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New England Revolution
"Who Can It Be Now?" (Men at Work)
"It's not the future that I can see, It's just my fantasy"

Some day, some way (yeah, I know, Marshall Crenshaw) the Revolution are going to sign the dream player that's been supposedly headed their way for over a year now. When that happens? ... your guess is as good as mine. Fernando Clavijo deserves immense credit for taking last year's bunch to the playoffs and pushing Chicago to three games. They simply weren't that good, yet always made life miserable for the opponent. The Revs have made some moves this offseason, acquiring Matt Okoh for Imad Baba and claiming Andy Williams on waivers, but we still have this feeling that the loudest signing is yet to happen in the form of a young Central American midfielder who will be classified as a "Youth International." Again, we ask, Who can it be now?

Probable Opening Day Lineup: 4-4-2
Jeff Causey, Nick Downing, Mauricio Wright, Brian Dunseth, Rusty Pierce, Jamar Beasley, Leonel Alvarez, Joey Franchino, Johnny Torres, Wolde Harris, William Sunsing

STYLE:
Bits and pieces is the only way to describe the way the Revs played in 2000. A lot of destruction, a lot of hustle and a reliance on certain individuals -- Wolde Harris in particular -- to turn nothing into something ... Mauricio Wright drew a lot of favorable reviews from the media, but many of his teammates were perplexed by his inability to follow a defensive game plan. They're still learning to take the bad with the good when it comes to Wright, which means hoping he'll pull off a big offensive play like his game-winning goal in the playoffs vs. Chicago, while being ready to cover for him defensively ... Wright's fellow Costa Rican countryman William Sunsing is another player who can frustrate with his inconsistency and amaze with his ability to make one or two dazzling solo runs per game ... Still casting the Revs as an unfinished product.

Columbus Crew
"Harden My Heart" (Quarterflash)
"I'm gonna harden my heart, I'm gonna swallow my tears, I'm gonna turn ... and ... leave you here."

Again, I'm getting emotional here. Excuse me, those words really get to me. Quite simply, the Crew have to toughen up this year, and I'm not talking about playing more physically. They need to learn how to win a tough game, to put an opponent away. If they'd done that last season, they would have clearly made the playoffs. But they couldn't, so they begin 2001 as a team in search of its soul. If they get off to a rocky start, it's pretty much assumed that Tom Fitzgerald, the dean of MLS coaches, will be sacked. So Fitz is changing from a three-back system to a 4-4-2, praying that Brian Maissoneuve is fully recovered from a serious ankle injury, that Dante Washington has another 15-plus goal season in him and that Jeff Cunningham is ready to be more than a tease.

Probable Opening Day Lineup: 4-4-2
Mark Dougherty, Mike Lapper, Mike Clark, Tenywa Bonseu, Todd Yeagley, Brian West, Brian Maisonneuve, Robert Warzycha, Ansil Elcock, Dante Washington, Jeff Cunningham

STYLE:
The Crew have long played like the best college team in MLS, long on hustle and desire, but a little short on tactical awareness and overall responsibility ... They've always been a direct team, probably because they were built around the aerial strengths of Brian McBride back in '96, and have always looked for speed in the draft ... John Wilmar Perez brought some nice skill to the central midfield last season, but too often looked lost in the hustle and bustle ... Tenywa Bonseu was a shrewd pickup in the offseason and he should immediately climb the ladder toward the upper echelon of MLS defenders with his combination of athleticism and coolheadedness on the ball.

Colorado Rapids
"Shake it Up" (The Cars)
"Dance all night, whirl your hair, Make the night cats stop and stare, Dance all night, go to work, Do the move with the quirky jerk, Just shake it up."

Even the guys who are back from the old days in Colorado will be showing up in different parts of the field as new coach Tim Hankinson attempts to turn one of the league's more pragmatic sides into a team that attacks and entertains. That can be a pretty risky plan if it's rushed into, because the tendancy for teams that want to change to an attacking mentality is to leave themselves naked in the back. The Rapids did pick up one player, Scottish forward John Spencer, who drew rave reviews for his skill and spirit during spring training and another, South African forward Neathan Gibson, who adds physical presence. Don't expect any miracles out of the gate, but if the Rapids can find the balance between going after goals and playing smart, they might find themselves in the playoff race around the time they're getting comfortable with their new plan.

Probable Opening Day Lineup: 4-4-2
Adin Brown, Scott Vermillion, Chris Martinez, Steven Herdsman, Lance Key, Imad Baba, Geoff Aunger, Ross Paule, Wes Hart, Neathan Gibson, John Spencer

STYLE:
See above, a team in transition ... Last year under Glenn Myernick, the Rapids were a no-nonsense, do what it takes to get a result kind of team. In the process the now-former coach may have alienated some fragile egos ... What remains vital for the 2001 Rapids is to remember how hard they had to work to get into the playoffs and not lose that edge, even as they try to play more attractive soccer ... It's prove-it time for Ross Paule, who's gone from national team callup to a sometime MLS starter ... All in all, I expect the Rapids to be a fast, direct team that tries to get its flank players to the endline, serve crosses and create havoc in the box.

San Jose Earthquakes

"Big Time" (Peter Gabriel)
"I'll be a big noise with all the big boys, there's so much stuff I will own."

Couldn't resist since this song title is the nickname given to one Landon Donovan by the senior members of the national team. Will LD live up to the nickname? I don't think first-year coach Frank Yallop wants to pin that kind of pressure on a 19-year old, but there are opposing coaches and players in the league who think Donovan is going to be an impact player immediately. Yallop has already done a good job of importing MLS veterans like Jeff Agoos and Manny Lagos to instantly change the Quakes' mentality. By the three-quarter mark last season, this was a team that had cashed its chips and given up. The Quakes are also hanging on to an allocation and are said to have the cap room to bring in a significant player. We'd have to expect this player will be a central midfielder, since there's not a player on the Quakes roster who fills that void.

Probable Opening Day Lineup: 4-3-1-2
Joe Cannon, Zak Ibsen, Craig Waibel, Jeff Agoos, Wade Barrett, Scott Bower, Richard Mulrooney, Ian Russell, Manny Lagos, Ronald Cerritos, Dwayne DeRosario

STYLE:
It's hard for the Quakes to play anything but up-tempo at home on the small, fast pitch of Spartan Stadium. On paper, this is a team that's going to work hard for the ball in the midfield and hope Cerritos, DeRosario and eventually Donovan can make some magic up front ... In spring training, the Quakes were one team that instantly looked better than the team they put on the field a year ago, not just in terms of personnel but in how they played. And they weren't even winning games...The last time San Jose made it to the MLS playoffs was back in the inaugural '96 season and even though I'm placing them last on this preseason list, the gap between the Quakes and the middle of the playoff pack is very thin.

Jeff Bradley covers soccer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail jeff.bradley@espnmag.com.



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