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Article updated: 2/19/2013 12:11 PM

MLS preview: Lots of strong clubs to challenge Galaxy

By Orrin Schwarz

It's not just your imagination.

It's still February, but with MLS First Kick less than two weeks away, it's already time to look at how the league shapes up, starting this week with the Western Conference, in order of predicted finish.

1. Seattle Sounders FC

It will be a good season if: Mauro Rosales stays healthy and productive at age 32.

It will be a bad season if: They miss Fredy Montero and Jeff Parke more than they expect.

Bottom line: With players such as Eddie Johnson and Osvaldo Alonso, there's enough talent here to win the Supporters Shield.

2. Real Salt Lake

It will be a good season if: Aurora native Chris Schuler steps in at center back and lives up to coach Jason Kreis' hype. He has to stay healthy, though.

It will be a bad season if: The off-season roster restructuring that saw mainstays Will Johnson, Fabian Espindola and Jamison Olave traded turns into a rebuilding project.

Bottom line: Goalkeeper Nick Rimando and center midfielder Kyle Beckerman will keep RSL in a lot of games.

3. San Jose Earthquakes

It will be a good season if: Defender Victor Bernardez stays in Northern California the entire season. He ain't pretty, but he is effective.

It will be a bad season if: Goalkeeper Jon Busch, 36, starts to show his age.

Bottom line: Chris Wondolowski, Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart won't score as many goals as last year, especially in the waning moments of games.

4. Los Angeles Galaxy

It will be a good season if: Coach Bruce Arena can find a goalkeeper to replace the departed Josh Saunders, especially if the new guy is an improvement over the so-so Saunders.

It will be a bad season if: Landon Donovan can't find the inspiration to play up to par. He talked about retirement but decided to return at the end of March.

Bottom line: David Beckham might be gone, but Robbie Keane, Juninho, Omar Gonzalez and Long Grove native Mike Magee aren't.

5. Portland Timbers

It will be a good season if: Barrington native Ryan Miller returns from Europe ready to bolster a back line that allowed 56 goals last year, 22 more than the Timbers scored.

It will be a bad season if: They can't figure out where the goals will come from after letting Kris Boyd go and losing Bright Dike to injury for half the season. Ryan Johnson is a good start.

Bottom line: Caleb Porter is one of the most promising young coaches in the United States.

6. FC Dallas

It will be a good season if: Blas Perez, Kenny Cooper and Eric Hassli can work together and keep scoring in bunches.

It will be a bad season if: Injuries limit the likes of David Ferreira and George John again.

Bottom line: The fate of this team might just depend on whether it has an adequate replacement for goalkeeper Kevin Hartman.

7. Vancouver Whitecaps

It will be a good season if: Dynamic forward Darren Mattocks continues to improve in his second pro season.

It will be a bad season if: Jay DeMerit can't stay healthy to anchor the back line. He's 33 and has a recent history of injury.

Bottom line: The most proven players on the roster are well into their 30s. The youngsters need to step up.

8. Colorado Rapids

It will be a good season if: Newly acquired Edson Buddle is the answer up top.

It will be a bad season if: The Rapids need 36-year-old Pablo Mastroeni to return from a nearly career-ending concussion to be the kind of player he was at age 30.

Bottom line: The Rapids have had a tough time since winning MLS Cup in 2010. That won't change this year.

9. Chivas USA

It will be a good season if: Juan Agudelo, still just 20 years old, can score 15-20 goals.

It will be a bad season if: Chivas loses goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, rumored to be on the trade block. He single-handedly kept Chivas in some games last year.

Bottom line: El Chelis will learn MLS is a very strange league.

Next week: We'll break down the Eastern Conference contenders

Follow Orrin's soccer reports on Twitter @orrin_schwarz

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