Three for Thursday: Who will surprise MLS in 2013?

On this week's episode of March to the Match, we offered our (likely way too early) predictions on how the 2013 MLS season might unfold, but that's really only part of the story.

Thanks to the parity inherent in the league, and the fact that many rosters are still coming together in January, there is plenty of room for other teams in the discussion. Here are three teams apart from the ones we me mentioned on the show that should improve on their 2012 showings and make a deep(er) playoff run.

(And if you don’t pick up on a running theme in the list, I’ll also just say this: The Eastern Conference will be scarily competitive next year.)

D.C. United

Perhaps an easy choice, as they were oh-so-close to getting to MLS Cup in 2012. This year, though, they are better-equipped than ever to pull it off.

The well-publicized need for a “big-time striker” remains in the nation’s capital, but you can’t help but feel that this young side that surprised so many after Dwayne De Rosario (right) went down is capable of even more than an Eastern Conference Championship appearance this time around.

And De Rosario will be back, by the way. Ben Olsen’s men showed they could bunker down and grind out some results after the Canadian star missed the final part of the season, but his presence in the lineup will give them a very potent weapon in attack. If the 34-year-old stays healthy and gets a quality striker to pair up with, the Black-and-Red could emerge as a true title contender.

Philadelphia Union

My pick for 2013’s surprise team on March to the Match. They have built up some impressive depth in both the forward and defensive lines and boast some very promising young talent from that 2010 draft class (Jack McInerney, Sheanon Williams, Amobi Okugo) that could really start to blossom in its third year in the league.

The combination of McInerney (below, right), Sébastien Le Toux and Conor Casey will allow the Union to throw a variety of looks at teams on offense, though questions remain about Casey’s health and the kind of service they will get.

In fact, the midfield could be the biggest question mark and barrier to the Union’s successful season. There are some good players there, but a lot may hinge on the development of Michael Farfan and the ability of Roger Torres and Freddy Adu to contribute more consistently, while a capable backup to the veteran defensive midfielder Brian Carroll wouldn’t hurt either, especially if head coach John Hackworth opts to keep Okugo in the backline.

The Union have more questions surrounding them than the other teams on the list, but they have a glut of young talent and seasoned veterans to provide guidance. If they can address a few holes (and perhaps bring in a veteran 'keeper), don't be surprised to see them back in the playoffs after a one-year hiatus.

Chicago Fire

After a few looks at the Fire roster, there aren’t too many names that jump off the paper – no superstars, no obvious MVP candidate. But there are quality starters and there is depth in almost every position, and that’s why people should pay attention to the Fire, who suffered a disappointing wild card loss in 2012, over the next year.

There may be some questions surrounding the Fire’s creative abilities, but with Chris Rolfe, Álvaro Fernández and Alex in the mix, plus a speedier option in Patrick Nyarko, there should be enough there to keep Sherjill MacDonald and the rest of the strikers well-fed, barring any serious injury issues.

If Arne Friedrich contributes at a similar level as he did in 2012, the defense should be in good hands with Jalil Anibaba, reigning Rookie of the Year Austin Berry, and Gonzalo Segares also in the mix, not to mention the fact they will be screened by Logan Pause and Pável Pardo.

This is a team that looked very good for a time after acquiring MacDonald and Fernández in the middle of 2012 and getting the best out of Rolfe, so don’t be surprised if the Fire take MLS by storm after enjoying a full preseason together.