Houston, we might have solved a problem.
After an offseason offevered debate among hardcore fans all over the map, MLS announced on Friday thattwo-time MLS Cup champions Houston Dynamo will be switching to the EasternConference. The switch will make room for expansion teams Portland Timbers andVancouver Whitecaps in the Western Conference, and keep the numbers in eachconference even at nine apiece.
And following a disappointing 2010 that saw the Dynamo miss out on the postseason for the first time since their 2006 inception, coach Dominic Kinnear & Co. must certainly welcome the change.
After all, the Western Conference is very, verytop-heavy at the moment. All four semifinalists from last year’s MLS Cup Playoffs – FC Dallas, Colorado Rapids, LA Galaxy, and San Jose Earthquakes – are Western teams. Throw intwo-time defending US Open Cup champions Seattle and 2010 Supporters' Shield runners-up Real Salt Lake, and it's plain to see the West is simply stacked.In the East, it's a very different story. The once-proud Dynamo, fully ensconced inrebuilding mode, join a host of other clubs under reconstruction.
D.C. United are coming offtheir worst season in team history, and have a new coach and many new faces. Chicago are replacing stalwarts indefense, midfield and up top. New England, Houston’s greatpostseason rivals in the middle of the last decade, were MLS’ worst defensive teamin 2010 and missed the postseason.
Meanwhile Columbus have overhauled their roster in the wake of the departures of Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Frankie Hejduk,Brian Carroll and Gino Padula, to name just four. And Toronto FC can be throwninto the group of Eastern Conference teams in flux as well, as they’re on theirfifth head coach in the past two years.
Philadelphia arelooking good to improve upon their inaugural season – the addition of Carrollis one of the most significant offseason moves any team has made, not to mention the signing of goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón – and TealBunbury looks a good bet to solve Sporting Kansas City’s scoring woes.
So, yeah, the playoffdoor just opened a bit for Kinnear's orange crush. The Dynamo were likely to play second fiddle to the current powerhouses out West, but in the East they have a legitimate chance of crackingthe top two if Geoff Cameron, Brian Ching and Brad Davis stay healthy. Sure, they’re going to have their ups-and-downs, but if Kinnear figures out awinning formula before Ben Olsen, Carlos de losCobos, et al, do the same, Houston will be dancing into the postseason.
Houston fans, unaccustomedas they are to staying home in November, can smile at that.
The East, at leastfor now, is a good place to be.
Matthew Doyle can bereached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed at twitter.com/mls_analyst.