Houston, we might have solved a problem.
After an offseason of fevered debate among hardcore fans all over the map, MLS announced on Friday that two-time MLS Cup champions Houston Dynamo will be switching to the Eastern Conference. The switch will make room for expansion teams Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps in the Western Conference, and keep the numbers in each conference 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, very top-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 in two-time defending U.S. Open Cup champions Seattle and 2010 Supporters' Shield runners-up Real Salt Lake, and it's plain to see the West is simply stacked.
[inline_node:317713]In the East, it's a very different story. The once-proud Dynamo, fully ensconced in rebuilding mode, join a host of other clubs under reconstruction.
D.C. United are coming off their worst season in team history and have a new coach and many new faces. Chicago is replacing stalwarts in defense, midfield, and up top. New England, Houston’s great postseason rival in the middle of the last decade, was MLS’ worst defensive team in 2010 and missed the postseason.
Meanwhile, Columbus has overhauled its 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 thrown into the group of Eastern Conference teams in flux as well, as they’re on their fifth head coach in the past two years.
Philadelphia is looking good to improve upon its inaugural season – the addition of Carroll is one of the most significant offseason moves any team has made, not to mention the signing of goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón – and Teal Bunbury looks a good bet to solve Sporting Kansas City’s scoring woes.
[inline_node:325511]Still, the only team in the East who looks remotely whole at this point is the New York Red Bulls, and all they have to do is replace the franchise’s leading scorer and the franchise’s all-time leader in games played. All while hoping Thierry Henry reaches full fitness and finds his form early and often.
So, yeah, the playoff door 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 cracking the 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 a winning formula before Ben Olsen, Carlos de los Cobos, et al, do the same, Houston will be dancing into the postseason.
Houston fans, unaccustomed as they are to staying home in November, can smile at that. The East, at least for now, is a good place to be.
Matthew Doyle can be reached for comment at email@example.com and followed at twitter.com/mls_analyst.