MLS preview, part 1: Season predictions

Major League Soccer is back. And, to get you ready for the season, the Talkin' Touches crew turns its attention to the rest of the league today. Everyone’s got predictions for the season ahead. The only difference is, our guys — Andy Edwards, Charles Gooch and Tate Steinlage — share them with the world.

MLS Cup, Supporters' Shield, USOC, MVP, Golden Boot, etc.

[Tate] I spoke with Gooch about this three or four times throughout last season, but for the first time since I started following the league closely, things just felt sort of meh until October. Uninspired was the word I would always point back to. That said, I like what a good amount of teams did in the offseason, opting for young talent that, while unproven, has tremendous upside. Teams are also starting to see their academies pay dividends at the MLS level. All of it makes for a more compelling, unpredictable and exciting 10-month season that’s worth tuning into before October.

As for some predictions, I think this is the year FC Dallas takes another big step and captures both MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield. I like Toronto FC out of the Eastern Conference, and I’m predicting a Seattle Sounders Open Cup crown. Sebastian Giovinco will continue to wreak havoc on the league on his way to another MVP season.

[Gooch] Yeah, but from October-December, MLS was (to quote the kids) quite lit. The playoffs (once you got the Colorado Rapids out of the picture) were really interesting. Let's build on that.

This might be a hot take in Kansas City: The league is better when Seattle is good. It just is. A compelling Sounders team draws your attention (either in support or in opposition). Slightly less of a hot take: The league is also better when Giovinco has a partner, which he now does — Jozy Altidore. It's better when the Montreal Impact let Ignacio Piatti play with reckless abandon, too.

The league is heading into this season in a really strong place — 22 teams, several identifiable star players and enough parity in the middle to make it (hopefully) unpredictable.

Predictions: FCD make a legit push for a treble again — only this time, it's the one that includes the CONCACAF Champions League trophy instead of the U.S. Open Cup. Altidore will play all season and help Toronto FC get back to MLS Cup from the East. I think Real Salt Lake and Montreal will be the two teams pushing FCD and TFC.

[Andy] To start, I'll respond to the above predictions by saying, "Way to really go out on a limb there, guys." To finish, I'll reveal that TFC and FCD are also my picks to finish top of their respective conferences, so I asked myself, "Why, in a league that's literally only known for being bonkers, would all three of us arrive to the same preseason prediction?" I know this is sacrilege to even bring up in MLS circles, but are these two teams so good — the unprecedented depth in Dallas; the superstar collection of talent that actually fits together in T.O. — that we're finally, maybe for the first time in MLS history, watching two teams pull away from the pack in terms of franchise stature and automatic assumption as the two best teams in the league year after year?

Of course, it'll all come crashing down rather quickly once the first of TFC's star leaves, or when Barcelona and Bayern Munich wage war over Pareja a year or two from now — and they'll undoubtedly fall top to bottom faster than Leicester City, because MLS — but for now, I think we've finally got a couple teams capable of living up to the hype.

Here's my prediction from a month ago that, at the time, seemed extremely hot, but has cooled considerably after everyone in the world copied it: Chicago's going to the playoffs in 2017. To take that one step further, we're going to be talking about Veljko Paunovic in the same breath as the likes of Peter Vermes, Jason Kreis, Patrick Vieira and Jesse Marsch — the non-Oscar Pareja division, basically. That's probably enough to win Coach of the Year.

Other predictions: Giovinco gets himself another MVP, courtesy of a season of 40 goals and assists combined. His guy Jozy, finally healthy and rolling over form that saw him score 15 goals from July 31 (his first of 2016) and MLS Cup, is going for 20 goals this season, and it might be enough for the Golden Boot.