Hope. It springs eternal around Major League Soccer this time of year.


Coming off a dumpster fire of a season? You could be this year’s Colorado Rapids. Still smarting from another playoff choke job? There’s no reason why your team can’t exorcise those postseason demons by replicating the Sounders’ (or Timbers’) MLS Cup run. Tamping down expectations in your expansion season? Shoot higher, just like the Chicago Fire did in 1998.


At this very moment, all 22 MLS clubs and their supporters should believe (or at least entertain the idea) that 2017 could be their year. In this league, the champion doesn’t have to be a juggernaut from opening day until the final whistle. Most aren’t. Finish above the red line then string together some results in November and December and you could make history.                                                                                                                            


Hope, in MLS’s case, isn’t just lip service. It’s visceral. It’s innate. But it doesn’t last forever.


So, while hope is still rooted in some semblance of reality (no matter how delusional) and a blank league table, I’m here to play the eternal optimist, to tell you why you should believe, even if logic, your gut and your team’s tepid transfer window tell you otherwise.


Why will your team will MLS Cup? Let’s use our imaginations…


Atlanta United will win MLS Cup because


... the Falcons absorbed all the bad championship juju in the Super Bowl. Boosted by massive home crowds, Tata Martino wastes no time forming a cohesive unit and Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez and Hector Villalba lead the league’s most explosive attack. In a series of 5-3 games, ATL ride their young guns to a few can’t-look-away comebacks and change the MLS roster-building paradigm in the process.


The Chicago Fire will win MLS Cup because


...#ThatsSoMetro tradition dictates Red Bulls fans must watch their former captain and talisman, Dax McCarty, lift MLS Cup after being unceremoniously shipped out of New York this winter. That and because David Accam, Michael De Leeuw and Nemanja Nikolic combine for 40 goals while Veljko Paunovic harkens back to that Serbia U-20 World Cup team to get the defense on the same page.    


The Colorado Rapids will win MLS Cup because


...the backline is even better than the group that allowed just 32 goals last year. It’s basically the same personnel, only this time around they have Tim Howard for a full season and Bismark Adjei-Boateng plays the minutes and covers the ground Jermaine Jones’ legs couldn’t muster. Oh, and Shkelzen Gashi drops 15 and 10, while Kevin Doyle reminds us why he was once a big-time goalscorer.


Columbus Crew SC will win MLS Cup because


...the beautiful game deserves a champion that plays the game beautifully. Crew SC prove their unlucky 2016 was an outlier, Ola Kamara wins the Golden Boot (told you), and Jonathan Mensah takes home the Defender of the Year award. Instead of mourning outside MAPFRE like they did in 2015, the Nordecke harken back to the days of GBS and bow down to the champions before painting Columbus bright yellow on a chilly night in December.


D.C. United will win MLS Cup because


...last year’s second-half surge was no fluke, Patrick Mullins becomes Taylor Twellman incarnate and Ian Harkes wins a starting job and challenges Kellyn Acosta for the title of “Best No. 8 prospect in MLS.” Also, Bill Hamid and Patrick Nyarko don’t miss any time because of injury, and Luciano Acosta makes the jump from “fun to watch” to “absolute hell to play against.”


FC Dallas will win MLS Cup because


...sometimes the best team wins, especially when said team is chasing an unprecedented treble after hoisting the CONCACAF Champions League and US Open Cup trophies (told you I was dreaming big). Oscar Pareja gets Mauro Diaz back for the stretch run, as if he needed him, adding a magic unicorn to a squad that already boasts MLS’s best centerback tandem, striker tag team, young central midfield and back-to-front wing play. MLS’s best-ever season? Yup.


The Houston Dynamo will win MLS Cup because


...Wilmer Cabrera’s young bucks don’t know they aren’t supposed to be this good yet – FREE CUBO! – and Adolfo Machado, AJ DeLaGarza and DaMarcus Beasley get together and decide they’ll accept nothing less than 2016 Colorado Rapids defensive play, especially at home, where Houston had a league-low five wins last year. In the process, Alberth Elis establishes himself as the next Fabian Castillo. Zoom zoom.


LA Galaxy will win MLS Cup because


... that’s just what they do. Race to Seis complete, baby. In typical fashion, LA play rope-a-dope until after the Gold Cup, when another Designated Player joins the fold, Gyasi Zardes is healthy and banging in goals and Romain Alessandrini and the Los Dos kids are fully adapted to MLS. You know what happens next, the Galaxy turn it on when it matters most, roll to the final and win another Cup at home. Déjà vu.


Minnesota United FC will win MLS Cup because


... every time you think you have this league figured out, it lands a bare-knuckle haymaker square in your temple. No DPs? That’s your problem, not MNUFC’s. In February, Adrian Heath said Kevin Molino could be the “best player in the league,” and 10 months later it turns out the gaffer was an all-seeing soccer prophet. Hey, if Leicester can do it…


The Montreal Impact will win MLS Cup because


... Nacho Piatti turns every right back in MLS into a Star Wars-esque lead statue by December, Mauro Biello stumbles on to the Midfield Fountain of Youth while lost in the Everglades during a road trip to Orlando and crosses are no longer the backline’s kryptonite. That and because Dom Oduro carved the Phil Anschutz Trophy into his hair for the big game, a scenario we absolutely need to witness in real life.                          


The New England Revolution will win MLS Cup because


...Juan Agudelo becomes the physically dominant, string-pulling, bicycle-kick scoring, something-out-of-nothing second striker American soccer fans have imagined he could be since he scored on his debut for the US national team as a 17-year-old. Around him, the Revs’ bevy of attacking weapons thrive. That and the new-look defensive triangle (Kouassi at d-mid, Angoua and Delamea in central defense) is better than advertised.


New York City FC will win MLS Cup because


... the legend of Tommy McNamara won’t be complete until the native New Yorker is letting his Sampson-like locks blow in the wind at the head of a ticker-tape parade through downtown Manhattan. NYCFC’s 2018 marketing motto? Business in the front, party in the back.


The New York Red Bulls will win MLS Cup because


... every curse has to end, right? Right?! Maybe? Actually, nevermind. Nothing to see here.


Seriously, though, the chip on this team’s shoulder after a tumultuous offseason is going to be the size of Red Bull Arena. They would finally win the ultimate prize after a winter like this.


Orlando City SC will win MLS Cup because


... Kaka’s offseason fitness regime allows the former Ballon d’Or winner to finally do Ballon d’Or things for a full season in MLS. The trickle-down effect is that Cyle Larin becomes the league’s most dominant No. 9, with a cabal of European suitors banging on Orlando’s door come January, and Church Street becomes the place to be when the Lions are in town.


The Philadelphia Union will win MLS Cup because


...all of Earnie Stewart’s personnel gambles come off swimmingly. Oguchi Onyewu throws it back to 2009, Jay Simpson is the next Bradley Wright-Phillips, Haris Medunjanin makes us forget all about Vincent Nogueira and Fafa Picault is Piatti light. Meanwhile, Chris Pontius improves on 2016, Alejandro Bedoya is one of MLS’s most complete midfielders and Maurice Edu’s injury woes finally end. Doop.


The Portland Timbers will win MLS Cup because


... Sebastian Blanco is the next Nico Lodeiro – wastes no time adapting to MLS, is durable, committed and stupid productive – and Gavin Wilkinson gives Caleb Porter a top-level center back in the summer transfer window. In the meantime, Darlington Nagbe goes the whole season without giving the ball away, Fanendo Adi hits the 20-goal mark and David Guzman reminds folks of Ozzie Alonso. In January, a Diego Valeri statue goes up outside Providence Park.


Real Salt Lake will win MLS Cup because


...nobody can keep up with Yura Movsisyan, Joao Plata and Albert Rusnak in the open field, Justen Glad becomes the next can’t-miss US national team prospect and the rest of the kids prove RSL’s academy investment has been worth it 10 times over. How do they do it? Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando guide a young team through some growing pains then embark on a #blessed playoff run, starting as the fifth seed and finishing as champions.  


The San Jose Earthquakes will win MLS Cup because


...TAM. And Chris Wondolowski. And David Bingham becoming the league’s best ‘keeper. And the Tommy Thompson hype train making regular stops in and around the 18-yard box. But mostly TAM.


The Seattle Sounders will win MLS Cup because


... Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris combine for 50 goals and 40 assists as Sounders games become can’t-miss events in North American soccer. How are those insane numbers possible – 11 teams fell short of that production in 2016 – you ask? Deuce goes for 22/8, Nico hits 12/21 and JMoSmooth puts up 16/11 (and gets a new nickname). Meanwhile, Roman Torres and Chad Marshall grind the bones of MLS strikers to make their bread.


Sporting Kansas City will win MLS Cup because


...Gerso Fernandes and Latif Blessing waste no time becoming the wingers Sporting need to trigger their press and feed Dom Dwyer’s voracious goal appetite. Orchestrating the whole thing is Benny Feilhaber, who claims a starting spot with the US national team by virtue of another MVP-caliber season, while Graham Zusi slowly eases his way into life as a right back and copies DaMarcus Beasley’s career trajectory. Remember Uri Rosell? Ilie Sanchez is the latest Barca B product to help paint the wall.                                                            


Toronto FC will win MLS Cup because


... the best players in the league refuse to be denied this time around. Sebastian Giovinco wins MVP. Jozy Altidore is the face MLS center backs see in their nightmares. Michael Bradley’s championship obsession never wanes and his long diagonals are always on the money. And that’s just the big three. The roster that took them to the brink of an MLS Cup triumph is even better this time around, and lifts the treble (Canadian Championship, Supporters’ Shield, MLS Cup). We the North, indeed!


The Vancouver Whitecaps will win MLS Cup because


... fate has decided that all three Cascadia teams will win the championship in consecutive years, just to annoy MLS fans from outside the Pacific Northwest. Kekuta Manneh and Alphonso Davies are so good that they inspire a catchy nickname, with Fredy Montero benefiting so much from the duo’s driving runs and service that nobody says, “Yeah, but what if the ‘Caps actually had a top-class center forward?” anymore.


Why will your team win MLS Cup? Dream big in the comments section below!