A New Season, The New Players, A New Dream…
March has arrived, which means the 2017 MLS Season is right around the corner. Fresh off of an MLS Cup final that saw the Seattle Sounders edge out Toronto FC in a penalty shoot-out, every MLS club has been hard at work to make sure their squads are prepared to tackle the new season. Without further ado, let’s take a look at what to expect from the teams in America’s top flight.
The Eastern Conference:
Key Acquisitions: Kenwe Jones (ST), Greg Garza (LB), Brad Guzan (GK), Tyrone Mears (RB), Michael Parkhurst (CB)
Key departures (…kinda): Sean Johnson (GK), Clint Irwin (GK), Danny Toia (LB)
The scoop: Atlanta United are brand new to MLS this season, so it’s hard to be certain what to expect. However, there’s no denying that the Georgia based club are not afraid to take the high-profile approach to building their team. Head coach Gerardo Martino, affectionately dubbed “Tata” by his fans, comes to MLS after coaching Barcelona for a season, followed by a two-year stint managing the Argentine National Team. A coach with his pedigree undoubtedly will attract some high-profile players, and that is certain with the signing of former Premier League player Kenwe Jones, as well as United States National Teamers left back Greg Garza and goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Garza, along with Mears and Parkhurst, will formulate a back line of solid veterans to give the new club the defensive stability from which the rest of the team can build. Some savvy trades of players acquired from the Expansion Draft also saw Atlanta acquire MLS veterans Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowicz to help round out the side.
Predicted (Conference) finish: 5th. Atlanta have assembled a strong starting lineup of MLS veterans and International players. However, this prediction is entirely dependent on how this new group of players adapt to one another and operate as a team.
Key Acquistions: Nemanja Nikolic (ST), Juninho (CM), Dax McCarty (CM)
Key Departures: Sean Johnson (GK)
The Scoop: The Fire has to be the most improved team in the league this season. The addition of MLS veteran Dax McCarty and the return of former L.A. Galaxy man Juninho is a masterstroke in shoring up the midfield, while the signing of Hungarian forward Nemanja Nikolic should help fill the void left by the misfiring Luis Solignac and David Arshakyan. These new pieces, in addition to returning attackers Michael de Leeuw and David Accam should prove to be a massive upgrade in the front two thirds of the pitch. However, no major changes to the backline, combined with the loss of long-time starting goalkeeper to NYCFC, still leaves a lot to be desired in the defense.
Predicted finish: 9th. Chicago could certainly surprise everyone this season and finish much higher in the table, but it’s too soon to forget that this team has finished dead last in the previous few seasons, and many of the same players are returning.
Key Acquisitions: Josh Williams (CB)
Key Departures: Steve Clark (GK), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Mohammaed Saeid (CM)
The Scoop: Let’s be honest – the Crew have not had a great offseason. Departing starters Clark and Parkhurst and reliable midfielder Saeid, along with others like left back Corey Ashe and retiring striker Conor Casey, were not properly replaced. The only signing made with any substantial MLS experience is Josh Williams, who is coming home to his original club after stints at NYCFC and Toronto FC, the latter of which saw him frequently left out of a defense that consisted of three center backs. However, retaining their stars such as Ola Kamara, Ethan Finlay, Justin Meram, Wil Trapp, and Tony Tchani mean that the Crew are not completely dead in the water. With such attacking talent, they are always a threat to outscore any opponent.
Predicted finish – 6th. Columbus’s team is much better than the 9th place finish (out of 10) they achieved last year. Ultimately, however, their final place will be largely determined by the effectiveness of the defensive shakeup. Any improvement at the back should see the Crew improve by leaps and bounds.
Key Acquisitions: Jose Guillermo Ortiz (ST), Ian Harkes (CM), Sebastian Le Toux (LM/RM)
Key Departures: Alvaro Saborio (ST), Andrew Dykstra (GK)
The Scoop: I’m not being biased. I promise I’m not. Ok, maybe a little. But I’m trying really hard not to. The Black and Red are poised to have the best season they have had in years. The best signing they’ve made did not occur during this window, but rather in the Summer with the acquisition of forward Patrick Mullins, who managed to bag eight goals in half a season with United. However, this offseason has seen the addition of Ortiz as both an alternative and a compliment to Mullins, MLS veteran Le Toux who has contributed heavily to every side for which he’s featured in the past, and the long-awaited homegrown signing of Harkes, who is expected to make an impact immediately. Meanwhile, the only departures of any note were aging striker Saborio, who has since retired, and the out-of-favor Dykstra, who had already lost his place as the regular backup. Factor in the likes of mainstays Patrick Nyarko and last year’s top scorer Lamar Neagle, as well as exploding star center back Steve Birnbaum, and the sky is the limit for the nation’s capital.
Predicted Finish – 4th. I’m going to be modest and guess that United finish in the same spot as last season, however it would not surprise me to see them finish in the top three this season.
Key Acquisitions: Chris Duvall (RB)
Key Departures: Didier Drogba (ST), Kyle Bekker (CM), Johan Vanegas (RW), Harry Shipp (CM)
The Scoop: The Impact are not getting any younger, and this may be the year it finally catches up to them. At 37 (Patrice Bernier), 33 (Marco Donadel), and 30 (Hernan Bernardello), Montreal boast the oldest midfield in the league. It’s only a matter of time before their age catches up and opponents are able to get the better of their loss of step. They also have not done themselves any favors in this regard, parting ways with young central midfielders Kyle Bekker and Harry Shipp. And all of this without even addressing the elephant in the room: Didier Drogba will not be returning to Montreal. The Ivorian superstar contributed 21 goals to the impact over two seasons. Even with the rise of Matteo Mancosu at the end of last season, those goals will not be easily recovered. However, even with all of these negatives, one shining positive still shines through: Ignacio Piatti is still one of the best players currently in the MLS. It’s yet to be seen if he can drag his team back to another playoff run.
Predicted finish: 8th. Montreal most likely overperformed last season, and considering the improvements made by other teams, I can’t see them making the playoffs again this season. However, it’s always worth remembering that a team featuring Piatti always has a chance to surprise.
New England Revolution
Key Acquisitions: Benjamin Angoua (DM/CB)
Key Departures: Jose Goncalves (CB), Gerson Koffie (CM)
The Scoop: New England are an enigma. There is so much talent on that team, but head coach Jay Heaps just doesn’t seem to be able to get the best out of his squad. It also doesn’t help that he’s lost regular center back Goncalves and Koffie, who was brought in as a sort of budget replacement for Jermaine Jones. However, Heaps will most likely be looking to the addition of Angoua from Guingamp in Ligue 1, who is able to fill in at both positions. New England will be returning a plethora of attacking options in the likes of Juan Aguedelo, Diego Fagundez, Teal Bunbury, Kelyn Rowe, and of course top scorer of not-so-long-ago, Kei Kamara to keep he Revs firing. All eyes will be on Heaps to see if he is able to get the results his players are capable of obtaining.
Predicted finish: 7th. As good as New England’s attack is (and it is very good), not enough has been done to solidify a back line that conceded 10 more goals than its offense could produce last season. A leaky defense will most likely see them miss out on the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
New York City FC
Key acquisitions: Sean Johnson (GK)
Key Departures: Frank Lampard (CM), Androni Iraola (CM), Federico Bravo (CM), Josh Saunders (GK)
The Scoop: NYCFC are coming off of a season that saw them second in the East in only their second season in the league. This result was in no small part to Spanish hero David Villa, whose 23 goals helped keep his team in the running, despite conceding the highest number of goals than any other playoff team in the conference. Villa, who shows no signs of slowing down, will return for the team’s third season, but he will be without the service of second-leading scorer Lampard, who has recently retired. In addition to losing Lampard, New York will also be missing Iraola and Bravo, leaving the large question of who will line up next to Italian maestro Andrea Pirlo in the center of midfield. However, the departure of Lampard leaves the door wide open for a new Designated Player signing to come in and make an impact. Additionally, NYCFC have parted ways with the goalkeeping disaster that was Josh Saunders and replaced him with veteran Sean Johnson, which will help with the goal-leaking problem. Add in the continued growth of wingers Khiry Shelton and Jack Harrison, and it seems the only direction for New York City now is up.
Predicted finish: 2nd. The continued production from the current playing staff plus the financial backing of Manchester City will mean that NYCFC will be one of the best teams in the East this season. If head coach Patrick Vieira can get the mix (not Diskerud) right, however, it wouldn’t surprise me to see New York City finish top of the conference.
New York Red Bulls
Key Acquisitions: Um… Well… ??
Key Departures: Dax McCarty (CM), Chris Duvall (RB), Ronald Zubar (CB)
The Scoop: In the grand scheme of things, not much has changed for the 2016 conference champions in the offseason. However, the loss of a couple key pieces may see the Red Bulls fight for supremacy in the East come with a little more difficulty. Center midfielder Felipe Martins will be without his rock-solid partner McCarty, which could have a huge effective on New York’s ability to control the midfield, one of their main strengths. Starting right back Duvall’s departure may leave a small impact on the defense, but the Sal Zizzo and Connor Lade should be able to combine to effectively fill the vacancy, while Zubar’s place next to Aurelien Collin should be easily filled by Gideon Baah and Damien Perrinelle. Most of the Red Bull’s incoming players this season are graduates from the club’s USL (second tier) side, New York Red Bulls II. Considering they club are returning such stars as Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan, the league leaders in goals and assists respectively last year, as well as solid players like Mike Grella, Gonzalo Veron, and the aforementioned Collin means there isn’t much need for change in Harrison, NJ.
Predicted finish: 3rd. The Red Bulls haven’t taken any substantial hits to the squad that proved to be the best in the East last season, however they also haven’t done a lot to improve the squad further. It’s fairly safe to say that, like their neighbors across the Hudson river, they will finish somewhere in the top 3. For now, however I believe there are two stronger teams.
Orlando City SC
Key Acquisitions: Will Johnson (CM), Jonathan Spector (RB), Donny Toia (LB), Giles Barnes (ST)
Key Departures: Kevin Molino (LW/RW), Julio Baptista (ST), Brek Shea (LW)
The Scoop: Like NYCFC, Orlando City SC came into league during the 2015 season. Unlike their counterparts in blue, however, they have not been improving. Orlando have added a couple of good pieces in MLS veteran Johnson, who will compete with Cristian Higuita and monumental flop (personal opinion) Antonio Nocerino for time, and fullbacks Spector and Toia. The loss of Kevin Molino will be a massive hit to Orlando’s offensive production. Considering Molino finished second in both goals and assists for the Purple Lions last season, his absence will most certainly be felt this season. However, in the week leading up to the season opening, head coach Jason Kreis came through in a big way by trading Shea, who has largely been disappointing in Florida, up to Vancouver in exchange for proven goal scorer Barnes. This signing is likely to result in Kreis changing his formation to a two-striker set up, with Barnes starting up top next to Cyle Larin. Orlando will also be without the services of striker Baptista, as his loan ended as the conclusion of the season. But hey, they still have Kaka.
Predicted finish: 11th. Orlando have simply not done enough to give themselves a chance of competing better than last year. Kaka can only drag the team so far, so unless the players around him really step up their game, I’m predicting a rock bottom finish.
Key Acquisitions: Jay Simpson (ST), Oguchi Oneywu (CB)
Key Departures: Tranquillo Barnetta
The Scoop: Last season, The Union started out pretty strong but fizzled out in spectacular fashion, losing or drawing their final 8 games of the season. It certainly doesn’t help them that they lost one of their best midfielders in Barnetta, who went home to Switzerland. In an attempt to bolster the team at both sides of the pitch, Philadelphia brought in the likes of Simpson, who last played with any sort of success in the fourth tier of English football, and Oneywu, a veteran of the Dutch Eredivise. Of the two, Simpson is likely to have the greater impact, as Philadelphia’s center back trio of Josh Yaro, Richie Marquez, and Ken Tribbett failed to impress much of last season. The Union aren’t without their bright spots, however. U.S. National Teamer Alejandro Bedoya will have his first full season to make an impact for his new club, and Philadelphia have some more-than-decent pieces in goalkeeper Andre Blake, right back Keegan Rosenberry, attacking midfielder Roland Alberg, and resurgent winger Chris Pontius.
Predicted finish: 10th. Philadelphia have some good pieces, particularly in midfield, but a struggling central defense and a misfiring striker in C.J. Sapong (despite a strong start to last season) will keep Philadelphia near the bottom of the table.
Key Acquisitions: Clint Irwin (GK)…kinda. (Selected by Atlanta FC in the Expansion draft, traded back to Toronto in exchange for fullback Mark Bloom and allocation money).
Key Departures: Will Johnson (CM)
The Scoop: Sebastian Giovinco is the best player in MLS at the moment. Jozy Altidore finished the season on a hot streak. Michael Bradley is still one of the best central midfielders in the league. Considering the player losses suffered by the likes of NYCFC and the L.A. Galaxy, no other MLS club can boast as strong a Designated Player core as Toronto. Furthermore, Toronto’s supporting cast is excellent and only lost one important player in Johnson. Johnson’s spot in front of Bradley, however, will easily be filled in by any combination of Armando Cooper, Benoit Cheyrou, Marco Delgado, and Jonathan Osorio. Meanwhile, Toronto’s switch to a 3-5-2 formation at the second half of last year has made a massive difference. The return of wingbacks Justin Meram and Steven Beitashour, who somehow managed to avoid selection in the Expansion Draft, is especially crucial in making the formation tick.
Predicted finish: 1st. There is a reason that Toronto made it to all the way to the MLS Cup final last season. The Canadian club sports one of the best starting lineups in the league, and back it up with fantastic squad depth. They’re set to go the distance, and I expect they will do just that.
The Western Conference:
Key Acquisitions: Alan Gordon (ST), Bismarck Adjei-Boateng (CM)
Key Departures: Jermaine Jones (CM), Sebastian Le Toux (LM/RM), Marco Pappa (CM)
The Scoop: The Rapids are had an uncharacteristically good season last year that saw them finish second in the West. Their success was largely down their fantastic defensive record, conceding a league-low 32 goals, seven fewer than the next closest team. Colorado’s starting back five from last season will return, including star goalkeeper Tim Howard. However, though captain Sam Cronin will return to the center of the park, he will have to formulate a relationship with a new partner, as both Pappa and U.S. international Jones have parted ways with the club. Adjei-Boateng will most likely be tasked with filling this spot. The rapids will also return their three top scorers from last season in Shkelzen Gashi, Dominique Badji, and Kevin Doyle. If the Rapids can add greater offensive production, they could enjoy another impressive season.
Predicted finish: 4th. It’s yet to be seen if Colorado can recreate their offensive form from last season, but it seems unlikely. While the trio of Gashi, Badji, and Doyle tend to interchange throughout the game, the Rapids will need to start chipping in goals from the wide areas if they want to make significant progress this season. Still, the Rapids showed last year that they have what it takes to compete with their rivals. Considering the loss of key personnel to other teams in the conference, a top-half-of-the-table finish doesn’t seem that far-fetched.
Key Acquisitions: Javier Morales (CAM), Roland Lamah (LW), Cristian Coleman (ST)
Key Departures: Fabian Castillo (LW – Left midseason 2016), Carlos Ruiz (ST), Mauro Rosales (RW)
The Scoop: The domestic double was not a bad way to end 2016, despite a rather early play-off exit. However, if Dallas want to recreate their success from last season, they will have to do it with the significant absence of Castillo, who moved to Turkish Superlig side Trabzonspor in a controversial move mid-2016. Belgian international Lamah will be tasked with filling those rather large (figuratively speaking) shoes, and Dallas will be counting on his experience in the Belgian, Spain, and England to help him hit the ground running. However, this is the only starting spot that Dallas have had to look to fill, with other significant players such as Ruiz and Rosales being missed more for their contributions in terms of offering experience. New DP striker Coleman will almost certainly usurp Maximiliano Urruti, who was no slouch in his own right last season, or even pair with him in a 4-4-2. Meanwhile, former Real Salt Lake star Morales will come in to spell star midfielder Mauro Diaz, whose late season injury contributed in no small part to Dallas’s early playoff exit.
Predicted finish: 2nd. Even with the departure of Castillo, Dallas will have every reason to expect a high finish this year. When healthy, Mauro Diaz is probably the best number ten in the league, and, age aside, having Morales pushing him for his spot, can only be expected to put in outstanding performances. With arguably the best center back pairing in the league of Walker Zimmerman and Matt Hedges, and an attack consisting of Coleman, Lamah, Urruti, and Michael Barrios, Dallas are an incredibly well-rounded team.
Key Acquisitions: Leonardo (CB), A.J. DeLaGarza (CB), Adolfo Machado (CB) Vincente Sanchez (RW), Romell Quioto (ST)
Key Departures: Cristian Maidana (CAM), Raul Rodriguez (CB), Will Bruin (ST), Collen Warner (CM)
The Scoop: 2016 was not kind to the Dynamo, who were only able to produce seven wins over the course of the season. 2017 may not be much better for them, as they lost many of their key players. The have lost their second starting striker in less than a year, as Bruin followed last year’s leading scorer for Houston Giles Barnes to the Cascadia region. They also lost veteran center back Raul Rodriguez and DP Cristian Maidana who, although endured an uninspiring season, has proven himself to be a massive contributor in the past. However, Houston clearly have a strategy to improve this season, focusing on their defense, including the double signing of DeLaGarza and Leonardo from the Galaxy. . Honduran international Romell Quioto will replace Will (the Dancing Bear) Bruin. This guy is legit. All of their success will be on his shoulders and any sort of relationship he can form with Erick “El Cubo” Torres. He already led the Dynamo to a victory in their preseason tournament with two goals in the final versus Colorado. The Dynamo have also procured the services of Vincente, a true journeyman of multiple continents and MLS veteran, to boost the attack. On the sidelines, the hiring of new head coach Wilmer Cabrera, who was able to get a very subpar Chivas USA (rest in peace) to play some decent soccer and not finish last in the Western Conference in their final season in 2014, should go a long way towards sending Houston up the table.
Predicted finish: 10th. Houston’s defensive additions may prove to be sufficient to keep them off the bottom of the table, but I don’t think it will be enough to make up for their offensive inefficiencies. Without an overly-impressive team dynamic nor a star DP or two to drag them forward, the writing may be on the wall for the Dynamo before the season has kicked off. Granted, if Cabrera can work the same magic he did with Chivas USA, this number could certainly be lower.
Los Angeles Galaxy
Key Acquisitions: Jermaine Jones (CM), Romain Alessandrini (LW)
Key Departures: Steven Gerrard (CM), Robbie Keane (ST) Landon Donovan (CF), Leonardo (CB), A.J. DeLaGarza (CB), Alan Gordon (ST), Mike Magee (ST), Jeff Larentowicz (CM)
The Scoop: This offseason, the Galaxy lost a lot of important players. Like, a lot. A. Lot. However, with the resources they possess, L.A. may not be much worse off. In fact, most of the key players they lost have were aging stars in the twilight of their careers. Each of the key departing players above, save for DeLaGarza and Leonardo, are over 30 years old, and the central defending pair are both on the edge at 29. Meanwhile, they brought in USMNT mainstay Jones and Frenchman Alessandrini, who has racked up 103 appearances in Ligue 1. The Galaxy’s biggest loss, however, is not any player, but head coach Bruce Arena who has now taken the helm of the U.S. National Team. New head coach Curt Onalfo, who was promoted from L.A.’s USL team “L.A Galaxy II”, saw his first stint as a MLS head coach with D.C. United end in flames. With an elite team under his watch, he will hope that this time around will finally breed success.
Predicted finish: 3rd. Despite losing so many names, a team consisting of the likes of Jones, Alessandrini, Sebastian Lleget, Jelle Van Damme, and the prolific striking duo of Gyasi Zardes and Giovani dos Santos is bound to experience a certain level of success. Barring a complete meltdown, expect to see Los Angeles near the top of the table.
Key Acquisitions: Mohammed Saeid (CM), Collen Warner (CM) Johan Venegas (RM), Kevin Molino (LM/RM/CAM), Bobby Shuttleworth (GK)
Key Departures…kinda: Jeff Attinella (GK), Chris Duvall (RB)
The Scoop: Like fellow newcomers Atlanta United, Minnesota are a relatively unknown entity. However, their approach to their inaugural season has been much different to their Eastern Conference counterparts. Where Atlanta opted to build their squad around high profile internationals, the Loons (greatest nickname in MLS?) have centered their team around a core of MLS veterans. After playing in the NASL in United States Soccer Federation’s second tier for 6 seasons and being promoted to MLS, Minnesota United know their way around the domestic game. The Loons produced a stroke of genius in selecting Duvall from New York Red Bulls in the Expansion Draft and almost instantly trading him for Venegas, who will certainly make a big contribution in Minnesota’s attack. A draft pick that will actually stay with the club, Saied will finally get a chance to be a starter after backing up the likes of Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani in Columbus for the past two seasons. He and Warner will be the key cogs in Minnesota’s engine room. However, their greatest signing may in fact be Molino, who was a standout player in an Orlando team last year that featured Kaka, Cyle Laren, and Julio Baptista. Special mention to defenders Justin Davis and Kevin Venegas who will stay with the club from their NASL days.
Predicted finish: 8th. Minnesota have yet to play a single pass as a MLS club, so this is a complete guess, educated though it is. Being a brand new team immediately puts the Loons at a disadvantage, as the players have only had a single off-season to learn to play together. However, with their experience-central approach, Minnesota United could certainly surprise everyone and make an early impact on their new league.
Key Acquisitions: Chance Myers (RB), David Guzman (DM), Sebastian Blanco (CAM/RM/LM)
Key Departures: Jack Jewsbury (CM), Nat Borchers (CB), Steven Taylor (CB), Jermaine Taylor (CB)
The Scoop: The season that followed their title win was less than spectacular for Portland. Despite a squad full of talented players, head coach Caleb Porter’s boys were not able to even qualify for the playoffs last season by two points at the end of the season. However, this offseason the Timbers gutted the central defense that contributed to the conference-high 53 goals allowed, including the Taylors (no relation) and the lumberjack himself, Nat Borchers, who decided to call it a career. Liam Ridgewell is expected to resume his place as one half of the central defensive partnership and is likely to be joined by Amobi Okugo. Guzman was brought in to replace the also retiring Jewsbury and new DP signing Blanco will be expected to contribute to the attack as quickly as possible.
Predicted finish: 6th. It’s not absurd to think that Portland could enjoy a resurgence this season, however the fact that they are resorting to in-house solutions to a fairly major defensive problem doesn’t beg a ton of confidence. However, particularly if the offensive trio of Fanendo Adi, Diego Valleri, and Darlington Nagbe, with the addition of Blanco, can begin firing, it seems likely the Timbers Army can expect at least a return to the playoffs in their future.
Real Salt Lake
Key Acquisitions: Chad Barrett (ST), Luis Silva (CAM/ST), Albert Rusnack (CAM)
Key Departures: Javier Morales (CAM), Jameson Olave (CB), Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez (RM)
The Scoop: Real Salt Lake’s game is centered less on big name individuals than a well-rounded team dynamic. While this hasn’t really propelled them to be serious title contenders, is has seen them regularly finish in the top half of the conference table, often in the top three, but never winning a title. However, RSL will have to operate this season without two of their most critical players. Long-time veteran Javier Morales parted Salt Lake for greener pastures in Dallas after nine years with the club. Though the midfielder is currently 37-years-old and has certainly lost a step from his younger days, his influence on the club cannot be overstated. Even more concerning, however, is the loss of “Burrito” Martinez, who accounted for the second most goals and tied for the third most assists last season. Salt Lake signed Rusnack to a DP contract and will expect him to ease the blow of losing two of their best players. They also brought in Chad Barrett from San Jose and former D.C. United man Luis Silva to help make up the goals.
Predicted Finish: 7th. There is still a lot to say for RSL’s team dynamic, however losing two of their best players won’t help their case this season. Combined with the fact that central midfielder Kyle Beckerman and striker Yura Movsisyan are only getting older, things don’t look great for Salt Lake. To end on a high note, however, RSL does still have midfielder Joao Plata and just resigned budding young center back Justen Glad, which can only benefit them.
San Jose Earthquakes
Key Acquisitions: Jackson Yeuill (CM), Harold Cummings (CB), Danny Hoesen (ST)
Key Departures: Alberto Quintero (RM), Chad Barrett (ST)
The Scoop: San Jose had a rough 2016, mainly in the final third. Much of this was down to the fact that striker Quincy Amarikwa missed 11 games, many of which were due to injury. Amarikwa is set to miss the beginning of the 2017 season as he continues to recover, so Hoesen, a Belgian youth international and former Ajax player, will be expected to step right into his place. Meanwhile, promising homegrown player Tommy Thompson will be expected to make the large step up to replace the outgoing Quintero, who was vital to the Earthquake’s attack last season. San Jose also managed to grab top prospect Jackson Yeuill in this year’s SuperDraft, but it is yet to be determined how quickly he will be expected to make a difference. They also fortified their rather solid defense with the addition of Cummings, who was a regular fixture for Costa Rican side Alajuelense.
Predicted finish: 9th. Father time is bound to catch up to Chris Wondolowski eventually, and this could be that year. While he’ll like still bag double-digit goals, it won’t be enough to save this team. Wondo will be counting on Amarikwa making a quick comeback and production from the wide areas from the likes of Thompson, Shea Salinas, and Simon Dawkins to find the goals that were missing from last year’s campaign. However, if they aren’t able to find them, San Jose’s toothless attack is likely to find them near the bottom of the table.
Key Acquisitions: Will Bruin (ST), Harry Shipp (CM/CAM), Gustav Svensson (CM)
Key Departures: Andreas Ivanschitz (CM), Erik Friberg (CM), Tyrone Mears (RB)
The Scoop: The reigning MLS Cup champions will be coming into the 2017 season with all expectations of another successful campaign. Most of Seattle’s departures were fringe players and players in the twilight of their careers. The departure of Ivanschitz and Friberg will largely be soaked up by the rise of young central midfielder Cristian Roldan and the signing of Shipp, while Bruin will assume the role of backup striker, and should be expected to be an effective one at that. The loss of Mears will hurt, as he was a key part of Seattle’s defense. The retention of the remainder of the title-winning side, however, will only boost their confidence entering the new season.
Predicted finish: 1st. The mid-2016 signing of Nicolas Lodeiro completely flipped Seattle’s faltering 2016 season for the better and saw them make a late surge up the table that eventually led to their championship. The partnership between center backs Chad Marshall and Roman Torres has the potential to rival the likes of FC Dallas. With the refreshing the club did in the offseason, the expected full return of Clint Dempsey, and the supernova that is Jordan Morris, it’s hard to see anyone getting the best of the Sounders in 2017. Also, if rumors to be believed, a certain Japanese midfielder currently plying his trade for AC Milan could possibly rock up in Seattle before the close of the Summer transfer window.
Sporting Kansas City
Key Acquisitions: Gerso Fernandez (LW), Ilie Sanchez (DM)
Key Departures: Brad Davis (LW), Nuno Andre Coelho (CB), Chance Myers (RB), Justin Mapp (LW)
The Scoop: Sporting Kansas City have been a perennial middle-of-the pack team, finishing no higher than 5th in the Western Conference since their MLS Cup winning season in 2013. Head coach Peter Vermes will be without the services of veteran left-wing-by-committee as Mapp’s option was not picked up and Davis decided to call time on a very impressive MLS career. Their production will fall to new designated player signing Fernandez. While not particularly known for his scoring prowess, Fernandez offers plenty of pace to trouble opposing fullbacks and offer service to main goal scorer Dom Dwyer. Kansas City also brought in Sanchez to compete with Soni Mustivar as the deepest lying midfielder.
Predicted finish: 5th. Kansas City have the defense to keep them in games and hold on to pickup up points, led by MLS and USMNT veteran Matt Besler and his partner Ike Opara, with Kevin Ellis ready and able to fill in if necessary. On the other end of the pitch, however, only Dwyer has any sort of goal scoring pedigree. What he will not be lacking, however is service, with Fernandez and Zusi on either flank and veteran midfielder Benny Feilhaber behind him. Without any goal threat beyond Dwyer, however, it’s hard to see anything other than a mid-table finish for SKC.
Key Acquisitions: Fredy Montero (ST), Yordy Reyna (ST), Sheanon Williams (RB)
Key Departures: Giles Barnes (ST), Pedro Morales (CAM), Blas Perez (ST), Fraser Aird (RB/RWB)
The Scoop: 2016 was not a great season for the Whitecaps. The Canadian team conceded the second most number of goals in the conference, only one fewer than conference leaders Portland Timbers. They’re inability to keep the ball out of the back of their own net led to them losing a whopping 15 matches, the most number of losses in the conference, and second most in the league behind only the Chicago (dumpster) Fire. Sorry Kris. Surprisingly, however, Vancouver did hardly anything to shore up that back line. In fact, the only defensive signing they made was Williams, who was never really even contending for a starting spot in Philadelphia, who will replace Aird, whose expired loan deal saw him return to Scotland. However, the Whitecaps did make an effort to bolster their front line in hopes that more firepower will mask their defensive deficiencies, signing Reyna and Montero to replace the post-prime Morales and Perez, as well as Shea to add width to the attack. However, the signing of Shea comes at the cost of Barnes, who was expected to lead the front line after his mid-season acquisition last year. While Reyna will be expected to make an impact from the bench, Montero is by far the best signing of the season for Vancouver, particularly with the departure of Barnes. On loan from Chinese club Tianjin TEDA, Montero has already made his mark on the league, scoring 47 goals over 4 seasons for Vancouver’s Cascadia rivals, the Seattle Sounders.
Predicted finish: 10th. Montero should go a long way to improving the Whitecaps’ goal scoring tally from last year and, if Shea can recapture his form of years past, the striker should have greater service. However, the unimproved defensive line, despite featuring excellent center back Kendall Waston, does absolutely nothing to inspire confidence that we will see any kind of improved display. Chances are the Whitecaps will be taking a step backwards this year.