Is Real Salt Lake still the class of the West, or can Seattle or Portland snatch the Conference title away? As Major League Soccer prepares to lift the curtain on another season, TSN.ca presents the second of our five part season preview, taking a look at the American based teams in the Western Conference.
In 2013, Chivas USA took their usual spot at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. In fact, the only year since 2010 where anyone finished behind them was in 2011 when they managed to finish one place ahead of the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps.
Former Colorado Rapids assistant coach Wilmer Cabrera will be the latest man charged with bringing chaos to order at Los Angeles' second MLS team that very recently also became owned by the league with an eye on a new name and logo.
Veteran Midfielder Mauro Rosales will be counted on to create and drive the offence while new defensive acquisition Andrew Jean-Baptiste will hope to improve a defence that easily allowed the most goals last season.
As always, Chivas has a long way to go before they are considered contenders for anything, but at least they've finally taken a positive step in the right direction.
Chivas will open the season by welcoming the Chicago Fire to the StubHub Center on March 9th. They will face their first Canadian opponent in their second game when they host the Vancouver Whitecaps on March 16th.
Who's In?: M Mauro Rosales (trade from Seattle), D Andrew Jean-Baptiste (trade from Portland), F Adolfo Bautista (free agent), D Tony Lochhead (free agent), D Andrew Ribeiro (free agent), D Fejiro Okiomah (free agent), D Donny Toia (free agent), M Agustín Pelletieri (free agent), F Luke Moore (free agent), F Eriq Zavaleta (loan from Seattle)
Who's Out?: D Mario de Luna (end of loan from CD Guadalajara), D Jaime Frias (end of loan from CD Guadalajara), M Edgar Mejía (end of loan from CD Guadalajara), F Julio Morales (end of loan from CD Guadalajara), GK Patrick McLain (option declined), D Steve Purdy (option declined), D Daniel Antunez (option declined), M Marvin Iraheta (option declined), M Josue Soto (option declined), F José Manuel Rivera (option declined), F Tristan Bowen (traded to Seattle), D Jorge Villafaña (traded to Portland), M Gabriel Farfan (loaned to Chiapas), M Carlo Chueca (waived), F Bryan de la Fuente (waived)
SuperDraft: M Thomas McNamara (2-20)
Pablo Mastroeni enters the season in the rare position of being an interim head coach at the beginning of a campaign. The team that he inherits, one that he partially played on last season, was one of the surprise stories of 2013, forcing their way into the Western Conference playoffs.
Gabriel Torres, the first designated player in franchise history, will be counted on to provide offence along with returning leading scorer Deshorn Brown and Edson Buddle.
The Rapids were a team that counted on youth, speed and quick transitions from midfield to forward in order to generate the offence they needed to win games. If any of their young players take a step back this season they could lose a step themselves, and be on the outside looking in at the Western Conference playoff picture.
Colorado opens the season on the road against the New York Red Bulls on March 15th after enjoying a first week bye. They will play their first Canadian team on April 5th when they travel to BC Place to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Who's in?: D/M Marc Burch (Re-Entry Stage 1), M Marvin Chávez (trade from San Jose), GK Joe Nasco (free agent)
Who's out?: D Diego Calderón (loan expired), M Jaime Castrillón (option declined), GK Steward Ceus (option declined), M Jamie Smith (option declined), M/D Anthony Wallace (free agent), F Atiba Harris (traded to San Jose), M Jamie Smith (retired), M Tony Cascio (loaned to Houston), M Hendry Thomas (traded to FC Dallas), D Kory Kindle (retired)
SuperDraft: M Marlon Hairston (1-12), D Grant Van De Casteele (1-19)
In his first year in charge of the team, long time FC Dallas assistant, and most recently head coach of the Colorado Rapids, Oscar Pareja will be charged with getting the Texas based squad back into the playoff conversation.
Forward Blas Pérez is the most talented player in the squad and will be the man central to the FC Dallas attack on most nights. The team has struggled when he has been absent or ineffective so keeping him healthy and in the squad is a major priority for Pareja.
Where FC Dallas is going to struggle is on defence, where they have trouble keeping their best players on the field. If they can keep George John and Walker Zimmerman in one piece throughout the year, that should go a long way to locking down their back line.
FC Dallas opens the campaign with their first game against a Canadian based MLS team when they lock up with the Montreal Impact at Toyota Stadium on March 8th.
Who's in?: M Ryan Hollingshead (2013 SuperDraft), M Adam Moffat (trade from Seattle), M Brian Span (weighted lottery), M Hendry Thomas (traded from Colorado), F Andrés Escobar (loan from Dynamo Kiev), F David Texeira (transfer from FC Groningen)
Who's out?: M David Ferreira (option declined), M Ramon Nuñez (option declined), M Erick (option declined), M Jackson (traded to Toronto), M Victor Ulloa (out of contract), D Ugo Ihemelu (option declined), F Kenny Cooper (traded to Seattle), M Bobby Warshaw (transferred to GIAS), F Bradlee Baladez (waived), GK Kyle Zobeck (waived)
SuperDraft: F Tesho Akindele (1-6)
Los Angeles Galaxy
The two-time defending MLS Cup champions were finally unseated last season when they lost to eventual runner up Real Salt Lake in the opening round of the playoffs.
No doubt, the Galaxy return one of the most talented teams in the entire league, with both Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan at the forefront of the attack.
With Keane no longer involved in international play and no drama as to when Donovan is going to join the squad, Bruce Arena's team should be able to hit the ground running from the first kick of the season.
Sean Franklin is going to be a loss felt in the Galaxy defence, as he was one of the key members on their championship squads but they have depth at every position and will be one of the teams to watch once again this season.
The Los Angeles Galaxy will open the 2014 season on March 8th in a battle of the last two Western Conference champions when they host Real Salt Lake at the StubHub Center. They will play a Canadian team for the first time when they face Vancouver Whitecaps on April 12th.
Who's in?: M Baggio Husidic (free agent), F Samuel (loan from Fluminense), F Rob Friend (free transfer), M Stefan Ishizaki (free transfer)
Who's out?: M Colin Clark (option declined), M Laurent Courtois (option declined), D Sean Franklin (option declined), M Michael Stephens (out of contract), GK Carlo Cudicini (contract terminated), M Pablo Mastroeni (retired), F Jose Villarreal (loaned to Cruz Azul), M Hector Jimenez (traded to Columbus), M Kyle Nakazawa (retired), D Bryan Gaul (waived), D Greg Cochrane (trade to Chicago)
A hot stretch through April, May and June allowed the Timbers to secure first place in the Western Conference last season and raise the expectation of what they could do in the playoffs. Sadly their season of promise ended in the Western Conference Final.
The hiring of head coach Caleb Porter has been credited with turning things around for Portland and if that's the case, his next job will solidifying the squad and proving that their improvement in form was more than just a one season aberration.
Canadian midfielder Will Johnson will once again be key to the backbone of the squad and his ability to influence the game in both ends is important to the Timbers overall game plan.
Portland opens the season with a pair of home games, including their March 8th debut against the Philadelphia Union. They will play host to the Vancouver Whitecaps on June 1st, the first Canadian team on their schedule.
Who's in?: D Jorge Villafaña (trade from Chivas USA), M Steve Zakuani (Re-Entry Stage 1), GK Andrew Weber (free agent), F Gastón Fernández (transfer from Estudiantes de La Plata), D Norberto Paparatto (transfer from Tigre)
Who's out?: D David Horst (option declined), D Ryan Miller (option declined), D Dylan Tucker-Gangnes (waived), F Brent Richards (waived), F Ryan Johnson (out of contract), D Brad Ring (out of contract), D Andrew Jean-Baptiste (traded to Chivas USA), M Sal Zizzo (traded to Sporting KC), D David Horst (traded to Houston), F Sebastián Rincón (loan expired), F José Valencia (loaned to Club Olimpo), GK Milos Kocic (retired), D Mikaël Silvestre (contract terminated)
SuperDraft: M/F Schillo Tshuma (1-17)
Real Salt Lake
Three points from winning the Supporters Shield, one penalty kick short in the MLS Cup, and falling in the U.S. Cup Final, near misses defined a very successful season for Real Salt Lake, if you ignore the final outcomes.
Assistant coach Jeff Cassar has now taken over the head coaching duties from long time bench boss Jason Kreis who left the club in the offseason to lead 2015 expansion side New York City FC.
Cassar's job will be to keep one of the older rosters in the league happy and healthy while continuing the great work his predecessor started. To help him achieve that goal, he'll be able to lean captain Kyle Beckerman, striker Alvaro Saborio, Nick Rimando and defender Nat Borchers, all veterans that should be steady for the defending Western Conference champions.
Real Salt Lake will open their season against LA Galaxy on March 8th and see their first Canadian action March 29th when they welcome Toronto FC to Rio Tinto Stadium.
Who's in?: M Luke Mulholland (free agent)
Who's out?: M Yordany Álvarez (out of contract), D Brandon McDonald (out of contract), GK Josh Saunders (out of contract), M Khari Stephenson (out of contract), D/M Lovel Palmer (traded to Chicago)
San Jose Earthquakes
After as near a playoff miss as you can have in 2013, the San Jose Earthquakes are poised to make a run this season, but will only go as far as Chris Wondolowski can take them.
After earning himself a new deal with a huge season in 2012, he played hurt last year and it showed in his end of the year totals.
The continued improvement of Sam Cronin will be important to the Earthquakes regaining their spot as one of the best teams in the West. They have the talent to compete and it would be a surprise to see them not able to translate that back onto the field.
San Jose Earthquakes will begin the 2014 season against Real Salt Lake on March 15th and will play their first Canadian opposition on May 3rd when they visit BC Place to take on Vancouver Whitecaps.
Who's in?: M Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi (Discovery), F Atiba Harris (trade from Colorado), F Billy Schuler (weighted lottery)
D Shaun Francis (Re-Entry Stage 2), D Brandon Barklage (Re-Entry Stage 2), GK Bryan Meredith (free agent)
Who's out?: M Ramiro Corrales (retired), D Nana Attakora (option declined), D Dan Gargan (option declined), F Marcus Tracy (option declined), GK Evan Newton (option declined), D Peter McGlynn (option declined), F Cesar Diaz Pizarro (option declined), M Mehdi Ballouchy (out of contract), D Justin Morrow (traded to Toronto FC), M Rafael Baca (transferred to Cruz Azul), M Jaime Alas (loan expired), M Marvin Chávez (traded to Colorado), D Steven Beitashour (traded to Vancouver), GK David Bingham (loaned to San Antonio), M Sam Garza (2/27/14 - loaned to San Antonio)
SuperDraft: M J.J. Koval (1-9)
Despite the acquisition of Clint Dempsey, Seattle Sounders failed to achieve the success they were looking for last season. They remain one of the league's most consistent franchises and will once again be in the playoff picture this season.
How far they go beyond that will come down to the play of Dempsey and how well he gels with Kenny Cooper and Obafemi Martins as well as the kind of havoc they can create in the opponents' third of the field.
If the rumours of infighting during the tail end of last season are true and continue, the Sounders could be trending towards the bottom for the first time in franchise history.
Seattle opens the season with a pair of home games, including their first Canadian matchup. They open the season at CenturyLink Field against the defending MLS Cup champion Sporting Kansas City on March 8th and then welcome Toronto FC on March 15th before heading to Montreal to play the Impact on March 22nd.
Who's in?: GK Stefan Frei (trade from Toronto), F Tristan Bowen (trade from Chivas), D Chad Marshall (trade from Columbus), F Kenny Cooper (trade from FC Dallas), F Corey Hertzog (Re-Entry Stage 2), F Chad Barrett (Re-Entry Stage 2), D Jalil Anibaba (trade from Chicago), M Marco Pappa (allocation)
Who's out?: GK Michael Gspurning (option declined), D Marc Burch (option declined), M Blair Gavin (option declined), F Steve Zakuani (out of contract), M Mauro Rosales (traded to Chivas USA), M Adam Moffat (traded to FC Dallas), F Eddie Johnson (traded to D.C. United), D Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (traded to Chicago), D Patrick Ianni (traded to Chicago), F Fredy Montero (transfer to Sporting CP), F Will Bates (waived), D James Ockford (loaned to New York Cosmos), F Eriq Zavaleta (loaned to Chivas USA)
SuperDraft: D Damion Lowe (1-8)