MLS Cup trophy

Wiebe: Why every team can win MLS Cup 2018, from Atlanta to Vancouver

Can your team win MLS Cup? Sure, why not? It could happen. It probably won’t, though – better to get that out of the way now.

No matter what happened in Week 1, all 23 clubs and their fans ought to be able, in their more optimistic moments, to convince themselves that somehow, someway this could be the year. Not that it will be, just that it’s within the realm of somewhat reasonable possibility. That’s parity for you, and I’ll take it any day over Bayern winning the Bundesliga by Christmas or Manchester City laying waste to the Premier League.

In MLS, you’ve just got to make the playoffs, as the conventional wisdom goes, and then anything can happen with a difference maker or two and some well-timed good fortune. You’ve got to be good, of course, but the Toronto FCs of the league aren’t always the ones bathing in confetti every December.

So why can your team win MLS Cup, even though they almost certainly won’t? You know, because math. I’ll do my best to give you hope, in 100 words or less because it’s Friday.

Atlanta United can win MLS Cup because…

Atlanta United attackers Miguel Almiron (left) and Josef Martinez. | USA TODAY Sports Images

Nobody can slow down Tata’s Four Horsemen. Miguel Almiron (MVP), Josef Martinez (Golden Boot), Hector Villalba (MLS’s most underrated attacker) and Ezequiel Barco (Newcomer of the Year) wreck opposing defenses on the counter as Darlington Nagbe wastes no time acclimating to his new surroundings. King Peach pulverizes the league’s top attacks, too, building on their fourth-best MLS defense from 2017 with the help of a TAM d-mid picked up during the summer.

Chicago Fire can win MLS Cup because…

Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty won’t let anyone in Fire camp forget what it felt like to get embarrassed at home in the Knockout Round. Plus, New England decides the Lee Nguyen saga isn’t worth the trouble, filling a gaping roster hole with one of the league’s most dynamic attackers. With the fullbacks bombing forward, Nemanja Nikolic challenging for the Golden Boot again and either Christian Dean or Grant Lillard making the leap, Chicago win their second championship 20 years after Bob Bradley led the club to their first in 1998's inaugural season.

Colorado Rapids can win MLS Cup because…

They throw it back to 2016 – organization, work rate, defending with numbers – while the attack slowly builds confidence over the course of the season. By October, the Rapids are rolling, with Shkelzen Gashi rediscovering his Golden Boot form, Stefan Aigner dropping dimes and the occasional golazo while Dom Badji and Joe Mason run their tails off and combine for 18 goals. The Rapids win their second MLS Cup where they won their first, BMO Field, pulling off the unfathomable upset against the defending champions. Hey, dream big, right?

Columbus Crew SC can win MLS Cup because…

The system is the star, and the players and supporters rally around each other with the potential move to Austin hanging over their heads. Gregg Berhalter picks up Coach of the Year honors as he shrugs off the departures of Ola Kamara and Justin Meram, launches the careers of Milton Valenzuela and Cristian Martinez, ushers in the return of Grelladinho and reminds people that Gyasi Zardes isn’t a right back. Wil Trapp lifting the cup becomes an iconic image in Columbus.

D.C. United can win MLS Cup because…

Darren Mattocks and Yamil Asad celebrate a D.C. United goal. | USA TODAY Sports Images

Ben Olsen knows grit, and United find a way to grind through the road trip that threatens to end their season before July. Steve Birnbaum puts 2017 behind him and is a Defender of the Year contender, Yamil Asad’s production in Atlanta translates to a new team, Paul Arriola lives up to his transfer fee and Lucho Acosta adds substance to the sizzle. Meanwhile, come summer, general manager Dave Kasper lands the No. 9 that takes D.C. to the next level and puts a fifth MLS Cup in the trophy case.

FC Dallas can win MLS Cup because…

Oscar Pareja figures out what’s ailed the club since last July and nips it in the bud. It doesn’t happen immediately and the summer transfer window comes with sell-or-stay drama once again, but despite the ups and downs Mauro Diaz has a career year (double-digit goals and assists), Cristian Colman stops biffing big chances, Kellyn Acosta (after returning from injury) and Matt Hedges take the reins on the field and in the locker room and FC Dallas build enough steam to sneak into the playoffs, where they win one for Lamar.

Houston Dynamo can win MLS Cup because…

Wilmer Cabrera is more than the Cubo whisperer. Without a big summer tournament for Honduras to distract him, Alberth Elis breaks out the Panterita celebration more than 15 times in the regular season, and the Dynamo become the Western Conference version of Atlanta United, built around four young attackers running down the throats of opposing defenses and having a blast doing it. Too early, Five Stripes faithful? Oh, and Houston figure how to win somewhere other than Houston, which pays off in the playoffs.

LAFC can win MLS Cup because…

Bob Bradley’s got a decade of tricks picked up around the world under his belt, and Carlos Vela is a David Villa-like club talisman. It’s hard to see now, because the roster still feels a bit bare and everything is brand new, but the LAFC of March and the LAFC of September are wildly different thanks to a productive summer window and seven months to figure out how they want to play. By the time the playoffs hit, Benny Feilhaber is throwing it back to 2015, Marco Urena is basking in post-World Cup glow, Latif Blessing and Diego Rossi are breaking ankles on the reg and the LA Galaxy aren’t the only team in SoCal with a title.

LA Galaxy can win MLS Cup because…

Jonathan dos Santos (left) and brother Giovani are crucial to the Galaxy's MLS Cup hopes. | USA TODAY Sports Images

They’re the LA Galaxy – haters gonna hate, I see you Fred Zilla – and Zlatan turns the Race to Seis into a second-half sprint. Sigi Schmid spends the first half of the year rebuilding the club’s confidence, while Perry Kitchen becomes the foundation for an attack that can hit from all angles. By the time Zlatan (completely healthy in this scenario, obviously) arrives, the dos Santos brothers have erased all doubts about their ability to lead a Cup contender, the defense is solid, if not quite lockdown, and there’s only one winner in the battle for LA.

Minnesota United FC can win MLS Cup because…

The Western Conference might be bad again, the Loons could sneak into the playoffs and, once there, go on a historic run. Let’s say Abu Danladi and Christian Ramirez find a way to former a formidable 1-2 punch and each go five goals better than 2017, Kevin Molino hits 10-10, the backline locks it down and the summer brings a Designated Player to Minnesota … then they’ve got a chance, same as everyone else.

Montreal Impact can win MLS Cup because…

Nacho Piatti and Saphir Taider put the team on their backs and drag the Impact to the promised land. Remi Garde lives up to the reputation for developing young talent, and Raheem Edwards, Jeisson Vargas, Sam Piette, Michael Petrasso and Anthony Jackson-Hamel all go from prospects to proven MLS commodities. Perhaps most importantly, the injury bug stops decimating their central defense.

New England Revolution can win MLS Cup because…

It turns out their center-back pairing is worth the money, Juan Agudelo becomes the dominant force we always hoped he’d be thanks in large part to the work of Krisztian Nemeth, Diego Fagundez, Teal Bunbury and Cristian Penilla on the flanks and Kelyn Rowe takes over the 10 from Lee Nguyen, fulfilling his long-awaited destiny and removing a locker-room distraction in one fell swoop. Pretty straightforward stuff for a first-time head coach, right? … Good luck, Brad Friedel.

New York City FC can win MLS Cup because…

Star forward David Villa continues to produce at an MVP level for NYCFC. | USA TODAY Sports Images

Patrick Vieira and David Villa will it to be so. They’ve got the talent. They’ve got the depth. They do not have a good playoff track record, and Vieira and Villa know it. This is a playoff team, no doubt about that, and I can come up with plenty of scenarios that see them lift the cup. All of them revolve around Vieira getting more from his wingers late in the season, David Villa staving off Father Time for one more year and the backline locking down Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference Championship.

New York Red Bulls can win MLS Cup because…

Young legs make the high press downright suffocating, and old ... errrr, older ... legs (Bradley Wright-Phillips) keep scoring at a jaw-dropping pace. They may have traded their captain two offseasons in a row, but now they’ve got more depth and more difference-makers in the final third. It pays off, as nobody can escape their pressure, Kaku captures hearts and minds at RBA and Tyler Adams writes his name in club history by helping deliver what the fanbase wants more than anything else.

Orlando City SC can win MLS Cup because…

Jason Kreis went all-in, and flops five kings (Sacha Kljestan, Justin Meram, Uri Rosell, Lamine Sane, Josue Colman). In any championship scenario for the Lions, their offseason additions waste no time hitting. Sane may actually be the most important, especially considering there isn’t much behind captain Jonathan Spector in central defense. And if these guys hit – you gonna bet against them? – Orlando will be one of the best teams in the league, more than capable of delivering the Wall its first playoff appearance and MLS Cup triumph.

Philadelphia Union can win MLS Cup because…

Borek Dockal isn’t another Jay Simpson. Nope, the Czech No. 10 is exactly what the Union were looking for, and opens up the game for C.J. Sapong, David Accam, who stays healthy, and Fabian Herbers/Fafa Picault while Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin provide the foundation for a whole lot of Doop. Also, (Auston) Trusty the Process works out as well as "Trust the Process". You got this, Jim Curtin.

Portland Timbers can win MLS Cup because…

Giovanni Savarese is the Pied Piper of the Rose City, bringing immediate cohesion and community to the Timbers locker room, and Diego Valeri and Diego Chara keep chugging from the fountain of youth. Portland have the pieces. The pieces just need to stay healthy and motivated. Savarese ought to handle the latter – starting with Fanendo Adi – but it’s up to a good athletic trainer or two and some luck when it comes to the former.

Real Salt Lake can win MLS Cup because…

Real Salt Lake's Joao Plata celebrates a goal. | USA TODAY Sports Images

Craig Waibel built a damn good team, and Mike Petke is going to have these guys ready to run through a wall. It won’t happen unless … Justen Glad goes from 24 Under 24 to Best XI contention, Luis Silva and Alfredo Ortuno can split the load, Kyle Beckerman still has the legs to cover for the backline and Plata/Savarino/Rusnak keep improving. This is my MLS LIVE team of the year. I will be watching.

San Jose Earthquakes can win MLS Cup because…

They’ve got both structure and flair. Jesse Fioranelli hasn’t shied away from change, and it appears to be paying off. Of course, appearances don’t always translate to substance. Is Magnus Eriksson the player who led Sweden in scoring last year or the one who struggled when he went abroad? Is Harold Cummings truly one of CONCACAF’s brightest young central defenders? Will Florian Jungwirth and Anibal Godoy become an elite pairing in central midfield? If the answer to those questions is yes, Wondo has every reason to believe this could be the year he hoists the cup.

Seattle Sounders can win MLS Cup because…

Clint Dempsey isn’t going out like that, getting played off the field in MLS Cup. The Sounders may be on the older side, but they've got plenty of quality and know urgency is their friend. Losing Jordan Morris hurts, but a big pickup in the summer gives Seattle all the new blood they need to get back to MLS Cup for a third straight year and make it two out of three.

Sporting Kansas City can win MLS Cup because…

The scouting department hit home runs in Johnny Russell, Yohan Croizet and Felipe, then does it again in the summer to finally land the No. 9 that they’ve been searching for since the departure of Dom Dwyer. Add that to the same old, same old from the backline and a midfield that promises to turn the middle of the park into a no-go zone, and Kansas City and Peter Vermes manages the squad in order to save a little bite for September, October and November.

Toronto FC can win MLS Cup because…

MLS/Toronto FC execs and former players present the treble to fans at BMO Field. | USA TODAY Sports Images

They’re far and away the best team in the league. Do I really need to make the case for a club coming off MLS’s best-ever season (now with an even better squad thanks to TAM) to repeat? I don’t think I do.

Vancouver Whitecaps can win MLS Cup because…

They build their attack around feeding the beast. That’d be Kei Kamara, whose goals nearly delivered an MLS Cup to Columbus in 2015, and returns to Golden Boot form with Alphonso Davies and Yordy Reyna running off his knockdowns and finding the big man in the six-yard box. Behind them, Kendall Waston and Felipe bring the steel, Efrain Juarez and Jordan Mutch revive their careers in British Columbia and Doneil Henry fills the hole left by Tim Parker’s departure. Plus, they actually remember to shoot in the first leg next time.

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