Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Sat 29 March 2008

The MLS Cometh...

So here's the situation. Today marks the start of the 2008 MLS season over in the US and having caught one or two small and isolated clips of the action on TV in previous years, I figured that it'd be good to follow a season from start to finish if I got the chance. With the new season being about to start, you therefore find me stepping up to the plate to begin my initiation into a largely unknown world for me. If you’re in the same position, feel free to join me on the road to the MLS Cup 2008.

Format
So where to begin? Well first of all, let's assess how the 2008 MLS season will operate. Fundamentally, there are fourteen teams playing in two conferences - Eastern and Western. All teams play every other team (regardless of conference) at least twice, if not three times (depending on how the fixture computer churns the fixtures out).

The Conferences look as follows:

Eastern
Chicago Fire
Columbus Crew
DC United
Kansas City Wizards
New York Red Bull
New England Revolution
Toronto FC

Western
Chivas USA
Colorado Rapids
FC Dallas
Houston Dynamo
LA Galaxy
Real Salt Lake
San Jose Earthquake

Now at this stage you might find it useful to pick a team to support throughout the season as I will be. You don't actually have to select the team you want right now, but now you know the team names and once you're armed with the information to follow, you should be able to make a selection of your own choice.

History
So who have been the most successful teams from the short history of the MLS? Well Washington's DC United were the team to beat in three of the first four years of its existence, winning the end-of-season MLS Cup Final in 1996, 1997 and 1999 before winning a record fourth title in 2004.

Since then, several teams have managed to pick up dual wins in the competition: San Jose Earthquakes won twice in 2001 and 2003, Los Angeles Galaxy won in 2002 and 2005 and more recently Houston Dynamo picked up the titles in 2006 and 2007. Only Chicago Fire in 1998 and Kansas City Wizards in 2000 have managed to add their names to the list in the last twelve years.

Star names
And who should we know about by way of star names in each of the teams? Well the name Cuauhtémoc Blanco is undoubtedly the stand-out of Chicago Fire. He's a distinguished member of the Mexican national team and a regular goal-scoring midfielder who joined Fire in 2007. He's their captain and without doubt the main focus of the team, a bit like Jaime Moreno of DC United. He's a Bolivian international forward who's so far scored 41 goals in 109 appearances for United.

Elsewhere, there's Taylor Twellman of New England Revolution who's fast gaining a reputation as a prolific striker capable of helping his side find a bit of glory now and then. In the Red Bull New York team there's a couple of eyecatchers in the shape of Juan Pablo Angel and Claudio Reyna. Angel transferred from Aston Villa in 2007 and has maintained a reputation as a regular scorer with New York while Reyna is the ageing former US international who these days brings some much-needed experience to the line-up.

Dwayne De Rosario is an attacking midfielder for reigning champions Houston Dynamo that can provide a useful supply of goals and is a former MLS Cup MVP while in the LA Galaxy team, one name stands out above all else - the one and only David Beckham. There's very little that needs to be said about the man who recently notched up his 100th England cap, but to suggest he's the only decent player in the team is to be rather short-sighted.

He's joined by Landon Donovan, an experienced player in the US national team with experience of playing for Bayer Leverkusen in Germany. He currently has a 1-in-2 scoring rate with the Galaxy and is the perfect foil for Beckham as the man charged with taking his passes and converting them into chances.

Those are just some of the names to look out for, but there are many more besides, some of which are emerging talents in the MLS and many of which are likely to have a future in the US national team, the leagues of Europe or maybe both.

So who am I going to support in this new MLS season? Well after much deliberation, I've decided to go for the Colorado Rapids. I've chosen them because they seem to have something in common with my favourite team in England, West Ham, and I'm not just talking about their burgundy-coloured shirts. They seem to be the epitome of a team that has lots of potential which is never realised, one that is well-known yet hasn't really cemented a place at the top of the pile.

I have high hopes for Colorado and I believe that with my support they are destined for greater things. If you've decided to adopt an MLS team for this season and those that follow, let me know who it is and why and perhaps we can lean on each other for support during the 2008 campaign. It's a whole new world out there, but together we can get the most out of the MLS and all its highs and lows.

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