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Four teams saw their MLS playoff dreams buried last weekend, leaving four groups of fans disgusted and four clubs searching for answers heading into the off-season.
San Jose, Los Angeles, Toronto FC and FC Dallas came into the season with post-season dreams, and each of them had the look of a playoff squad at varying times this season (some for more brief periods than others). Unfortunately for each of them, stretches of poor form, bad signings and costly mistakes left them chasing the pack and ultimately falling short of the playoffs.
Here’s a quick look at each of the Finished Four, their seasons, and their prospects for the future:
What went wrong: Terrible forward play throughout the season, at least before Chad Barrett got settled. Roster turnover combined with tons of international duty resulted in a team that never did have a chance to come together.
Most costly stretch: TFC went 1-5-3 in August and September, putting itself in a terrible hole.
Biggest weakness to address: Chad Barrett looks good and Abdus Ibrahim has a bright future, but Toronto FC must find a way to land a DP-level striker. A central defense anchor wouldn’t hurt either.
Bright spots: Chad Barrett emerged as a good goal-scorer and looks happy in Toronto. Amado Guevara behaved and played well while Marvell Wynne really came of age. Johann Smith also looks like a future impact player.
Worst moves: Acquiring Carlos Ruiz, signing Laurent Robert and Olivier Tebily. Failing to land top striker before the season.
Outlook: No team in MLS has as much to work with this off-season as Toronto FC, which has tons of allocation money, three first-round draft picks and a DP slot it can use on a star. There is reason for optimisim in Toronto heading into 2009, but anything short of a strong year next year will mean its time for heads to roll.
San Jose Earthquakes
What went wrong: Building a team from scratch is tough, building one with no offense to speak of is suicide. The early hole proved too much to overcome.
Most costly stretch: Started the season 1-6-1.
Biggest weakness to address: Ryan Johnson showed some promise, but forward remains the most glaring need for Frank Yallop’s squad.
Bright spots: Darren Huckerby is a bona fide star. Arturo Alvarez and Scott Sealy could be solid contributors in 2009, assuming Sealy re-signs. Joe Cannon once again looked like one of the best, if not the best goalkeeper in MLS.
Worst moves: Using top allocation spot on Peguero Jean-Philippe. Trading away Brian Carroll for Kei Kamara.
Outlook: Some good pieces are in place for a good 2009, but Yallop needs a striker and some defensive reinforcements to make the playoffs in year two. The Earthquakes can’t be too upset though, they put together an entertaining team in the second half of the season.
What went wrong: Inconsistency killed a team with plenty of talent.
Most costly stretch: A horrendous run of 2-7-5 from April 24 until the All-Star break. That putrid slide cost Steve Morrow his job and gave Schellas Hyndman a rough welcome to MLS coaching.
Biggest weakness to address: Defense, defense, defense. A quality veteran playmaker wouldn’t hurt either.
Bright spots: Kenny Cooper emerging as an all-star, Jeff Cunningham flourishing after arriving from Toronto, and Andre Rocha turning into a real quality starter. Then there is the ton of young talent on the roster.
Worst moves: Signing Duilio Davino. Failing to find a replacement for Jeff Cunningham before the season began.
Outlook: With Kenny Cooper’s future in doubt, the priority for FC Dallas is to keep him. Once that is settled, the Hoops will want to consider hitting the trade market hard and dealing from its overflow of young talent to find some reliable veterans.
Los Angeles Galaxy
What went wrong: One of the worst defenses in MLS history playing in front of some of the worst goalkeepers in MLS history.
Most costly stretch: An awful 0-6-6 stretch over three months from June to September.
Biggest weakness to address: Here’s a hint: it starts with a D. Bruce Arena will spend all off-season looking for competent defenders to build around impressive rookie Sean Franklin, while also looking for a good goalkeeper.
Bright spots: Sean Franklin emerging. Edson Buddle finding his top form. Alan Gordon looking like a decent player. Eddie Lewis should still be a solid contributor in 2009.
Worst moves: Hiring Ruud Gullit. Not waiving Abel Xavier sooner. Signing Eduardo Dominguez. Trading away Joe Cannon. Trading for Greg Vanney.
Outlook: With Landon Donovan a transfer possibility, the Galaxy heads into the off-season in worse shape than any other team in MLS. Bruce Arena will have to work some serious magic to transform the Galaxy’s thin roster into a quality playing team.
What do you think went wrong with these teams? Do you have hope that any of them will turn things around in 2009? Share your thoughts on these teams and their failed playoff bids in the comments section below.