MLS: The Flat-Footed (Ugly?) East

(UPDATE: This thing kind of rambles…sorry.  The point I had intended to make when I sat down to write the thing is pretty simple: it’s not so much the lack of activity among Eastern Conference teams that worries me; it’s the sneaking suspicion I have that they’re going to come out dull and end 2008 dull and tired.  OK, you can read it now.)

On Monday of this week, I was fairly far along with assigning major significance to an idea contained in a paragraph that Ives Galarcep would insert in today’s piece for ESPN on the new-model DC United (I can see the future sometimes). Here’s that:

“D.C. United heads into its 13th season brimming with confidence over a busy and productive offseason that has the rest of the Eastern Conference looking comatose by comparison. It will be up to Soehn to make all the pieces fit, and to the newcomers to prove that they are better than the long list of former D.C. standouts that departed to make room for them.”

As much as that second sentence bears marking and remembering, it was the first sentence that really struck me. No Eastern Conference club – hell, no Western Conference club when you get down to it – has matched DC United this off-season in terms of ambition or, no less significantly, in actually landing the players they’re chasing. Sure, some clubs have tried (Columbus Crewmaybe) and others are making some noises (Red Bull New York, Chicago Fire), but, unlike them, DC is going into preseason with all the pieces in camp, playing together, and learning one another.

As for behind as New York, Columbus, and Chicago may seem, they’re lapping the remaining three Eastern Conference teams. Toronto FC hasn’t changed much more than Mo Johnston’s job description, the Kansas City Wizards are talking new formation instead of new personnel. Elsewhere, the New England Revolution’s brain-trust appears seized up in a kind of overwhelmed paralysis. (Honduras? Ugh…that’s so 2004.)

All that tallies, but as I tried to take Galarcep’s basic statement – e.g. the idea that DC has been the busiest club – to the next-step idea that struck me on Monday – e.g. that they’re the most prepared club – I couldn’t carry it over the hump, at least not automatically. As much as I believe DC has improved – even to the point that they’re again looking like the club to beat in the East – the measure of the rest of the East’s readiness isn’t how they spazzed in the off-season, so much as what they have left over from 2007. And that took some reading. Continue reading