North American Soccer Reporters, the association of US and Canada’s top soccer writers, unveiled Friday the NASR 2013 MLS Preseason Poll predicting how the clubs will finish the season and who each team’s most important player will be over the course of the season. As a member, the following was my ballot submission for the poll with a brief snippet for my rationale. [Order – Team – Most Important Player – Rationale]
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1 – San Jose Earthquakes – Marvin Chavez – Goals will not be hard to come by so long as Chavez keeps up or adds to his 2012 performance despite having no replacement beside him in the midfield for the departed Simon Dawkins.
2 – Seattle Sounders – Brad Evans – Even with the likely DP signing of striker Obafemi Martins, the Sounders have plenty up top. It will need, however, creativity out of the midfield, which Evans is not exactly known for despite being a reliable player.
3 – Los Angeles Galaxy – Juninho – With no Landon Donovan (for the short-term) or David Beckham, the Brazilian’s service to Robbie Keane will be relied on heavily to stay in the playoff picture.
4 – FC Dallas – Kenny Cooper – The defense had an off year last season but should return to form, making the long-inconsistent offense and returning striker Cooper key in returning to the playoffs.
5 – Vancouver Whitecaps – Darren Mattocks – The young striker needs to play to his potential or beyond it on a club still missing a proven goal scorer.
6 – Real Salt Lake – Robbie Findley – Alvaro Saborio is an obvious choice, but its his strike partner needing to fill the shoes of the departed Fabian Espindola that will be key for a team that has blown up the roster after reaching a ceiling to its success.
7 – Portland Timbers – Diego Valeri – Lack of offensive threats makes creative contribution from the Argentine newcomer key for an injury-riddled team still building for its new coach.
8 – Colorado Rapids – Matt Pickens – Issues with experience and depth everywhere else on the pitch combined with no depth at goalkeeper and defense make him the last hope.
9 – Chivas USA – Oswaldo Minda – With a 3-man back line, no goalkeeper depth and scoring issues, the defensive midfielder holds the critical role defensively to keep games in reach.
1 – Sporting Kansas City – Benny Feilhaber – KC brought in Argentine striker Claudio Bieler for offense, but that won’t matter much if Feilhaber is unable to support Graham Zusi in midfield getting the ball forward.
2 – DC United – Perry Kitchen – There are a lot of attacking options for the club, but the midfielder will be a key component in ensuring the ball gets to those strikers.
3 – New York Red Bulls – Fabian Espindola – Thierry Henry is Thierry Henry. With that given, it is actually Espindola who will need to replicate his RSL success to fill the big shoes of departed Kenny Cooper on a team that should see a better defensive performance.
4 – Columbus Crew – Andy Gruenebaum – With plenty of options available in the attack, the keeper will be key with no depth in front of him on the back line or in reserve should he be knocked out.
5 – Chicago Fire – Jeff Larentowicz – He will be a leading figure in the midfield supplying the striking tandem of Chris Rolfe and Sherjill MacDonald that will be missing departed Dominic Oduro.
6 – Philadelphia Union – Sebastien Le Toux – The offense has been anemic so Philadelphia brought back their original star striker to put pressure on the opposition.
7 – Houston Dynamo – Ricardo Clark – With no standout scorer and fellow midfielder Oscar Boniek Garcia and Brad Davis possibly out for international duty, the experienced midfielder will be key for consistency.
8 – Montreal Impact – Marco Di Vaio – If the 36-year-old can’t score with regularity, the team doesn’t have much depth to keep pressure off the defense and the team in games.
9 – New England Revolution – Diego Fagundez – With Jerry Bengston likely out for international duty and Saer Sene on ACL recovery, the team’s third striker will be pivotal in creating offense.
10 – Toronto FC – Luis Silva – With questions everywhere and Danny Koevermans recovering from injury, his scoring capability is their lone hope.