Soccer Ball designed by Richard Biver
Chicago Fire; 57 points
A return to the playoffs last year was the first step on the road back to relevance for the Fire. If Nemnja Nikolic can repeat his heroics and Bastian Schweinsteiger can further display his world class talent, a deeper playoff run is definitely possible. The club will have to be cognizant of other teams, as they will have a target on their back this year as the most improved team.
DC United; 38 points
This club can't possibly be any worse than they were last year. While it's true that there is no place to go but up, only six points will be gained this year thanks to lack of chemistry and experience. So many players left United, including goalkeeper Bill Hamid. David Ousted replaces him in net, and Frederic Brillant and Darren Mattocks come into the squad also. Audi Field opens its doors on July 14 and a downward trending club will make its home in it.
New York Red Bulls; 54 points
The Red Bulls are in a good position to succeed. Bradley Wright-Phillips and Luis Robles are back and have a younger core around them to lead. The key for the club to make the postseason again is consistency in form by sticking to one system that works for them and if they find the right one, they could be a pesky playoff team.
New England Revolution; 46 points
To be perfectly candid, the Revs are a tough team to figure out. Each season they have high expectations and either deliver or fall flat. New manger Brad Friedel has his work cut out for him to fix a leaky defense which put New England in trouble last year. On top of which, Lee Nguyen isn't a happy camper in Foxboro and wants a change of scenery. All of the above doesn't bode well for the club this year.
Colorado Rapids; 40 points
Very rarely does a team in MLS have the kind of one-year flash-in-the-pan season that the Rapids had two tears ago and fall back down the mountain. The club did not make any major moves in the winter and with an aging Tim Howard still on the team, it's very hard to see them making any meaningful traction up the standings in the West.
FC Dallas; 45 points
A colossal collapse never comes without repercussions and that is what happened to FCD. Walker Zimmerman and Chris Seitz were let go from the club after the season and Santiago Mosquera comes in. He joins the core of Maxi Urruti, Mauro Diaz, Matt Hedges and Kellyn Acosta to get out of the funk they had in the back half of last year.
Sporting Kansas City; 50 points
The adjective that could be used to describe SKC's season last year is "complicated." A US Open Cup win was paired with a mediocre regular season in which they were bounced from the Knockout Round. They did have an extremely stingy defense that helped them get above the playoff line with Ike Opara on the backline and Tim Melia in goal. Those two are back so another playoff spot is expectable.
LA Galaxy; 41 points
Last year was uncharacteristically atrocious for the Galaxy and they made plenty of offseason moves to at least right the ship. The most notable of these transactions is Ola Kamara from Columbus and Sigi Schmid is back in the manager's chair. The Dos Santos brothers will be key cogs in LA's attempt to ascend back to MLS relevancy and keep them as the better team in the city now that they have new neighbors.
San Jose Earthquakes; 55 points
How can you possibly make the playoffs with a -21 goal differential? The Quakes somehow made it happen last year and have their total focus on doing it the right way this year. New boss Mikael Stahre of Sweden has several weapons at his disposal including Magnus Eriksson, Luis Felipe and Andrew Tarbell. We should expect the Quakes to have a significantly better goal difference on their way to the playoffs.
Real Salt Lake; 43 points
Now under Mike Petke for a full season, the Utah club will have to figure out a few things to become a perennial contender. The great season by Albert Rusnak last year is definitely something to build on for this year, but RSL has too much youth in the lineup to make a leap up the standings. If everyone can have a solid year under Coach Petke, Salt Lake could be in an excellent position to make a championship run in 2019.
Houston Dynamo; 48 points
After an impressive run to the West Final, it's time for the Dynamo to take a step back. Ricardo Clark is now in Columbus and that is a big blow to the depth of the team as there isn't much on the bench to speak of. It will be up to Andrew Wegner and Juan David Cabezas to provide the midfield spark to propel the Dynamo into the tail end of the playoff picture.
Toronto FC; 61 points
There should be no reason why the defending champs shouldn't be at the top of the conference again this year. While TFC likely won't reach the highs they did last year, all the key pieces are still on the squad and even though Steven Beitashour is now in Los Angeles, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco are there. TFC had Toronto buzzing like never before last year and the locals are hungry for more of the same.
Seattle Sounders FC; 56 points
Coming up short of an MLS Cup repeat, the Sounders look to get back for another chance. Much of their core returns and with their experience the last several years, the Sounders have a good chance of at least getting back to the West Final. The loss of Joevin Jones and Brad Evans will be something to keep in mind as their core is also getting up there in age and need some assistance.
Montreal Impact; 41 points
With new manager Remi Garde in charge, the Impact are in for another difficult campaign. 12 players from the last two seasons are now elsewhere either by way of retirement, trades or just simply moving on. An offensive-minded youth movement on the roster isn't a recipe for success in a loaded Eastern Conference and the Impact's 2018 season will be a brutal one.
Philadelphia Union; 52 points
Like the pretty girl you asked to prom that turned out to be nothing like who you thought she'd be, the Union had a very disappointing campaign last year. But they should rebound if they return to form from the year before last. Keegan Rosenberry, Andre Blake, C.J. Sapong and Alejandro Bedoya return to the fold and David Accam joins the team. To get back to the playoffs, the Union absolutely must play better away from home as they only won once on the road.
Portland Timbers; 53 points
While the Timbers lost Darlington Nagbe and coach Caleb Porter, they are still in a good spot to do damage this year. Fanendo Adi and Sebastian Blanco are still there, so the Timbers should give their opponents some stiff competition. The club won't get to the top of the West again as the conference is out to get them, but they are built to get back to playing in November.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC; 59 points
The Whitecaps are alive and well in the West following a Knockout Round win and several roster additions. That includes Kei Kamara and Doneil Henry to help the club on either end of the pitch. Kamara's goal scoring abilities will be needed to replace Freddy Montero and he will deliver. Coach Carl Robison is in good hands with a Whitecaps squad that seems primed for a deep postseason run.
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New York City FC; 58 points
Two straight conference semifinal losses might be the learning experience New York City needs to reach their ultimate goal. A small roster turnover, necessitated by the retirement of Andrea Pirlo and the transfer of Jack Harrison to Manchester City, will work wonders for NYCFC. Designated player Jesus Medina will help lead one of the youngest MLS rosters to levels as high as the Empire State Building.
Orlando City SC; 40 points
We're still waiting for the Lions to make the pounce above the playoff line. They no longer have Kaka and Cyle Larin, so the first playoff appearance since its MLS debut in 2015 is a tough order for the team. They did bring in Sasha Kljestan and Justin Meram to boost their roster and to compensate for their losses, but the Central Florida club hasn't done enough to be competitive.
2018 MLS PREVIEW
By Stephen Mulvoy
Columbus Crew SC; 48 points
It was quite the shocker to see the Crew go all the way to the East Finals with all the noise of a potential Austin, TX relocation surrounding them. The news broke in October, which means that they will have to fight off rumors of this all year long and it's hard to imagine Gyassi Zardes, replacing Ola Kamara, will be able to lead the team to another playoff run with that cloud over their heads.
CHI over PHI 5-1; NYRB over ATL 2-0
SJ over HOU 3-0; POR over SKC 2-2 (1-0 in extra time)
TFC over NYRB 3-2 on aggregate
NYCFC over CHI 1-1 on aggregate (1-0 in extra time)
VAN over POR 1-0 on aggregate
SJ over SEA 2-2 on aggregate (away goals)
NYCFC over TFC 4-2 on aggregate
VAN over SJ 4-1 on aggregate
2018 MLS Cup:
New York City FC 3
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 1
Atlanta United FC; 55 points
After making a lot of experts look like idiots in their inaugural year, Atlanta is on a mission to take another step up the ladder. They now have Ezequeil Barco and Darlington Nagbe to compliment an already stocked roster, which includes Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron. A full season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is going to intimidate many clubs with their big crowds, but United will need more than that to go further in the playoffs.
Los Angeles FC; 38 points
Atlanta United set the bar quite high last year for LAFC to submit a memorable inaugural season. Bob Bradley has put together a respectable squad that includes Steven Beitashour, Carlos Vela, Jordan Harvey and Walker Zimmerman. Add in Laurent Ciman in a trade from Montreal and this club is ready to roll in its new digs at Banc of California Stadium. The competition in the upper half of West will make it tough for LAFC to compete, but they should bring an entertaining brand of soccer to Downtown LA.
Minnesota United FC; 35 points
An awful defense by the Loons last year doomed them from the start of their first season. Management really hasn't done anything to improve the club in many aspects, so they could be in for another long season. You couldn't blame Bobby Shuttleworth if he becomes exasperated with everybody if 2018 for the Loons is anything like 2017.