Ranking Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference clubs
Whatever you do, don't cut this column out of the newspaper or save it on your computer, then send it back to me at the end of October -- unless I accidentally get some of these right.
Here is a look at how the MLS Eastern Conference shapes up, in order of predicted finish:
1. Sporting Kansas City
This will be a good season if: Midfielder Graham Zusi, 25, continues to be a revelation.
This will be a bad season if: A back line featuring Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler can't protect goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen.
Bottom line: If their play looks as good as its state-of-the-art stadium, everything will be up to date in Kansas City.
2. New York Red Bulls
This will be a good season if: Forwards Thierry Henry, Luke Rodgers (if his visa comes through), Kenny Cooper and Juan Agudelo take turns scoring in bunches.
This will be a bad season if: Rookie goalkeeper Ryan Meara isn't up to the job. Don't be surprised to see another veteran goalkeeper brought in at some point.
Bottom line: Either second-year coach Hans Backe figures out MLS, and the Red Bulls' all-star lineup wins, or this could get ugly.
3. Philadelphia Union
This will be a good season if: Colombian Lionard Pajoy, Danny Mwanga and rookie Chandler Hoffman can score enough to make fans forget Sebastien Le Toux was traded.
This will be a bad season if: Goalkeeping remains a major question. Is 20-year-old Zac MacMath the answer after losing Faryd Mondragon?
Bottom line: Coach Peter Nowak has made steady progress in club's first two seasons.
4. Chicago Fire
This will be a good season if: Playmaker Sebastian Grazzini can stay on the field. Injuries and lack of fitness were a problem when he arrived last July, and he's missed a little time in preseason matches this spring.
This will be a bad season if: Forward Dominic Oduro can't repeat his 12-goal 2011. If Oduro doesn't score, goals could be difficult to come by.
Bottom line: The Fire was one of the hottest teams in MLS in September and October. It expects to pick up where it left off.
5. Houston Dynamo
This will be a good season if: Forward Brian Ching, just back from a quick trip to Montreal, still has something left at age 33.
This will be a bad season if: Brad Davis can't bounce back from injury to repeat his MVP-caliber 2011.
Bottom line: Don't expect a second consecutive trip to MLS Cup.
6. D.C. United
This will be a good season if: Dwayne De Rosario has another MVP season like last year, but with the same club all year.
This will be a bad season if: Midfielder Branko Boskovic and forward Hamdi Salihi, United's designated players, don't earn their high salaries.
Bottom line: Priority No. 1 is to finally resolve United's home stadium situation, hopefully with something in the D.C. area.
7. Montreal Impact
This will be a good season if: Youngsters Collen Warner, Andrew Wenger, Lamar Neagle, Calum Mallace, Bryan Arguez and Zarek Valentin develop quickly.
This will be a bad season if: Goals are hard to come by. The club seems to be building from the back forward.
Bottom line: Coach Jesse Marsch won't be able to perform the same expansion miracle his mentor Bob Bradley did with the Fire in 1998.
8. New England Revolution
This will be a good season if: Midfielders Shalrie Joseph and Benny Feilhaber dominate.
This will be a bad season if: Age begins to show on 36-year-old keeper Matt Reis.
Bottom line: New coach Jay Heaps has infused the Revs with enthusiasm and a more attacking style of play, but he has his work cut out for him.
9. Columbus Crew
This will be a good season if: Milovan Mirosevic truly is as good as Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
This will be a bad season if: Danny O'Rourke and Chad Marshall can't stay healthy.
Bottom line: The Crew experienced a lot of turnover this off-season, trying to improve on 2011's bad finish.
10. Toronto FC
This will be a good season if: Stefan Frei becomes the top goalkeeper in the league.
This will be a bad season if: Thirty-somethings Danny Koevermans, Torsten Frings, Terry Dunfield and Julian de Guzman look their age. Toronto doesn't have much quality behind them.
Bottom line: The pressure is on coach/technical director Aron Winter to finally produce.
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