2017 MLS season preview and predictions

But elsewhere, the ‘Caps haven’t done enough to improve a team that more or less fell apart last season.

With Pedro Morales gone, there’s no playmaker or two-way central midfielder. Whether it’s Andrew Jacobson or Russell Teibert next to Matias Laba, the ‘Caps are going to have a hard time winning midfield battles.

The defense is also suspect, with Kendall Waston coming off of what was a very poor 2016 campaign. Vancouver is still a move or two away from getting back to the playoffs.

Projected XI: Ousted (C), Williams, Waston, Parker, Harvey, Laba, Teibert, Bolaños, Manneh, Techera, Montero


SEE MORE: Schedule of MLS games on US TV and streaming


10. Houston Dynamo

The Dynamo are trending in the right direction. There’s no question. But they’re a year away from being competitive in the West.

Wilmer Cabrera is a good coach, and the work Houston has done this winter – pairing a ton of relatively cheap Latin American talent with some MLS vets who know how to win – is smart.

The Dynamo will likely absorb plenty of pressure and try to counter. They’re going to work extremely hard, and likely going to pick some teams off at home. Adolfo Machado and AJ DeLaGarza will drastically improve the defense.

But unless Cubo Torres scores 30 goals – which isn’t exactly out of the realm of possibility – there’s not enough talent here to support a playoff run.

Projected XI: Deric, Beasley (C), Leonardo, Machado, DeLaGarza, Cabezas, Alex, B. Garcia, Elis, Manotas, Torres

11. Minnesota United

Minnesota isn’t going to be as bad as everybody thinks they will be. Adrian Heath’s teams have always played good attacking soccer, and MNUFC has the pieces – namely Kevin Molino – to do the same in 2017.

But there are plenty of reasons to be nervous about Minnesota. The Loons are going to be relying on a large number of their NASL players to log heavy minutes, which is a major gamble – and neither Miguel Ibarra nor Christian Ramirez have had great preseasons.

Fullback, where, god forbid, Heath appears to be preparing to start Jermaine Taylor, is a major problem. Josh Gatt might be an answer there, but there is a striking lack of MLS experience in the back seven. It could show.

The Loons seemed slightly rushed in making the transition to MLS, and this inaugural campaign could be a rough ride. Big picture, however, Minnesota has the right ideas. Heath has been through this process before, and knows what he’s doing.

Projected XI: Alvbage (C), Davis, Calvo, Demidov, Taylor, Schuller, Warner, Molino, Kadrii, Ibarra, J. Venegas




1. Toronto FC

It was written for Toronto FC to win its first MLS Cup last year on its home turf at BMO Field. But despite holding the Seattle Sounders without a shot in the season’s final game, TFC fell short in a penalty shootout.

The last several months have been unusually quiet in Toronto. The club is returning all eleven of its MLS Cup starters, with Will Johnson rating as the offseason’s only significant loss after Clint Irwin was reacquired after the Expansion Draft.

The only notable additions to the team have been Chris Mavinga, a Congolese center back from Rubin Kazan, and Victor Vazquez, who arrived Cruz Azul. Both players will push for minutes in Greg Vanney’s 5-3-2.

TFC is primed to make another run at the Cup this year, and as long as the likes of Bradley, Altidore, and Giovinco stay healthy, they’ll be amongst the favorites to finish the job.

Projected XI: Irwin, Morrow, Zavaleta, Moor, Hagglund, Beitashour, Bradley (C), Osorio, Cooper, Giovinco, Altidore

2. New York City FC

Same issue as last year: The defense, which shipped seven goals against TFC in the East semis, isn’t championship quality.

Sean Johnson might be an upgrade over Josh Saunders in goal, but he hasn’t been one of the league’s best goalkeepers in recent years, while center back is still very much a question mark.

Going forward, though, this team should be dynamite. The midfield has gotten younger and rangier around Andrea Pirlo, who will pull the strings, and there are oodles of attacking talent to place around David Villa at the front of the 4-3-3.

One of those pieces is Rodney Wallace, who should add some much-needed nous to the group. It will be interesting to see how what wrinkles Patrick Vieira has up his sleeve in his second MLS season. NYCFC should be one of the league’s best packages.

Projected XI: Johnson, Allen, Chanot, Callens, Matarrita, Ring, Pirlo, Moralez, McNamara, Harrison, D. Villa (C)

3. New York Red Bulls

All does not appear to be well in Harrison. After Jesse Marsch – reportedly – almost bolted for Red Bull Salzburg in January, sporting director Ali Curtis left the club last week.

In the middle of all of that, the longtime Red Bull captain Dax McCarty was traded to the Chicago Fire. Both losses will hurt. McCarty was the heartbeat of the team, while Curtis was its chief architect.

Marsch is confident that the Red Bulls’ up-and-coming central midfielders – namely Sean Davis and Tyler Adams – can replace McCarty, while Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips continue to provide the goals.

The Red Bulls have already had injury problems in preseason, and will likely be missing pieces to start the campaign. If things don’t go well, Marsch will take plenty of heat.

Projected XI: Robles, Lawrence, Collin, Perinelle, Zizzo, Davis, Felipe, Muyl, Kljestan (C), Veron, Wright-Phillips

4. Columbus Crew

The Crew just never got going last season, with locker-room infighting and a leaky defense ruining a team that hosted MLS Cup two years ago.

Gregg Berhalter’s response was to gut his defense – Columbus has two new center backs and a new goalkeeper heading into 2017 – but, more or less, keep faith with the midfield that steered the Crew to the playoffs in his first two seasons in charge.

That means Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani through the middle, Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram wide, and Federico Higuain pulling the strings – and while there’s no guarantee that Ola Kamara will be able to replicate the career year he had in 2016, goals were never the problem for the Crew.

If the defense is better, Columbus will be back in business. DP signing and Ghana World Cup vet John Mensah will shoulder much of that responsibility, as will the new 21-year-old starting goalkeeper Zach Steffan.

Projected XI: Steffen, Afful, Mensah, Naess, Francis, Trapp, Tchani, Finlay, Higuain (C), Meram, Kamara

5. Montreal Impact

After coming up short in one of the best MLS playoff series of all time in November, Montreal has had one of the league’s quietest winters.

Didier Drogba is gone, of course, and his DP replacement Blerim Dzemaili will arrive in the summer. The club lost some depth in the Expansion Draft, and Chris Duvall came in to play right back.

Other than that, there hasn’t been much to report. Patrice Bernier, still the bee’s knees at 37, is back for one final season, but it’s hard to see how Montreal’s midfield of Bernier, Hernan Bernadello and Marco Donadel is going to hold up for an entire season.

This is a fairly old group, but as Ignacio Piatti can get them to the playoffs, they should be a threat.

Projected XI: Bush, Oyongo, Ciman, Cabrera, Duvall, Donadel, Bernadello, Bernier (C), Oduro, Piatti, Mancosu

6. DC United

It isn’t saying much, but this is the most talented DC United team that Ben Olsen has had since he took over the black-and-red in 2011.

DC, as you might remember, finished last season on something of a tear before being obliterated by Montreal in the Wild Card round at RFK. That team is basically back, with Ian Harkes – son of the recently unemployed John and one of the brightest young talents in the country – added to the mix.

That said, DC still doesn’t have enough game-changers to scare teams. They’re going to mostly take care of business and make the playoffs, but anything beyond that is going to require some magic.

That said, the future is bright. Harkes is a franchise player, and with the move to Buzzard Point now just one year away, the financial outlook of the club has never been better. It’s a good time to be a DC United fan.

Projected XI: Hamid, Kemp, Boswell (C), Birnbaum, Franklin, Sarvas, Harkes, L. Acosta, Nyarko, Sam, Mullins

7. Atlanta United

It’s tough for an expansion team to make the playoffs, absolutely. But it’s not impossible. Seattle did it in 2009, Portland came up just two points short in 2011, and Orlando missed out on goal difference in 2015.

Atlanta this year should be better than all of those teams were when they debuted. They’ve checked all the boxes: Expensive young DPs, proven international players, proven MLS players, incredible fan buzz, and a star manager.

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