The first matchday of the 2019 MLS season is tomorrow, which means it’s time for the SBI editorial staff to take a look in their crystal balls to see how the entire year will shake out.
Keeping in mind that MLS is as unpredictable as it gets, the experts take a shot at who will win MVP, Newcomer of the Year, Coach of the Year, and more. They also give their picks for who will lift MLS Cup when all is said and done.
Managing Editor Larry Henry Jr., Assistant Editors Joe Hojnacki, Joe Taney, and Jeff Weisinger, as well as Senior Writer Franco Panizo and staff writer Jay Stucchio take aim at how the league will shake out this year.
Who are your picks for awards? What are your bold predictions for the 2018 season? Check out the SBI Staff’s predictions below and offer your own in the comment section:
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
HENRY JR.: Bradley Wright-Phillips has been a consistent performer in MLS since he arrived and expect him to put in his best season yet as the Red Bulls roll their way to an MLS Cup title.
HOJNACKI: Carlos Vela had a year to get used to MLS and now he’s ready to lead LAFC to a strong season while taking the league by storm.
TANSEY: Zlatan Ibrahimovic will score 20 goals and lead the Galaxy into the playoffs.
WEISINGER: Zlatan Ibrahimovic says he’s going to break every record this year. Let’s take him at his word. With a full training camp and preseason, Zlatan should build upon his 22-goal total from a year ago.
STUCCHIO: LAFC shocked people last season and I expect them to do the same this year. With a strong debut season behind them and an improved team around Carlos Vela. I expect him to improve on his impressive stats from last campaign.
PANIZO: Zlatan Ibrahimovic took the league by storm last year, and there is zero reason to believe he will not dominate again in 2019. The superstar forward is going to lead the way as the LA Galaxy return to the playoffs as one of the most dangerous team in MLS.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
HENRY JR.: DeJuan Jones adds another deadly weapon to Brad Friedel’s squad and the former Michigan State Spartan will be an impact player for the Revs this season.
HOJNACKI: Frankie Amaya was the first overall pick in the draft and expansion FC Cincinnati should give him plenty of chances to shine.
TANSEY: Griffin Dorsey plays a bit and contributes in a few key situations to stand out among the rookie pool.
WEISINGER: Homegrown Red Bull Omir Fernandez has impressed just about everyone and will continue to do so in MLS this year
STUCCHIO: The New York Red Bulls are one of MLS’ most successful clubs in terms of integrating young talent into their lineup and Omir Fernandez might be the latest addition to a running list. I’m expecting the homegrown to prove his worth in every opportunity he gets.
PANIZO: With it getting tougher and tougher for first-year players to break into MLS teams, it surely seems that a youngster on one of the weaker teams will prevail due to the nature of him getting more chances and minutes to shine. Center back Callum Montgomery seems as good a candidate as any for that reason alone, though it also helps that FC Dallas has a reputation for trusting young players.
COACH OF THE YEAR
HENRY JR.: Chris Armas helped continue what Jesse Marsch started in New Jersey and now with a full season under his belt, he will lead the Red Bulls to an MLS Cup title and a deep run in the Concacaf Champions League.
HOJNACKI: Giovanni Savarese had a solid first year with the Timbers and, with the experience of making MLS Cup under his belt, is set to really make a name for himself in 2019.
TANSEY: Caleb Porter’s return to MLS will be triumphant, as the Crew finish high in the East and make a deep playoff run.
WEISINGER: A Quakes playoff appearance after a four-win campaign is all Matias Almeyda needs.
STUCCHIO: With plenty of new shiny pieces taking the helm of clubs around the league recently, I’d watch for Bob Bradley to take home the crown of Coach of the Year in his second season in Los Angeles.
PANIZO: The manager of the Supporters’ Shield winner has taken this accolade in three of the last four years, but Peter Vermes’ familiarity will count against him and benefit newcomer Guillermo Barros Schelotto. The Argentine will claim the award for getting the most out of the oft-criticized Giovani dos Santos, and for resurrecting the Galaxy as a contender in the west.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR
HENRY JR.: The Philadelphia Union needed a No. 10 to fill the gap left by Borek Dockal’s departure. Marco Fabian’s arrival should help with that while his leadership will help the talented attackers grow in 2019.
HOJNACKI: Pity Martinez has some big shoes to fill, and he won’t fully replace Miguel Almiron, but he’s exactly the type of player to come into MLS and become and instant star.
TANSEY: Replacing David Villa’s goal scoring production won’t be easy, but Alexandru Mitriță will have success similar to Nemanja Nikolic in his first year with the Fire.
WEISINGER: Alexandru Mitriță has big shoes to fill replacing David Villa, but if he can help guide NYCFC to a top-three finish, give the man his due.
STUCCHIO: NYCFC’s newest DP joins MLS as the league’s third most expensive import and has showed his quality in his two preseason games with the club. Alexandru Mitriță’s task is to replace David Villa, which is not easy, but I’m expecting a fine debut campaign in MLS from the Romanian.
PANIZO: Sometimes the obvious choice is the correct one. Atlanta United Gonzalo ‘Pity’ Martinez may not be as quick or lethal on the counter as Miguel Almiron, but he the reigning South American Player of the Year oozes talent and is joining an established and powerful attacking machine that will only allow him to thrive.
DEFENDER OF THE YEAR
HENRY JR.: Walker Zimmerman is one of MLS’ top talents at center back and should lead LAFC to even more successes in 2019.
HOJNACKI: Aaron Long has some high expectations in the Red Bulls back line and he should live up to them and more.
TANSEY: Michael Parkhurst still doesn’t get all the love he deserves for how important he is to the Atlanta defense and he’ll prove his worth yet again in 2019.
WEISINGER: Laurent Ciman will return to MLS and win the award with Toronto FC, his original MLS club’s arch rival.
STUCCHIO: The New York Red Bulls are a well built team and have a well built defense at the base. Aaron Long is amongst the favorites to reclaim the trophy he won in 2018 and I’m expecting him to go back-to-back.
PANIZO: It is so hard for a fullback to come out on top here, but Graham Zusi is going to do so as part of the best defense in MLS. It will not just be Zusi’s defensive contributions that get him chosen either, but also his play with the ball and in the attacking half.
GOALKEEPER OF THE YEAR
HENRY JR.: Andre Blake helped the Union earn some big time results a year ago and the Jamaican National Team No. 1 is continuing to thrive in Philly with talented young defenders in front of him.
HOJNACKI: Luis Robles has a strong defense in front of him and has what it takes to make the big saves in the rare moments those defenders fail him.
TANSEY: With an improved side in front of him, Andre Blake will have to do less in goal, but he’ll increase his shutout and save totals to continue his reign as one of the league’s premier goalkeepers.
WEISINGER: If LAFC does make the MLS Cup run, expect Tyler Miller to play a major part.
STUCCHIO: The Seattle Sounders have become accustomed to Stefan Frei making big saves in big times with the 2016 MLS Cup coming to mind. 2019 might be the year the rest of the league acknowledges the same.
PANIZO: The contributions of Tyler Miller were an overlooked part of LAFC’s successful inaugural season, but his continued stellar play in between the sticks will grab the attention of plenty observers this year. Miller will build on his successful 2018, and make clear why he was summoned to the U.S. Men’s National Team camp in January.
HENRY JR.: Abu Danladi completely fell off for Minnesota United in 2018, but with the odds pressed against him expect the striker to come up good for the Loons.
HOJNACKI: Andy Polo struggled to adjust to MLS, he has a season under his belt and a lot of talent around him to compliment his speed. This will be the year he becomes the winger Portland thought he could be last year.
TANSEY: Chicago needed a second scorer behind Nikolic and got it in C.J. Sapong, who is looking to prove his doubters wrong after a rough 2018 in Philadelphia.
WEISINGER: Tyler Miller’s breakout goalkeeping campaign will lead LAFC to the promised land.
STUCCHIO: Ezequiel Barco cost Atlanta United more than a bit of cash prior to last season and didn’t provide what the club had hoped for. With a season of distractions and adjusting behind him, I’d watch for Barco to be more involved in the Five Stripes exciting attack.
PANIZO: One of the most common soccer phrases in Spanish is el futbol siempre da revancha, which translates to soccer always gives you a rematch. That will be the case in 2019 for Giovani dos Santos, who will remain healthy throughout the majority of the year and help the Galaxy attack take things to another level. (Maximiliano Urruti will be a very close second here.)
TOP 7 IN EAST
7. New York City FC
7. Orlando City
2. New York Red Bulls
3. Columbus Crew
4. D.C. United
5. Philadelphia Union
6. New York City FC
7. Chicago Fire
1. Atlanta United
2. New York Red Bulls
3. D.C. United
4. Columbus Crew
5. Montreal Impact
6. New York City FC
7. Toronto FC
TOP 7 IN WEST
7. FC Dallas
7. Houston Dynamo
2. Sporting KC
3. Seattle Sounders
4. Portland Timbers
5. San Jose Earthquakes
6. Real Salt Lake
7. Minnesota United
1. Sporting Kansas City
3. Seattle Sounders
4. LA Galaxy
5. Portland Timbers
6. Houston Dynamo
7. Real Salt Lake
HENRY JR.: New York Red Bulls over LAFC
HOJNACKI: New York Red Bulls over Sporting KC
TANSEY: Columbus Crew over Sporting Kansas City
WEISINGER: LAFC over New York Red Bulls
STUCCHIO: Atlanta United over Seattle Sounders
PANIZO: Seattle Sounders over D.C. United