Thursday, July 7, 2011

New York Lay Down The Gauntlet, As Race For The East Heats Up

For New York, it is an expectation that has been fulfilled rather than a standard of performance created, Hans Backe's side are obliged to turn in performances like last night's, and to do so on a more regular basis too.

While the big three teams in the West have slugged it out in a battle featuring high point totals and bitter rivalries, an intriguing struggle has begun to develop in Major League Soccer's less glamorous conference. Led now by a team featuring some of the league's most high profile players, the Eastern conference crown looks to be the stated goal of three, if not four MLS teams.

The Contenders:

New York Red Bulls

Current leaders New York Red Bulls are surely still the favorites to repeat their success of last season, the deadly strike combination of Luke Rodgers and Thierry Henry has put fear in the hearts of defenders around the country, while a now balanced midfield looks to have combined creative spark with a defensive edge. At the back, New York are turning over a new leaf following a shaky run of form, the unreliable Steven Keel has been shifted to the bench, making way for Tim Ream, who returned from Gold Cup duty last week. The goalkeeping position remains the only major question, Greg Sutton was guilty of committing one of the most farcical errors ever seen in the history of MLS, while Bouna Condoul's inconsistency has led to doubts over the Senegalese's credentials.

Philadelphia Union

Across the state border is another team intent on success, last year's expansion club the Philadelphia Union have found an attacking formula, to go with their sturdiness in defense. Veteran keeper Faryd Mondragon's impact in goal has been complemented by the consistently solid contributions of Carlos Valdes and Danny Califf in the middle, while Gabe Farfan and Sheanon Williams have starred on either wing. Upfront, Carlos Ruiz has undergone a renaissance of sorts, emerging from footballing oblivion to form part of a red hot strike partnership with last year's rookie of the year candidate Danny Mwanga. Philadelphia's rise in the standings has remarkably been achieved more or less without the help of last year's top goal scorer Sebastian Le Toux, the ex Sounder who made so many headlines in 2010 has struggled for goals this time around.

Columbus Crew

Just below Philly and New York is a team supposedly rebuilding, the now Barros Schellotto-less Columbus Crew are making a huge impact in MLS this season. Designated Player Andres Mendoza has overcome a poor start to become one of the most effective strikers in the league, while a defense anchored by the experienced Chad Marshall has also helped to churn out results. Rookies like Bernardo Anor have  contributed to the cause, as have veterans like last night's hero Jeff Cunningham.

Sporting KC

However, the most interesting team in the West remains Sporting KC, who have risen from rock bottom in the standings following the long awaited opening of Livestrong Sporting Park. In attack Kansas City have a plethora of options, US international Teal Bunbury has found himself on the bench due to the form of players like rookie CJ Sapong and the prolific Graham Zusi. After overcoming an injury, Omar Bravo is back and ready to contribute to the first team too, leaving manager Peter Vermes with a number of options to choose from. Defense has been Sporting's main problem this season, but the performances over the last few weeks of French center back Colin have encouraged fans, and left qualification for the playoffs a very achievable goal.


Certainly, New York remain favorites, but first spot remains very much up for grabs. If any of the four teams described go on a run, then they could all but assure themselves of Eastern Conference glory.

Who will win the Eastern Conference?

Follow The Chairman on Twitter @INFTH

1 comment: