Home » How to Invest » MLS 2018 predictions: Atlanta for title … and Ronaldo teams up with Beckham?

MLS 2018 predictions: Atlanta for title … and Ronaldo teams up with Beckham?


Ahead of the new season, our panel of experts deliver their verdicts on the MVP, MLS Cup champions and whether promotion/relegation will ever come to pass

Im most looking forward to

Seeing how Atlanta United progress. Owner Arthur Blank threw down the gauntlet to the rest of the league, redefining whats possible within MLS. Tata Martinos side played attractive soccer and drew massive crowds to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The club are not resting on their laurels either: they shelled out a once-unheard-of fee of $15m to land teenage Argentinian playmaker Ezequiel Barco. Whether thats enough of an improvement to topple Toronto remains to be seen, but itll be fun to watch. BD

Seeing how the battle for hearts and minds in LA goes down with the addition of LAFC. The dynamic is somewhat different than the New York edition of #soccerwarz, given the Galaxys historic success, but after the false start of Chivas USA (RIP), LAFC look likely to finally deliver a rival team worth the name. GP

Seeing what Atlanta United will do for an encore. The Five Stripes broke Seattles previously untouchable attendance records in their inaugural campaign, all while playing some of the most consistently attractive soccer MLS has ever seen. Can Tata Martino, Miguel Almiron and Co. approach even loftier heights in Year 2? MP

Some actual soccer interrupting the toxic discourse that has been building in American soccer. Its been quite an off-season, with the sport in the country tearing itself apart around the US Soccer presidential election. It got so bad some people even supported Eric Wynalda as a candidate. Of course, there are problems to be addressed, but some soccer to break up the shouting and screaming will be welcome. GR

Im least looking forward to

Michael Bradley and Christian Pulisic: not coming to a World Cup game near you anytime soon. Photograph: Ashley Allen/Getty Images

The perpetual hand-wringing over the lack of USA-eligible players in MLS starting elevens. MLS now has 23 teams, 20 based in the United States. Lets say, conservatively, 80 potential US national team players are starting and 120 or so get regular playing time. Only a few years ago, the thinking was that American players should bypass MLS to fight for playing time in Europe. Now theyre fighting for playing time here, and theyll be better off for it. BD

Any game played during the World Cup a reminder not only of US soccers general state of exception when it comes to scheduling, but also its state of exception when it comes to the USA qualifying for the World Cup. MLS is not a league that easily absorbs the loss of a potential generation of fans piqued by US performances. GP

Having to feign interest in MLS around the World Cup. The US mens national team had never previously failed to qualify for the tournament since MLS launched in 1996. And though there will be plenty of the leagues players on hand representing various homelands, something is going to be missing for American fans. I dont think the league brass has fully come to terms with how much theyd taken for granted the World Cup bump every four years. MP

More MLS games at Yankee Stadium. NYC FC have replaced the LA Galaxy as the global front for MLS and playing games at a baseball stadium, on such a poor pitch, leaves the league open to derision. GR

Does LA need a second team?

Probably. LAFC seems to have laid the groundwork for capturing the fan base in the urban core, though we shouldnt confuse sprawling southern California with congested New York. The failures of Chivas USA are not being repeated. LAFC are an ambitious club with a large group of local owners, not a development squad for a giant of the Mexican league. The only question is whether LAFC will siphon off too much of the Galaxys fan base, which is already trending downward. BD

Its more a case of, Would MLS like one of its two main media markets to have two sustainable teams? A: Yes. Also, Can LA sustain a second team? A: Probably, if both make virtue of their distinct qualities. LAFC have made some shrewd branding moves and are building a beautiful looking stadium. A promising start. GP

Sure. The countrys second-largest city certainly has the population size to support it and possesses the diverse demographics MLS should be aggressively targeting. Whether LAFC specifically is that second team LA needs is an open question. MLSs newest expansion team has hit plenty of the right notes, but it has left a couple of important boxes unchecked, too. MP

Yes. Los Angeles has the potential to be a real soccer hotbed. That potential has been obvious for years, but never before has a team been able to capitalise on that. The Galaxy are handicapped by their location out in Carson, so theres only so much they can do. I have sympathy. LAFCs new downtown stadium, however, could be a game-changer for soccer in the city. GR

MLS promotion/relegation is likely as…

… the sun going supernova. Its inevitable, but it might not happen for some time to come. Two factors make it inevitable. First, MLS is rapidly splitting between the haves and have-nots, and the have-nots will need some sort of incentive beyond scraping into the playoffs (which will surely be revised if not outright scrapped down the road). Second, pro/rel provides a buffer against lawsuits such as the ones tossed out by the NASL, whose remaining owners seem determined to take the rest of US Soccer down with them. But MLS will have to proceed with caution to keep its current owners happy, or at least unlikely to call in the legal barracudas. BD

… owners declaring single entity is impeding competition. So, not likely. We could see some symbolic movement on the pro/rel front at the next tier down from MLS, as USL continues to grow and NASL continues to be squeezed, but in the top league, trying to argue past the profit motive of sports industrialists is a tough cause to take up. Still, the populist mood of the US Soccer presidential race should encourage the fans whove long rallied round pro/rel. GP

… the Colorado Rapids reprising their unlikely 2016 run to the Western Conference finals. Fresh off USMNT staggering World Cup qualification nosedive, American soccer would seem ripe for some kind of drastic change. Outside the social media echo chamber, however, exist powerful administrative forces with little appetite for shaking up the status quo. MP

Nope, its not happening. Not anytime soon, anyway. The US Soccer presidential election exposed the discussion over promotion/relegation to the mainstream, and there is a feeling that, for the first time, a grown-up debate over the concept can be had. But MLS is still dictated to by its owners, owners who dont want the threat of relegation. If change is to happen it has to come from the top of the North American game. That opportunity has just been missed. Maybe next time. GR

The MVP will be

Expect the usual brilliance from Sebastian Giovinco again this season. Photograph: Mark Blinch/AP

Miguel Almiron, Atlanta. The Paraguayan midfielder is only going to get better. Hell be the driving force behind a team that contends for the title. BD

Im intrigued by the rebuild at the Galaxy, and especially by the acquisition of Ola Kamara, who I think could turn out to be one of those players who thrives in LA. He was prolific and overlooked at Columbus, and if LA come back from a disappointing 2017, hell finally have the chance to claim some deserved credit. GP

Sebastian Giovinco. The crafty little Italian was a step below his ankle-breaking best in 2017, finishing with his lowest goal and assist totals since he arrived in MLS from Juventus in 2015. Yet even at 31, Giovinco is still as gifted and as ruthless as any attacker in the league, and surrounded by capable playmakers, expect him to bounce back in a big way. MP

Almiron.This is assuming Arsenal dont splurge $50m on the Paraguayan playmaker to replace Mesut Ozil when he eventually goes to Manchester United this summer. Almiron and Josef Martinez formed quite the partnership in their first season in MLS, with both players impressing as the stars of an enthralling Atlanta United side. Along with Sebastian Giovinco, theres a sense that Almiron is a level above. GR

One bold prediction

Surely not… Photograph: Shot for Press/Action Plus via Getty Images

The Columbus Crews effort to move to Austin falls apart in spectacular fashion. Frustrated owner Anthony Precourt offloads the club as quickly as possible, driving down the much-hyped Forbes valuation for each MLS club (except Atlanta and LAFC) and throwing a wrench in the expansion sweepstakes. Rather than seeing the expansion fee drop, MLS growth stops at 26 clubs, with the final slot going to North Carolina FC. BD

Zlatan to MLS is probably rather too in the mould of the believable at this stage of his career, isnt it? Maybe the long, long saga that ended in David Beckhams Miami team finally becoming a thing, will mean that the speculation on when and where it will land can now be replaced by speculation on who hell attract to one of the more glamorous venues in MLS. Cristiano Ronaldo to sign a pre-agreement to become the teams first Designated player when they launch? GP

Toronto FC will break up Liga MXs Concacaf Champions League hegemony. Not since 2000 has an MLS team won the continental club title. Not since 2005 has anybody outside Mexico worn the crown. TFC have the talent and playoff experience to finally end both streaks. MP

Landon Donovan will return to MLS. Because all this 2018 MLS season is lacking in narrative is a third coming of the prodigal son. Hes already out of retirement (again), playing in Liga MX for Club Leon, so heres what will happen – Donovan will get to about July when hell get a call from Bob Bradley. LAFC will be struggling, in need of players as injuries start to take their toll on their shallow squad. You know itll happen. Drama. GR

Eastern Conference playoff teams

Atlanta, Toronto, NYC FC, Chicago, Columbus, Orlando. BD

Toronto, Atlanta, New York Red Bulls, NYC FC, Orlando, Chicago. GP

Toronto, Atlanta, NYC FC, Orlando, New York Red Bulls, Columbus. MP

Toronto, Atlanta, NYC FC, New York Red Bulls, Orlando, Columbus. GR

Western Conference playoff teams

Seattle, Kansas City, Portland, Vancouver, Dallas, Real Salt Lake. BD

LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake, Portland, Seattle, Dallas, Vancouver. GP

Portland, Seattle, Salt Lake, Kansas City, Dallas, Los Angeles FC. MP

Real Salt Lake, Seattle, Kansas City, Dallas, Portland, LA Galaxy. GR

MLS Cup champions

Will Atlanta United win the title in their second MLS season? Photograph: David Goldman/AP

Atlanta United. Tata Martino doesnt need more than two years to figure out how to win in this league, particularly when he has the financial resources Arthur Blank and the Atlanta fanbase are handing him. And it wont just be the South American imports and a couple of US veterans on the field. Watch for Andrew Carleton to lead the way as Atlantas strong academy pays dividends sooner rather than later. BD

Toronto made the leagues deepest ever roster stronger in the off-season, and have all the tools to be back-to-back champions. If Atlanta improve, or NYC FC learn to concentrate when it matters there could be credible challengers in the East, and the Cascadia teams and a retooled Galaxy will all ask questions. But its perverse to look beyond Toronto at this stage of the year, given what they did at the end of the last one. GP

Atlanta United. Far from being content with their first-year success, Atlanta have doubled down. United broke the MLS transfer record to sign Barco, and midfielder Darlington Nagbe, arrived in a trade from Portland, should be a natural fit. This team does look a bit unbalanced, and the back line is a concern, but underestimate MLSs most ambitious club at your own peril. MP

Toronto . Greg Vanneys side were by far and away the best side in MLS last season. They swept to their first ever MLS Cup in style. Since then, not much has changed. They have, largely, kept the same squad together and have started well in the CONCACAF Champions League. So why cant TFC build the kind of dynasty not seen in MLS since the height of the Bruce Arena days at the LA Galaxy? GR

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2018/mar/02/mls-2018-predictions-atlanta-united-toronto-fc-soccer

, , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *