Roundtable: Hot Time Previews MLS 2014

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Our redoubtable writers give doomed predictions about the inherently unpredictable - bookmark & save for future arguments!

So it's almost that time of year that we cf97 fans have been waiting for all winter long, the start of the MLS season. So here at Hot Time we wanted to pool our contributors together and give our individual assessments of how the 2014 season will be for the men in red. But first here is a rundown of the transactions made by the team and a recent update of the depth chart (with the probable starters listed first) as of March 7th.

Transactions

OUT: Frank Klopas, Javier Leon, Jalil Anibaba, Shaun Francis, Daniel Paladini, Corben Bone, Arevalo Rios, Paolo Tornaghi, Michael Videira, Joel Lindpere, Maicon Santos, Wells Thompson, Kellen Gulley, Brendan King, Austin Berry, Yazid Atouba

IN: Frank Yallop, CJ Brown, Brian Bliss, Clint Mathis, Benji Joya, Giuseppe Gentile, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Patrick Ianni, Chris Ritter, Kyle Reynish, Harrison Shipp, Lovel Palmer, Marco Franco, Greg Cochrane, Matt Watson

Depth Chart:

GK: 1. Sean Johnson 2. Kyle Reynish 3. Alec Kann

RB: 1. Lovel Palmer 2. Marco Franco 3. Steven Kinney

CB: 1. Bakary Soumare 2. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado 3. Patrick Ianni 4. Hunter Jumper 5. Stephen Kinney

LB: 1. Gonzalo Segares 3. Greg Cochrane 3. Hunter Jumper

RM: 1. Patrick Nyarko 2. Victor Pineda/Chris Rolfe

CDM: 1 Jeff Larentowicz 2. Logan Pause 3. Chris Ritter

LM: 1.Dilly Duka 2. Matt Watson/Victor Pineda

CM: 1. Alex 2. Benji Joya/Chris Rolfe/Harrison Shipp

F: 1. Mike Magee 2. Juan Luis Anangono 3. Chris Rolfe 4. Harrison Shipp 5. Quincy Amarikwa 6. Orr Barouch 7. Giuseppe Gentile

That's 28 of 30 roster spots filled with only 3 of 8 international slots filled. With that taken care of, let's begin with the season previews - first up is John Jenzeh.

SB Nation 2014 MLS preview

John Jenzeh

New faces bring competition to nearly every position. In theory this should lead to an avoidance of the burnout the Fire went through the last couple of seasons. An entirely new back line from opening day 2013 - with the exception of Segares - will hopefully allow fewer goals. There's hoping, and then there's realistic expectation. Bakary Soumare - perhaps under the guidance of CJ Brown - rediscovered his form throughout the preseason. Whether he carries that form into the regular season, is a huge question mark. Ianni and Jumper are two solid back ups who could give Baky or Hurtado the push they need. I'm also not sold at RB with Lovel Palmer or Marco Franco. Neither the journeyman utility player nor the rookie seem like an upgrade over Jalil Anibaba at the moment. I am in love with the midfield at the moment, and the array of young talent. The likes of Shipp and Joya can play important roles off the bench and even push Alex, Duka or Nyarko for their place in the starting 11. As big of a question mark as number 4 is at the back, Juan Luis Anangono is probably a bigger unknown commodity up front. Can he control his first touch? Can he finish? In the words of fictional head football coach Bud Kilmer: "CAN. HE. PLAY?" Mike Magee is the returning MVP and we all expect big things from him. The scoring load will hopefully be more evenly distributed this season, thus taking a bit of the pressure off Magic Mike.

The squad, with a mix of youth and veterans has what it takes to make a long U.S Open Cup run and qualify for the playoffs. If the Fire avoid the 2-7-1 start to the season that essentially did them in a year ago, they should be in the hunt for the long haul. However, looking at the schedule for 2014, the first 10 games aren't exactly a walk in the park. If they can avoid going down 1-0 with the frequency in which they did last season, it should allow for more points gained in the Draw department, even if they are of the dreaded nil-nil variety. The Eastern Conference is a wildy changed beast this season - a dangerous one. A revamped Toronto FC and DC United will make the final playoff push at the end of the regular season a most thrilling one.

Eastern Conference standings prediction:

1) Sporting Kansas City

2) New England Revolution

3) New York Red Bulls

4) Chicago Fire

5) DC United

6) Columbus Crew

7) Toronto FC

8) Montreal Impact

9) Houston Dynamo

10) Philadelphia Union

-Bottom Line: New England ended 2013 on Fire and will likely continue their growth and evolution into an Eastern Conference giant. Conversely the Dynamo have lost some pieces and BBVA Compass stadium started to lose some if it's armor last year, and isn't the fortress it once was.

Western Conference standings prediction:

1) Portland Timbers

2) LA Galaxy

3) FC Dallas

4) Real Salt Lake

5) Seattle Sounders

6) San Jose Earthquakes

7) Colorado Rapids

8) Vancouver Whitecaps

9) Chivas USA

-Bottom Line: PTFC have another year under their belt under Caleb Porter and turn more of those draws from a year ago into wins. Chivas USA are a dead club walking

Supporters Shield: Portland Timbers

MLS Cup: Portland Timbers vs Sporting Kansas City

MLS Cup winners: Portland Timbers

US Open Cup winners: DC United

MVP: Landon Donovan

Golden Boot: Jermaine Defoe

Adam Merges

Big changes for the Fire during the off season means there are high hopes for 2014. Out went the Klopas and Leon regime, in came Yallop and the hopes for a fresh start that would amount to more than that has been achieved in the past few years. With Yallop there is a turn towards youth in the midfield with such signings as Chris Ritter, Harrison Shipp, and Benji Joya but in the defense there was a turn towards veterans like Jhon Kennedey Hurtado, Patrick Ianni, and Lovel Palmer. Our forward corps is returning with high hopes because it contains the reigning league MVP, the possibility of our young DP actually making an impact, and a mix of veterans while still going youthful.

Two questions in my mind still remain that will affect the outcome of the 2014 season. Can the defense play better than its 2013 counterpart? With the move towards relying on veterans can be good because our probable starting back four has plenty of MLS experience but at the same time are injury prone. Staying healthy and having a good rotation are keys to having our defense play well and keeping us in games. The other question that remains is who will score goals? In 2013 there was a high reliance on Magee to score all the goals. Fortunately he did but I feel that 2014 he is going to regress towards his mean and that the team is going to need others to pick up the slack and contribute. Can players like Anangono, Rolfe, Amarikwa, and Shipp contribute? Will this be a season where the Fire can finally have 2 or more double digit goal scorers?

With those two questions remain I can see the Fire making a deep run in the Open Cup due to its depth in the squad but in the MLS it just seems that almost every team around them made signings that will greatly improve their play while the Fire made moves to improve just not significantly. I'm calling it now though, the Fire making or not making the playoffs will come down to the last few weeks of the season and it will be a close race in the east for all playoff spots. Unfortunately I don't see the Fire making the playoff dance again as troubles with finding the back of the net consistently will come to plague this team.

Eastern Conference standings prediction:

1) SKC

2) NY/NJ Red Bulls

3) TFC

4) Houston

5) Philadelphia

6) Chicago

7) Montreal

8) New England

9) DC United

10) Columbus

- SKC and the Red Bulls are still the cream of the crop in the east. Don't get me wrong it was tough putting down at 6 but with all of the changes that happened in the east I just don't think the Fire did enough. I do have to say that spots 3 through 8 will be tightly contested and it will come down in the end, once again, to the final weeks of the season to determine those spots. The Crew just haven't done enough in my book to keep up with the rest of the east.

Western Conference standings prediction:

1) Portland

2) LA

3) Seattle

4) FC Dallas

5) RSL

6) Vancouver

7) Colorado

8) San Jose

9) Chivas USA

- Another year under Caleb Porter and another year with their core together will only make the Timbers stronger. Let's face it they are the 2nd team to beat after SKC. I only say SKC because they are the reigning MLS Cup champs. LA will be strong as always and in my opinion the rest of the west is going to like a crap shoot. I say this because with multiple coaching changes with a number of teams means you just don't know what you are going to get. Sorry, Chivas USA fans, but you are going to get the "wooden spoon" this year.

Supporters Shield: Portland Timbers

MLS Cup: Portland Timbers vs SKC

MLS Cup winners: Portland Timbers

US Open Cup winners: Chicago Fire (Kings of the Cup)

MVP: Will Johnson

Golden Boot: Jermaine Defoe

Dan Paulmeyer

My feelings about this season are quite mixed. We have an interesting blend of youth and veterans which is exciting. I know it is only preseason but Joya and Shipp look like the real deal with Gentile has had a nice moment or two. I am hoping that we pay Magee the money he deserves and that his contract won't be something hanging over his head all season. Pay the man the money that he deserves and he will continue to score. I still have some worries about the roster and we are near the cap limit. For me, the deciding factor this year might be Anangono. Mike Magee can't be relied on to score all the goals again. We need a reliable second scorer and with our cap situation, I don't see anyone else coming in. He needs to produce and if he hits double digits, we could be successful. I'm also still concerned about the defense. Palmer and Franco have not impressed. I'm hopeful that we can bring in Grant Ward. Hurtado's health is also a concern. If he's healthy, the trade will be a great move but with Berry gone, we can't afford to lose a centerback for a long period of time.

The East is much improved this year with Toronto, New England and DC all improving. This will only make the playoff push harder but it will be thrilling. I'm hopeful that we can make the playoffs but I don't see us getting past the first round. I am excited to see a youth movement happening though. Joya and Shipp should get some time this year. Hopefully Gentile, Ritter and Pineda get some time this year, especially in the Open Cup. I am hoping that we go far in that competition because without a USL partnership, it represents a great chance for some fringe guys to get some quality playing time.

Eastern Conference Standings

1. Sporting KC

2. New York Red Bulls

3. Toronto FC

4. DC United

5. Chicago Fire

6. New England Revolution

7. Philadelphia Union

8. Houston Dynamo

9. Columbus Crew

10. Montreal Impact

I really do believe that Toronto will improve quickly and be a force to be reckon with. I also think Thierry Henry will be a man on the mission this year to take New York to the top and Eddie Johnson will thrive in DC.

Western Conference Standings

1. Portland Timbers

2. Seattle Sounders

3. LA Galaxy

4. Real Salt Lake

5. FC Dallas

6. San Jose Earthquakes

7. Colorado Rapids

8. Vancouver Whitecaps

9. Chivas USA

The West is scary. I think Caleb Porter continues to improve the Timbers this year and I believe that Clint Dempsey will have a great year in Seattle. It took him time to settle but he will dominate this year. Real Salt Lake won't look as convincing without Kreis.

Supporters Shield: Sporting KC

MLS Cup: New York Red Bulls vs. Portland Timbers

MLS Cup Winners: Portland Timbers

US Open Cup Winner: Seattle

MVP: Thierry Henry

Golden Boot: Jermaine Defoe

Jeff Engelhardt

Playoffs. It's what I expect out of the Fire this year and what should happen. The Men in Red (and blue of all shades) were on the absolute brink of a postseason spot last year after a dismal start to the season and having been run into the ground because of a lack of depth at most positions - a scenario that should not be repeated. Turn the page to this year. Depth everywhere! It will be weird not seeing Gonzalo Segares run until his shins are about to explode, but it's a welcomed change. Youth in the midfield means Quincy Amarikwa is not the only hope for an offensive spark when the club needs a kick in the pants. A shiny new 4-1-4-1 formation should mean the team is on the attack and quite simply Frank Yallop > Frank Klopas. Worst case scenario would be the back four failing to master a high line, the young players taking far longer to develop than most of us expect and Juan Luis Anangono missing goals because it looks like that is possible. In that case ... well, let's just stay optimistic for now. Everyone should just be excited for Harry Shipp, Benji Joya and hopefully Grant Ward.

This Fire team is relatively young so I don't need them to advance past the first round to feel good about the season. I think that's the most exciting aspect of this squad. They are a young core that in future seasons can be bolstered with proper designated player signings to elevate the club to the next level. It's easy to see more smart money will need to be invested in DPs to keep pace with the true championship contenders. But it is also important to remember two players a team does not make, Toronto. Yallop has the ability to make the sum of the whole greater than its parts and I believe it can happen in Chicago.

P.S. Every home game is going to be played in 20 inches of snow apparently, so the team is going to have to win on the road.

Eastern Conference Predictions
1) New York Red Bulls
2) Sporting Kansas City
3) New England Revolution
4) Toronto FC
5) Chicago Fire
6) DC United
7) Philadelphia Union
8) Houston Dynamo
9) Columbus Crew
10) Montreal Impact

Bottom Line: These are predictions and I have no idea what I am talking about. Houston will probably make the playoffs because Houston.

Western Conference Predictions
1) Portland Timbers
2) LA Galaxy
3) Seattle Sounders
4) Real Salt Lake
5) FC Dallas
6) San Jose Earthquakes
7) Colorado Rapids
8) Vancouver Whitecaps
9) Chivas USA

Bottom Line: Carlos Bocanegra spends the whole season telling his teammates about his World Cup adventures. Chivas USA puts the 2010 World Cup commemorative Miller Lite can donning Bocanegra's image in its trophy case.

Supports Shield: Portland Timbers
MLS Cup: LA Galaxy vs Sporting Kansas City
MLS Champions: LA Galaxy
US Open Cup: Real Salt Lake
MLS MVP: Graham Zusi
Golden Boot: Robbie Keane

Sean Spence

It's about 48 hours out from kickoff as I write this, and I'm a bag of nerves. Anything could happen with these Chicago Fire - anything. Has Andy found his inner Steinbrenner, content to leave Yallop alone to remake the team? Are the kids as good as we think? The 2014 Fire don't come into the season as a team that anyone's scared of; should they be? Until there's some actual play to hang one's hat upon, it's hard to say.

What I can say is that this is a team that should improve as the season progresses. My guess is the Fire show glimpses but don't get results through the first 10 games or so, then grow into the season as the younger kids start to show up in the lineup and the competition for places really goes into high gear. I'm picking them to finish third, but I wouldn't be surprised by anything between first and seventh. (?!) (Yeah, I know. But predicting a whole season? Just one game is basically impossible - a whole season is pure craziness. How many people had Magee as defending MVP in red this time last year?)

Eastern Conference Predictions
1) New England Revolution
2) Sporting Kansas City
3) Chicago Fire
4) Toronto FC
5) Houston Dynamo
6) New York Red Bulls
7) DC United
8) Philadelphia Union
9) Columbus Crew
10) Montreal Impact

Bottom Line: The Revolution will be intact and purring right through the Copa Mundial, while World Cup losses are going to hollow out KC and Toronto in the middle of the season, blunting their drive for the top of the table. I've got this suspicion that this is the year NYRB realize that snappy cardigans can't help you when your epic, legendary player is the guy snarling at your weaker links. DC United gets the band back together, and everyone suddenly remembers they don't like the songs. Philadelphia builds a whirling abbatoir of hard-tackling centerback/d-mids, but cannot direct the ball toward the goal, ending with 30 scoreless draws in 34 starts. Columbus fans spend most of the season hooliganing in the parking lot in protest of their local TV deal. Montreal's play nukes Frank Klopas' coaching rep from orbit, just to be sure.

Western Conference Predictions
1) Portland Timbers
2) Seattle Sounders
3) LA Galaxy
4) FC Dallas
5) San Jose Earthquakes
6) Real Salt Lake
7) Colorado Rapids
8) Vancouver Whitecaps
9) Chivas USA

Bottom Line: Like everyone, I expect year two of Porterball to be Porterball: The Dominating. Seattle responds to the whip-hand applied by their mammoth fanbase with a series of energetic displays, but never clicks in a fluid manner; Timbers win Cascadia Cup. The Gals play lights-out for times in the early season, then do enough in May and June to rest their older geniuses down the stretch. Dallas, under Pareja, improves massively, but not enough (yet) to win the West, while San Jose is perhaps the surprise of the league, with pint-size striker Tommy Thompson running off of their horde of hulking, combative target men. The teams at the bottom are thrown into turmoil (again) by the suddenness of their decline, except Chivas USA, who demonstrate the wisdom of managed bankruptcy vs. liquidation.

Supports Shield: Portland Timbers
MLS Cup: LA Galaxy vs. Sporting KC
MLS Cup Champions: LA Galaxy
US Open Cup: Chicago Fire
MLS MVP: Darlington Nagbe
Golden Boot: Robbie Keane

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