re also after Manute Bol and the animated corpse of Robert Wadlow (google it you lazy jerks). Seriously, this is one the weirdest strategies I’ve ever seen. I don’t even really have jokes about it. A team is trying to tall other teams to death. And it might work? It will at least be intimidating. Vancouver is the anti-Atlanta United.

Anyway, they also added striker Anthony Blondell, a player who checks in at a pathetic height of 6’ 1”. The 23-year-old led the Venzeulan Primera Division in goals last season. Blondell netted 24 times in 35 games despite essentially having dwarfism.

Hot Take

I...erm...don’t judge me for this when I’m completely wrong...but they might win the conference? Maybe? Or something? I don’t know, researching for this has me convinced they’ll be good by Western Conference standards. i’m going back and forth from thinking I’m insane to I’m the last panel of the galaxy brain meme.

Hear me out though. A team that finished one point away from a first-round-bye and two points away from winning the conference last year returns pretty much everyone on top of adding two significant upgrades at striker. Also, they have uber-talented wonderkid Alphonso Davies doing this in preseason.

I mean...

At any level that’s filthy (and also terrible defense but fight me). The kid is just 17. Dude made 9 nine starts in 29 appearances for Vancouver as a 16-year-old last season. In the meantime he won the Golden Boot and Young Player of the Tournament at the Gold Cup while playing for the Canadian National Team. At 16 years old. He’s only 5’ 11” but they kept him on the team. They must see something special in him. Just another reason to like this team, which, again, plays in a dumpster fire of a conference. TRY AND TELL ME I’M WRONG!

Cold Take

I’m probably wrong. Thy were able to squeak bye in more than a few games and that +1 GD is an outlier compared to playoff teams that weren’t San Jose. If the defense takes a step back and Kamara and Blondell don’t fit the system despite being tall, the team will eventually regress to the mean and start losing those close games. If all else fails I’m sure there’s a Canadian Basketball League where they play outside in -10 degree temperature and the team called “the Bears” is a team of actual trained grizzly bears and honestly the Caps will fit in nicely the more I think about it.

Will we beat them?

We’ll only see Vancouver once this year. The Whitecaps head to Mercedes-Benz on March 17 in the third game of the year. They will try to bludgeon our team to death with crosses and it may work to be totally honest. Atlanta still wins though like 5-4.

Houston Dynamo

This thing is already way too long and we’re not even to Parker’s section. I’ll be short with Houston.

2017

Finished fourth in the West. Would have missed the playoffs in the East.

What’s New

Lost Cubo Torres who scored 14 goals. They replaced Torres with 37-year-old Vicente Sanchez because DaMarcus Beasley needed a shuffleboard partner.

Hot Take

They’ll be able to make the playoffs in the trash West.

Cold Take

They will be worse but none of that matters because everyone in the west is bad. Except apparently Vancouver. Someone please help me.

Will We Beat Them?

Handily in the season opener on March 3 in Houston.

Parker Cleveland

Sporting Kansas City

2017

Peter Vermes spent 2017 playing like a cheap knock off of Atletico Madrid. The thing is, Sporting KC was about as successful as a club could be at parking the bus and not trying to score or play anything resembling soccer. The team allowed only 29 goals - TWENTY NINE in 34 games - next closest was Toronto with 37 allowed. On the other side, they only scored 40 goals, which doesn’t seem like a lot until you realize that Colorado scored just 37. What did all that bus parking and terrible to watch soccer executed perfectly get SKC? A 5th playoff seed, 11th place overall, and a 1-0 loss to Houston in the playoffs. I really hope playing cynical anti-soccer was worth it.

Luckily this happened, so I like to think it was:

What’s New

Extreme brain genius Peter Vermes has been tinkering with his roster. First the team sold Dom Dwyer last year for fake MLS money. Then they traded for Kenwyne Jones in order to shield the players they wanted to keep from being drafted by LAFC, rather than protecting them - I guess? It worked so well that Latif Blessing was drafted by LA.

Clearly they know what they are doing and have a plan, tell me more... Did they replace Dwyer?

No they’re going to start someone named Diego Rubio while Josh Sargent fights for playing time in Europe despite being eligible to be signed on a homegrown contract for the team.

Aside from that they have a French attacking midfielder to replace Feilhaber named Johan Croizet. Then the went out and found a veteran (read old) Scottish winger named Johnny Russell to get yelled at by Vermes for not being defensive enough.

Hot Take

It should not be hard to make the playoffs in the West by playing nihilistic soccer. They’ll finish 5th or 6th again, none of the attacking pieces will be much of an upgrade from what they had with Feilhaber and Blessing while Rubio shows everyone why they’d never heard of him and they wash out of the playoffs in the first round.

Cold Take

What is this section again? We say why they’ll be bad - or why they’ll be good? I can’t remember - it’ll be the opposite of the Hot Take for SKC. So that just means the new pieces fit in nicely, Rubio nets about 12 goals, Ike Opara stays healthy again, and MLS will gaze long into an abyss, and the abyss will also gaze into the league.

Will We Beat Them?

Luckily Atlanta United hosts SKC midweek on May 9th. If there is one thing that Peter Vermes does not think is worth his time, it is trying to win a road game with his best 11 against a non-conference opponent. Atlanta will win 2-0.

Los Angeles Football Club

2017

They unveiled some players and did the hat reveal thing about 18 times, but that’s it - they only did it 18 times because that’s how many players of the 30 player max are on the team at the moment. At least they have a full compliment of starters and subs according to their website.

The last we saw of Bob Bradley, he was challenging himself at the highest level and failing badly. That isn’t to say that Bradley isn’t one of the best American coaches ever and shouldn’t have success back in MLS.

What’s New

Everything! It’s a new club with a shinny new stadium that is going to open after a 7 game road trip to start the year:

(Calm down, it’s a year old hair joke, not a politics joke).

The highlights for LAFC roster-wise were picking up Carlos Vela to score goals and market the team. Vela was one of the best strikers in Spain for a time and is on the bubble to go to Russia in 2018, he may be old but there’s plenty of wax on that candle and goals still in his boots. The team went even older and picked up Benny Feilhaber in order to give Bradley someone he recognized from the USMNT from 2010. Feilhaber brings a sense of bravado, arrogance, and a doofy looking widehawk to the team. He was the best playmaker in MLS in 2015, but has since seen his production tail off so Bradley will be looking to get the last ounces of usefulness out of him.

In an effort to not be the same as Atlanta Untied, LAFC signed a 19 year old South American attacker in Uruguayan Diego Rossi. Still, the team’s strongest point seems to be the backline. They feature Walker Zimmerman and Laurent Ciman, two players who were eagerly parted with by their former clubs, and Jordan Harvey and Steven Beitashour will try to not be too awful at the outside back spots.

Hot Take

They’ll be fun sometimes, misunderestimate Vela at your own peril. In general the team will be solid in defense, entertaining in attack when things go right, but a huge mess in the center of the pitch. Add to it that they have more owners than players and depth will obviously be an issue for LAFC.

Cold Take

As Sam has aptly demonstrated, the West is trash. A decent front 3 with a good backline some central midfielders and a goal keeper could easily make the playoffs.

Will We Beat Them?

Even without a 6 we have an excellent front 3, a solid backline, some central midfielders and the Polar Bear. So on April 7th when LAFC comes to the Benz the Five Stripes should crush LA, and they don’t even have Jermaine Jones on the roster.

San Jose Earthquakes

2017

In case you have any thought whatsoever that the West might be good and Sam and I are exaggerating how bad this conference is - consider that San Jose had a negative 21 goal difference and made the playoffs. Here’s the thing, they scored so few goals that if they had a GD of 0 they’d have still scored 10 fewer goals than Atlanta United.... And they made the playoffs.

What’s New

Swedes. San Jose hired Mikael Stahre of Swedish side BK Haken to lead the team. As long as he doesn’t live and die by hoofing the ball long, hoping that Chris Wondolowski does something good as a strategy the Quakes should be better. They also added Joel Qwiberg and Magnus Eriksson from Sweden. Qwiberg is an attack minded left back while Eriksson could be an interesting piece for the team as a goal scoring threat when he was in the Allsvenskan.

Hot Take

Everything could turn around for San Jose - the Swedes could slot in and pillage their way through the Western Conference on a skeid of goals built on a flencing attacking style. Put another way without references to things Vikings did, this is nearly completely re-worked team with a promising set of new players that could make some noise in the conference.

Cold Take

On the other hand, MLS is littered with players who were good in second or third tier European leagues that didn’t pan out. Qwiberg and Eriksson could be no different, and if the new manager doesn’t get buy in from the players it could be a long year in Silicon Valley.

Will We Beat Them?

Atlanta ends a 4 game road trip on September 19th at San Jose - they’ll beat the Quakes 3-2 in the most realistic prediction I have made.

LA Riot

Just kidding, that’s a fictional team on a cancelled TV show. We’ll finish things up next week with 3,000 words about Orlando City and more brief commentary about the Eastern Conference.