2016 MLS Season Preview: New York Red Bulls

As the 2016 MLS season edges closer, we’ll be publishing each team’s MLS 2016 Season Preview. Today we take a look at what New York Red Bulls will be hoping to achieve this season.

New York Red Bulls come into the 2016 season with a squad in solid shape, who will be hoping to improve on last season’s bow out at the Conference Finals stage of the playoffs. Jesse Marsch has a strong squad ready for the new campaign and will be looking for his side to challenge for the Eastern Conference title once again. His side are the holders of the Supporters’ Shield and will be hungry to try and retain their title with a squad that hasn’t changed too drastically. Their 60-point tally last term was a brilliant effort and as the new season comes closer they will be itching to get going and look to get off to a strong start.

Last season’s finish:

Western Conference – Position: 1st – P34 – W18 – D6 – L10

Photo: @NewYorkRedBulls

Photo: @NewYorkRedBulls

What needs to change this year?

There isn’t an awful lot for New York Red Bulls to improve on. They were unlucky in the Playoffs and as we know, knockout rounds are a lottery. Losing less games is something that they can prioritise, as although they won the Supporters’ Shield, they still lost on ten occasions during the regular season. They won five home games on the bounce and six home games on the bounce on two separate spells in the 2015 season, showing that Red Bull Arena can be a fortress and an essential place for Marsch’s side to pick up a lot of points. This is something they have to keep doing in the coming season.

Key changes to squad:

Ins: Tyler Adams – Defender, Scott Thomsen – Defender, Gideon Baah – Defender, Derrick Etienne – Midfielder, Chris Thorsheim – Midfielder, Mael Corboz – Midfielder, Brandon Allen – Forward & Alex Muyl – Forward

Outs: Santiago Castano – Goalkeeper, Matt Miazga – Defender, Shawn McLaws – Defender, Roy Miller – Defender, Anthony Miller – Defender, Leo Stolz – Midfielder, Marius Obekop – Midfielder, Dane Richards – Midfielder & Manolo Sanchez – Forward 

Key Player:

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Bradley Wright-Phillips – The obvious choice is the New York Red Bulls’ talisman. He netted 17 goals last campaign and will be looking to improve and push his side forward as the new season starts. BWP, typical of any frontman, plays off of confidence, and once he gets going he is tough to stop. When he gets it right in front of goal NYRB normally take all three points. The 30 year old will be expected to provide for his side again this year and we all know what he is capable of.

One to Watch:

Gideon Baah – The new signing has some big boots to fill following Matt Miazga’s departure to Chelsea. The 24 year old has made just one appearance for his national side, Ghana, but has shown the potential for international recognition. The NYRB defence was solid last season, and parterned with their attacking options, boasted the best goal difference in Major League Soccer in 2015. Baah has a lot of pressure coming into the side but that sometimes helps new signings to up their game from the outset.

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Predicted Finish:

Eastern Conference – 2nd – New York Red Bulls should be battling at the top of the Eastern Conference in 2016 and will be aiming for a solid performance in the playoffs. We’ve predicted NYRB to drop into second place come the end of the season, simply because they have lost a star man in Miazga and they haven’t yet made a standout signing. Jesse Marsch does however have a strong squad at his disposal and will be expecting another strong campaign from his side in 2016.

What are you expecting from New York Red Bulls in 2016?

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2016 MLS Season Preview: FC Dallas

As the 2016 MLS season edges closer, we’ll be publishing each team’s MLS 2016 Season Preview. Today we take a look at what FC Dallas will be hoping to achieve this season.

FC Dallas enter 2016 in good shape and will be desperate to go one better than they managed last term, losing one game before the 2015 MLS Cup Final. Oscar Pareja has a talented squad at his disposal and knows that his side have a great chance of winning the Western Conference for a second-straight season. Dallas picked up 60 points over the course of the regular season last time out – their highest-ever points total in MLS – and beating that impressive tally would surely guarantee another year full of excitement and promise.

Last season’s finish:

Western Conference – Position: 1st – P34 – W18 – D6 – L10

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What needs to change this year?

Very little. The real challenge for Dallas will be trying to keep things the same, rather than make changes to the team style and approach. They won the joint-most games in MLS in 2015 (18) and had the best home record in the league, amassing 41 points from a possible 51. Keeping Toyota Stadium a fortress will be important. Blas Perez and David Texeira have both left the club and so Dallas will hope they can continue scoring goals as freely without those two.

Key changes to squad:

Ins: Maximiliano Urruti – Forward, Carlos Gruezo – Midfielder, Maynor Figueroa – Defender, Carlos Lizarazo – Forward & Mauro Rosales – Midfielder.

Outs: Bakary Soumare – Defender, David Texeira – Forward, Michel – Midfielder, Stephen Keel – Defender, Dan Kennedy – Goalkeeper, Rolando Escobar – Midfielder, Blas Perez – Forward & Je-Vaughn Watson – Defender.

Key Player:

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Fabian Castillo – Forward – Fabian Castillo has continued to improve as a winger with every season he has played in MLS. He scored ten goals and picked up nine assists in 34 regular season appearances last term – proving how important he is to the side. His pace and tricky dribbling make him impossible to contain and when he’s on song, Dallas normally walk away with three points. The Colombian completed more dribbles than any other player in MLS last term and will expect to do the same again in 2016.

One to Watch:

Carlos Gruezo – Midfielder – Gruezo joins FC Dallas as a Designated Player from Bundesliga side Stuttgart and big things are expected of the 20 year old this season and beyond. He can play in various positions and is experienced for a player of his age, having already played in a World Cup. Oscar Pareja is excited about the acquisition of the Ecuadorian and believes he will make the entire squad better.

Predicted Finish:

Western Conference – 2nd – Dallas should remain right at the very top of the Western Conference in 2016 and will be expecting to have another good playoff run too, with a young and energetic roster at Pareja’s disposal. The worry will be that they will have to get used to life without Blas Perez and David Texeira, who made 37 regular season starts between them in 2015, but that shouldn’t take too long and so FC Dallas look set for another highly promising campaign.

What are you expecting from FC Dallas in 2016?

2016 MLS Season Preview: Montreal Impact

As the 2016 MLS season edges closer, we’ll be publishing each team’s MLS 2016 Season Preview. Today we take a look at what Montreal Impact will be hoping to achieve this season.

There is a genuine sense of excitement surrounding Montreal Impact ahead of the 2016 season, with plenty to build on after a great end to the last campaign. The Impact recorded their highest points total (51) since joining MLS in 2012 and reached the Conference Semifinals of the MLS Playoffs. They will be disappointed not to have gone all the way to MLS Cup but the team now have a real chance with Didier Drogba ready to start his first full MLS campaign. Finishing as high as third again will be a tough ask but Mauro Biello will feel he has a squad capable of doing just that as he prepares for his first full season in charge.

Last season’s finish:

Eastern Conference – Position: 3rd – P34 – W15 – D6 – L13

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What needs to change this year?

There is nothing substantial the Impact will need to change this year. They ended the 2015 regular season with six wins from their last eight and boasted the best form in MLS come the final day. They will look to start better this time around, after failing to win in their first five games last term. One thing that they must be wary of is over-relying on Didier Drogba. As good as the Ivorian was, Montreal must ensure they can cope without the striker in case of injury or a midseason departure.

Key changes to squad:

Ins: Kyle Fisher – Defender, Lucas Ontivero – Midfielder & Harry Shipp – Midfielder.

Outs: Justin Mapp – Midfielder, Dilly Duka – Midfielder, Kenny Cooper – Forward, Nigel Reo-Coker – Midfielder & Eric Miller – Defender.

Key Player:

Didier Drogba – Forward – Impossible to mention anyone other than Drogba as Montreal’s key man. The former Chelsea striker netted 11 goals in 11 regular season games after joining the club and also bagged a playoff goal as he quickly proved himself to be one of the most lethal strikers in Major League Soccer. He will turn 38 just after the season starts but looks set for a big season in what could be his last.

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One to Watch:

Lucas Ontivero – Midfielder – Montreal haven’t made many preseason signings but Lucas Ontivero is an eye-catching acquisition. The 21-year-old Argentine winger joins on loan for the season from Turkish side Galatasaray. He spent time with the likes of Real Madrid, Tottenham and AC Milan as a youngster and will hope to take MLS by storm in 2016.

Predicted Finish:

Eastern Conference – 5th – While there is a real air of expectancy around Montreal for 2016, the worrying over-reliance on Didier Drogba means that it’s difficult to see them transferring their end-of-season form from last year into the whole of the 2016 campaign. They should still comfortably make the playoffs once again but finishing as high as they did last season will be a tough task. Don’t rule out a deep playoff charge, though.

What are you expecting from Montreal Impact in 2016?

2016 MLS Season Preview: LA Galaxy

As the 2016 MLS season edges closer, we’ll be publishing each team’s MLS 2016 Season Preview. Today we take a look at what LA Galaxy will be looking to achieve over the next nine months.

LA Galaxy are entering 2016 as a revamped side and will be expecting to perform much better than they did in 2015. Bruce Arena watched his side record their lowest regular season points tally for six years, with a knockout round playoff exit compounding frustrations. The Galaxy’s horrendous away record cost them dearly and the hopes will now be that experienced additions throughout the squad can help the Galaxy get back on track. The likes of Ashley Cole, Jelle Van Damme and Nigel De Jong have joined Designated Players Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard and Giovani Dos Santos – forming arguably the most star-studded lineup in MLS history. Now they must deliver.

Last season’s finish:

Western Conference – Position: 5th – P34 – W14 – D9 – L11

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What needs to change this year?

Their away record. As simple as that. Winning just two of 17 away games over the course of the regular season was an embarrassing return for a club of LA Galaxy’s stature. It took them five months to find their first win away from home and that cost them massively. If the Galaxy are to push on and challenge at the very top of the Supporters’ Shield standings once again, they need to improve their record on the road. They face Western Conference opponents in each of their first four away games in 2016 and need to make a stand early on.

Key changes to squad:

Ins: Dan Kennedy – Goalkeeper, Jeff Larentowicz – Midfielder, Mike Magee – Forward, Emmanuel Boateng – Forward, Jelle Van Damme – Defender, Ashley Cole – Defender & Nigel De Jong – Midfielder

Outs: Edson Buddle – Forward, Tommy Meyer – Defender, Donovan Ricketts – Goalkeeper, Mika Vayrynen – Midfielder, Kenney Walker – Midfielder, Omar Gonzalez – Defender & Juninho – Midfielder

Key Player:

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Robbie Keane – Forward – There might be numerous stars in the Galaxy lineup, but Robbie Keane continues to shine brighter than all of them. The club captain is entering his sixth MLS season with the Galaxy and despite being 35, he proved to be as dangerous as ever last season. The Irishman ended 2015 with 20 regular season goals – his highest total with the club. He carries the side when they’re down and will be vitally important again in 2016.

One to Watch:

Emmanuel Boateng – Forward – In an offseason filled with experienced additions, Emmanuel Boateng adds some youth to the Galaxy squad and he will hope to get an opportunity to prove his worth in 2016. The 22-year-old Ghanaian attacker joins the Galaxy from Swedish side Helsingborgs IF, where he scored four goals in 37 appearances. He is a tricky forward who will add some much-needed pace to a squad filled with experience.

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Predicted Finish:

Western Conference – 1st – The Galaxy underachieved last term and will be expected to bounce back in 2016. They should do just that, as despite losing Omar Gonzalez and Juninho this offseason, they have strengthened with the additions of Ashley Cole, Jelle Van Damme and Nigel De Jong. They have the most talented roster in MLS going into the campaign and should win the Western Conference as a result for the first time since 2011.

What are you expecting from LA Galaxy in 2016?

2016 MLS Season Preview: Houston Dynamo

As the 2016 MLS season edges closer, we’ll be publishing each team’s MLS 2016 Season Preview. Today we take a look at what Houston Dynamo will be looking to achieve this year…

Houston Dynamo’s 2015 season was essentially one of transition after their switch from the Eastern Conference to the Western. It also saw the arrival of a new head coach in the shape of Owen Coyle. There’s no denying that an eight placed finish in the Western Conference will be seen as a disappointment, but given the strength and growing competitiveness of MLS, it shouldn’t be seen as a complete failure. The 2015 campaign probably seemed like a case of déjà vu for Dynamo fans as 2014 also saw them finish eight, although they gained three more points this time around. The run to the MLS Cup Playoff Finals in 2013 will certainly seem like a distant memory now after a couple of below par campaigns.

Last season’s finish:

Western Conference – Position: 8th – P34 – W11 – D9 – L14

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What needs to change this year?

There’s two main issues that need addressing in the Houston camp. The first is their defensive record. Owen Coyle’s teams in England were renowned for grit, determination and a focus on defensive stability. It takes time for a new manager to impose his style on a team, so Coyle will be hoping he can have more of an impact this time around. The Dynamo conceded 49 goals last year, which is more than any other side in the Western Conference. The second area that desperately needs improving is their away form. Houston only picked up two wins on the road, which was also the worst record in the Western Conference – only Chicago Fire (0 away wins) had a worse record across the whole of MLS.

Key changes to squad:

Ins: Calle Brown – Goalkeeper, Bradley Bourgeois – Defender, Jalil Anibaba – Defender, Sebastien Ibeagha – Defender, Agus – Defender, Christian Lucatero – Midfielder, Cristian Maidana – Midfielder, Andrew Wenger – Midfielder, David Rocha – Midfielder & Abdoulie Mansally – Defender

Outs: Michael Lisch – Goalkeeper, AJ Cochran – Defender, Jermaine Taylor – Defender, Kofi Sarkodie – Defender, Brad Davis – Midfielder, Luis Garrido – Midfielder, Alex López – Midfielder, Nathan Sturgis – Midfielder, Chandler Hoffman – Forward

Key Player:

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Will Bruin – Forward – He’s been a mainstay in the Houston side since 2011 and has been one of their most consistent performers in that time. Bruin scored 11 goals and made four assists in 2015 and at 26 years of age, he’s at the peak of his career. It will be fundamental for the Dynamo that he continues to do his job of leading the line and bringing others into play. Any potential success could hinge on Bruin’s performances in 2016.

One to Watch:

Rob Lovejoy – Midfielder – The youngster arrived on the scene last season making a number of substitute appearances. He only made two starts in 2015, but with the departure of the hugely influential Brad Davis to Sporting Kansas City, there is a gaping hole in the Houston Dynamo midfield that is up for grabs. The likes of Rob Lovejoy will have eyes on making the position his own. 2016 could be his year.

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Predicted Finish:

Western Conference – 8th – Gaining a playoff spot will undoubtedly be the main ambition for Houston Dynamo in 2016 after two years of failing to do so. But before a ball is even kicked, it is tough to make a strong case for why they are capable of achieving that aim. There are so many strong sides in the Western Conference who are all looking to improve, which makes it so hard to break into that top six. It remains to be seen whether the squad changes will make Houston a better team and a playoff spot is of course not out of the question, given the unpredictability of MLS. But ultimately, another year of transition looks likely.

What are you expecting from Houston Dynamo in 2016?

2016 MLS Season Preview: Columbus Crew

As the 2016 MLS season edges closer, we’ll be publishing each team’s MLS 2016 Season Preview. Today we take a look at what Columbus Crew will be looking to achieve over the next nine months.

Columbus Crew enjoyed a good 2015 season last time out, with the highlight being the trip to the MLS Cup Final, where they unfortunately lost 2-1 to the Portland Timbers in a game that was almost out of their reach within the first ten minutes. Besides the obvious disappointment of how the year ended, they can be proud of their progress after knocking out favourites New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference Final. There was cause for concern after their slow start in which they only won one of the first five games, but they turned things around and finished second in the Eastern Conference. Crew fans will be looking forward to the new season, with much more expected of this dynamic, attacking squad. The aim will be to go one better than last year.

Last regular season finish:

Eastern Conference – Position: 2nd – P34 – W15 – D8 – L11

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What needs to change this year?

As mentioned above, they need to start better this term. One win from their first five caused concern amongst fans and a similar start wouldn’t provide the required platform to push on from. However, the main concern to be addressed will be the team’s defensive record. The Crew may have finished second in the Eastern Conference, but they conceded the fourth-highest number of regular season goals in MLS. They must shore up at the back this term as they will look to better their record of six clean-sheets.

Key changes to squad:

Ins: Corey Ashe – Defender – Emil Larsen – Midfielder – Conor Casey – Forward – Amro Tarek – Defender – Rodrigo Saravia – Midfielder – Ola Kamara – Forward

OutsEmanuel Pogatetz – Defender – Kristinn Steindorsson – Midfielder – Ben Speas – Midfielder – Matt Lampson – Goalkeeper – Kevan George – Midfielder – Aaron Schoenfeld – Forward – Chris Klute – Defender – Jack McInerney – Forward – Sergio Campbell  Defender – Romain Gall – Midfielder

Key Player:

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Kei Kamara – Forward – Kei Kamara was outstanding in 2015, providing some hugely important goals as he matched Golden Boot winner, Sebastian Giovinco’s tally of 22 goals over the course of the regular season. Despite some concerns, he is staying on with the Crew this season and will be a mainstay in the first team once more, should he keep himself fit. His aim will be to better last year’s excellent goal return.

One to Watch:

Ola Kamara – Forward – Columbus now have two Kamara’s in attack. Ola Kamara is a newly-acquired signing from Austria Wien, who has played international football for Norway. He can play as a winger or as an out-and-out striker and will provide cover for the front three this season in Ethan Finlay, Justin Meram and Kei Kamara. He will look to nail down a starting berth and could prove to be a dangerous outlet if given the sufficient minutes by Gregg Berhalter.

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Predicted Finish:

Eastern Conference – 1st – The Crew ended 2015 as one of the most dangerous sides in MLS and will look to challenge at the very top of the Eastern Conference once again this term. There have not been many changes to their starting lineup and that probably puts them in the best position to push on in 2016 and go one better than their second-placed finish last year. Expect others like New York Red Bulls, DC United and Toronto FC to challenge for top spot, but over the course of the season we see Columbus leading the pack, with an immediate return to the MLS Cup Final a real possibility.

What are you expecting from Columbus Crew in 2016?

2016 MLS Season Preview: Chicago Fire

As the 2016 MLS season edges closer, we’ll be publishing each team’s MLS 2016 Season Preview. Today we take a look at what Chicago Fire will be looking to achieve this year…

Chicago Fire had a season to forget last time out, finishing bottom of the Eastern Conference and ending up the lowest ranked side in MLS. They lost the most games out of every MLS side and had the worst goal difference. Fire fans have no choice but to accept a second-straight season of misery, move on and hope for the best in the upcoming campaign, but as both conferences continue to attract top players from across the globe, this could be yet another season of difficulty. Veljko Paunovic has lost some notable players and has lost more than those who have come in so far. The Fire need to make some signings and fast if they are to have a squad capable of improving on last seasons dismal performance. Paunovic is under pressure to turn things around in his first full season and that pressure is only going to mount unless new signings are brought in.

Last season’s finish:

Eastern Conference – Position: 10th – P34 – W8 – D6 – L20

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What needs to change this year?

Chicago’s main aim needs to be to concede less goals, as they shipped 58 last term – one of three sides to do so – but they didn’t have the capabilities to score the goals to make up for it at the other end. They have to shore up their defence so that when they do score, the goals are actually counting for something. Winning just eight games out of 34 isn’t good enough and it is tough to see how they are going to improve on that record with just over two weeks to go until the new season kicks off. They scored more goals than six other MLS sides, so there are positives to build upon, and a good start to the campaign would really give the club a boost.

Key changes to squad:

Ins: Patrick McLain – Goalkeeper, Brandon Vincent – Defender, Jonathan Campbell – Defender, Michael Harrington – Defender, Joao Meira – Defender, Johan Kappelhof – Defender, Rodrigo Ramos – Defender, Drew Conner – Midfielder, Jack Harrison – Midfielder and Nick LaBrocca – Midfielder

Outs: Jon Busch – Goalkeeper, Alec Kana – Goalkeeper, Adailton – Defender, Jeff Larentowicz – Defender, Lovel Palmer – Defender, Daneil Cyrus – Defender, Ty Harden – Defender, Joevin Jones – Defender, Chris Ritter – Midfielder, Matt Watson – Midfielder, Patrick Nyarko – Midfielder, Jack Harrison – Midfielder, Harry Shipp – Midfielder and Jason Johnson – Forward

Key Player:

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David Accam – The Fire forward has the pace to punish opposition defences across MLS. This is a big campaign coming for him and as Chicago’s top scorer with ten goals last term, he will be hoping to improve on that and prove his worth as a Designated Player.

One to Watch:

Brandon Vincent – The young American left-back was drafted with the fourth overall pick of the 2016 MLS SuperDraft and will be expected to come straight in and deliver for Chicago. He made his USMNT debut against Canada at the start of February and big things are expected of the 21-year-old defender out of Stanford. Joevin Jones has moved on and that left-back spot now looks like Vincent’s to own.

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Predicted Finish:

Eastern Conference – 10th – It may make for bleak reading for Fire fans but with the current squad it is hard to see any improvement on last season’s performance. Chicago have lost far more players than they have signed and they could struggle from the outset. They lost seven of their last eight games of the 2015 campaign and things will be tough if they don’t get off to a good start. They do, however, have five home games in their first seven MLS fixtures and need to make the most of that.

What are you expecting from Chicago Fire in 2016?

2016 MLS Season Preview: Colorado Rapids

As the 2016 MLS season edges closer, we’ll be publishing each team’s MLS 2016 Season Preview. Today we take a look at what the Colorado Rapids will be looking to achieve this year…

The Colorado Rapids endured another tough season in 2015, ending the year at the bottom of the Western Conference with the second-fewest wins in MLS. The optimistic Rapids supporter would suggest things can only improve, but in a fiercely competitive conference, that is no certainty. Pablo Mastroeni is a good head coach but he does not necessarily have a strong enough squad to challenge higher up the Western Conference. Colorado’s MLS Cup success in 2010 seems a long time ago now, and the worrying statistic for Rapids fans is that they failed to make the postseason for back-to-back years for the first time in their history last season. A third-straight year without playoff football would only intensify problems.

Last season’s finish:

Western Conference – Position: 10th – P34 – W9 – D10 – L15

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What needs to change this year?

The first thing Colorado need to do is start winning more games. That’s not easy, but it’s essential if things are to improve. Winning just nine games from 34 over the course of the regular season was a poor return. The Rapids drew more games (10) than any other side in MLS in 2015, with four of those ending 0-0, and so turning draws into wins will be a primary objective. To win matches Colorado need to score goals. They had the worst offensive record in MLS last term, scoring just 33 times, and improving their goal output is an absolute must.

Key changes to squad:

Ins: Marco Pappa – Midfielder, Zach Pfeffer – Midfielder, Zac MacMath – Goalkeeper, Shkelzen Gashi – Forward, Conor Doyle – Forward, Mekeil Williams – Defender & Eric Miller – Defender

Outs: Drew Moor – Defender, Vincente Sanchez – Midfielder, Gabriel Torres – Forward, Michael Harrington – Defender, Clint Irwin – Goalkeeper, Maynor Figueroa – Defender, Juan Ramirez – Midfielder & Marcelo Sarvas – Midfielder

Key Player:

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Kevin Doyle – Forward – As mentioned above, Colorado need to score more goals. The main man tasked with finding the net is Kevin Doyle. The Designated Player joined from Wolves at the midpoint of the 2015 season and went on lead the team in goals, scoring five. But that is the lowest tally a Rapids top goalscorer has recorded in the club’s 20-year history – speaking volumes of how poor their attack was. Doyle will need to lead the line from the start of the season and will hope to be a bright spark from the first week.

One to Watch:

Zach Pfeffer – Midfielder – Colorado’s trade for Zach Pfeffer from Philadelphia was an interesting one. The 21-year-old midfielder enjoyed his best season in MLS last term, making 21 appearances for the Union and ending the year with two goals and one assist. He will look to continue improving as a player in a Colorado shirt and should he be given the gametime he deserves, he could become a key player for the Rapids in 2016 and beyond.

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Predicted Finish:

Western Conference – 10th – As harsh as it may seem, it’s tough to see Colorado ending 2016 any higher than at the foot of the Western Conference again. The team have lost more players than they have brought in and don’t look like a side ready to bounce back and improve. They ended last season with five defeats from their last six and a slow start this year will put them under pressure from the outset.

What are you expecting from Colorado Rapids in 2016?