A surefire way to look stupid and wrong is to make predictions about Major League Soccer on Jan. 3.
Yet, here I am, prostrating myself before you mere days after the calendar turned to 2020, making outright guesses (let’s not pretend otherwise) about a league in which every single roster is in varying states of flux (looking at you, Atlanta United).
My editors asked for 10 predictions, and so you’ll get 10 predictions. Will I stand behind them and demand credit come November? If I’m right, damn straight. I meant it. If I’m stupid and wrong, these predictions were obtained under undue pressure and are not admissible in the court of public opinion. I cannot and will not be held liable for the content herein.
An MLS team will make the Concacaf Champions League final
My heart tells me one of MLS’s five representatives gets in rhythm, gets lucky a couple times and stands on the brink of history come late April. My #CCLFever gut tells me yet more heartbreak, which may occur even if I’m right about a final run from one (let’s make it two!) of the MLS hopefuls: LAFC, Atlanta United, Seattle Sounders, New York City FC and Montreal Impact.
Against my better judgment, I’m listening to my heart with this first prediction.
The Sounders appear to have the most straightforward path to the final. Olimpia → Montreal/Saprissa → Tigres/NYCFC … Tigres (let’s be real). Yeah, that’s still crazy tough, but at least there’s no Liga MX opponent until the semifinals. Seattle have CCL experience, two MLS Cups in three years and a team with chops in the Americas. Maybe they get it done.
Maybe Bob Bradley will have Carlos Vela and LAFC humming out of the gate against Leon. Maybe Josef Martinez fires Atlanta past all comers as Pity Martinez finally finds his River Plate and Copa Libertadores form. Maybe Montreal shock the region (again) with none other than Thierry Henry at the helm. Maybe NYCFC hire a coach and raise their own bar again.
Point being, my #CCLFever is rising and it’s telling me someone is joining Real Salt Lake, the Impact and Toronto FC as the only MLS finalists in the current iteration of the tournament. I’ll probably be wrong, but I so want to be right. As for winning it? No jinxes here. I wouldn’t want to look stupid, too.
The Chara brothers combine to score one of the goals of the season
Close your eyes. Imagine the ball bouncing around at the top of the Timbers’ penalty area. Diego shoulders off an opponent, collects the 50-50, sidesteps another defender, puts his head down and embarks on a full-field run/two-man fast break with his brother, newly-signed Designated Player forward Yimmi.
They score. They smile. They celebrate. We never forget it.
Sporting KC will have MLS’s best year-over-year point improvement
Simple math for me. Fourth-lowest point total (38) in MLS in 2019, so room to rise. No way they allow 67 goals (second to only FC Cincinnati!) again. Somehow the 2019 underlying numbers still liked them. Peter Vermes finally signed a big-time striker in Alan Pulido. Still just a year removed from finishing atop the Western Conference. No CCL hangover.
I think a 16-point improvement (54 points) sounds about right.
Columbus Crew SC will make the playoffs
In the Eastern Conference, the Crew nearly match Sporting’s YoY improvement. I like this team. They’ll be easy to root for both in Columbus and from afar. At this stage of the offseason, they’re probably my best bet for 2020 league darling. Here’s my sell…
Eloy Room is a superman between the posts. The backline boasts arguably the league’s best fullback tandem in Milton Valenzuela (back from injury) and Harrison Afful (or Scotland call-up Chris Cadden, whose loan manager at Oxford United was particularly unhappy to see him go). Ghana international Jonathan Mensah partners one of the club’s deep pool of center-back options (Vito Wormgoor, Josh Williams, Aboubacar Keita, Axel Sjoberg).
Those fullbacks can get forward because Darlington Nagbe is back in Ohio, balling where he belongs. In central midfield, Porter can take two of Nagbe, Artur and Wil Trapp. The attacking four is club-record signing Lucas Zelarayan, Luis Diaz, Pedro Santos (sneaky good in 2019) and Gyasi Zardes. There’s depth and quality in Columbus. I think they’ll be fun and much better.
Gyasi Zardes will be the top domestic goalscorer in MLS
He’s going to flirt with 20 goals and lead all Americans and Canadians. Mark it down now.
The Crew showed in the season’s final months that they were starting to pick up what Caleb Porter was putting down. Diaz, Santos, Valenzuela and Afful are going to be whipping balls into the box for a full season. Zelarayan has the potential to be a top-tier MLS playmaker, both setting up and scoring goals.
In my mind, Zardes’ main competition looks like this: Jozy Altidore, Lucas Cavallini, Chris Wondolowski and C.J. Sapong, in that order. Maybe Jordan Morris makes a huge jump. Maybe Houston sell Mauro Manotas and it’s Christian Ramirez’s job full-time. Maybe Dom Dwyer is rejuvenated under Oscar Pareja. Maybe Miami suits Juan Agudelo just right.
I like Zardes’ odds. I’d love to see Altidore prove me wrong, too.
Nobody will hit the 30-goal mark
Carlos Vela’s single-season record stands, by a wide margin. Even Vela doesn’t reach those previously unimaginable heights in 2020. Seriously, 34 goals. Crazy stuff.
The LA Galaxy will be better collectively without Zlatan
This is not a new take. Bobby Warshaw has been saying this since 2018. I’m going on record to predict more points in 2020.
Like Ben Baer, I think Aleksandar Katai was an inspired, high-ceiling TAM signing for the Galaxy. They’ve got a new left back in Emiliano Insua. Looks like a Peruvian international central defender is coming, too. The transfer window is young. They still need to replace Zlatan’s goals, but they’ll do it by committee. More importantly, they’ll allow fewer goals in 2020. That will make all the difference.
An internationally recognized star will arrive in the summer
Maybe it’s Chicharito. Maybe not. Someone your “Big Four” American/Canadian sports fan friends or family recognizes by name will arrive to spice up our summer.
If it doesn’t happen, we’ll be OK, too. If it does, please let the player be in his prime.
Inter Miami will finish with a better record than Nashville SC
No idea if either will make the playoffs. None. These rosters aren’t close to finished, so this is very much premature…
But I do think Miami will pip Nashville in point total. Why? Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference, mostly. I think the West is quite a bit deeper, and Nashville’s got more traveling to do in Year 1. Bad combo for an expansion team.
Miami might take longer to get going, but I think they’ll pick up steam as the year goes on, summer transfer window and all. For me, Diego Alonso is an inspired hire only doubted because of the noise that preceded it. I also presume, rightly or wrongly, that a big signing or three are still to come.
(Lots of guessing here... *shrug*)
I’ll set the over-under on in-season coaching changes at 4.5
And take the under. I even thought about going 3.5. Last year saw six coaches lose their jobs during the season. Anthony Hudson. Alan Koch. Brad Friedel. Mike Petke. Remi Garde. Wilmer Cabrera. I don’t sense as many hot seats this time around. Lots of new faces and an established old guard. But you never know!