On March 3, MLS will kick off its 23rd season featuring a new team in Los Angeles, a new stadium in DC, and new investments in first-teams and academies across the league that have raised the bar again.
1. Toronto FC
What’s To Like: Pretty much everything. Toronto more or less returns the best team in MLS history and should threaten to win the CONCACAF Champions League.
To replace the one starter they lost in Steven Beitashour, TFC went out and got a World Cup finalist in Gregory van der Wiel. They’ve also got a 24-year-old attacking midfielder coming in from Athletic Bilbao in Ager Aketxe.
This team has been firing on all cylinders for a year. There are no signs of it slowing down.
What’s Not To Like: Defending champions usually struggle. Repeats in MLS are exceedingly rare, and slow starts for the previous year’s winner exceedingly common. The urgency just isn’t there like it is, say, when you lost last year’s final on penalties.
How does Toronto avoid that? For one, the expanding cap has allowed the Reds to keep most all of their championship-winning roster intact – one benefit they have that many former champs haven’t.
People are certainly excited about Gregory van der Wiel, and for good reason, but he’s struggled the last couple of years and is a question mark in a lineup without many of them.
Watchability: Never has TFC been more popular in Toronto, where they are expecting to fill BMO Field night in and night out this season. TSN’s Luke Weilman is the league’s best announcer on either side of the Canadian border, and former Toronto center back Steven Caldwell is solid accompaniment.
But the premium entertainment remains Giovinco, whose every free kick is must-watch television.
Projection: I don’t think TFC is going anywhere. This club feels focused enough to become a dynasty – or at least win the Eastern Conference again trying.
2. Atlanta United
What’s To Like: Smashing the MLS transfer record? Atlanta didn’t have many ways to raise the bar after their debut season, but spending more than $15 million to snatch Argentine starlet Ezequiel Barco was one.
Bringing in Darlington Nagbe for nearly a $1 million from Portland didn’t hurt either. Atlanta is adding to the best offense in the league two of the most talented attackers now in the league.