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Which Major League Soccer team should you support?

As MLS returns for a new season, are you motivated by Irish interest, a successful history or entertaining individuals?

Image: Jay LaPrete/AP/Press Association Images

THE NEW SEASON of MLS gets underway this weekend – twenty years since it all began.

But what team should you get behind?

We’ve put together a pretty detailed preview to get you started.

Chicago Fire

Last year’s position: 10th in the Eastern Conference, 20th overall.

MLS Cup wins: 1 (1998)

MLS Fire Galaxy Soccer Source: Mark J. Terrill/AP/Press Association Images

Key player: The US is noted for its remarkable goalkeeping history. The likes of Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel made an initial impact on English football while Tim Howard and Brad Guzan have kept the fire burning. But even within the domestic market, there are some excellent shop-stoppers, namely Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando and Bill Hamid from DC United. Another is Sean Johnson, who has been with the Fire since 2010 and spent time training with both Manchester United and Everton in late-2011.

Biggest reason to support the team? They’re very much underdogs right now and going through a big transition. A return to the play-offs this term would be a romantic story.   

Premier League equivalent: Newcastle. It’s been a long time since the Fire have tasted success and, located in such a sports-mad city, that’s not good enough. Without any high-profile, marquee players, they struggled majorly last season.

Colorado Rapids

Last year’s position: 10th in the Western Conference, 18th overall.

MLS Cup wins: 1 (2010)

Key player: There are rumours gathering that Tim Howard is set for a move to the Rockies and that would be a coup. An expensive one, but a coup all the same. The Rapids couldn’t score goals last term (fewest in the league – a miserable 33 in 34 games) but that wouldn’t be too much of an issue if there defence was better. Next term, pressure will grow on Kevin Doyle. He managed five goals in his debut campaign but he and Colorado need a lot more.

Sporting KC Rapids Soccer Source: David Zalubowski/AP/Press Association Images

Biggest reason to support the team? The Irish influence. With Kevin Doyle and Sean St. Ledger on the pitch, the Rapids also have Padraig Smith as Sporting Director.

Premier League equivalent: Norwich. Even with some contributions from Irish internationals, things haven’t been going according to plan and it seems one long struggle for them.

Columbus Crew

Last year’s position: Runners-up (2nd in the Eastern Conference, 4th overall)

MLS Cup wins: 1 (2008)

MLS Crew Union Soccer Source: Michael Perez/AP/Press Association Images

Key player: Kei Kamara. The striker racked up 22 goals, the same as Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco, in the regular season but lost out on the Golden Boot due to the Italian’s greater number of assists. Kamara’s finishing abilities are crucial given the side struggle to keep it tight at the back. Last term they allowed 53 goals – only five teams conceded more. And the Crew still finished in third place overall before reaching the Cup final.

Biggest reason to support the team? Entertainment. A Crew game will have goals, that’s for sure. Last season, they were involved in just one scoreless draw.

Premier League equivalent: West Ham.   

DC United

Last year’s position: 4th in the Eastern Conference, 8th overall.

MLS Cup wins: 4 (1996, 1997, 1999, 2004)

Key player: DC were the only side that made the play-offs last year with a negative goal difference. That means two things: their defence and their attack needs to be better. Fabian Espindola is a passionate and unpredictable individual but when he’s good, he’s very, very good.

Whitecaps Sounders Soccer Source: Jennifer Buchanan/AP/Press Association Images

Biggest reason to support the team? Their new signing, Lamar Neagle (pictured above in action for the Seattle Sounders), is qualified to play for Ireland and has expressed his interest in pulling on the green jersey.

Premier League equivalent: Chelsea. There has been lots of success but the team is now in transition and unable to win the defining games anymore. Some players need to be moved on and this could be a tough campaign for them.

FC Dallas

Last year’s position: 1st in the Western Conference, 2nd overall

MLS Cup wins: 0

MLS Earthquakes FC Dallas Soccer Source: Associated Press

Key player: Fabian Castillo has been with Dallas for a while but he turned in some terrific performances last term, finishing the season with ten goals and nine assists. He was also named in the MLS All-Star side.

Biggest reason to support the team? Perhaps you like your NFL? Perhaps you’re a Chiefs fan? Well, if that’s the case, it’s a perfect match because Clark Hunt, the franchise’s Chairman and CEO, is also heavily involved with FC Dallas.

Premier League equivalent: Tottenham. They’ve always been there or thereabouts for quite a while though trophy success has usually alluded them. Recently, though, they seem to be closer than ever.

Houston Dynamo

Last year’s position: 8th in the Western Conference, 15th overall.

MLS Cup wins: 2 (2006, 2007)

Key player: Giles Barnes was terrific in the early part of last year but he faded as the season went on. Still, with veteran creator Brad Davis heading for Sporting Kansas City, the onus will be on Barnes to deliver consistently.

Biggest reason to support the team? Their manager! It’s only Owen Coyle. And yes, he still wears shorts in the Houston dugout too.

MLS Dynamo Sounders Soccer Source: Ted S. Warren/AP/Press Association Images

Premier League equivalent: Crystal Palace. It’s been a struggle of late and the pieces of the jigsaw aren’t coming together as easily as anyone would like. Still, there are some solid raw materials at the club and that should mean an upturn in fortunes.

LA Galaxy

Last year’s position: 5th in the Western Conference, 9th overall.

MLS Cup wins: 5 (2002, 2005, 2011, 2012, 2014)

MLS Impact Galaxy Soccer Source: Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP/Press Association Images

Key player: Watching Steven Gerrard struggle so badly in his debut MLS campaign just hammered home how good Robbie Keane has been for the Galaxy. As any import says about the league, there are many things to get to grips with (the travel, some artificial pitches, the actual cultural transition) though Keane has made it all look very, very simple.

Biggest reason to support the team? If you like a side that’s always in the running for silverware, the Galaxy are a good bet. Expect an earful from friends that you’re only interested in the team because they’re successful but Keane’s involvement plus Bruce Arena’s (he’s been around the game for a LONG time and is a well-respected figure) can get you out of jail.

Premier League equivalent: Manchester United. The most successful team in the history of the league, trophies and big names are expected. There has been a rocky spell but the key is not to let it fester.

Montreal Impact

Last year’s position: 3rd in the Eastern Conference, 7th overall.

MLS Cup wins: 0

MLS Impact Rapids Soccer Source: Associated Press

Key player: The best thing the Impact have done for their season is getting Didier Drogba to stay. He was widely expected to return to Chelsea but he’s decided to remain in Canada for one more campaign. He turns 38 next week but that means little. He was ferocious in his debut season – scoring eleven times despite only starting nine games. If the Impact can keep him fit and wrapped in cotton wool, he can hit the 20-goal mark to finish in MLS with a flourish.

Biggest reason to support the team? Laurent Ciman. The Belgian centre-half, who was part of Marc Wilmots’ squad for the 2014 World Cup, arrived in Montreal last year because the city could provide the best medical care for his autistic daughter. If you’re looking for a humanitarian story, you can’t do much better than that.

Premier League equivalent: Bournemouth. They haven’t been around the big league for too long but they’ve made lots of friends since arriving. Hard to see what’s around the corner but they’re certainly punching above their weight.

New England Revolution

Last year’s position: 5th in the Eastern Conference, 11th overall.

MLS Cup wins: 0

MLS Revolution Orlando City Soccer Source: Phelan M. Ebenhack

Key player: Lee Nguyen. Over the past two seasons, the 29-year-old has turned in some excellent displays. 2014 saw him score eighteen goals and add five assists while last term, he found the net seven times but managed to hit double-figures for assists. In a squad that lacks sparkle, he’s the main focal point of the attack.

Biggest reason to support the team? New England has always been a bit of a haven for Irish players and the likes of Richie Baker and Paul Keegan both played there while Frank Stapleton spent a season in charge.

Premier League equivalent: West Brom. Steady and unspectacular. Just staying part of the conversation is an achievement in itself. Not the most glamorous of clubs and overshadowed by the more high-profile nature of sides in the relative vicinity.

New York City FC

Last year’s position: 8th in the Eastern Conference, 17th overall.

MLS Cup wins: 0

MLS Sounders FC New York City FC Soccer Source: Seth Wenig/AP/Press Association Images

Key player: David Villa. In contrast to other high-profile arrivals like Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo, Villa actually delivered in his first campaign. With 18 goals in 29 starts, he was the only positive in a dismal debut season for the franchise.

Biggest reason to support the team? There aren’t many. They’re new and shiny and rich. They got rid of their very first manager after just one season. Does any of this sound familiar? Essentially, if you want to support a New York club and don’t like the Red Bulls, NYC FC is your option. They’re owned by Manchester City and the Yankees. It’s not a good mix. But, if you want some stardust, this is the team for you. They’ve got Villa, Lampard, Pirlo and are now coached by Patrick Vieira.

Premier League equivalent: Manchester City. It follows, really. Foreign owners swoop in, invest lots of money and sit back to watch some inevitable success. But because of the two-dimensional approach, any setback is looked upon as apocalyptic. Just ask former coach Jason Kreis.

New York Red Bulls

Last year’s position: 1st in the Eastern Conference, 1st overall.

MLS Cup wins: 0

MLS Red Bulls Crew Soccer Source: Paul Vernon/AP/Press Association Images

Key player: Sacha Kljestan. Last in MLS back in 2010, before heading to Europe and spending five years with Anderlecht, he hit the ground running in his first season back. Eight goals and fourteen assists followed as the Red Bulls claimed top spot in the East though couldn’t find a way to the MLS Cup final.

Biggest reason to support the team? They play expansive, attacking football. They tallied 62 goals in 34 games and that was the highest in the league. It’s a real mixed bag regarding their side, typified by Bradley Wright-Phillips being their star striker. But with Dax McCarty a stand-out in midfield along with Kljestan, they’re great to watch.    

Premier League equivalent: Southampton. Easy on the eye with a clear philosophy and way of playing. They’ve been consistent in the last few years but the big question is whether they can make it count with some silverware.

Orlando City SC

Last year’s position: 7th in the Eastern Conference, 14th overall.

MLS Cup wins: 0

MLS Rapids Orlando City Soccer Source: John Raoux/AP/Press Association Images

Key player: For 33-year-old Kaka, it was a renaissance of sorts. Before his arrival in MLS, he was an injury-plagued former star. His performances in Orlando though earned him a recall to the Brazilian national team. Nine goals and seven assists from 28 starts was a solid start.

Biggest reason to support the team? The fan-base. From the ten highest attendances in MLS last year, four were from Seattle games, unsurprisingly. But two were from Orlando home fixtures. This time last year, 62,510 turned up for their very first MLS game against New York City FC.

Premier League equivalent: Watford. New to all of this but have enjoyed a steady time so far. The magic is up front though and without the star power, they struggle.

Philadelphia Union

Last year’s position: 9th in the Eastern Conference, 18th overall.  

MLS Cup wins: 0

MLS Crew Union Soccer Source: Michael Perez/AP/Press Association Images

Key player: C.J. Sapong. For a long time, Sebastien le Toux was the leading light up front for the Union but he’s finally got someone to help him out. Sapong was the franchise’s leading scorer last term (though he only found the net 9 times) and if the club has any hopes of getting back on track, he’s the crucial element.

Biggest reason to support the team? In six seasons, Philly have qualified for the post-season on just one occasion. So, getting behind them will probably lead to buckets of disappointment and not a lot of happiness. If you’re the dysfunctional type, it could be a good fit.

Premier League equivalent: Aston Villa. They’ve been struggling from a lack of squad talent and have tried to make structural changes in an effort to get things back on track. But things have been quite dismal recently and need a desperate turnaround.

Portland Timbers

Last year’s position: Champions (3rd in the Western Conference, 5th overall)

MLS Cup wins: 1 (2015)

MLS Timbers Crew Soccer Source: Paul Vernon/AP/Press Association Images

Key player: Diego Valeri. An Argentine playmaker, he scored in last year’s MLS Cup final against the Columbus Crew and ended up with the Man of the Match award. All of that considering he missed the first part of the season because of his recovery from a cruciate ligament injury. He racked up four assists from five play-off games and is instrumental to how the Timbers play.        

Biggest reason to support the team? They’re new and bright and competitive and can count on incredible support. They’ve only been in the league for four years but they’ve already won the championship and topped the Western Conference regular season standings in 2013.     

Premier League equivalent: Leicester. Overnight, the team raced to the top of the championship. Not that long ago, they were in the lower division and struggling to make a name for themselves.     

Real Salt Lake

Last year’s position: 9th in the Western Conference, 16th overall.  

MLS Cup wins: 1 (2009)

MLS Chivas USA Real Salt Lake Soccer Source: Rick Bowmer/AP/Press Association Images

Key player: In an era when there’s a distinct lack of midfield terriers, RSL still have Kyle Beckerman. He may have a silly hairstyle but he’s a five-time MLS All-Star and 2009 MLS champion. He was also first-choice for his country in three of their four games at the 2014 World Cup. Tenacious and a real battler, he was tailor-made for the league.

Biggest reason to support the team? Team ethic. It’s always been about the collective at RSL, given the fact that they’ve never had the ability to attract high-profile marquee signings. With Beckerman and US goalkeeper Nick Rimando, they have two aging stars and need to find some younger players to pick up the baton.

Premier League equivalent: Swansea. A young, talented coach brought them to a really high level and developed a side that were tough to beat. But it proved unsustainable and a change in management has dove-tailed with a struggle on the pitch.

San Jose Earthquakes

Last year’s position: 7 in the Western Conference, 13th overall.

MLS Cup wins: 2 (2001, 2003)

MLS Sounders Earthquakes Soccer Source: Jeff Chiu/AP/Press Association Images

Key player: Chris Wondolowski. If anyone sums up MLS, it’s this striker. In 2010, he racked up 18 goals and won the league’s Golden Boot award. At the time, he was still taking training with local kids to supplement his income. In 2012, he finished as top scorer again with a superb tally of 27 goals and his meteoric rise to the top was capped off when he was included in the US squad for the 2014 World Cup.

Biggest reason to support the team? They’re up against it. It’s a tough market and the ‘Quakes haven’t tasted success for a number of years. They’ve moved into a bigger stadium and attendances were a lot bigger last term. With more fans wanting to see them succeed, the club needs to give them something to cheer.

Premier League equivalent: Sunderland. Good support and a nice stadium but it’s been a long time since they’ve had something to get excited about.

Seattle Sounders

Last year’s position: 4th in the Western Conference, 6th overall.

MLS Cup wins: 0

MLS Sounders FC Dallas Soccer Source: Ted S. Warren/AP/Press Association Images

Key player: Clint Dempsey.  

Biggest reason to support the team? The crowd. 

Premier League equivalent: Liverpool. Intense, magnificent support but the fans deserve more silverware than the team has actually won. They’ve hinted at the glory days being around the corner but, so far, it’s not happened.

Sporting Kansas City

Last year’s position: 6th in the Western Conference, 10th overall.

MLS Cup wins: 2 (2000, 2013)

Sporting KC Rapids Soccer Source: David Zalubowski/AP/Press Association Images

Key player: Benny Feilhaber. Some Premier League fans may remember the Brazilian-born midfielder from his brief stint with Derby during the side’s dismal top-flight campaign in 2007-08. Thankfully, he wasn’t scarred too much and has found his feet again in MLS. There was a solid, in unspectacular spell with the Revs before a trade to KC in 2013. Last season, he conjured a double-double: 10 goals and 15 assists.

Biggest reason to support the team? Solid and dependable. They lost to eventual-winners Portland in a penalty shootout in their first play-off assignment and would certainly have fancied their chances of reaching a Conference final at the very least.

Premier League equivalent: Stoke City. The manager has been there a while and knows what it’s like to win as a player. The side are gritty, determined and hard to beat.

Toronto FC

Last year’s position: 6th in the Eastern Conference, 12th overall.

MLS Cup wins: 0 

MLS Toronto FC New York City FC Soccer Source: Kevin Hagen/AP/Press Association Images

Key player: Sebastian Giovinco. It’s rare for MLS to have a big name, in his prime, to come in and hit the ground running. Giovinco has been a very rare exception to the rule. And we’re all better for it. He claimed the MVP award in his first campaign and won the Golden Boot too, conjuring 22 goals and 16 assists. It was a whirlwind and he single-handedly qualified Toronto for the play-offs for the first time.

Biggest reason to support the team? Right now, the biggest reason is because they currently employ the best player in the league. Without him, it’s hard to know where TFC would be. A notoriously difficult franchise because of its ownership structure (it’s owned by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment which has the Toronto Maple Leafs NHL side and Toronto Raptors NBA team as priorities), the club has brilliant support but a distinct lack of success.

Premier League equivalent: Arsenal. There’s arguably not been a more frustrating MLS side. Terrific support and an ideal location, it’s been a recent history of under-achievement and disappointment though big signings have supplied excitement and genuine class.

Vancouver Whitecaps

Last year’s position: 2nd in the Western Conference, 3rd overall.

MLS Cup wins: 0

MLS Whitecaps FC Dallas Soccer Source: Tony Gutierrez/AP/Press Association Images

Key player: David Ousted. The goalkeeper kept 13 clean-sheets last season and his side conceded the joint-least amount of goals. Such a strong defence ensured they made it to the post-season and were close to reaching the Western Conference final. They held local rivals Portland scoreless in their semi-final first leg before succumbing to a 2-0 loss in the return fixture. Another campaign with a strong rear-guard and they can do something similar.

Biggest reason to support the team? A strong Irish connection! John Giles managed the Caps for three seasons in the early-1980s while the likes of Liam Buckley, Pierce O’Leary, Fran O’Brien all turned out for the side during that time.

Premier League equivalent: Everton. They’ve got plenty of history but it’s mostly been a struggle for them in recent years. A young manager brings some hope but a lack of experience means they’re always underdogs in the bigger fixtures.

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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