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The Return of the MLS Western Conference

Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis has something to say.
Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis has something to say.

The MLS returns to action this evening, now that the FIFA-mandated international break has mostly passed. The European Championships continue, but nearly every other international competition has wrapped up this past week. So that means we're back to MLS soccer. All but one of the Western Conference teams will be in action this weekend, with the San Jose Earthquakes waiting until Wednesday to get their restart.

Since it's been a while since we've seen any of these teams play, and since I can hardly remember what we're supposed to know about any of them, I'm doing more of a recap of each team's season to date.

(Except where noted, my match projections are based on the calculations I shared yesterday).

Real Salt Lake

Previous result: 3-2 win vs Dallas

RSL have been the team to beat all year, and that doesn't look likely to change anytime soon. Ryan and I both have them projected to win the conference, as no team has been able to match their consistent quality. They play excellent defense, with two of MLS' best CBs, and tend to score goals on breakaways, a tendency for which striker Fabian Espindola is well suited. They aren't always pretty -- e.g. their most recent performance against Dallas -- but so far they've gotten the results.

Week 13 projection: 1-0 win at Chivas

San Jose Earthquakes

Previous result: 2-1 loss at Kansas City

The Western Conference's biggest surprise (well, second biggest) of 2012 has been San Jose. A tough stretch of games finally got the better of them against Kansas just before the break, but a solid defense anchored by Ramiro Corrales and the surprising emergence of Marvin Chavez on the wing have supported Chris Wondolowski's habitual goal scoring up front. In Frank Yallop they have a coach who has the confidence in his players to set them up in a variety of formations, and the players have rewarded him with MLS' best goal differential.

Week 13 projection: bye

Seattle Sounders

Previous result: 1-1 draw at Chivas

They're in third place in the Western Conference, but if you asked 10 Sounders fans about the reason for their success you're likely to get 10 shrugs. In terms of goals allowed, they have the MLS' best defense, yet they have shown serious lapses, including one at home recently against the Columbus Crew. Offensively they haven't shown anything special, outside of a first week hat-trick from David Estrada (who is out with an injury for the next two months). And, bizarrely, they've yet to lose a game on the road -- and they've yet to draw at home. Like I said, shrug.

Week 13 projection: My projection model predicts a 2-1 win at Montreal, but with this match being the first at Stade Saputo (a condition not built into my algorithm), I'm projecting a 1-1 draw at Montreal.

Vancouver Whitecaps

Previous result: 3-1 win vs Houston

Speaking of shrugs, here's a team challenging for the top three in the Western conference in spite of a +1 goal differential. They went through the first four weeks of the season without allowing a goal, but they matched it with scoreless streak for almost as long. Despite having more strikers than they know what to do with, the Caps have failed to pick one out whom they can count on for consistent production. Meanwhile they've shown remarkably little depth in their defense, giving up four goals to New England the one time they gave Jay Demerit a break. Still, Vancouver has enough potential to continue to surprise everyone this season.

Week 13 projection: 1-1 draw vs Colorado

Colorado Rapids

Previous result: 3-2 win vs Montreal

If there is a polar opposite to the Whitecaps, it's Colorado. While their success has been no less shrug inducing, they've done it with 13 midfielders, decent defensive depth and only one striker at a time. This next match against the Whitecaps will be the first of the season in which both Omar Cummings and Conor Casey are fully healthy. If they're both as good as their fans hope, and if they stay healthy, Colorado might well be poised to make a serious run for the top three.

Week 13 projection: 1-1 at Vancouver

Chivas USA

Previous result: 1-1 draw vs Seattle

No MLS team has been harder to predict this year than Chivas, and that's only partially due to their trade activity. They went through a bizarre opening streak in which they played to 1-0 results in six of their first seven games. Having been without concussed Juan Pablo Angel for much of the season, they have scored a Western Conference worst nine goals. But now that Angel has returned and Juan Agudelo has been added, Chivas look to improve their offense to match their as yet stellar defense.

Week 13 projection: 1-0 loss vs Salt Lake

LA Galaxy

Previous result: 2-1 loss at Houston

The MLS' biggest surprise has been how dreadful the Galaxy have been. With the loss of star defender Omar Gonzalez, the LA defense has been second only to Dallas in sheer awfulness. It hasn't helped that they've started three different keepers this year. (This week they'll have David Junior Lopes and Josh Saunders back in the lineup, which should help them a little.) But the team's failure offensively has been the biggest surprise, given that they have only added quality to an attacking lineup that mercilessly dominated MLS in 2011.

Adding to their offensive woes, LA will be missing Robbie Keane, who will be playing a now-meaningless game against Italy on Monday, as well as Edson Buddle, who is out with an injury, and Mike Magee, who is serving a suspension. All that's still not enough for me to overrule the computer's projection of a draw.

Week 13 projection: 1-1 draw vs Portland

FC Dallas

Previous result: 3-2 loss at Salt Lake

The Western Conference's worst team has made a mockery of the sport all season, with tiny crowds watching diving players get frustrated at referees and throw balls at their midsections. At one point they had acquired three red cards and four suspensions in just two matches. Injuries, one even suffered in the act of faking an injury, have also plagued the Texas side, who were greatly anticipating the international break as an opportunity to put things back together again. I'm betting against it.

Week 13 projection: 2-0 loss at Houston