Which MLS team is poised to make a hot start to 2018?

Zack Steffen - Columbus Crew SC - about to catch ball

Which team is poised to start the 2018 MLS regular season hottest? Could a team join the eight previous squads that started a season with at least nine games unbeaten?

Seven of those eight teams (Kansas City, 2000; LA Galaxy, 1998, 2000, 2010; Real Salt Lake, 2014; New England Revolution, 2005; Chicago Fire, 2009) reached the playoffs in the season they started hot. Curiously, the only team not to join that group by reaching the postseason, FC Dallas, happened last season, when they started 5-0-4.

Time will tell, of course, but in looking at the schedule, now fully unveiled for all 23 teams, here are some pre-preseason predictions for the teams best equipped to start the season on a long unbeaten streak.

Columbus Crew SC

You probably expected to see Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders on this list, but here's the thing: The 2017 MLS Cup finalists are among the five MLS sides participating in the CONCACAF Champions League knockout stage, which kicks off in February. Anything can happen, but given the prior track record of MLS teams prioritizing CCL games in the spring, they may play more reserves in the early-going, lowering their chances at an unbeaten run.

So, that leaves the likes of Columbus. Crew SC haven't made drastic changes so far this offseason, nor do they have a coaching change to deal with. Despite starting the campaign with a tough match against TFC, they'll have five home games and four games against Eastern Conference opposition to start the season, with their first truly long road trip coming in the 10th game against the Sounders. Throw in two games against D.C. United, which will be on an epic run of mostly road games prior to the opening of Audi Field in mid-July, and home matches against San Jose and Vancouver, and a long unbeaten run doesn't sound implausible -- if Crew SC can get a result in the opener.

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Orlando City

This one may seem like a left-field choice of sorts, since the Lions' roster is undergoing a major overhaul this offseason. But looking at the fixture breakdown, it appears that Orlando could start hot again in 2018. They start with a tricky home opener against D.C. United, but have seven home matches in their first 10 (home-field advantage has historically been a major factor in determining win probability in MLS) and only one of the truly tricky cross-conference road trips, against the rebuilding Colorado Rapids on April 29.

Orlando City will have tough games against NYCFC and Atlanta United in the first 10, but if they can get results to start, they may find the momentum pulls them to a points-filled run.

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Sporting Kansas City

There are some questions right now with Sporting KC's roster, particularly in the midfield and attack. But Sporting are coming off a stellar season on the defensive end, and while there could be some regression to the mean there, there's a good chance they could still get off to a good start this season. We've seen from their history that Peter Vermes' famous "Sporting Fit" ethos gives players a leg up over the competition early in the season, something that could well prove to be an advantage again this year.

Sporting's season starts at home against NYCFC, a tricky tie for both teams, but the home-field advantage should give Kansas City a leg up. Five of their 10 games will be at Children's Mercy Park, but road trips to Colorado and the LA Galaxy should give them reasonable chances at road wins or draws.