2017 MLS season preview and predictions

But the league around Atlanta is also far better than it was when Seattle – the easiest and best comparison – kicked off. Every new club goes through growing pains, and it won’t be any different here.

It will also be interesting to watch Tata Martino – whose two most recent jobs were the Argentina national team and Barcelona – try to navigate MLS. Patrick Vieira’s success with NYCFC last year notwithstanding, foreign coaches have traditionally had a miserable time in this league.

Projected XI: Kann, Mears, Parkhurst (C), Pirez, Garza, McCann, Carmona, Almiron, Villalaba, Martinez, K. Jones

8. Orlando City

Orlando is in an odd spot. The club has had a difficult time moving a number of players this winter, and thus the roster is slightly bloated and imbalanced.

Jason Kries has a tough job on his hands in his first full season in Florida, where Orlando will open their beautiful new stadium on the first Sunday of the season.

Will Johnson has been added in midfield, and Jonathan Spector in defense, but other than that, Kries is still mostly working with the pieces he had when he took over from Adrian Heath last summer.

The personnel will shift throughout the season, especially during the summer. But the team’s mentality – they were too soft and too slow all over the field last season – will be an early sign of whether Kreis has things moving in the right direction.

Projected XI: Bendik, PC, Spector, Aja, Toia, W. Johnson, Higuita, Shea, Perez-Garcia, Kaka (C), Larin

9. Chicago Fire

The Fire have turned the corner. After enduring a miserable first season in the Windy City, Nelson Rodriguez and Veljko Paunovic hit their marks in the winter, adding DP forward Nemanja Nikolic and former MLS All-Star midfielders Juninho and Dax McCarty.

Remaking the central midfield with Juninho and McCarty alone should be worth five wins, and an attack with Nikolic, Michael De Leeuw, and David Accam – who is somewhat quietly one of the league’s most exciting players – should score goals.

The defense is still a question mark, though Jonathan Campbell was an exciting SuperDraft pickup, with the club finally parting ways with Sean Johnson and replacing him with the Uruguayan Jorge Bava.

Chicago still has money to spend – and needs a traditional #10 – so look for them to continue to be active well into the season. The Fire want to win now, and they need their fans to come back to Toyota Park. It’s a big year for the club.

Projected XI: Bava, Vincent, Campbell, Kappelhof, Harrington, McCarty (C), Juninho, Goosens, Accam, De Leeuw, Nikolic

10. New England Revolution

This could be a make-or-break season for Jay Heaps in Foxborough, where the Revs were hugely disappointing in 2016.

The team has reworked its central defense, bringing in two new starters at center back, and it finds itself with a glut of attacking talent as Xavier Kouassi prepares to finally make his debut in MLS after missing all of 2016.

Heaps struggled to find the right combination of players last season after the Revs traded for Kei Kamara. There was some success with a diamond towards the end of the season, and that looks like how New England will start 2017.

Between Kamara, Juan Agudelo, Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen, and Diago Fagundez, there are a lot of attacking pieces. My guess is that, barring injury, someone will be moved by the summer.

Projected XI: Cropper, Tierney, Ferrell, Angoua, Watson, Kouassi, Rowe, Fagundez, Nguyen, Agudelo, Kamara

11. Philadelphia Union

After making plenty of progress and getting back to the postseason in 2016, Philadelphia has had a somewhat off-putting winter.

The club’s acquisitions – namely Giliano Wijnaldum and Jay Simpson – have come on the cheap and off the beaten path. Tranquilo Barnetta, this team’s best player last season, hasn’t been replaced.

There are other problems too. Maurice Edu still doesn’t appear ready to play, while shoulder surgery for Josh Yaro means that Oguchi Oneywu – who last year couldn’t latch on with an MLS club to save his life – is going to begin the season starting at center back.

The Union still have some very good young talent, but the beginning of the season has disaster written all over it. With the East improving, the Union might just have fallen behind.

Projected XI: Blake, Rosenberry, Oneywu, Marquez, Wijnaldum, Medunjanin, Bedoya, Herbers, Pontius, Alberg, Simpson

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