2016 MLS predictions: Who will win MLS Cup, Supporters' Shield, MVP?
With the MLS season kicking off on Sunday, we turned to our league writers to predict who will be this season's most successful sides. Jeff Carlisle, Doug McIntyre, Jason Davis, Graham Parker and Noah Davis tell us who they think will win MLS Cup, the Supporters' Shield, MVP and more.
Which club is most likely to win MLS Cup?
Jeff Carlisle: FC Dallas -- FCD has been steadily building up its roster with an impressive mix of youth and experience. The key will be if Max Urruti can provide the kind of consistent forward play the team lacked last season.
Doug McIntyre: LA Galaxy -- Boasting what is arguably the most stacked roster in league history this season, look for Bruce Arena's team -- the MLS Cup champs in 2011, '12 and '14 -- to return to the promised land in 2016.
Jason Davis: Columbus Crew SC -- In 2015, Columbus Crew SC played some of the best soccer in the league and wound up hosting a final. Barring a disastrous series of injuries, there's no reason to think they can't do it again, this time finishing the job with a championship.
Graham Parker: Vancouver Whitecaps -- I think this is the season that the Whitecaps roster has been building toward, and now is the time for them to come good, if they are going to come good at all. Like Portland, they might not dominate throughout the year, but I expect them to be solidly in the mix with a balanced squad at the end.
Noah Davis: Toronto FC -- In 2015, TFC scored in bunches but would have struggled to defend a good U-20 side. The arrival of midfielder Will Johnson and defenders Steven Beitashour and Drew Moor should give them more bang at the back. And new arrival Clint Irwin will be in goal to clean up any mistakes.
Which club is most likely to win the Supporters' Shield?
Carlisle: Columbus Crew SC -- The continuing imbalance in conference strength means an Eastern Conference club is likely to walk away with the Shield, and Columbus will be the biggest beneficiary.
McIntyre: LA Galaxy -- With 31-year-old Dutch destroyer Nigel de Jong joining an absurdly deep squad that includes Giovani Dos Santos, Steven Gerrard -- who'll both be better this year after a full preseason in L.A. -- Ashley Cole, Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes, no team will be better than the Galaxy in 2016.
J. Davis: Vancouver Whitecaps -- The remarkable thing about the Caps' second-place finish in the West last year was that they managed it with a mediocre home record. If Vancouver performs as well on the road as they did in 2015 and gets a few more wins at home, they'll win the Shield.
Parker: FC Dallas -- The West is always competitive, yet Dallas managed to take the Shield race to goal difference on the last day. The only caveat is that there will be no Blas Perez this year, having moved to Vancouver, to provide the brute-force goal threat when more subtle strategies fail. But they look to have compensated for his loss and should have enough to keep the Shield in sight.
N. Davis: FC Dallas -- Mad genius Oscar Pareja nearly led his gaggle of young players to last season's top spot but lost out on goal differential to the New York Red Bulls. If Fabian Castillo stays and Mauro Diaz remains healthy -- big ifs, yes -- Pareja will have them there again despite playing in the West; players like Kellyn Acosta and Jesse Gonzalez will have another year under their belts.
Western Conference champion
Which club is most likely to win the Western Conference?
Carlisle: FC Dallas -- While questions surround the likes of the LA Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders, Dallas retrenched through offseason acquisitions such as Urruti, Carlos Gruezo and Mauro Rosales, making them the favorites.
McIntyre: LA Galaxy -- FC Dallas probably overachieved as the West's best in 2015, and Seattle could struggle early after losing Martins to China on the eve of the new season.
J. Davis: FC Dallas -- One gets the feeling that Pareja is not only on the verge of putting together a championship season with an exciting young team, but that there could be a dynasty in the making in north Texas. An extra year of experience and a few key additions make FC Dallas the pick in the West.
Parker: FC Dallas -- This is set up to be the year for Dallas. The dividends of investing in youth under Pareja should be apparent this season, with the exponential improvement of those players augmented with some smart, strategic guile. Speed, talent, depth and, increasingly, experience will form this team.
N. Davis: Seattle Sounders -- Any one of half a dozen teams could emerge from the brutal West, but I'll ride with the perpetual coaching genius of Sigi Schmid and the perennial heroics of Clint Dempsey. Jordan Morris will relieve pressure with his speed, while Cristian Roldan seems set for a DeAndre Yedlin-esque breakout season.
Eastern Conference champion
Which club is most likely to win the Eastern Conference?
Carlisle: Columbus Crew SC -- A lack of defensive solidity held the Crew back last year, but the defense improved down the stretch, and Gregg Berhalter looks to have made some astute pickups in the offseason.
McIntyre: New York Red Bulls -- Last year's best regular-season squad will be hard pressed to repeat as Supporters' Shield winners, but they're still the East's most complete team despite selling blue-chip center-back Miazga to Chelsea in January.
J. Davis: Columbus Crew SC -- As much attention as Kei Kamara, Federico Higuain and Columbus' wings get, it's Crew SC's central midfield that holds the key to their title aspirations. Wil Trapp is good and growing, while Tony Tchani can use the disappointment of the MLS Cup to become a more dependable destroyer.
Parker: Columbus Crew SC -- I don't think that the Red Bulls' drop off will be drastic, but I also think that teams will be better prepared for them this year, and Columbus are a team who are collectively still in the ascendancy. The Crew just match up well with everyone.
N. Davis: Toronto FC -- Having already discussed Toronto's fortified defense, let's talk about the attack. You already know about Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and 2015 MVP Sebastian Giovinco, but pay attention to silky smooth 20-year-old Marky Delgado, a developing creative force whom the TFC coaching staff loves.
Most Valuable Player
Who is most likely to win MVP?
Carlisle: Mauro Diaz -- The Argentine proved his fitness last year, and the rest of the league was the worse for it. Now Diaz is poised to take his game even higher.
McIntyre: Didier Drogba -- He turns 38 this month, but Drogba proved to be the most physically dominant forward in MLS history after arriving last summer. If he stays healthy and comes anywhere close to his 2015 strike rate (11 goals in 11 regular-season games), the league's two-decade-old single-year goals mark of 27 could fall.
J. Davis: Sebastian Giovinco -- The saying goes: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Giovinco ain't broke, and while the Italian forward might miss some time away on national team duty this year, he remains the most irresistible attacker in the league, hence there's no need to "fix it" by picking anyone else for MVP.
Parker: Sebastian Giovinco -- Giovinco's an obvious choice, but he's the obvious choice. Add in the fact that Toronto have put in the right pieces of MLS experience to strengthen their team and Giovinco's sheer brilliance even when he's singled out for marking, and he's the man to beat again.
N. Davis: Michael Bradley -- TFC should have MLS's best attack and Bradley will be the facilitator. He might not produce the highlight-reel goals of Giovinco, but assuming the Italian stud's numbers drop a bit from 2015 -- due to a more productive Altidore than anything -- it's easy to see Bradley's strong two-way play getting credit from the voters.