MLS 2013 Season Preview: Predictions

Posted by Jason Davis

There's something truly uncomfortable about making predictions. The most enthralling thing about soccer is its unpredictable nature; if we wanted scripted drama with endings made to manipulate our emotions, we'd watch The Bachelor. We don't know what's going to happen. That's most of the fun.

-- MLS season gets under way Saturday

But wild predictions are fun, too. Major League Soccer's season starts Saturday, believe it not, which requires of us a commitment to predictions. It's the way of things. Soccer is unpredictable, and yet we try to predict it. MLS is especially unpredictable, and especially in 2013.

Knowing it's a fool's errand doesn’t change the sense of responsibility we all feel to make our picks, and then jealously guard them as the year plays out. So, without further ado, I’ve cobbled together a crack panel of MLS experts who will from now until the MLS Cup Final be held to the choices they’ve made below.

In addition to their standard picks in all of the standard categories, I've asked for a wildcard pick, or failing that, an award they’d like to give out before the new season begins.

ERIC BEARD, A Football Report, @bearderic

Eastern Conference:

1. Sporting KC

2. New York Red Bulls

3. Houston Dynamo

4. D.C. United

5. Columbus Crew

-- -- -- -- -- -- --

6. Montreal Impact

7. Philadelphia Union

8. Chicago Fire

9. New England Revolution

10. Toronto FC

Western Conference:

1. Seattle Sounders

2. LA Galaxy

3. San Jose Earthquakes

4. Real Salt Lake

5. Portland Timbers

-- -- -- -- -- --

6. Chivas USA

7. Colorado Rapids

8. Vancouver Whitecaps

9. FC Dallas

Supporters Shield: Sporting Kansas City

MLS Cup Champion: Seattle Sounders

MVP: Graham Zusi, SKC

Rookie of the Year: Carlos Alvarez, Chivas USA

Golden Boot: Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy

The "we're getting out of here, this place is going to collapse!" pat on the back: D.C. United

COMMENTS: The two most exciting projects in MLS are those at Sporting Kansas City and Chivas USA. Peter Vermes continues to progress as a manager, and his vision of a distinct style of play - still a rarity in MLS - seems to be coming to fruition at Sporting KC with the respective maturation of Zusi and Oriol Rosell, despite the loss of Roger Espinoza. And when it comes to visions, Chelís' fire sale to rebuild Chivas USA is pretty unprecedented for the league. The situation at Chivas can only improve (on the pitch), and Chelis' project is one that could do better than most expect, but it'll certainly be fun to follow regardless. That said, I think Chivas USA will fall short of the playoffs and instead the Timbers will rise into the final spot in the West.

Just as Federico Higuaín reignited the Columbus Crew for the second half of last season, Diego Valeri could be the leader and extra touch of class the Timbers need to create better chances in the final third.

RICHARD FARLEY, Prolific Soccer Writer (Pro Soccer Talk, ESPNFC), @richardfarley

Eastern Conference:

1. D.C. United

2. Houston Dynamo

3. Sporting Kansas City

4. New York Red Bulls

5. Chicago Fire

-- -- -- -- -- --

6. Columbus Crew

7. New England Revolution

8. Montreal Impact

9. Philadelphia Union

10. Toronto FC

Western Conference:

1. LA Galaxy

2. San Jose Earthquakes

3. Real Salt Lake

4. Seattle Sounders

5. Portland Timbers

-- -- -- -- -- --

6. FC Dallas

7. Vancouver Whitecaps

8. Colorado Rapids

9. Chivas USA

Supporters Shield: D.C. United

MLS Cup Champion: Houston Dynamo

MVP: Robbie Keane

Rookie of the Year: Andrew Farrell, New England

Golden Boot: Robbie Keane

Wildcard: Over-under on longest Juninho Pernambucano goal: 34.5 yards.

JARED DuBOIS, The Best Soccer Show, @jrodius

Eastern Conference:

1. New York Red Bulls

2. D.C. United

3. Houston Dynamo

4. Sporting Kansas City

5. Chicago Fire

-- -- -- -- --

6. Montreal Impact

7. Columbus Crew

8. Philadelphia Union

9. Toronto FC

10. New England Revolution

Western Conference:

1. San Jose Earthquakes

2. Seattle Sounders

3. Real Salt Lake

4. LA Galaxy

5. Portland Timbers

-- -- -- -- -- --

6. Vancouver Whitecaps

7. FC Dallas

8. Colorado Rapids

9. Chivas USA

Supporters Shield: San Jose Earthquakes

COMMENT: Look at the movement the other teams at the top of the West have had to endure. San Jose came out of the offseason relatively unscathed.

MLS Cup Champion: LA Galaxy

COMMENT: They are becoming the Murtaughs of MLS. They're grizzled, and they've been doing this stuff for years.

MVP: Thierry Henry

COMMENT: New York finally wins the East and they will have him to thank for it. And then he in turn will thank the geneticist that kept Juninho alive all season.

Rookie of the Year: Carlos Alvarez

COMMENT: Simple reason. He'll see minutes. He has to . . . who else is Chivas going to field? Someone from their front office?

Golden Boot: Robbie Keane

COMMENT: He keeps LA in it while Landon travels and Beckham's slot sits empty. He gets help by summer, but in these opening lean months he'll take the team on his back.

Wildcard Little Fish (Carlos Ruiz) Prediction: Scores goal of the year. Out of a job by end of the summer transfer window.

JOHN GODFREY, Editor in Chief of American Soccer Now, @thisisasn

Eastern Conference:

1. New York Red Bulls

2. D.C. United

3. Sporting Kansas City

4. Houston Dynamo

5. Chicago Fire

-- -- -- -- -- --

6. Philadelphia Union

7. New England Revolution

8. Columbus Crew

9. Montreal Impact

10. Toronto FC

Western Conference:

1. LA Galaxy

2. Seattle Sounders

3. San Jose Earthquakes

4. Real Salt Lake

5. FC Dallas

-- -- -- -- -- --

6. Vancouver Whitecaps

7. Portland Timbers

8. Colorado Rapids

9. Chivas USA

Supporters Shield: New York Red Bulls

COMMENTS: With a healthy Omar Gonzalez for a full year and the best striker in the league in Robbie Keane, LA seems well positioned to take the Supporters Shield. But Landon Donovan’s self-imposed exile will mess with team chemistry twice – initially at the start of the season and once again when he finally shows up – which could cost the Galaxy a few matches along the way. Because of that, I think the ultra-talented Red Bulls, led by a no-nonsense local boy in Mike Petke, are set up to—finally!—reach their potential.

MLS Cup Champion: LA Galaxy

COMMENTS: It’s three-peat time for the deepest, most talented team in the league. By the time the playoffs roll around this fall, budding stars like Juninho and Jose Villarreal will have had time to gel with the veteran leaders on the squad. And with any luck Donovan will be back in the fold and committed to winning. Note: If Donovan does not come back, or stick around, or play to his potential, a revitalized Red Bulls team will take the title.

MVP: Robbie Keane

COMMENTS: With David Beckham gone and Landon Donovan in… LandonLand, Keane becomes the undisputed focal point of the offense. It seemed like he hit 50 crossbars last year but in 2013 those near misses will go in. And without any European Championships to worry about, Keane will be with the team throughout the season.

Rookie of the Year: Walker Zimmerman, FC Dallas

Mostly because he has two last names.

Golden Boot: Robbie Keane

See above. And look to see 25-plus cartwheel-somersault combos in 2013.

Wildcards: Freddy Adu will find a coach who wants him, and he will prosper . . .Chivas USA will perform so poorly this year that the franchise implodes -- San Diego Pelicans, anyone? . . . Kelyn Rowe and Lee Nguyen will develop a tremendous rapport in the New England midfield and both will catapult themselves on to the U.S. national team radar . .. .Graham Zusi will leave MLS for the English Premier League before the end of the season .. . .Luis Gil will get over his shrinking violet act, step up, and make Real Salt Lake his team.

JASON DAVIS, Soccer USA blog, ESPNFC.com, @davisjsn

Finally, my own picks. Again, this appears to be the most unpredictable MLS season in years, and that’s saying something considering the volatility of the league from season to season. No one, for example, had San Jose running away with the Supporters Shield last year, but everyone had LA taking home a second consecutive MLS Cup title; with no clear favorite, there will be no consensus on either this time around.

Eastern Conference:

1. New York Red Bulls

2. Houston Dynamo

3. Sporting Kansas City

4. Columbus Crew

5. D.C. United

-- -- -- -- --

6. Chicago Fire

7. New England Revolution

8. Montreal Impact

9. Philadelphia Union

10. Toronto FC

Western Conference:

1. Seattle Sounders

2. LA Galaxy

3. Real Salt Lake

4. San Jose Earthquakes

5. Portland Timbers

-- -- -- -- -- --

6. Vancouver Whitecaps

7. FC Dallas

8. Chivas USA

9. Colorado Rapids

Supporters Shield: Seattle Sounders

COMMENTS: The addition of Obafemi Martins (still pending as of this writing) makes the Sounders the best team on paper in either conference. The rest of the West has regressed, and from a talent perspective, the Red Bulls look like the biggest obstacle to Seattle’s shield chances. But it’s the Sounders year (to win the Supporters Shield).

MLS Cup Champion: New York Red Bulls

While the Sounders will be the best team over the course of the year, I’m taking a flyer on the Red Bulls finishing first in the East and parlaying that into an MLS Cup title. One of these years, it has to happen. Right?

MVP: Mauro Rosales, Seattle

Rosales made the Sounders go last season, and received justified consideration for Most Valuable Player. With the Sounders my pick to take the points title, it just makes sense to tab the Sounders most important player as the MVP for 2013.

Rookie of the Year: Andrew Farrell

Two words: Playing time.

Golden Boot: Robbie Keane

Keane seems to have this MLS thing figured out, and is an easy pick for Golden Boot. Unless Chris Wondolowski follows up his amazing year with yet another amazing year, LA's Irish strike.

Okay, so there's one consensus, at least among this particular panel of experts. Robbie Keane, overwhelming Golden Boot favorite.

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