EDITOR'S NOTE: Before you know it, February 29 will be here. That's the kickoff to the 25th season in Major League Soccer history and we're getting you ready for the 2020 campaign with the stories, personalities and questions that will leave their mark on the season to come.
As the single season points record has become a revolving door the last three years, MLS observers certainly couldn't be blamed for wondering which club will raise that bar in 2020.
Three season backs, Toronto FC knocked off the LA Galaxy's 19-year-old standard with 69 points. The New York Red Bulls nudged the record to 71 in 2018, followed by LAFC's "anything you can do, we can do better" haul of 72 last term. The new campaign will soon begin with several clubs holding designs on topping that number, even if a couple of last year's top sides are still in major offseason flux.
For example, over in Atlanta, lineup turnover caused by the sales of important cogs Julian Gressel, Darlington Nagbe and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez means they might be more likely to look like title contenders in the fall than cohesive, steady Supporters' Shield favorites in the spring.
While there's plenty of time left for such clubs to finish filling squad holes, others have largely finished their winter renovations.
So which teams already look like the most feasible threats to LAFC's points mark? We have some ideas for your perusal.
There's really no better place to start than with the current record holders. While the midfield and defense are well-stocked with key contributors, LAFC’s ambitions mainly derive from a typically rampant offense driven by MVP winner Carlos Vela. Bob Bradley's attack hit for at least three goals 17 times in 36 league matches last year; that kind of firepower makes for a slew of comfy W's.
They have changed goalkeepers, but Dutch shot-stopper Kenneth Vermeer might be a slight upgrade. And though Diego Rossi is practically living in the transfer rumor pages now, LAFC already have another Uruguayan winger ready to make a Hollywood name for himself in Brian Rodriguez and a management team quickly known for problem solving.
What needs to happen for them to threaten the record: Although it would be wise to add depth in a few spots (most notably center forward) before opening day, and the longer Rossi sticks around the better, LAFC's best bet to break their own mark is to see decent-to-major development strides from talented youngsters Tristan Blackmon, Diego Palacios and Rodriguez.
A few seasons back, Colorado had a pesky, yet workmanlike team with a talent for pulling off slim low-scoring wins that came close to winning the Supporters Shield. If there's any team ideally staffed to pile up the stingy three-pointers in 2020, it's the Loons. All of last year's game-controlling back line and midfield aces are back, led by 2019 MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara.
The 2019 Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Vito Mannone is gone, but replacement Tyler Miller is a better distributor. The locals are hoping for a breakout from Young DP playmaker Thomas Chacon, while nobody should sleep on new striker Luis Amarilla. He's a real buzzer in the final third and just the type to feast on all those tempting Jan Gregus and Romain Metanire crosses. Oh, and the Loons still have a DP slot open.
What needs to happen for them to threaten the record: If Amarilla and Chacon can combine to add 10 goals and as many assists this season, Minnesota's excellent back seven will have a lot more margin for error and their opponents will have less.
New York City FC
Even though Ronny Deila steps in to succeed Dome Torrent, NYCFC come back for the new season with their squad almost entirely intact. They're deep all over, and with pieces that fit together well enough to close the 2019 season on a 7-1-2 tear (a 78-point full season pace).
Loan standout Keaton Parks returns to complete one of the best midfields in MLS, which is now deeper and more versatile thanks to the additions of Gudmundur Thorarinsson and Gedion Zelalem. Attack sparks Heber and Alexandru Mitrita could be even more deadly with a season in New York under their belts, and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi is fit after a rough season of dealing with injuries. Add it all up, and NYCFC is quite arguably the favorite in the East.
What needs to happen for them to threaten the record: I totally understand a new head coach's desire to mold the team in his own image, but Deila should not be so quick trying to fix what ain't broken. Most new hires are trying to resurrect fortunes, but NYCFC's latest boss will operate under a more pleasant dynamic. If he opts to build on last season's mojo instead of implementing a lot of transitional changes right away, the wins should continue flowing like wine at Yankee Stadium.
Now that they've figured out how to start a season strong, the reigning champs are as good a bet as any to make a run at the Supporters' Shield, if not also the points record. A few major departures last year meant this would always be a new Sounders age in central defense, but Wednesday's signing of Yeimar Gomez Andrade looks like the ideal partner for second-year breakout candidate Xavier Arreaga.
With those problems seemingly solved, Seattle can concentrate on stoking an offense that ranked only 10th in 2019. The passing range of new DP midfielder Joao Paulo will likely free up playmaker Nico Lodeiro from some deep distribution responsibilities.
What needs to happen for them to threaten the record: They're fairly deep, with promising youngsters down on the farm, but it would sure help a ton if the team could avoid another injury crisis this season.
Last season's run to MLS Cup did not suddenly come out of a lightning bottle. After Omar Gonzalez came on board to steady the defense in July, the team went 10-3-6 (a 64-point full season pace) from there on out despite strike star Jozy Altidore struggling mightily to stay healthy.
Toronto FC essentially returns the same bunch that rolled to last year's runners-up finish. They have a veteran cast directed by a veteran coach. They have a championship-caliber spine that includes Alejandro Pozuelo, who can conjure timely offense from thin air. Perhaps most telling of all, the large core group has plenty of experience climbing mountains together.
What needs to happen for them to threaten the record: If the Reds do manage to grab veteran playmaker Pablo Piatti to lead the wing stable, there will be one remaining success requirement that towers above them all. That is, of course, keeping Altidore fit and on the field. With him up top, all conceivable squad goals are within reason.