By: Chris Gbandi
A good leader is the cornerstone of any good organization and the same rings true for any team looking to rebuild. This season, three MLS teams, Chivas USA, Toronto FC and DC United, decided to take to that principal and replace their head coaches to hopefully have a successful 2011 campaign. These organizations understand that having new coaches, not only breaths new life and confidence into an organization, but into their players and fans as well.
We will begin our journey with our friends from the Great White North, Toronto FC. After another difficult season where they failed to make the playoffs again, Toronto decided to clean house. In the front office, out as GM was Mo Johnston and taking his place is former New England assistant Paul Mariner. Out as interim coach Nick Dasovic and in comes Aron Winter the former Dutch international. With the hiring of Winters Toronto will try to play attractive and free-flowing soccer. It won’t surprise me if he brought over a few Dutch players to help implement his system.
Let’s not kid ourselves, Toronto FC can get all the new coaches they want but if they don’t get Dwayne De Rosario some help this season they will miss the playoffs yet again. The only question heading into this season for most Toronto FC fans will be the mind set of De Rosario after being turned down from a move to Celtic. I think his head will be in the right place and we can look for him to having another MVP-like season. The other big question for Toronto FC is Julian De Guzman. He’s a player with wealth of experience that spent some time playing in the Spanish league. Will he be able to take some of the load off De Rosario? He’s now had one and a half years in the League so I look for him to establish himself as one of the top midfielders this season.
A player to watch for Toronto FC is the young Ecuadorian player Joao Plata. After watching him play at the MLS combine, I think he would have been a top ten pick if it weren’t for his size (5’3”). He’s a player with speed and skills that I can see coming off the bench to add pace and help change games. Toronto does seem to be missing a big time striker that can score 10-12 goals a season. It won’t surprise me if they make a big signing before the start of the season.
The name United is synonymous with success, from Manchester United to DC United. But in the last few years DC United has been known for their failures rather then their successes. They hope to change that heading in to the 2011 MLS season by appointing fan-favorite Ben Olsen as coach. I think Olsen will be a coach that will try to get United playing the free-flowing soccer that we have all grown accustomed too seeing in the nation’s capital. A key to United’s success will be Olsen getting the defense in order. With a keeper with vast experience like Pat Onstad who came out of retirement to help with United’s keeper shortage, Olsen has a great place to start. My only question here is if Bill Hamid comes back does Olsen continue to sit out United’s future in goal? This will be something to watch out for as the season gets going. If Olsen can come up with the right combination in the back, attacking wise United will be a fun team to watch.
United fans what if I told you after last year’s disappointing season that going into the 2011 season you will be able to field an attacking group that included Najar, Davies, Fred, McCarty, Ngwenya, Quaranta you would have said no way. Well I’m here to tell you it’s your lucky day and you have to give a lot of credit to GM Dave Kasper for getting this group together.
What will the young Andy Najar 2010 MLS Rookie of the Year be able to do this season now that defenses will be out to stop him? Can Charlie Davies produce what made him one of the best strikers in France a few years back? I think we can expect 8-10 goals from Davies this season. A player who I think will have a big season but no one is talking about is Joseph Ngwenya. Here’s a player who’s been a part of a championship team in Houston but with all the attention paid towards Davies and Najar, look for Ngwenya to score at least 10 goals this season.
I’m not sure how United was able to pull off the trades that landed them both Fred and Dax McCarty but it is a move that should be applauded. Getting a player like Fred who played at United before and understands what it takes to play in DC will go a long way this season. McCaty is a person I played with in Dallas and I love as a player. In an other wise great off-season by FC Dallas letting McCarty go and not getting anything in return was a poor decision. What a steal it was, in my opinion, for United to get one of the top ten midfielders in the League. He scores goals and for a player with his size (5’9”) makes great runs in the box. He will be a player United will have to play through in midfield to be successful this season.
One of my surprise teams for the upcoming 2011 MLS season is Chivas USA. I really like what they have done by hiring Robin Fraser. I think Fraser understands what it takes to win in this League. He understands that building the foundation of a successful team must start in the back and he’s done just that with his signings this offseason.
One of the questions that will be asked over and over is, does 34-year-old Jimmy Conrad and 36-year-old Simon Elliott have anything left in the tank? I personally think they do. If Conrad and Elliott can play at a high level, Chivas will be able to have two players with great leadership skills on the field. They both read the game very well and will be of great help to all of the young players Chivas have at their disposal. Also adding players like Heath Pearce and Andrew Boyens who may not come with lots of fan fare but both players have lots of experience that will help ease the pressure off fourth overall draft pick Zarek Valentin. My only question for Chivas is, by bringing in older midfield players where does that leave their young draft picks from last year Blair Gaven and Ben Zemanski?
Chivas USA in my humble opinion has a chance to make it all the way to the Western Conference Final if and only if they can find a forward that can score 10-15 goals this season. I’m not sold on Justin Braum just yet being that player. I think he’s a good player but he tends to do too much away from goal (he’s always making runs on the wings). If he can limit his movements to the width of the eighteen-yard box, I think he can be a force this season because of his strength in the air and his finishing skills.
A player who I think might end up being the Rookie of the Year, if given enough playing time, is Victor Estupinan from Ecuador. I think he will go down when it is all said and done as the steal of the 2011 draft. He’s big, strong, fast and has very good feet for a player of his size. I look for him to score 7-8 goals this season.
So as you can see all three coaches are putting their own stamps and leadership style on their new organizations. One’s building from the back, another is building by changing the style of play, while the other is building through the midfield. Which leader’s right? Well only time will tell. See you again next week as I preview more teams for the upcoming 2011 MLS season.