MLS preview, part 2: Teams to watch

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. Which of the league's 21 other teams should you be watching this year? Our guys — Andy Edwards, Charles Gooch and Tate Steinlage — recommend casting a watchful eye over the following.

[Tate] On paper, it’s Seattle Sounders, Toronto FC, FC Dallas and then everybody else. The usual teams will fight at the top of the table, but I suspect we’ll see a couple of surprises. One for each side of the league: the Chicago Fire and Minnesota United.

Chicago finally have a direction under manager Veljko Paunovic, slowly ridding themselves of deadweight over the last two seasons, while adding a promising piece in Nemanja Nikolic, who has a filthy scoring rate, and Dax McCarty, who we all know is as proven as they come in MLS. I think Chicago make the playoffs and even will themselves to a knockout round win. (If you’re finding this piece late in the season, and the Fire have dropped into the abyss again, please don’t @ me.)

As for Minnesota, I like the culture the club already has in place. I like bringing back fan-favorite Miguel Ibarra from Liga MX, and the spread-the-wealth approach with their player signings. When push comes to shove, I’m not sure Minnesota will have enough across 34 games to make the playoffs, but I think the foundation is there to stay in most games.

[Gooch] Hey, don't @ me either, but I think the Fire are going to be a playoff team. (Shhhh.)

I'm pretty fascinated by two teams right now — one East and one West. I'm not picking my favorites to win anything; I'm picking the two teams with the most questions at the moment.

The Portland Timbers were a conundrum last season. Despite all of their obvious talent, the reigning MLS Cup champs sputtered out of the playoff picture. Were they good? Or did they just get hot at the right time? Is Caleb Porter a sharp tactical coach? Or did he just stumble on a formula that worked for five weeks?

I have even more questions about this team this year. Will David Guzman give Diego Chara the freedom he needs to wreak havoc in the middle? Will a more advanced Diego Chara make life easier or harder on Diego Valeri? Is Lawrence Olum the answer at CB? [Andy, interjecting: Gooch, my man, come on.] Is this team one defender away from being an MLS Cup contender again? Is Darlington Nagbe a left winger? Is Nagbe… good? (I'm legitimately not sure at this point. I think he's good, but he also can't find a position with regularity, or consistently drive the Timbers to victory like other players with his reputation around the league.)

The other team is the New England Revolution. Is there another team with as many attacking options as the Revs? They've got Kei Kamara, Juan Agudelo, Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen and Diego Fagundez. They can't play five attacking players — unless they want to ship 100 goals this year, because they don't have anyone in the midfield who can win the ball back or shield the backline. So, who sits? What formation do they play (it's been a diamond-ish look this preseason)? Can Jay Heaps keep Kamara happy? Can he figure out how to shuffle Rowe/Nguyen/Agudelo without making all three of them miserable?

The answer to these questions is either: A) Heaps is a man-management genius and New England sort it out or B) Heaps is a mortal man, everyone struggles, and the Revs contemplate blowing things up by July. I think those are the only two answers.

[Andy] Yo, how did you goons get through almost 600 words on "teams to watch in 2017," without a single mention for the Vancouver Whitecaps? What's the one thing they've been missing since Carl Robinson came into the job and quickly assembled his once-best-in-the-league track squad? Duh, it's a striker capable of finishing the abundance of chances that fall his way with the likes of Kekuta Manneh, Christian Bolaños and Cristian Techera — and now, Yordy Reyna and Alphonso Davies — playing being him. That man is Fredy Montero, scorer of at least 16 goals in 2017. 

As for the East, the resurrection of Jason Kreis is about to take place right in front of our eyes. He's got the best no. 9 in the league (Cyle Larin, until at least the summer — stay away, Europe), a ton of young talent that's hitting the ready-to-contribute stage of their respective careers, a fat stack of allocation money following the trade of Kevin Molino, and finally, a brand new stadium. Tell me, Kansas Citians, how much might that last thing mean to a resurgent team in MLS?