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MLS 2004 Season Review

Jason Kreis is the charter member of Real Salt Lake City. Earnie Stewart is off to Holland. D.C. United is in the midst of saying goodbye to Ryan Nelsen. Same goes for the San Jose Earthquakes, who will watch their star player, Landon Donovan, return to Germany to play for Bayer Leverkusen. Foreign imports Hong Myung Bo and John Spencer are gone, as well. And Andy Herzog, we hardly knew you.

The ninth MLS soccer season has only been over for a week, yet the landscape has already changed.

At the bottom of the league sits the two new franchises -- Real SLC and Chivas USA - who now have at least 10 players to speak of, and a lot of work ahead of them to be competitive sides in 2005. In the middle of the pack, you have the manager-less Colorado Rapids now that Tim Hankinson has been given his walking papers. At the top of the heap stand United, which already has a giant gaping hole to fill after losing a player in Nelsen who was arguably the best defender in the league over the past two seasons.

The many off-season signings, allocations, transfers and young players to be brought in through January's MLS SuperDraft will change the look of each and every one of the 12 clubs. Here's an outlook for what to look for in the off-season, as well as an early look at what to watch during the 2005 campaign:

Questions to ponder

Chicago Fire - "Can Justin Mapp play centrally in '05?"

Chivas USA - "Will whoever plays goalkeeper for Chivas be a better option than Jonny Walker and Adin Brown were?"

Colorado Rapids -- "Is Pablo Mastroeni a central defender or a holding midfielder?"

Columbus Crew -- "Is Kyle Martino your Number 10 or not?"

Dallas Burn - "Will last year's first-round draft picks see time or continue to rot on the bench?"

D.C. United - "With Nelsen and Stewart gone, who's going to lead this team?"

Kansas City Wizards -- "Who is going to run the show out of the center of the midfield?"

Los Angeles Galaxy -- "If last year's team was Sigi's team, how many players have to go to make it Sampson's team?"

MetroStars -- "How can they open up cap space without trading a good young player like Ricardo Clark or Mike Magee?"

New England Revolution -- "Who is going to man the defense?"

Real Salt Lake City -- "Is Jason Kreis really the answer for this franchise?"

San Jose Earthquakes -- "How in God's name do you replace a Landon Donovan?"

10 players whose stock has risen

Bryan Namoff, D.C. United: A rock-solid right back who was very impressive during United's run to the MLS Cup. Don't be surprised if a scout or two from England invites him over for a trial this winter, as the hard-tackling defender would be well-suited for the English game.

Eddie Johnson, Dallas Burn: Once it was known that Manchester United wanted this high-scoring 20-year-old striker over for a look-see during the winter, Dutch club PSV Eindhoven made sure to scout him in person when he played for the U.S. National Team against Jamaica last week. He'll now be going over to train with DaMarcus Beasley's new club during the off-season.

Jose Burciaga Jr., Kansas City Wizards: Good left backs are hard to find. At least we know Bob Gansler has one now. Could be a future National Team call-up if he continues to stay healthy.

Zach Thornton, Chicago Fire: His name has been brought up in trade talks since coming back to the league late in the season. He's expected to have a big year in 2005, and return to prominence as one of the premier goalkeepers in MLS.

Clint Dempsey, New England Revolution: On the heels of winning the MLS Rookie of the Year award as well as earning his first cap with the senior National Team, Dempsey is currently training with Feyenoord in Holland. He'll also likely get called back into one, if not both, of Bruce Arena's camps in December and January.

Jon Busch, Columbus Crew: Viewed as one of the league's best goalkeepers after a standout season. His strong play wasn't noticed as much due to the performance turned in by MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Joe Cannon.

Nick Garcia, Kansas City Wizards: Didn't have a good outing against D.C. United in the MLS Cup final, but that doesn't erase the stellar showing he had down the stretch as Jimmy Conrad's partner in central defense for the Western Conference champions. He's slated to go on trial for SK Brann in Norway. Considering he was on Bruce Arena's initial roster pool of 38 players for the Jamaica match last week, an invitation into a future camp is a definite possibility.

Pat Noonan, New England Revolution: So much for a Sophomore Slump. The former Indiana star quietly led Major League Soccer in scoring this season with 11 goals and 8 assists, and added another strike during the playoffs. He's currently getting some off-season conditioning by training with Chelsea.

Davy Arnaud, Kansas City Wizards: Finished a surprising seventh in the league in scoring with nine goals and eight assists. After a late-season slump, he rebounded to strike twice in the Western Conference Final. Only 24 years old, this former West Texas A&M All-American has to be included in the same conversation about young American goal-scorers as Eddie Johnson, Brian Ching, Alecko Eskandarian and Pat Noonan.

Jaime Moreno, D.C. United: No one seems to know anyone who voted for Amado Guevara for MVP. If it wasn't going to be Cannon, it should have been the 30-year-old Bolivian, who also shockingly lost out to Brian Ching for the Comeback Player of the Year award. Winning yet another ring as an MLS Cup champion certainly made up for that, though. Now that he's healthy, there's no reason to expect a drop off in his form. Not only is Moreno still relatively young, but it's also worth mentioning that his style of play is one that isn't as easily affected by aging, as his game is based on wily run-making and picking and choosing his moments to attack and not predicated on superior speed and fitness.

10 players whose stock has dropped

Henry Ring, Chicago Fire: Thornton's return doesn't bode well for the 2004 All-Star.

Ryan Suarez, Los Angeles Galaxy: His contract is up in December. If he's re-signed, he's likely to end up with Chivas USA as a reserve defender.

Mark Chung, Colorado Rapids: After posting 11 goals for two straight seasons, the left-footed midfielder scored only three times this past season. It doesn't help that he'll turn 35 next year.

Jay Heaps, New England Revolution: Might not have kept his starting job if injury woes didn't affect Steve Nicol's side.

Jamil Walker, Chivas USA: The diminutive striker couldn't catch lighting in a bottle this year the way he did as a rookie for San Jose in 2003. Moving down the coast in the Expansion Draft certainly won't help his career, as he's likely to have tougher competition to see the field as he did with the Earthquakes.

Shavar Thomas, Kansas City Wizards: After a great first half of the season, the former UCONN star wasn't as sharp in the second half. He ultimately lost his starting job to Nick Garcia in September.

Dan Califf, Los Angeles Galaxy: After spraining the MCL in his right knee in the spring, he suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee during the middle of the summer. For a defender who wasn't fast to begin with, injuries to both knees aren't a good thing for the former Maryland standout.

Jeff Cunningham, Columbus Crew: Opposing teams simply aren't afraid of him they way they were two or three years ago. And if you take away his three penalty kick goals, Cunningham accounted for only six goals in the run of play over 30 games.

Jonny Walker, MetroStars - A less-than-stellar 2004 campaign wasn't helped by having his own G.M. complain about his goalkeeping.

Sergio Galvan Rey - Two goals in 20 appearances wasn't exactly what Bob Bradley was looking for when he signed the "King of Goals" to a six-figure deal last winter.

10 players we could see in MLS in 2005

Wade Barrett -- The San Jose Earthquakes apparently would love to see the return of their former left back, according to sources. Since leaving MLS after the 2002 season, Barrett has been playing for AGF Aarhus in Denmark, but is now hoping to return to the U.S.

Kasey Keller - The longtime U.S. National Team goalkeeper has been open about his plans to finish his career in MLS. Since he is now the backup at Tottenham, a transfer to new expansion club Real Salt Lake would make sense after the January transfer window opens. Currently Arena's number one option in the goal, Keller will turn 35 years old later this month.

Clint Mathis - No longer a starter at Hannover 96 in the German Bundesliga, the former MetroStars standout is looking to move clubs. Real SLC's G.M. Steve Pastorino is interested in bringing him to Utah to pair with Jason Kreis up top.

Jocelyn Gourvennec - A 32-year-old French midfielder who played with American Greg Vanney on Bastia of the French First Division last season. He's played for Nantes, Marseille and Rennes over the years, as well. This was a player the Columbus Crew were interested in until the prospect of signing Tony Sanneh came along last summer.

Ivan Guerrero - This 26-year-old Honduran international is attractive to a few MLS clubs since he is a left-sided player who can play both in the back and as a midfielder. He played against the U.S. back in March of 2001 in the World Cup qualifying match where Clint Mathis hit a free kick late to give the Yanks a 2-1 victory in San Pedro Sula. Guerrero is currently with Penarol in Uruguay, and has also spent some time with Coventry City in England.

Julio Medina - An intriguing midfielder from Panama who U.S. fans got a few looks at during World Cup qualifying this past fall. Medina plays for Arabe Unido in Panama, and might make an interesting pick-up for Chivas USA or F.C. Dallas. Both teams are in need of creative players who can change a game.

Tyson Nunez -- Another Honduran international, this 32-year-old striker is well-known around the region for his goal-scoring exploits. He's also a player who has long been rumored to come to MLS. His current club is Necaxa in Mexico after a career that has also seen him spend time in England with Sunderland.

Martin Machon - Spent two seasons with the L.A. Galaxy in 1997 and 1998, as well as a year with the Miami Fusion in 2000. Is best remembered by MLS fans for scoring a hat trick against the Columbus Crew while playing for the Galaxy in '98. Now with CSD Comunicaciones of Guatemala, he is looking for a return to MLS.

Steve McManaman - Since his contract is not going to be renewed with Manchester City, the 32-year-old former Liverpool and Real Madrid star will be looked at by at least one or two clubs.

Stern John - If his new club, Coventry City, continues to sputter along and finds itself relegated two divisions below the Premiership, he'll surely be looking for another transfer. Still only 28 years old, he'd be attractive for any club in MLS, as he lit it up when he was here with 44 goals in just two seasons with the Columbus Crew.

Marc Connolly covers soccer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at: marc@oakwoodsoccer.com.