2017 MLS Preview

MLS is back! 2017 marks the league’s 22nd season, so it’s only fitting that the league added two more teams to bring the total to 22 teams. After a one-year expansion break, Atlanta United and Minnesota United are ready to make their mark on MLS in 2017.

Out go marquee names like Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane and Frank Lampard. In come young designated players such as FC Dallas striker Cristian Colmán and Real Salt Lake midfielder Albert Rusnak. MLS is getting younger and faster, which bodes very well for the future of the league.

For each team, I will touch on three storylines to keep an eye on this season, name a starting XI, and predict where they will finish in their respective conference. So without further ado, let’s get started!

ATLANTA UNITED FC

1) The Young Designated Players

Atlanta went very young with their designated players, signing midfielders Miguel Almirón (23), Josef Martinez (23) and Hector Villalba (22). If they can live up to the hype, then Atlanta has a good chance of making the playoffs in their first season.

2) ‘Tata’ Martino Takes On MLS

Martino’s impressive resumé includes stops as the manager of Barcelona and Argentina. Expect him to make an immediate impact in terms of technical ability and tactical awareness, especially on the American players.

3) Playoffs… In Their First Season?

Atlanta can make the playoffs this season with their current roster. Not to mention, the home crowd will be one of the best in the league. However, this is a relatively inexperienced side when it comes to MLS. Some haven’t dealt with the travel, the challenges of turf fields or playing in vastly different environments. Until Atlanta can set up a team identity, the postseason will have to wait.

STARTING XI

atlanta-united-fc

PROJECTED FINISH: 9th in Eastern Conference

CHICAGO FIRE

1) The Fire Ripped My Heart Out

In other words, they acquired midfielder Dax McCarty from New York Red Bulls in exchange for $400,000 in allocation money. He was the captain and, arguably, the most important player on the Red Bulls over the past three to four seasons. With McCarty and former LA Galaxy midfielder Juninho on board, Chicago will be rock solid in both central midfield spots.

2) The Best Defense… Is A Good Offense?

Only Orlando City SC allowed more goals than Chicago Fire in 2016. In order to remedy that problem, expect manager Veljko Paunovic to carry out a more possession-based attack centered around McCarty and Juninho. In addition, look for David Accam, Arturo Alvarez, and left back Brandon Vincent, to use their speed down the flanks to jumpstart counterattacks and set up new striker Nemanja Nikolić.

3) No Balance = No Playoffs

It will take some time for these new pieces to gel. At times last season, the Fire struggled to find balance. For instance, when they brought everyone back behind the ball, they couldn’t score enough goals. If the Fire can’t find that balance, they will finish in last place… again.

STARTING XI

chicago-fire

*Expect McCarty and Juninho to switch roles from time to time*

PROJECTED FINISH: 8th in Eastern Conference

COLORADO RAPIDS

1) Did Colorado Overachieve Last Season?

To some extent, yes. Despite giving up the fewest goals in MLS (32), the Rapids scored the fewest goals from inside the 18-yard-box. Last season gave off a bit of a fluke-ish vibe, especially when you look at all their 1-0 victories (10, including playoffs). While their defense remains the same, it’s highly unlikely that the Rapids will match last season’s spectacular form.

2) ‘Don’t Make Mistakes’

On the bright side, Colorado has the advantage of cohesion and chemistry. They will be very difficult to break down, which will bode well early in the season. While the Rapids may not play the prettiest soccer in the world, expect manager Pablo Mastroeni to use a “Don’t Be Stupid” strategy on defense, which will be enough to get them back to the postseason.

3) Can Colorado Score Goals?

Unfortunately, the Rapids did not add any firepower in the attack this past winter. So if players like Shkelzen Gashi and Kevin Doyle can’t score goals on a consistent basis, the Rapids will finish no higher than fifth in the Western Conference.

STARTING XI

colorado-rapids

PROJECTED FINISH: 6th in Western Conference

COLUMBUS CREW SC

1) What Happened Last Season?

Well, Crew SC went from Eastern Conference champions to Eastern Conference strugglers in the span of a few months. They scored just 26 goals in their first 21 games, and top striker Kei Kamara forced his way to New England Revolution after a verbal incident with teammate Federico Higuain over who would take a penalty kick.

2) Columbus Remained Patient and Added Depth

Crew SC’s struggles in 2016 were due to two factors: poor finishing and unnecessary defensive errors. As for the defensive errors, manager Gregg Berhalter traded center back Michael Parkhurst and parted ways with goalkeeper Steve Clark. For replacements, Berhalter signed center back Jonathan Mensah and recalled 21-year-old goalkeeper Zack Steffen from loan. Crew SC also added quality depth in left back Jukka Raitala and midfielder Mohammed Abu.

3) Will Columbus Bounce Back?

Yes. If the 24 goals over the last 13 games of 2016 were any indication, Crew SC are still one of the best attacking teams in the league. The midfield trio of Ethan Finlay, Federico Higuain and Justin Meram will score plenty of goals and create chances for striker Ola Kamara.

STARTING XI

columbus-crew-sc

*Expect Homegrown Alex Crognale to see some time at CB*

PROJECTED FINISH: 3rd in Eastern Conference

D.C. UNITED

1) D.C. Moving Away From “BennyBall”

The origin of the term “BennyBall” comes from manager Ben Olsen’s direct and defensive-oriented style of play. In 2016, United drifted away from “BennyBall” and instead opted for a more stylish, entertaining approach. Led by 22-year-old attacking midfielder Luciano Acosta, United implemented an attacking juggernaut via a 4-1-4-1 formation. Although the backline struggled at times, they managed to outscore their opponents 33-21 over the last 13 games of the season. Every MLS manager would take a +12 goal differential in a heartbeat.

2) A Few Changes To The 4-1-4-1

Former right back Sean Franklin is now primarily a center back, former midfielder Nick DeLeon is now a right back, and new addition Ian Harkes will make an immediate impact in the central midfield. Although Acosta is now nursing an injury, Julian Buesher was solid in limited playing time last season. United are ready to fully embrace their new style of play in 2017.

3) Will Other Teams Take Notice?

If United start thrashing opponents early in the season, there is no doubt that MLS front offices will take notice. D.C. will have built a legitimate contender in a radically different way than most teams around the league.

STARTING XI

dc-united

*If Acosta is still injured to start the season, expect Harkes or Jared Jeffrey to split playing time in the No. 10 role*

PROJECTED FINISH: 4th in Eastern Conference

FC DALLAS

1) Dallas is Building a Juggernaut

Last season, Dallas captured the U.S. Open Cup and Supporters’ Shield, becoming the first team in MLS history to top 60 points in consecutive seasons. What’s even more impressive is that this team can do all that and more in 2017. Midfielder Kelyn Acosta is ready to emerge as one of the best players in MLS. Young players such as Homegrown defender Reggie Cannon and new striker Cristian Colmán give Dallas even more depth and talent. There are not that many holes and questions about this roster, considering all the big-game experience and young talent.

2) 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1?

Unfortunately, star midfielder Mauro Diaz may miss all of this season after tearing the Achilles tendon in his right leg in October. This means that Dallas will likely have to switch between a 4-4-2 with Colmán and Maxi Urruti up top, or a 4-2-3-1 with new addition Javier Morales playing in the No. 10 role behind the lone striker. Manager Oscar Pareja did opt for the 4-4-2 in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against Arabe Unido, but opted for the 4-2-3-1 in the second leg. Thanks to their improved talent and depth, both formations should work.

3) FC Dallas Can Win MLS Cup in 2017

Granted, there will be some bumps in the road and an inevitable CCL hangover. Nonetheless, this team has the depth, talent and the proper mix of experience and youth necessary to not only top 60 points once again, but make a serious run at MLS Cup in 2017.

STARTING XI

fc-dallas

*Don’t be surprised if Michael Barrios and/or Maynor Figueroa work their way into the Starting XI by season’s end*

PROJECTED FINISH: 2nd in Western Conference

HOUSTON DYNAMO

1) Houston Has A Long Way To Go

If the Dynamo want to have any success this season, they will need to play a super narrow, counterattacking style of soccer. But for that to work, they will need either Romell Quioto or Alberth Ellis to have an immediate impact both on and off the ball. However, Quioto and Ellis are not natural wingers, so it may take some time to figure everything out.

2) There Will Be A Lot Of Goals… For Opposing Teams

It’s unknown if Houston’s defense is capable of sitting back and welcoming pressure. In addition, they don’t have a playmaking central midfielder that can open up the field.

3) It’s Not Going To Be Pretty

Yeah.

STARTING XI

houston-dynamo

*NOTE: ‘Cubo’ Torres has not scored an MLS goal since 2014*

PROJECTED FINISH: 11th in Western Conference

LA GALAXY

1) There Is Cause For Concern in LA…

The Galaxy actually have a lot more question marks than one may think. They are not particularly deep on defense, Gyasi Zardes is still recovering from a broken foot, and the new central midfield pairing of Jermaine Jones and João Pedro may not click right away.

2) …But They’re Still Loaded

Despite the departures of Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard, the Galaxy still have the raw talent to make some noise in the Western Conference. The additions of Jones and French winger Romain Alessandrini make it hard to bet outright against the Galaxy.

3) LA Will Be Fun To Watch

Expect a lot of high-scoring games and a bunch of goals from striker Giovani dos Santos. This style of play not be sustainable long-term, but it will be entertaining to watch as the Galaxy take their first steps in the post-Bruce Arena era.

STARTING XI

la-galaxy

*Jack McBean could also see playing time up top w/ dos Santos*

PROJECTED FINISH: 5th in Western Conference

MINNESOTA UNITED FC

1) This Team Is Underrated…

MNUFC is the most underrated team in all of MLS heading into 2017. They added a playmaker in midfielder Kevin Molino from Orlando City SC in the expansion draft, signed a reliable defensive midfielder in Collen Warner, and selected striker Abu Danladi with the first overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft. Most of all, Minnesota have a lot of CONCACAF talent with international experience, which bodes well in terms of adjusting to the rigors of MLS.

2) …But They’re Still An Expansion Franchise

They have some nice pieces, but like Atlanta United FC, they will run into the problem of simply being an expansion franchise. No expansion team has made the playoffs in their first MLS season since Seattle Sounders in 2009. Don’t expect Minnesota to break that streak in 2017, though they will be competitive and a lot of fun to watch.

3) Remember the Name… Collin Martin

The Homegrown midfielder was excellent in preseason and could get minutes as a central midfielder. It’s also possible that manager Adrian Heath could move Molino back to his natural outside midfield spot and slot Martin into that No. 10 role. Either way, expect the 22-year-old to make an impact in 2017.

 

STARTING XI

minnesota-united-fc

*If the Calvo/Demidov pairing doesn’t work, Heath could move Calvo to left back and bring on Joe Greenspan to start in the vacant center back spot*

PROJECTED FINISH: 8th in Western Conference

MONTREAL IMPACT

1) Montreal’s Attack Has Everything

Montreal was the most dangerous counterattacking team in all of MLS last season. It certainly helps when you have the speed of Dominic Oduro, vision of Matteo Mancosu, and the everything of Ignacio Piatti. They advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference Championship against Toronto FC and exposed one of the best defenses in all of MLS.

2) Who Said the ‘Old Man Game’ Wasn’t Effective?

The Impact’s veteran midfield trio of Patrice Bernier, Hernan Bernadello and Marco Donadel was fantastic in 2016. They cover the entire field and are very difficult to break down, which only helps the defense led by Belgian international Laurent Ciman.

3) Can Montreal Win with the Exact Same Team?

As much as Montreal exposed Toronto in that amazing Eastern Conference Championship, Toronto also exposed Montreal. The Impact were awful at defending set pieces last season and they paid for it. In addition, they struggled at times against teams that sat back on defense, which makes sense since they are mainly a counterattacking team. Montreal did not make any major moves in the offseason, which means that they believe they have what it takes to make a run at MLS Cup. Whether they can make it back to the Eastern Conference Championship, though, is unknown.

STARTING XI

montreal-impact

PROJECTED FINISH: 6th in Eastern Conference

NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION

1) New England Could Be Really Good…

There are very few attacking trios in MLS that can match up with Juan Agudelo, Kei Kamara and Lee Nguyen. In addition, the Revs picked up two solid center backs in Benjamin Angoua and Antonio Mlinar Delamea. New England could definitely make some noise in the Eastern Conference.

2) …Or Really Bad

However, it’s worth noting that 2016 was not very kind to the Revs. They were awful at defending crosses into the box and probably had more shots hit the crossbar than any other team in MLS. In addition, key players such as Xavier Kouassi missed huge chunks of time. It’s probably safe to assume that the Revs will once again finish in the middle of the pack.

3) The Buffalo Bills of MLS

Here’s another reminder that the New England Revolution are 0-5 all-time in MLS Cup Final matches. As a Red Bulls fan, that fact brings me much joy.

STARTING XI

new-england-revolution

*Don’t worry… I didn’t forget about Diego Fagundez. I’m sure he’ll get playing time this season.*

PROJECTED FINISH: 7th in Eastern Conference

NEW YORK CITY FC

1) NYCFC Got Younger

At first glance, you wouldn’t think that a team with David Villa and Andrea Pirlo would be the sixth-youngest team in MLS. That’s because NYCFC set out to get younger at almost every position in the offseason and parted ways with the likes of Frank Lampard, Andoni Iraola and Josh Saunders. In addition, manager Patrick Viera now has a year of MLS coaching experience under his belt.

2) This May Be It For Villa and Pirlo

It’s likely that Villa and Pirlo only have one more year left in their tanks. With that being said, young guns Jack Harrison and rookie Jonathan Lewis have great potential and new midfielder Maxi Moralez will make an impact right away. The future is bright for NYCFC beyond the 2017 season. Maybe now they should focus on finding a home pitch that isn’t shaped like a rhombus…

3) NYCFC Still Have Problems On Defense

NYCFC will score goals in bunches and produce a few “Goal of the Year” nominees as well. At the same time, they will give up a lot of goals as well. Sean Johnson is definitely an upgrade over Josh Saunders in net, but if NYCFC can’t find full-time solutions at defensive midfield and center back, they could fall to the back of the pack in the Eastern Conference. That would fill my heart with joy. #NYisRED

STARTING XI

nycfc

*McNamara and Moralez could switch spots. Also, don’t be surprised if center back Alexander Callens works his way into the Starting XI*

PROJECTED FINISH: 5th in Eastern Conference

NEW YORK RED BULLS

1) Despite Struggles/Change, RBNY Are Still Loaded

The Red Bulls stunk up the joint against Vancouver in CCL play, have backline injuries, lost their captain in the offseason, and are in the process of switching formations. But the fact remains that #NYisRED and the Red Bulls are still LOADED. They have the best goalscorer in MLS (Bradley Wright-Phillips), the best set-up man in MLS (Sacha Kljestan), a top center back in his prime (Aurélien Collin), and a bunch of promising academy players ready to break out (Derrick Ettiene Jr. and Tyler Adams, to name a few).

2) This Season Hinges On Gonzalo Veron

Sure, the Red Bulls have two legitimate MVP candidates in the attack, but do they have enough game-changing attacking quality to match up with the best in MLS? That’s where Gonzalo Veron comes in. Red Bulls fans (such as myself) have been waiting for the DP to make an impact since he arrived in 2015. Unfortunately, a series of injuries led to a lack of playing time and concerns about whether he fits manager Jesse Marsch’s style of play. If Veron can elevate his level of play in 2017, this Red Bulls attack will be UNSTOPPABLE.

3) RBNY Can Win MLS Cup (Duh!)

Once Gideon Baah, Connor Lade and Kemar Lawarence are fully healthy, they will be as deep as any team in MLS thanks to smart signings and development of academy players. There’s still a feeling that the Red Bulls are capable of winning more trophies, but this could be the beginning of a golden age. This team is ready to win now and possesses legitimate championship aspirations. If players like Veron and Ettiene Jr. can make an impact in the attack, no one will stop the Red Bulls from winning MLS Cup and potentially the U.S. Open Cup as well.

STARTING XI

new-york-red-bulls

PROJECTED FINISH: 2nd in Eastern Conference

ORLANDO CITY SC

1) Orlando City Will Be The Most Entertaining Team in MLS

Thank you manager Jason Kreis and the 4-4-2 diamond! As the former manager of Real Salt Lake, Kreis’s team played beautiful soccer, won an MLS Cup and became the first MLS team in history to reach the CONCACAF Champions League Final in 2011. Remember, Kaká had the best seasons of his career as the No. 10 in AC Milan’s diamond, and the forward pairing of Cyle Larin and Carlos Rivas is one of the best in the Eastern Conference.

2) Unfortunately, They Will Give Up A Lot Of Goals…

Those RSL teams gave away so much space on the flanks and dared teams to beat them in the air because they had two shutdown center backs in Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers. Jordan Spector was a solid pickup, but him and Jose Aja are nowhere near as great as RSL’s former pairing. As a result, they are also likely to give up the most goals in MLS in 2017.

3) …But Who Cares?

This team reminds me a lot of the Houston Rockets. So much firepower on offense, but almost no regard for defense. Obviously, Kreis will make adjustments throughout the season to try to improve the backline, but I am just so excited to watch Kaká and Larin play in Kreis’s 4-4-2 diamond.

STARTING XI

orlando-city-sc

PROJECTED FINISH: 10th in Eastern Conference

PHILADELPHIA UNION

1) Philadelphia Has A LOT of Question Marks

Can 2016 MLS Comeback Player of the Year Chris Pontius, who has a long injury history, produce two productive seasons in a row? Does former USMNT center back Oguchi Onyewu have anything left in the tank? Will Keegan Rossenberry and Fabian Herber avoid sophomore slumps? Will Josh Yaro and Maurice Edu ever get fully healthy? Can the Union find a replacement for Vincent Noguiera? There’s just too many questions surrounding the Union heading into 2017.

2) So… Can Philadelphia Find a Replacement for Vincent Noguiera?

The Union looked like a playoff-caliber team over the past two seasons with Nogueira on the field. It will be interesting to see who manager Jim Curtin pairs with Bosnian international Haris Medunjanin in the deep central midfield. Homegrown player Derrick Jones is the favorite, but whoever starts next to Medunjanin will have some big shoes to fill. If the Union are unable to figure out their central midfield pairing, they will struggle to rack up points.

3) Andre Blake is a Human Highlight Reel

Just watch.

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STARTING XI

philadelphia-union

PROJECTED FINISH: 11th in Eastern Conference

PORTLAND TIMBERS

1) Portland Still Has a Center Back Problem

Two-time MLS Cup champion and center back Nat Borchers (you know… the guy with the long, red beard) announced his retirement after the 2016 season. But even with Borchers and Liam Ridgewell last season, the Timbers backline still managed to let in the most goals in the Western Conference. To make matters worse, they didn’t really address the issue in the offseason other than acquire 32-year-old defensive midfielder David Guzman from Costa Rican side Saprissa. Expect Guzman to sit in front of the backline while Diego Chara plays in a more box-to-box midfield role.

2) Portland Still Has a Great Attack

Striker Fanendo Adi was top-5 in goals scored in 2016, new signing Sebastian Blanco should pair well next to Diego Valeri, and Darlington Nagbe has done a great job of bringing left back Vytas into play on overlapping runs in the preseason. Throw in Chara as well and this attack could a lot of problems for opposing backlines.

3) Portland Still Has Playoff Aspirations

If the Timbers can somehow concede less than 50 goals in 2017, they will make the playoffs without much trouble. Also, it might help if they could improve on their awful 0-11-6 away record from last season. Had they won just ONE road match last season, they would have grabbed the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.

STARTING XI

portland-timbers

*Expect a new signing at center back by the summer*

PROJECTED FINISH: 3rd in Western Conference

REAL SALT LAKE

1) The Attack is Still Very Good…

Both Joao Plata and Yura Movsisyan are solid MLS players and new 22-year-old DP Albert Rusnak will be very good player as well. In addition, Jordan Allen showed flashes in preseason and 19-year-old Brooks Lennon, now on loan from Liverpool, has played well as a winger for the US U-20s.

2) …But Everything Else is Not

The problem with RSL is every other position. At times last season, the players operated like individuals, and injuries also took a toll. Who knows how much players like Kyle Beckerman, Demar Phillips and Nic Rimando have left in the tank. There’s a chance that 2017 could be a passing of the torch.

3) RSL is on the Right Track

There is promising, young talent on every line. Plata, Allen, Rusnak, Justen Glad and Omar Holness are all approaching the primes of their careers, and there are more promising youngsters coming up through the ranks. RSL is not quite ready to take that next step in 2017, but they are definitely set up to succeed in 2018 and beyond.

STARTING XI

real-salt-lake

*Justen Glad will likely take Schuler’s spot once he returns from the US U-20s*

PROJECTED FINISH: 7th in Western Conference

SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES

1) San Jose Added A LOT of Pieces

New general manager Jesse Fionarelli, formerly of AS Roma, added depth at every position and picked up starting-caliber players such as center back Florian Jungwirth and midfielder Jahmir Hyka. On some days, there could as many as five to seven new starters on the field, which could spell trouble for manager Dominic Kinnear.

2) Finding the Right Starting XI

The disadvantage of bringing in a bunch of new players is putting together an XI that fits together. With San Jose, there are a lot of players with different skill sets. If Kinnear takes out the wrong piece, it could affect five or six other players on the field. In addition, San Jose doesn’t have the raw goal-scoring ability to deal with that problem for an entire season. A lot of pressure will be on Kinnear early in the season to figure out a compatible starting XI. Otherwise, he may the first coach shown the door in 2017.

3) Again… It’s All About Chris Wondolowski

San Jose knows that they have to put Wondolowski in the best spots to score goals. Fortunately, the USMNT striker has scored double-digit goals in seven straight seasons and is the only proven attacker on the roster. Although a 4-3-3 formation might make more sense for the team as a whole, expect Kinnear to carry out a 4-4-2 formation to get his goalscorer more looks at goal.

STARTING XI

san-jose-earthquakes

*Expect 19-year-old midfielder Jackson Yueill to get some playing time this season*

PROJECTED FINISH: 10th in Western Conference

SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC

1) Nicolas Lodiero is Amazing

The Argentine midfielder emerged as one of the best players in MLS last season. The interesting thing about Lodiero is that he usually starts games on the right side, but manager Brian Schmetzer allows him to drift inside to a No. 10-type role. As we saw in the MLS Playoffs, the Sounders can support Lodiero thanks to the structure of their 4-2-3-1 formation.

2) Seattle Finally Addressed the Central Midfield

Over the last two seasons, the Sounders are 3-9-2 without Osvaldo Alonso is not in the lineup. Fortunately, Alonso missed only two matches in 2016, but at age 31, who knows if Alonso has 30+ full games left in him. With that in mind, Seattle finally added some depth in the central midfield, acquiring Swedish midfielder Gustav Svensson from Chinese side Guangzhou R&F. This means that the 31-year-old Alonso will be able to take a few more matches off in 2017.

3) Seattle Sounders Can Win MLS Cup

The defending MLS Cup champions have what it takes to do it all again in 2017… if they address a few small holes in their roster. If they can pick up another piece or two on the backline and add some more speed in the attack with Jordan Morris, the Sounders will be very tough out come the postseason. Even if Clint Dempsey is unable to stay healthy in 2017, Seattle still has enough firepower to make another run at MLS Cup in 2017.

STARTING XI

seattle-sounders

*NOTE: Svensson is now filling for the injured Brad Evans, who will be out for the next 5-7 weeks with a calf muscle strain*

PROJECTED FINISH: 1st in Western Conference

SPORTING KANSAS CITY

1) SKC Are Gonna SKC

They’re going to stick with a high-pressure 4-3-3 formation and try to get out on the counterattack as much as possible. Expect nothing new from manager Peter Vermes in terms of tactics.

2) Someone Besides Dom Dwyer Needs to Score Goals

SKC had Krisztián Németh two seasons ago to help take some pressure of Dwyer, but no one emerged last season. So this offseason, they went shopping for goal-scorers. SKC picked up a new designated player in winger Gerso Fernandes and a high-scoring young winger from Ghana named Latif Blessing. If neither player is the answer, SKC will stay in the middle of the pack for the fourth year in a row.

3) Is SKC Still Solid Defensively?

For the first time in a while, SKC may have some questions to answer about their backline. Will center back and U.S. international Matt Besler take a step back after offseason ankle surgery? Can Ike Opara become a full-time starter? How long will it take before Graham Zusi is fully comfortable at his new right back position? What kind of impact will defensive midfielder Erik Palmer-Brown make when he returns from US U-20s duty? Time will ultimately tell.

STARTING XI

sporting-kc

*Expect Gerso and Medranda to switch sides often*

PROJECTED FINISH: 4th in Western Conference

TORONTO FC

1) Toronto Should Have Won MLS Cup 2016

TFC deserved to win MLS Cup last season. They held eventual champions Seattle Sounders without a shot on target, and just three shots total, in 120 minutes of scoreless soccer. I believe that if manager Greg Vanney had brought on forward Tosaint Ricketts 20 minutes earlier as opposed to the 103rd minute, I believe Toronto FC would have won MLS Cup…

2) No Changes Necessary

…So it only makes sense that Toronto brought back every key player from 2016. The Reds did add a few new pieces such as winger Victor Vazquez. But most importantly, TFC now have a clear identity. They will press high up the field, play on the front foot, and attack through Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore.

3) Toronto FC Are the Favorites to Win MLS Cup

Unless center back Drew Moor gets hurt, TFC has no real weakness. They have the depth to survive a potential injury to Giovinco, Altidore or Michael Bradley. After the painful postseason experience gained in 2016, Toronto FC have everything they need to climb to mountaintop once again.

STARTING XI

toronto-fc

PROJECTED FINISH: 1st in Eastern Conference

VANCOUVER WHITECAPS

1) Vancouver Needs a Goal-Scorer

The good news? Vancouver made two key signings to rebuild their attack. The bad news? One of the newcomers, Yordy Reyna, is recovering from foot surgery and will return during the summer. The other, Fredy Montero, is a solid player, but has failed to top double-digit goals in the last two seasons. In addition, Kekuta Manneh is still adjusting to his role as Vancouver’s No. 10. If the Whitecaps can’t find a goal-scoring threat, the playoffs will have to wait.

2) They Have Some Talent…

The sky is the limit for 16-year-old winger Alphonso Davies, who started both legs in Vancouver’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against New York Red Bulls and played well. Matias Laba and Kendall Waston remain rock solid on defense, and goalkeeper David Ousted is still one of the best goalkeepers in MLS.

3) …But Will It All Come Together?

To have any success in 2017, the Whitecaps will have to play some low-scoring games and convert on the counterattack as well as set pieces. It will be tough, considering the strength of the Western Conference.

STARTING XI

vancouver-whitecaps

PROJECTED FINISH: 9th in Western Conference

Head over to my Twitter account @danny_shin131 for more predictions, including my predictions for MVP, Supporters Shield and MLS Cup. Let me know what you think as well. Who do you think is going to win MLS Cup?

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