MLS 2012 Season: 20 Bold Predictions for the New Campaign

Juan Carlos Salas@juancsalasContributor IIIMarch 9, 2012

MLS 2012 Season: 20 Bold Predictions for the New Campaign

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    Go big or go home. That’s the motto that has been going around for decades now. I figured I’d do the same with this list of prediction for the upcoming 2012 Major League Soccer campaign. 

    I tried to make sure to keep them within reason, but I can say there is one—maybe two or three depending what team you root for—that are a bit far-fetched. 

    Just have fun with the predictions. You never know, in a few months I might be considered a genius. Otherwise, we can forget this whole thing ever happened. 

    And as always, feel free to post your own.

Los Angeles Galaxy Win the CONCACAF Champions League

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    The Los Angeles Galaxy have continued their quest to become a dynasty in the league when they resumed their CONCACAF Champions League competition against Toronto FC with a 2-2 draw.

    The draw was enough to give LA the advantage, as they get ready to host Toronto next Wednesday for the return leg.

    Los Angeles has five games left to try to accomplish what Real Salt Lake almost did—getting to the CCL finals but losing on aggregate goals.

    However, let’s not forget that in 2000, Los Angeles did win the prior version of this competition, so the club is familiar with international success. With a deep roster and leadership in all positions, MLS' best chance for a championship is the Galaxy.

    Los Angeles boasts a roster including Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Robbie Keane and newly re-acquired Edson Buddle. The club also secured midfielder Juninho to return from Sao Paolo and signed a plethora of new talent to boost the bench.

Montreal Impact Excels as an Expansion Club

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    Head Coach Jesse Marsch has done a fantastic job in putting together the Montreal Impact for its first season. 

    Will they win hardware? Probably not. 

    Nevertheless, the team won’t be the punching bag of the league like most expansion teams are known to be. 

    Picking up Zarek Valentine and Justin Braun from Chivas USA were great acquisitions. Valentine is young, and Braun has shown flickers of a lethal striker once he finds consistency. Maybe a change of scenery is what he needs. 

    Montreal also picked up veteran midfielder Davy Arnaud from Sporting KC and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts from the Los Angeles Galaxy. 

    Ricketts was one of the best goalkeepers in MLS the previous two seasons before a hand injury ended his 2011 campaign. If Ricketts stays healthy, Montreal will have a beast between the pipes. 

    Marsch didn’t succumb to the European craze, so when the team picked up Eddie Johnson, he traded the forward to Seattle for two proven players, Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle. Both will solidify the midfield and forward positions. 

    The lingering question is what will be done with rookie Andrew Wegner. He can play on both ends of the field. Since there is always a strong presence in the offense, Marsch might use the Duke product in the back, which can be a risk for an untested player.

New York Red Bulls Capture Franchise's First MLS Cup

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    New York is a frustrating team to watch because everyone sees the tools at head coach Hans Backe’s disposal on which he refuses to capitalize.

    2011 started well and dandy for the Red Bulls, but midway the team fell in disarray. Injuries and internal problems caused the team to struggle for victories until the end of the season when it just barely clinched on to the last remaining playoff spot. 

    However, the Red Bulls that enter the 2012 campaign are a stronger team individually. Maybe this will be the year that Backe joins that individual talent into a cohesive team that can challenge for the city’s first MLS Cup. 

    Thierry Henry comes back in the mix and alongside him will be Kenny Cooper. Luke Rodgers is having troubles returning to the states, but if he does, then New York will have an offense rivaling Los Angeles—especially as Juan Agudelo will come and go from the U.S. national team. 

    The defense will be the crucial part of New York’s success. If Rafael Marquez can keep his mouth shut, and newly acquired Swedish defender Markus Holgersson can fill the gap Tim Ream left, the New York will be primed to capture the 2012 MLS Cup.

A Year of Many Growing Pains for New England

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    The New England Revolution was the top dog of MLS in the 2000s. However, after a five-win season in 2011, the organization went through an entire cleanse from top to bottom. 

    Jay Heaps was named head coach and Mike Burns was promoted to general manager. 

    Burns brought three Colombians—John Lozano, Jose Moreno and Fernando Cardenas—to boost the offense and defense. 

    You include to that draft pick Kelyn Rowe and former D.C. United Clyde Simms, and the 2012 New England squad looks more of an expansion team than the Montreal Impact. 

    It’s going to be a steep learning curve for Heaps, who doesn’t have any coaching experience. 

    He’ll have the pressure of not just the front office, but also from the fans that are sick of finishing at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. 

    Unfortunately, I don’t see them going anywhere in 2012.

Sporting Kansas City Wins the U.S. Open Cup

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    Sporting Kansas City went through some rocky times in the beginning of the 2011 season after they were re-branded Sporting KC and before their new stadium Livestrong Sporting Park opened. 

    But Kansas City finished the season first in the Eastern Conference, and it’s now the job of head coach Peter Vermes to push that success even further. 

    Kansas City will contend for the MLS Cup, but will come up short. However, hardware is still in reach via the U.S. Open Cup, which I predict the club will win. 

    Sporting KC might have lost Davy Arnaud and Omar Bravo, but the additions of Bobby Convey, Paolo Nagamura and Jacob Peterson will more than cover those gaps. Also returning is standout Graham Zusi and 2012 Rookie of the Year C.J. Sapong. 

D.C. United Regains Form, Makes Conference Finals

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    Ten years ago, no team could mess with D.C. United. They were the elite of MLS. 

    However, times change, and D.C. United has been struggling and failing to get into the playoffs the last four seasons. 

    The 2011 campaign looked to be the year to break the streak, but bad losses and injuries including Chris Pontius’ broken leg made way for another disappointing season. 

    However, head coach Ben Olsen as been wheeling and dealing during the offseason, and 2012 looks like the year D.C. United will make the playoffs and be contenders for the East Conference crown. 

    The club brings in rookie Nick DeLeon and Danny Cruz to increase United’s depth. They also signed defender Emiliano Dudar and striker Hamdi Salihi. 

    Key returnees include Perry Kitchen, Andy Najar, a now-healed Chris Pontius and the defending MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario

    If Olsen lines up Pontius in the center of the midfield to play behind De Rosario and Salihi, the “magic triangle” we saw in the '90s might take shape once again.

Toronto FC Finally Makes the Playoffs

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    It’s been a sad sight to see Toronto FC failing to make the playoffs since the establishment of the club before the 2007 season.

    The club has seen a lack of chemistry both in the front office and on the field, but in 2011 signs of unity finally showed.

    The addition of German Trosten Frings and striker Danny Koevermans as well as Ecuadorian Joe Plata created some offensive output that would be essential to work off of in 2012.

    However, the key to Toronto’s success may lie on one name: Luis Silva.

Luis Silva Wins Rookie of the Year

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    Luis Silva is the clear favorite going into the 2012 season by the way he’s adapted to the Toronto FC system. 

    He’s a fast player who creates space with the ball for himself and for others. 

    We’ve already seen Silva's talents on the professional level, being a threat against the LA Galaxy during the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions’ League quarterfinals­—even scoring Toronto’s second goal. 

    If he produces consistently through the season, and no harm comes to him. Silva will run away with the Rookie of the Year award.

Juninho Stays in Los Angeles for Good

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    It was a tug-of-war between the Galaxy and Sao Paulo for the Brazilian midfielder after the conclusion of the 2011 season. 

    Eventually, Juninho returned back home, only to have Sao Paulo loan Juninho go back to Los Angeles after he wasn’t in the immediate plans of the Brazilian club. 

    The midfielder has been a great addition to the team, and his commitment and dedication has won over the Galaxy faithful.

    It would be no surprise if the club buys Juninho’s rights from Sao Paulo this season. Even though it’s the midfielder’s dream to play in his home country, he has made a name for himself here and is loved by many. 

    The big issue would be his salary. Making Juninho a designated player wouldn’t work with Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and David Beckham rostered as DPs. And it’s not certain if the team can match what Sao Paula pays for the Brazilian and stay within the confines of the salary cap.

Orlando Gets the 20th Franchise

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    Talk around the league is that New York will be getting the 20th team and that it would be the Cosmos. 

    That’s a great thought, but I highly doubt it. Until now, the Cosmos don’t look like a franchise that is prepared for MLS. 

    A recent visit by Don Garber to Orlando City SC of the USL Pro have opened the doors to have Orlando become the 20th team, and it would be a smart move for MLS to allow it. The league needs a team in the South, and if you look at the crowd for international friendlies, it’s a soccer-starved area. 

    The current Orlando franchise ownership is hungry to make the jump into the top tier of American soccer, as are the fans. 

    Now the key for Orlando is to make sure they lock in a soccer-specific stadium, which would be easier to build in Florida than the tight confines of New York City. 

    To predict that Orlando will have everything in order before the 2012 season is a hopeful thing. However, the league wants the 20th team to come into play for the 2014 campaign. 

    If MLS reveals Orlando is getting that 20th team, it gives the city and the ownership over a year to prepare—which is more than enough time for a club that’s already established in a lower division. 

Welcome Back, David Beckham…Of 2007

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    Let’s all be honest here. David Beckham did not want to stay with the LA Galaxy. He wanted to go to France, play for PSG and be closer to train with the Great Britain squad for the London Olympic Games.

    It was his family that kept him here; otherwise, he would have left.

    The reason I point this out is because I fear that the David Beckham of the early years in MLS might come back. The same player that didn’t give 100 percent to his current club because he still believed he could cut it in Europe and was concentrating to being called up for his national team. 

    I just can’t see Beckham playing as physical as he did during the 2010 and 2011 seasons when the Olympic games are around the corner. 

    The memory of the broken Achilles he suffered during his loan at AC Milan will be fresh in his memory, and he knows the London games are his last chance to represent his country.

The Eastern Conference Outdoes the West

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    For several seasons the Western Conference has been the dominating side in the MLS. However, this year we will see a switch in power. 

    This is not implying that the West will crash and burn, but there will be a rise from teams in the East, led by New York, Kansas City and D.C. United.

    I can foresee many of the individual awards as well as MLS hardware going to the Eastern Conference.

    The Supporters' Shield might stay in the West, but the MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup will go to the East. The league MVP, Rookie of the Year and Defender of the Year will also hail from the East.

Dan Kennedy Wins Goalkeeper of the Year

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    The man between the pipes for Chivas USA had a breakthrough 2011 season. Some mental errors in the back and lack of productivity didn’t help his club’s cause, but Dan Kennedy shown signs of becoming a premier goalkeeper in the league. 

    Chivas went through a lot of player transfers during the offseason, so it will be Kennedy’s responsibility to keep the back organized—which is probably his biggest weakness. 

    Kennedy’s best shot to win Goalkeeper of the Year is to lead Chivas defensively. The club's starting forwards—Juan Pablo Angel and Alejandro Moreno—are not getting any younger, and it is feared offensive productivity will continue to be lacking. 

    Therefore, if Kennedy can post some shutouts, and help the team keep most games close, then he will be in the running for the Goalkeeper of the Year. 

Stretched Seattle Schedule Will Be the Downfall for Sounders

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    The three-time defending U.S. Open Cup champions, Seattle Sounders, want nothing more than to hoist the MLS Cup in 2012. 

    Sadly, with a loaded schedule that includes defending the USOC, the MLS regular season campaign and the CONCACAF Champions’ League; Seattle will exhaust itself before the finish line. 

    The Eddie Johnson experiment will blow up in Seattle’s face, and the club will regret trading Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle away. 

    If the Sounders want the coveted MLS Cup that they’ve been drooling over since its first season in MLS, it will have to sacrifice either the USOC or the CCL, maybe even both. 

    But if they go full-strength in all three competitions, they won’t have the depth to survive in any.

Vancouver Makes Some Noise in the West

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    If the usual teams in the Western Conference aren’t dominating as the year prior, it will be because the Vancouver Whitecaps has corrected its ship from its expansion year. 

    It was a big offseason for the Whitecaps, drafting speedy forward Darren Mattocks and signing Sebastien Le Toux to strengthen the offense and help Eric Hassli. 

    Head coach Martin Rennie will manage the reins of the Canadian squad for 2012, and defense was his main focus. 

    The club signed defenders Lee Young-Pyo from South Korea and Martin Bonjour from Argentina to help out Captain Jay DeMerit in the back line. Rennie will likely use Michael Boxall, in his second year, to round out the defense.

    It may appear that Vancouver is set offensively, so it will be interesting whether these four defenders can gel in the back. 

    A playoff spot might just be out of reach for the Whitecaps, but don’t be surprised if they are in the hunt entering the last month of the regular season.

MLS Will Change Playoff Format for 2013

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    The always-changing MLS playoff system will once again be altered by the end of the 2012 season. 

    The league almost has it right, and I commend them for it. 

    Currently, MLS Cup will take place on the home turf of the participating team with the highest regular-season points. This makes capturing the Supporters’ Shield valuable, and it will guarantee a great crowd since one team will be the home team. 

    However, the league will learn that it’s not necessary to have 10 teams in the playoffs. Three teams from each conference get automatic spots, while the fourth and fifth team of each conference will duke it out for the last playoff spot. 

    Wild cards don’t work well in soccer. Each team has already faced their conference foes plenty of times during the regular season, and to discard that for an all-or-nothing game isn’t appealing. 

    MLS should take away that wild-card game and just have four automatic bids into the playoffs for the 2013 season.

MLS Television Ratings Will Be Biggest in History

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    I applaud league officials for jumping off the Fox Soccer Channel boat and signing a three-year deal with NBC Sports. 

    The idea of having MLS on a soccer-specific channel was great, but FSC never invested enough in MLS. The soccer coverage was average, and worst off subscribers had to pay extra to their cable/satellite provider to even access the channel. 

    NBC Sports, formerly Versus, is accessible to more people and hence the television ratings will rise. Furthermore, having a certain number of games broadcasted nationally on NBC will help the league grow. 

    Keep in mind, NBC has the rights to the Olympics and invests heavy amounts of money to their sports division. They helped the NHL rise form the ashes after the league strike years ago and will most likely invest the same amount of capital on MLS. 

    It will all be reminiscent to the telecasts ABC had on Saturday afternoons, just so much better.

D.C. United Finally Gets Its Stadium

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    This isn’t a prediction, but more of a hope. 

    It’s hard to break through governmental red tape, but I think I can safely say that the entire league is hoping D.C. United gets its own stadium approved this year. 

    D.C. United is the most decorated team in MLS, and the city not being able to pass a bill to allow a new stadium is beyond me. I know there are thousands of variables to take into account, but simply in the soccer sense, it’s an insult to the organization to not get this done. 

    Recently, D.C. passed a resolution to keep the team in the city, but it doesn’t do much of anything else in terms of the progress to get the club a new stadium. 

    If the city waits too long, the club will have to move to where it sees best, which would be horrible for the league and its history.

Injury Bug Bites Real Salt Lake Badly

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    The injuries have already hit Real Salt Lake even before the beginning of the season. Javier Morales, who recovered from an ankle injury, suffered a hamstring injury and hasn’t been able to train with the team. 

    Without Morales more pressure sets on Kyle Beckerman, Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola. And with a stacked 2012 schedule, I foresee RSL suffering more personnel setbacks. 

    The depth has changed a lot with the inclusion of Diogo de Almeida, Enzo Martinez, Terukazu Tanaka and Emiliano Bonfigli. 

    However, Almeida and Martinez have little MLS experience. Even though Tanaka and Bonfigli have impressed, the question still lies how well they can gel with the team.

Los Angeles Sweeps All Hardware

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    I did tell you one prediction was far-fetched. Indulge me and have fun with it. 

    Imagine the Galaxy hoisting the CONCACAF Champions’ League crown in front of their fans at the Home Depot Center. 

    It plows through Seattle and Kansas City to win the U.S. Open Cup. 

    The home-undefeated streak from 2011 carries over to 2012, and LA repeats for the third time as Supporters’ Shield winners. 

    It hosts the 2012 MLS Cup and beats the New York Red Bulls in a final that Don Garber has dreamt of ever since Thierry Henry and David Beckham joined the league. 

    The Galaxy participates in the FIFA Club World Cup and brings home the world championship to the U.S. 

    Sure, it’s one heck of a prediction, but that’s the beauty of this sport. 

    Well, we all can dream.