Hello 2015! The new MLS season is finally here as LA and Chicago kick things off tonight in Carson, California. We waded through all of the CBA mess this week and now it is time for us to make our annual staff predictions ahead of the new season.
Here we go.
FC Dallas predictions
1. What excites you most about the upcoming season.
Ben: I'm very excited about Oscar Pareja's 2nd season on the job- Pareja surprised with a playoff appearance leading a young team forced to mature early due to a litany of injuries. Before you get nostalgic about last year, I am actually talking about his second season with the Colorado Rapids. His record vastly improved in his 2nd season in charge with Colorado, and I expect Papi's magic touch to yield an improved record for the Hoops in his second year in charge in Frisco (especially if the guys can avoid the 'nursery').
Drew: Having a season after all of the CBA nonsense for one. After that, I'm pumped to see so many good returning players to this team after the strong playoff run last year (damn away goals). Oscar Pareja in his second season is going to be fun to watch as his team continues to mature.
Jason: Pareja's second season with the team. He had a bigger say in the roster he has for this upcoming season. He's had time to work with each of the returning players, giving them offseason assignments to work on and I'm looking forward to seeing how the team progresses.
Mo: I am excited about the continued growth and development of our youth. Many of the younger players (Ulloa, Tesho, Acosta, Hernandez) received a lot of game time last year and I am very anxious to see how they continue to improve and expand.
Ryan: Facing Houston three times and possibly more if cup ties fall favorably! Nothing like beating the Orange four times in a season!
Scott: After showing incredible promise and ability in limited time due to injury, I'm looking forward to seeing Mauro Diaz get a full season in and hopefully rack up a good number of assists.
Taylor: Attendance. Attendance at Toyota Stadium is growing every year. The atmosphere is becoming better and better. Can't wait.
2. What worries you the most going into the season.
Ben: I'm a little bit worried about central midfield- I'm a big fan of Ulloa, and I think Michel is serviceable enough as a defender when you take into account that beautiful left peg. Even with some improvement from both (remember Michel's a converted winger so we might see an uptick in other facets of his game), there's still a paucity of established depth. A vet here would be nice, but maybe Papi can work his magic on Acosta and Bekker to the point this will actually be a team strength. If he can't, a summer signing is almost bankable.
Drew: Staying healthy and staying discipline. Depth will come in trades, loans and transfers but if this team doesn't improve in the health and discipline department this year then you can forget about a deeper playoff run.
Jason: The lack of CB depth as the roster stands, especially with Stephen Keel out injured to start the season.
Mo: Center midfield. I love Victor, but I do not think he and Michel are the answer in the center of the park. Michel's service is serviceable (pun intended) but I do not think he is the box-to-box monster this team needs. I would much rather him come off the bench when we need a goal.
Ryan: Losing to the Orange, but also the depth we have. Obviously Austin showed that our depth is 2nd tier at best. Not fun to think about one of our guys going down.
Scott: What worries me most is the lack of a clear picture of what our right side will look like. Hollingshead, Harris, Barrios, and Loyd all seem to be in the mix between the right back and winger, but if Loyd isn't healthy, that might be an inconsistent position.
Taylor: Center midfield. The only thing I'm worried about this year is center midfield. I love Victor Ulloa and Michel, but I'm not sure they're the right pair going forward. Need someone better than Michel.
3. Who will be FCD's Golden Boot winner in 2015.
Ben: Fabian Castillo will win the Golden Boot. Despite just signing an extension through 2019, I will be surprised if Fabian's in Frisco past this season. With the Forward rotation and national team duty for Blas this summer, I think he's going to have enough of an edge in minutes to lead the Hoops in goals (unless he gets called up to...Colombia).
Drew: Blas Perez - He has one more good run left in him as the team's leading scorer
Jason: Blas Perez
Mo: David Texeira. Bold? Yes, I know but I really am not as down as many people on Big Tex. Given a full preseason, confidence and a couple of goals could work wonders, especially if Oscar decides to play Tesho out wide.
Ryan: Tesho Akindele, sophomore slump? Yeah right! With added playing time and 2 fast wingers supplying him Tesho will be primed to do what we got him to do. Score goals.
Scott: Fabian Castillo
Taylor: Fabian Castillo. Yup, I said it. I think he finally starts finishing this year.
4. Top defender in 2015.
Ben: Matt Hedges will be MLS's top defender. By extension, he'll be FC Dallas's top defender. Enjoy watching him while you can.
Drew: Matt Hedges - Simple question.
Jason: Zach Loyd
Mo: Matt Hedges will get a USMNT call-up for the Gold Cup after a solid start to the season and the captain will finish as the team's best defender in 2015.
Ryan: Matt Hedges, without a doubt ol' Capitan will be just as solid especially with the already experienced and vocal Dan Kennedy helping him out. The dude is super talented.
Scott: Matt Hedges
Taylor: Has to be captain Matt Hedges. He will be called up for the USMNT and hopefully play a role in this summer's Gold Cup.
5. Team MVP.
Ben: Fabian Castillo will be the team MVP, but that will be mainly because he has the numbers to back up his stellar play. You should be able to make a strong argument for Mauro and Matt at the end of the season, but you'll be too smitten with double-digit goals and assists from Fab.
Drew: If Mauro Diaz is healthy, then it is him. If he doesn't stay healthy then I'll go with Victor Ulloa..yeah bold.
Jason: Mauro Diaz
Mo: Mauro Diaz and please oh please let me be correct. We need this to be the case.
Ryan: Matt Hedges. He had my vote for last year's MVP, he'll get it again this year.
Scott: Fabian Castillo
Taylor: The fans. Atmosphere is an important part of sports. Our guys like playing at home. Let's make them love it. I expect Toyota Stadium to be a fortress this year.
1. Biggest story (non-FCD related) you're following.
Ben: TV ratings- This is highly subjective. I (and I'm sure others) will be interested to see how overall viewership waxes (or hopefully not, wanes in a non-World Cup year) with the new national and local TV deals. The next year (and to a greater extent 4 years) will determine whether or not Soccer passes Hockey for national interest (at least in pure numbers and dollars).
Drew: Expansion coverage. Where will MLS go next and will they stick it out with David Beckham and Miami for another few more months? I think they'll blow through the 24 number and add Sacramento, Minnesota and San Antonio (maybe not all at once but they'll all get there).
Jason: At this very moment? The CBA and if it gets done. [Note: We were asked when the CBA hadn't been resolved.] Once the season starts, then I'm following Toronto FC and if their big player moves improve them or if they're still the same.
Mo: Right now, it is the CBA. For the entire year, I want to keep an eye on that Miami expansion talk. I think pretty quickly here we should know if they are getting a franchise or not.
Ryan: CBA negotiations. We might not even have a season if no compromise is met.
Scott: Failures/success of Orlando City SC. They certainly are less well-staffed going into 2015, but they also have a roster that somewhat has spent more time together in USL action which might make up for them having less big signings compared to NYCFC. I'm also curious of their full-season numbers at the Citrus Bowl.
Taylor: Has to be the new expansion clubs New York City FC and Orlando City SC. Love seeing names like David Villa, Frank Lampard, and Kaka in MLS.
2. Prediction for top team out of the East.
Ben: New England will be the top team out of the East. Man, I wish we had taken a run at Jermaine Jones.
Drew: New England
Jason: Columbus Crew SC
Mo: New England Revolution are atop the standings at the end of the season in the East.
Ryan: Orlando City, bold, I know, but I feel like they have a very solid team in an Eastern Conference that really doesn't look threatening with 2 mainstays out of it.
Scott: New England
Taylor: New England
3. Prediction for top team out of the West.
Ben: But it doesn't matter, because FC Dallas will win the west.
Jason: Seattle Sounders FC
Mo: Seattle Sounders FC are going to be the team to beat out West again this year.
Ryan: FC DALLAS!
Scott: LA Galaxy
Taylor: Seattle Sounders FC
4. Playoff predictions for the East
Ben: 1. New England, 2. Toronto, 3. Columbus, 4. Montreal, 5. Orlando City, 6. DCU
Drew: 1. New England, 2. DCU, 3. Columbus, 4. New York, 5. Orlando, 6. Toronto
Mo: 1. New England, 2. Toronto, 3. Montreal, 4. Orlando City SC, 5. Philadelphia, 6. NYCFC
Ryan: 1. New York City FC, 2. New York Red Bulls, 3. New England Revolution, 4. Orlando City SC, 5. DC United, 6. Columbus Crew SC
Scott: 1. New England, 2. DCU, 3. Toronto, 4. New York Red Bulls, 5. Columbus, 6. NYCFC
Taylor: 1. New England, 2. DCU, 3. Orlando, 4. Toronto, 5. NYCFC, 6. Columbus
5. Playoff predictions for the West
Ben: 1. FC Dallas, 2. Vancouver, 3. Seattle, 4. LA, 5. Sporting KC, 6. San Jose
Drew: 1. LA, 2. Seattle, 3. FC Dallas, 4. Vancouver, 5. Sporting KC, 6. RSL
Mo: 1. Seattle, 2. Portland, 3. FC Dallas, 4. LA Galaxy, 5. Sporting KC, 6. Vancouver Whitecaps
Ryan: 1. FC Dallas, 2. Portland Timbers, 3. Seattle Sounders, 4. LA Galaxy, 5. Real Salt Lake, 6. Sporting KC
Scott: 1. LA, 2. Seattle, 3. FC Dallas, 4. Sporting KC, 5. Portland, 6. Real Salt Lake
Taylor: 1. Seattle, 2. LA, 3. FC Dallas, 4. Houston, 5. Sporting KC, 6. RSL
6. League MVP
Ben: Michael Bradley will be the league MVP. He's going to be big this year- they could easily win the shield this year.
Drew: Clint Dempsey
Jason: Mauro Diaz
Mo: Diego Valeri
Ryan: Diego Valeri
Scott; Obafemi Martins
7. Golden Boot prediction
Ben: Charlie Davies wins the Golden Boot this year...because we'd all love the redemption story.
Drew: Robbie Keane
Jason: Dom Dwyer
Mo: Gyasi Zardes
Ryan: David Villa
Scott: David Villa
Taylor: David Villa
8. Supporter's Shield winner
Ben: New England wins the Supporters' Shield by 6 points (based on the extra expansion team games over FC Dallas.
Drew: New England
Jason: Seattle Sounders
Mo: Seattle edges Portland by four points
Ryan: LA Galaxy
Scott: LA Galaxy
Taylor: New England
9. MLS Cup winner
Ben: FC Dallas wins MLS cup on an 82nd minute free kick from (who else) Michel.
Jason: Sporting KC
Mo: Portland defeats Montreal 3-2 to claim their first title in league history
Ryan: FC Dallas
Scott: LA Galaxy - I hate choosing repeat winners but I think Zardes will continue to entire stardom and I think the offseason moves make up for what they lose with Donovan.
Taylor: LA Galaxy (Note: Taylor did predict FCD to win USOC this year though!)