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posted: 3/9/2011 5:58 PM

Red Bulls, Dynamo appear to be class of MLS East

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Someone is keeping score.

If there's one thing I know, it's that Reader Kim will save these look at Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference and remind me of them in November.

So at the risk that this will come back to haunt me, here is how the East looks in order of predicted finish:

1. New York Red Bulls

This will be a good season if:

Juan Agudelo, 18, lives up to the high expectations and helps Thierry Henry pick up the goal-scoring slack left by Juan Pablo Angel's departure.

This will be a bad season if:

Rafa Marquez is not the defensive anchor he's being paid so well to be, and Tim Ream can't match his rookie season.

Bottom line:

Somebody has to win this conference. If not RBNY, then who? This team stocked up well in the off-season and can withstand Chris Albright's injury.

2. Houston Dynamo

This will be a good season if:

Brian Ching and Geoff Cameron come back strong. Kofi Sarkodie could be the best rookie in MLS.

This will be a bad season if:

Injuries riddle the Dynamo lineup for a second consecutive year. The team's only question mark is in goal, where Pat Onstad no longer roams.

Bottom line:

Switching conferences might have been the best thing to happen to Houston.

3. Sporting Kansas City

This will be a good season if:

Omar Bravo and Teal Bunbury form a winning partnership up top.

This will be a bad season if:

The team can't withstand a 10-game road trip to start the season. The defense could miss the departed Jimmy Conrad.

Bottom line:

New team name, new stadium ... new results? Peter Vermes looks like an up-and-coming coach.

4. Columbus Crew

This will be a good season if:

Chad Marshall can stay healthy and get back to being the best central defender in MLS.

This will be a bad season if:

The 15 newcomers, including eight rookies, on the roster for the CONCACAF Champions League don't mesh.

Bottom line:

The Guillermo Barros Schelotto era is over. Now what?

5. Chicago Fire

This will be a good season if:

At least one player can score in double figures. Will it be a familiar face like Patrick Nyarko or Marco Pappa, or somebody new like Uruguayan forwards Gaston Puerari or Diego Chaves?

This will be a bad season if:

New captain Logan Pause and new defender Cory Gibbs can't provide strong leadership in the locker room and on the field.

Bottom line:

A lot will depend on if second-year coach Carlos de los Cobos has the personnel to make his system work and can get the players to believe in him.

6. New England Revolution

This will be a good season if:

Marko Perovic and Zack Schilawski can lead the attack.

This will be a bad season if:

Shalrie Joseph and Kevin Alston don't come back from their team suspensions ready to take out their anger on opposing teams.

Bottom line:

Change is hitting coach Steve Nicol's crew hard.

7. D.C. United

This will be a good season if:

Chris Pontius reverts to his rookie-season form and Charlie Davies can regain his pre-auto accident form.

This will be a bad season if:

Player/assistant coach Pat Onstad, 43, can't do the job in goal, then adequately train replacement Bill Hamid when the youngster's shoulder is healed.

Bottom line:

After last season there's nowhere to go but up. How will Ben Olsen handle being the coach at age 33?

8. Philadelphia Union

This will be a good season if:

Carlos Ruiz can join Danny Mwanga and Sebastien Le Toux in creating an attack that gives goalkeepers nightmares.

This will be a bad season if:

Colombian Faryd Mondragon, 39, is not the answer in the net.

Bottom line:

Building the Union will take longer than Peter Nowak wants.

9. Toronto FC

This will be a good season if:

Toronto fills out its roster wisely. As of Wednesday, its website listed just 14 players.

This will be a bad season if:

Dwayne De Rosario and Julian de Guzman don't produce.

Bottom line:

The fans who fill BMO Field every game will demand a winner. They might have to give new coach Aron Winter and new director of player development Paul Mariner a chance to rebuild, however.

Next week:

A closer look at the Fire.