There are 10 days left until the 25th season of MLS kicks off, and as usual the start of any season is laden with possibility. With possibility comes hope – nearly anything can happen, right? Just last year we saw Minnesota United transition from a historically bad defense to one of the best in the league, while teams like the Red Bulls and Sporting KC transitioned from historically great multi-season runs of defensive performance to, well, something much, much less than that.
We saw teams – Colorado, Toronto and New England – make massive mid-season changes that led to massive mid-season improvement. Two of them made the playoffs and one didn't. We saw teams make massive season-over-season improvements – LAFC and San Jose – despite minimal roster changes. One of them won the Supporters' Shield and the other missed the playoffs entirely.
This is the nature of our league. Parity is always there taking the occasional hand, making it difficult to predict how things will play out.
At the same, time, over the course of 34 games the cream usually does rise to the top.
The playoffs are a different story, as injuries and one-off coaching decisions play an outsized role. Last year it was Latif Blessing and Mark-Anthony Kaye, while the year before that it was Chad Marshall on one side of the bracket and Kemar Lawrence on the other. In 2017 the huge favorites actually did win MLS Cup, but in 2016 the best player on the best team in the league (Mauro Diaz) blew out his knee in the final week of the season. It's safe to say that changed things.
So let's stow talk of MLS Cup for now, and instead focus on the Shield – in particular on why your team can win it.
But in actuality, why they almost definitely won't.
Atlanta United can win the Shield because...
Obviously take it with a grain of salt – Transfermarkt's fun, but it's more art than science. At the same time these team valuations aren't entirely pulled out of the blue, and by almost anyone's reckoning Atlanta are still at or near the top of the pack in terms of raw talent. They can just brute force solutions for months at a time, which is exactly what they did in the middle of last year.
Atlanta won't win the Shield because...
Yes, I'm using the same argument as last year – except the gap between Atlanta and the second-most-talented/valuable team in the league was considered to be a chasm in 2019 (though those of us who picked LAFC to win the Shield knew better). And yeah, Atlanta did not win the Shield.
On top of that, they're probably not better in terms of raw talent. Darlington Nagbe, Julian Gressel and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez were three of their top five players, and guys like Justin Meram, Florentin Pogba and Michael Parkhurst were useful pieces. That's a lot of change for one offseason.
Chicago Fire FC can win the Shield because...
Did you watch many Fire games last year? I did, and what happened was just... inexplicable. They repeatedly created great chances and repeatedly blew those chances with a stunning regularity. They would dominate the ball, dominate the game, and then leave themselves wide open when it mattered most.
Those are all signs of a bad team, yes, but they played a ton of good soccer. You don't dominate games like that and create chances like that if you don't have a baseline level of talent. The Fire do – or did, anyway, since a lot of those guys have been replaced. But a lot of those guys are back, along with three new DPs and an in-his-prime La Liga string-puller in midfield, and it's no stretch to assert that the Fire have upgraded their talent on every line.
Chicago won't win the Shield because...
Well, it's just an assertion at this point since we haven't seen these guys in a meaningful game, and I will just gently say right here that they have not been super impressive in the non-meaningful preseason games so far. There's going to be a learning curve for the new players as well as new head coach Raphael Wicky, and chances are the Fire finish much closer to the Wooden Spoon than the Shield.
FC Cincinnati can win the Shield because...
They came into Year 1 with a talent deficit. They came into Year 2 with an in-his-prime fringe Dutch national team center forward who was sold for $20 million just two years ago, another DP attacker who's been productive almost everywhere he's been (and has the profile of a guy who should succeed in MLS), and 31-year-old playmaker Siem de Jong from Ajax.
They got Haris Medunjanin to conduct the game as a regista and solidified their back line. They should not leak 70+ goals again, and they should definitely be able to both create and finish chances.
FC Cincinnati won't win the Shield because...
Even in the best of times a roster overhaul the size of which FC Cincy undertook this offseason would be daunting. These are not the best of times.
FCC should be better this year, but there's a lot of daylight between "better than 24 points" and the Supporters' Shield.
Columbus Crew SC can win the Shield because...
From mid-July onward Columbus had just two losses, and both of those were tough asks: at NYCFC and at Toronto. They didn't string together many wins, partially because they were shockingly prone to blowing late leads and partially because they just didn't have the firepower (or inclination at times) to drive the knife in.
So they went out and got another veteran CB from overseas, a veteran MLS No. 8, and then broke their previous transfer record by splashing out on Lucas Zelarayan as their playmaker. They just spent the final third of last year proving they're difficult to beat. With their new additions and the return of left back Milton Valenzuela, they should both build leads better and protect leads better.
Columbus won't win the Shield because...
Even with Zelarayan in town, do they have the firepower of last year's LAFC or 2017's TFC team? I don't think so.
Even with the return of Valenzuela and the addition of Vito Wormgoor, do they have the kind of suffocating defense that keyed RBNY's 2018 Shield win or Dallas's 2016 group? I doubt it.
Columbus seem like a good, solid playoff team that should fight for and get a home game (maybe even two) in the postseason. I just can't talk myself into them having the game-breakers necessary to string together the seven months of dominance that are necessary to win the Supporters' Shield.
Colorado Rapids can win the Shield because...
Me, an idiot: "The Rapids scored 17 times on set pieces last season – there's no way they can replicate that."
The Rapids, set piece geniuses:
Look, the Rapids played the last two-thirds of last year at a 60-point pace, and while their underlying defensive numbers stayed worrisome throughout the season there's no doubt that they improved overall first when Lalas Abubakar arrived to steady up the backline, and then when Robin Fraser arrived to steady the whole damn ship.
In 2020 both those guys will be there from the start. And remember that a much less talented Rapids team than this one almost won the Shield in 2016!
Colorado won't win the Shield because...
The Rapids are much more talented than that 2016 group for sure, but so's the league as a whole. They should be deeper and more flexible and more stable than last year, but that's what we said about the Impact heading into 2019. Remember, they did the same thin 2018 that the Rapids did last year, playing the final two-thirds of the season at a 60-point clip and adding offseason reinforcements.
Then it all fell apart.
I'm not saying that's going to happen for Colorado, but it's a lot easier to sneak up on folks when you're out of the playoff picture by April than it is to come into the season with expectations and then to meet them.
Mostly, though, I'm concerned that the underlying numbers tell me the defensive improvement the team saw under Conor Casey and then Fraser was not necessarily sustainable, same as their otherworldly set piece dominance. If the numbers prove right on either of those, then it's an uphill battle just to get to the postseason.
FC Dallas can win the Shield because...
At their best in 2019 there was A LOT of LAFC in how they played. Their ability to toggle between building from the back, playing over the top or into running lanes when presented with the opportunity, and hammering teams with a high press when they needed to was very, very impressive. And then down the stretch they finally found, in Zdenek Ondrasek, a center forward who could turn all of those impressive moments into goals.
This is how it's supposed to be with a new coach, right? You take a team and spend the first year molding it, as a collective, to your specifications. Luchi Gonzalez really did do that in 2019, and I don't think anybody would argue that Dallas were playing better by the end of the year than almost anybody.
Remember how close they came to knocking Seattle off in the playoffs?
If Bryan Acosta just squares that...
Anyway, this team had lots of talent last year and have more this year.
Dallas won't win the Shield because...
Kobra was awesome down the stretch and had a moment of magic against England to punctuate his run of incredible form, but until we see 20+ goals from the guy, it's hard to imagine him leading the line of the league's best team.
And beyond him, it's still nothing but question marks re: who will put the ball in the net. Maybe Franco Jara changes that when he arrives in July, but if you're waiting 'til July to fix it (assuming it needs fixing), your Shield hopes are already gone.
D.C. United can win the Shield because...
In 2013, D.C. United were awful. In 2014, they were good! In 2015, they were awful. In 2016 – especially down the stretch – they were excellent, scoring almost three goals a game. In 2017, awful again. In 2018, you remember LuchaRoo (shout out to my guy Andrew Wiebe for coming up with that utterly terrible nickname), right?
Well, in 2019 they made the playoffs, but spent most of the year being not particularly good.
Thus, in the one-year-on, one-year-off tradition, it is time for D.C. to be fun and exciting and good again! Even with the injury to Paul Arriola they have a ton of wingers, and in Edison Flores they brought in one of the top chance creators in Liga MX last season. In Ola Kamara they have a No. 9 who's going to get 20 goals (I made that Baerantee earlier this winter), and they're returning most of the important parts from the league's second-best defense last season.
D.C. United won't win the Shield because...
Arriola's not necessarily been their best player over the past few years, but he's probably been their most important. His two-way workrate, unselfishness and sheer volume of emotional energy he expends for his team on and off the field... all of that is A+++. He is more than just a good player, and it will take more than just writing another name on the teamsheet to replace him.
Beyond that, D.C. are in a lot of ways NYCFC-lite. They have a ton of guys who are maybe top eight in the league at their respective positions (NYCFC have mostly top 5s), but do they have that one guy who can just go out and win two or three or four games for you all by himself?
I love Flores, and I love the potential of an Asad-Flores-Gressel line underneath Kamara, but I'm not sure I see 70 points there.
Houston Dynamo can win the Shield because...
Gonna copy a line from last year's Houston blurb: There is a reality where Mauro Manotas bangs in 30 goals and Alberth Elis goes 15g/15a, which can be – along with Darwin Quintero – the answer to "do they have the match-winners necessary to steal the occasional result for you just based upon raw talent?" Add in Memo Rodriguez and you start to cook a little bit:
Armchair Analyst: Who's Houston's Homegrown attacker Memo Rodriguez? He's the guy smart enough to lurk at the back post and find tap-ins created by Elis & Manotas pic.twitter.com/DrriYwXfz3— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) March 16, 2019
In theory they'll also have a more solidified defensive structure and approach to just putting in the work under new head coach Tab Ramos.
Houston Dynamo won't win the Shield because...
Even if Ramos has a Matias Almeyda-level effect on this team in terms of year-over-year point total, they'd still just be in the low 60s. And with the exception of Quintero – who might actually be a net negative because of his lack of defense – this is still basically the same group of players who've missed the playoffs two years in a row.
LA Galaxy can win the Shield because...
The single-season record for goals is 85, set initially by the 1998 Galaxy and matched last year by LAFC. Cristian Pavon, Chicharito and Aleksandar Katai as the front three? Sebastian Lletget and Jonathan dos Santos underneath them? Sacha Kljestan – a chance-creating machine – off the bench/used situationally when Guillermo Barros Schelotto goes for just a pure DPS build?
Were I a betting man I'd float at least a little bit of something on the Galaxy scoring 90.
Galaxy won't win the Shield because...
Were I a betting man I'd parlay that with the Galaxy conceding 60. Or at least 50.
They shipped 59 last year and while I think they will be better on that side of the ball in 2020, I'm not convinced it'll be by a lot. And they will lose some 4-3 games – or at the very least turn a lot of their own 3-goal outings into disappointing draws.
LAFC can win the Shield because...
What held them back last year? Injuries caused by a lack of depth. What did they do this year? Add depth in central midfield and center forward (you probably haven't heard of him yet, but remember the name Adrien Perez).
You can also scroll all the way up to the top and take a look at that Transfermarkt chart again, and remember that this is before they've spent all that Walker Zimmerman money. This team's already ridiculously stacked and are still going to add a piece or two. THE TEAM WITH CARLOS VELA AND EDUARD ATUESTA AND DIEGO ROSSI IS STILL GOING TO ADD A PIECE OR TWO.
Plus, well, it looks like they're not going to be busy with CCL for all that long.
LAFC won't win the Shield because...
First of all, Kenneth Vermeer has some worrying Rais M'Bolhi energy out there. Second, their three DPs still, at this point, don't all make each other better. Brian Rodriguez is an electric individual talent but it is a STRUGGLE when he's out on the field right now.
Third, there is, as yet, no replacement for Zimmerman. My guess is that Tristan Blackmon will move to CB and LAFC will bring in a RB or two (it should be two), but the fact that they haven't done this yet is a concern.
And finally, bear this in mind: since 2014, four of the five Shield winners saw a double-digit drop in points. It's tough to sustain year-over-year greatness.
Inter Miami CF can win the Shield because...
People got so caught up in the will-he-won't-he that they forgot Rodolfo Pizarro is pretty awesome:
A look at some of the best work from heavily linked Inter Miami potential signing Rodolfo Pizarro.— Chris Wittyngham (@ChrisWittyngham) February 12, 2020
Pizarro has already scored goals in South Florida, at Marlins Park of all places. pic.twitter.com/7ObE1mV27Y
Has he been up-and-down throughout his career? Yes. But so were guys like Javier Morales, Diego Valeri, Federico Higuain and Nico Lodeiro before finding stability – and finding teams that were built around them – in MLS.
That's what Pizarro's going to have in Fort Lauderdale, and there's even more help on the way (they're about to drop beaucoup bucks on one of the best No. 8s in Argentina) to round out a roster that is already, I think, one of the league's deepest and most talented. They have MLS veterans and high-upside kids – some from the draft or traded within MLS, others from South America with big price tags – on literally every line.
Miami won't win the Shield because...
I mean, they're still an expansion team. Until I see someone prove otherwise, I'm going to assume mid-50s is the hard cap on points for a new team, and mid-50s won't be enough to win the Shield.
Minnesota United can win the Shield because...
What happens if you take one of the league's best defenses and plop an in-his-prime Boca Juniors No. 10 down in front of them? Granted, Bebelo Reynoso is not Juan Roman Riquelme or Diego Maradona, and granted, like Pizarro he's best described as "mercurial." But if MNUFC are able to land him, he is a pure, ready-made chance creator who can answer some of the questions that left Minnesota so frequently stumped down the stretch and into the playoffs last year.
Minnesota won't win the Shield because...
Reynoso is really good! But this league is now littered with $5-to-$10 million playmakers, so I'm not sure how much he'll stand out in that crowd. He could do it, but he could've done it at Boca and didn't. There's a reason he's for sale.
Beyond that, it's just not clear that the combination of Amarilla, Toye, Lod, Chacon, Ethan Finlay and Kevin Molino will put the ball into the back of the net 70ish times even with Bebelo pulling the strings.
And also, Ike Opara last year probably surpassed Diego Chara as the single most important-to-his-team player in the league. If Ike regresses or misses time, what happens?
Montreal Impact can win the Shield because...
Remember what this man did for the Red Bulls? And literally every other team he ever played for?
Yeah you do.
Henry's first game in charge of the Impact, down in Costa Rica against Saprissa on Wednesday night, was damn impressive. A 2-2 draw at that stadium is a result pretty much any team in the region would take if offered.
Montreal won't win the Shield because...
They got that 2-2 draw with a pair of against-the-run-of-play thunderbolts, and then held on for dear life. Montreal conceded 22 shots, generated just seven and had just 29% possession. It was a gutsy and encouraging performance, and a result that puts them in really, really good position to advance to the quarterfinals.
But it was not the kind of performance that repeatedly gets you three points. Hell, in this one – against a team that started David Guzman at CB – it didn't get them three points.
Montreal just don't have the horses.
New England Revolution can win the Shield because...
The Revs were dead in the water in early May, at just 2-8-2. Then they hired Bruce Arena and they lost on three times in the subsequent five months.
Know what a good way to win stuff is? By not losing. And the Revs should be even better at not losing than they were last year, because this offseason they went out and in theory upgraded at two crucial spots, adding a veteran LB and a DP No. 9.
This team made the playoffs, gave Atlanta a legitimate fight, and now have more talent and a full year of the most successful coach in league history. It's a promising recipe.
New England won't win the Shield because...
I've banged this drum several times before, but let me give it another rap: I don't think New England's additions last summer or this winter really addressed their core problem (an inability to prevent teams from combining and creating good chances up the gut). Instead I'd say they masked that problem, which is maybe more dangerous than helpful.
The Revs have match-winners in attacking midfield, at forward and in goal, but how many times has a questionable defensive team gone into the season and come out on the other side with the Shield?
Nashville SC can win the Shield because...
Ok, this one's a struggle.
To be clear: I actually like Nashville's roster build quite a bit. Their engine room should be more than just "solid," but an actual strength. They got a Best XI center back in Zimmerman, and the best CB in the draft in Jack Maher, and a high-upside young CB from Colombia, and two other CBs who were starters for playoff teams last year. They're not going to be Cincinnati or Minnesota! No way this team is giving up 70 goals.
It's tough to see them scoring a ton of goals, though. But here's the hypothetical: Hany Mukhtar and Randall Leal are, indeed, elite MLS attackers and Daniel Rios is MLS Jamie Vardy – a lower-division striker who makes good and does the improbable in the top tier. Plus Derrick Jones realizes his potential as a box-to-box-ish destroying attacker who's a No. 8 with No. 10 proclivities.
Nashville won't win the Shield because...
There are just too many things that need to go right, and unlike Inter they're not going to be stuffed with $5-to-$15 million attackers. I can't realistically conjure a scenario in which this team tops 55 points, and even that much feels like a significant stretch.
NYCFC can win the Shield because...
They finished second in last year's Shield race, won the East and brought back 92% of last year's minutes (basically their top 13 players, depending upon how highly you rate Ben Sweat and Ebenezer Ofori). That includes having Heber, who is freaking awesome, from the drop:
They collected points at a Shield-worthy clip when he was on the field last year. He'll be on the field more this year, and will hopefully get better health out of Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and improvement from last year's newcomers, Alexandru Mitrita and Keaton Parks.
It is a clear path. They are one of the favorites and it doesn't take any mental gymnastics to imagine them lifting the Shield in October.
NYCFC won't win the Shield because...
It doesn't take any mental gymnastics to imagine why they wouldn't though, right? Heber wasn't exactly durable in 2019, and is now a year older; their home-field advantage may be slightly dulled by playing games at multiple venues; Maxi Moralez is now in his mid-30s and without a back-up; and there's a new boss in town.
Ronny Deila is saying all the right things about not fixing what's broken, but new coaches say that all the time. Dome Torrent said it when he took over Patrick Vieira's team that was on track for 70 points, and subsequently turned them into a 64-point team but only after suffering through a 4-wins-in-22-games stretch. Will Deila do the same thing?
Again: He's saying he won't, which is a good sign. But this is a thing all new coaches say, so I wouldn't be shocked if there was a protracted early-season getting-to-know-you period.
And there is also CCL. It is tough to juggle multiple competitions, and it's a good bet that NYCFC will be doing exactly that at least through mid-March.
New York Red Bulls can win the Shield because...
It's what they do and what they've done, having taken home the Shield in 2013, 2015 and 2018. And remember in that first Shield-winning year when Bradley Wright-Phillips arrived late in the season and struggled to make a mark before blowing up in Year 2? Maybe Josh Sims – who arrived late last year but didn't really make a mark – is the winger/attacking midfield version of BWP:
Point is, with Sims and White/Barlow, and Kaku as the No. 10, and the always reliable Daniel Royer out there opposite Sims on the wing, and what should be a refreshed and rejuvenated backline, and Cristian Casseres Jr. ready to make a huge leap...
Ok yeah, a lot has to go right for this team to take their 4th Shield.
RBNY won't win the Shield because...
It's not just "a lot," it's too much.
Orlando City SC can win the Shield because...
Oscar Pareja's done this before (though admittedly not in Year 1), taking a team with a rock-solid defense, ball-winners in central midfield and all kinds of pace on the counter to the mountaintop in 2016. Granted, that was a Dallas team he'd built over multiple seasons of interweaving imports, academy kids, draft picks and cast-offs, but hey, he did it!
Orlando City have some of those same properties.
Orlando won't win the Shield because...
They don't have enough, and they definitely don't have the experience Dallas did when they won the Shield. That 2015 team only missed out on the Shield via goal differential, and the 2016 side didn't just win the Shield: they won the Shield and the U.S. Open Cup, and became the first (and still only) team in MLS history to top 60 points in back-to-back seasons. This is a build-from-the-ground-up job for Papi:
The Lions just aren't at that level yet.
Philadelphia Union can win the Shield because...
Stir in a higher, harder press because of youth and depth at d-mid, and a bit of a built-in competitive advantage by playing a slightly unusual (these days, anyway), diamond 4-4-2, and there's a bit of a 2015 Red Bulls feel to this team, right? They need Mark McKenzie to mirror Matt Miazga's 2015 leap in terms of high-end consistency, but there's a reality where that happens.
Philadelphia won't win the Shield because...
There are many more realities where that doesn't happen for McKenzie, and yet more where Aaronson's improvement is modest, and still others where the Santos/Przybylko pairing is just pretty good, or doesn't stay healthy.
But the big one is that d-mid slot. Philly bet big that Matej Oravec, Jose Martinez and Cole Turner could replace Medunjanin, and that that trade-off (energy and defensive range exchanged for unmatched distribution ability and class on the ball) would be worth it.
I have my doubts.
Portland Timbers can win the Shield because...
Folks are kind of sleeping on how good Yimmi Chara is. The Colombian DP winger – yes, he's the younger brother of Diego – is the best and highest-profile of the three big offseason attacking signings for the Timbers this year, an outlay that is comfortably into eight figures.
Spending big is not a guarantee of winning big, but when you spend big to add pieces to a team that already has the likes of Valeri, the elder Chara and Sebastian Blanco, you're building up a lot of reasons for things to go right.
Portland won't win the Shield because...
If all you can do when you face a packed-in defense is cross the ball, then you're going to face a lot of packed-in defenses. Portland learned that to their detriment in 2019.
Having three separate forwards out there can mitigate some of that, but not enough.
Real Salt Lake can win the Shield because...
Let's just assume that their defense stays solid year-over-year, or actually improves a bit. Let's also assume that David Ochoa ably replaces Nick Rimando, and Jeizon Ramirez ably replaces Jefferson Savarino, and Corey Baird makes the same kind of leap in 2020 that his old Stanford teammate Jordan Morris did in 2019.
Let's also assume that one of the center forwards locks the job down and Albert Rusnak has himself a Best XI-caliber season. And that Freddy Juarez is for RSL what Oscar Pareja was for FC Dallas when he came aboard there in 2014.
Ok yeah, we're assuming a lot.
RSL won't win the Shield because...
Once again it's just too much. RSL have to replace two of their most important players and do so in a Western Conference field that's improved almost across the board.
I don't see a path for this.
Seattle Sounders can win the Shield because...
When Jordan Morris, Raul Ruidiaz and Nico Lodeiro shared the field Seattle went 15-1-2 and scored almost 2.5 goals per game. That includes the playoffs, and you'll probably recall who hoisted MLS Cup last year.
Put those guys on the field together 30 times with a new, ball-moving No. 8 DP behind them, and a younger, more mobile central defense behind him, and Seattle approach 70 points, right?
It's not super hard to do the math here: If the Sounders really want the Shield and push hard for it, they have an excellent chance at getting it.
Seattle won't win the Shield because...
It doesn't seem like the Shield's their priority. Garth Lagerwey straight-up said that they'll be playing the kids through the early part of the season and are willing to take their knocks while they focus more of their time and effort on the Concacaf Champions League. And given their draw, it's pretty unlikely that they get knocked out of that tournament very early.
Plus Lodeiro has been hurt for the past few weeks and is now on the wrong side of 30. The man has done a lot of traveling and a lot of running over the years, and it's a good bet they're going to strategically rest him during the season to keep him fresh for the playoff push.
San Jose Earthquakes can win the Shield because...
They more than doubled their point total in Year 1 of the Matias Almeyda era, going from 21 points to 44 and almost making the playoffs. Along the way they put together some of the prettiest sequences in the league:
The Quakes are must-watch IMO pic.twitter.com/EgUIJ3QI0L— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) June 27, 2019
They played gorgeous soccer, and they played hard for 90 minutes every time out. A 23-point year-over-year improvement is just massive, but who's to say that with another year of cohesion and a couple new additions, they can't add 23 more points to their tally?
San Jose won't win the Shield because...
I'm to say that. I'll be the one: There is no way the Quakes top 60 points, and to be completely honest with you I think even 50 is pushing it. Almeyda's a great coach and this team works hard, but they've still got just one goalscorer – a 37-year-old goalscorer at that – and they are still probably going to be at a talent deficit almost every week.
Plus the novelty of facing Almeyda's man-marking scheme will have worn off. There's plenty of film out there now, and teams will be prepared. We started to see some of that down the stretch last season when the wheels fell off.
If you can't go out there and win a bunch of games just on sheer talent, then you can't win the Supporters' Shield.
Sporting Kansas City can win the Shield because...
Remember 2018, when they grabbed 62 points despite not having a surefire, get-a-chance-score-a-goal No. 9? Most of that 2018 team is back, and they added an in-his-prime Mexican international Liga MX Golden Boot-winning No. 9. How many goals will Alan Pulido score if Sporting's attack clicks and create chances like it did two years ago? Could that 62-point team become a 70-point team?
Sporting won't win the Shield because...
Even if they create those chances, and even if Pulido scores 25 of 'em, this is still a team that shipped 67 goals last year and has a core of players (Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza, Tim Melia) that's no longer just "aging," but are just "aged." It is unlikely they can use the press as a weapon like they used to.
They won't give up 67 goals again, but they won't have the type of defense that choked the life out of teams for almost a decade, either.
Toronto FC can win the Shield because...
Guess who's not going to be expending any early-season energy on the CCL for the first time in quite a while? Guess who's got a healthy Jozy Altidore? Guess who's got a rested Alejandro Pozuelo from the start of the season? Remember, that dude played 79 games across 16 months with zero extended rest and was still a Best XI player last year.
Guess who's got depth at both fullback slots, on both wings, and everywhere in central midfield? Guess who went out and got a third DP (a move I don't particularly agree with, but one I understand) so that they could come out of the gates firing this year?
Guess how many times they lost in Omar Gonzalez's 15 appearances? That'd be just twice.
Remember, most of these guys have done this before:
What's two more weeks when you've waited for over a decade? At long last, the Supporters' Shield is home 🙌🛡 pic.twitter.com/cznsniIasD— Toronto FC (@TorontoFC) October 16, 2017
There is almost every reason to believe that TFC will come blazing out of the gates and start creating distance between themselves and the pack.
Toronto won't win the Shield because...
"Almost" every reason. I like TFC Homegrowns Liam Fraser and Noble Okello, and I've always been interested in seeing Marky Delgado as a No. 6. I wouldn't be shocked if more than one of them could do the job.
But the Reds were 1-4-3 with a -7 goal differential without Michael Bradley last year, and he's out until June. So maybe the won't blaze out of the gates.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC can win the Shield because...
The 'Caps did what amounted to another offseason rebuild, and chances are it can't go as far off the tracks as last year's. I love Lucas Cavallini and I am intrigued by Ryan Raposo and Cristian Dajome. That should be a trio of fun, young-ish building blocks.
Vancouver won't win the Shield because...
I don't think anyone expects the 'Caps to be Shield contenders in 2020. The best-case scenario is that guys like Raposo and Dajome can do what guys like Lass Bangoura and Lucas Venuto didn't last year, and that Inbeom really does have a massive leap forward, and that the defense solidifies. If those boxes get checked this team can compete for a playoff spot, but it certainly feels like the Shield is a level or three above them.
Matt, you can straight-up just write "Remember the 2016 Rapids? Yeah, it's MLS and this could work!" for any teams you're struggling with.— xoxo, uzworm (@uzworm) February 26, 2019
The 2016 Rapids came within two points of winning the Shield just by packing it in and murdering teams on the break. I don't think that's a 60-point strategy in this league now, but... yeah, it's MLS and this could work!