MLS predictions rarely go well. It’s a hard league to predict. Sometimes, new players are immediate successes and drive their team to the playoffs. Other times, they are complete flops and result in the destruction of even the most well-laid plans.
Most teams look good, or at least better, on paper right now. Someone has to finish last, though, so there are always tough decisions to be made.
Let’s make some picks. I’ll start with my Eastern and Western Conference standing predictions, followed by awards and trophies.
MLS Eastern Conference Predictions
- Atlanta United
- Columbus Crew
- Philadelphia Union
- D.C. United
- New England Revolution
- Toronto FC
- Chicago Fire
- New York Red Bulls
- Inter Miami
- Orlando City SC
- Montreal Impact
- FC Cincinnati
My boldest pick here is Columbus finishing second, above NYCFC and others. As we’ll see, I am high on the Crew this year — their full back duo of the returning Milton Valenzuela and Harrison Afful is the best in the league, and I’m confident that Lucas Zelarayan will be the answer in center attacking midfield. Columbus is deep at every position, with a pragmatic and competent coach in Caleb Porter who will ensure defensive solidity.
I see Atlanta United as the most talented team in the conference, and I couldn’t quite convince myself that anyone was worthy of taking the top spot over them. NYCFC has a new coach, and though their continuity is positive, it will take time to gel. (Their stadium situation could also become an issue.) I have questions about the Union’s attack, particularly the core three of Brenden Aaronson, Sergio Santos, and Kacper Przybylko. Philly might not have quite enough in the attack to stick among the elites.
Paul Arriola’s injury hurts, but D.C. United will be a tough team to play against. The Revs, with Bruce Arena and straight-line approach, have enough to survive on defense with a talented attack. New England is making the playoffs.
I might be underrating Toronto FC. I have them at the lowest possible playoff seed, but I think there will be a gap between the seventh and eighth spots. Once they make the playoffs, TFC will be a real threat to make a run, just as they did last year. Jozy Altidore’s injuries will hurt them in the regular season.
Of the teams I picked to finish out of the playoffs, I’m most confident in the New York Red Bulls, but I can’t quite get there with Chris Armas’s group. They’re counting on a number of players to come through, and I don’t think they’ll have enough in a transition season.
MLS Western Conference Predictions
- Seattle Sounders
- LA Galaxy
- Minnesota United
- Sporting KC
- Portland Timbers
- FC Dallas
- Colorado Rapids
- San Jose Earthquakes
- Real Salt Lake
- Houston Dynamo
- Nashville SC
- Vancouver Whitecaps
I don’t see too many particularly bold takes here. I did seriously contemplate putting Minnesota behind LAFC, but I’ll settle with the Loons at fourth. The Sounders and Galaxy are really good. While I don’t think the Galaxy will be world-beaters, they have a great ball-moving midfield and a supremely-talented attack. Cristian Pavon and Chicharito will be fascinating to watch alongside each other.
If the central defense performs, the Sounders could win another trophy, and perhaps even challenge LAFC for the top spot. Joao Pedro should be a great acquisition in midfield. Sporting KC will improve on their unfortunate season last year — I’m confident that the defensive personnel will be better (Winston Reid, anyone?), and I love the front three of Gerso–Alan Pulido–Johnny Russell.
The Timbers, stacked with attacking puzzles, is a guarantee to make the playoffs unless Diego Chara hits a decline, which seems pretty doubtful. FC Dallas is a whirlwind of younger players. They have to trust Paxton Pomykal to be their best player if they’re going to hit their ceiling.
Apologies to Colorado, who I could see butting into the playoffs. San Jose will be fascinating in year two of Matias Almeyda.
2020 MLS Awards
(Don’t ask me to pick Rookie of the Year; I have no idea.)
Newcomer of the Year: Lucas Zelarayan (Columbus)
There are a ton of contenders for this award. It’s hard not to pick Chicharito, but I’m going with a slightly under-the-radar pick in Zelarayan. Numerous teams signed attackers who should be centerpieces — Roldolfo Pizarro, Adam Buksa, Lucas Cavallini, Jeizon Ramirez, etc. — and I could’ve gone with any of them.
If Philly’s new midfielder Matej Oravec performs well at the No. 6, he could even sneak into contention among people who love to overthink this award. (Count me in!)
Defender of the Year: Ike Opara (Minnesota)
Repeat! Opara is the best center back in MLS and it’s hard to see him relinquishing that title. Shouts to Walker Zimmerman, Jonathan Mensah, Jack Elliott, and any number of other solid MLS central defenders. If a full back jumps in here, it will be Valenzuela.
Goalkeeper of the Year: Stefan Frei (Seattle)
This award is basically impossible to pick. Last year was a big down year for MLS keepers, and Vito Mannone somehow escaped with the GKOTY. Mannone was an undeserving winner, but there certainly wasn’t a ton of potential deserving ones. (For what it’s worth, it should have been Matt Turner.)
Frei might still be the best keeper in MLS, and he doesn’t have one of these awards yet. Let’s give him one.
Coach of the Year: Caleb Porter (Columbus)
This award goes to either coaches whose teams improved significantly, or whose teams were utterly dominant (i.e., Bob Bradley last year). I don’t have any overly dominant teams, and Columbus is the team I picked to improve the most, so let’s go with Porter.
The most likely contenders from non-playoff teams: Houston’s Tab Ramos and Orlando’s Oscar Pareja.
MVP: Carlos Vela (LAFC)
I was tempted to go with a more interesting or out-there choice, but Vela is the best player in the league and it is not close. Even if Chicharito challenges him in the Golden Boot race (which is feasible), Vela will have done more to prop up his team. A healthy Vela is the easy favorite.
MLS Cup pick: Columbus over LAFC in the final
As I said before, I am (perhaps unreasonably) optimistic about the Crew this year. The MLS Cup winner isn’t usually who you expect. Let’s get to the games!