New players, new teams. New hopes, new dreams. Another Major League Soccer season is ready to begin, and what better way to get to grips with the storylines than to speak to three experts who live and breathe MLS.
We wanted to know which clubs we need to keep a close eye on. We wanted to know about the new talent set to make waves across America. We got answers.
Susannah Collins is a host and reporter for MLS, covering games up and down the country all season long.
Matt Doyle is Armchair Analyst at MLSSoccer.com, breaking down who is hot and who is not with Power Rankings throughout the year.
Jack Davis is founder and owner of @mlshub—the Instagram page that is emerging as a go-to destination for debate around the league.
We got them to explain some of the big talking points ahead of kick-off, and we then asked for some predictions for the campaign ahead.
B/R Football: A new campaign gets under way on Saturday—what are you excited about?
Jack Davis: "This season is all about growth, and the league is capitalising on its 25th year with new expansion sides Inter Miami and Nashville SC, which will see new rivalries emerge as both conferences grow to 13 teams.
"The pipeline of talent from south of the border is in full flow, too. New star names such as Chicharito at LA Galaxy, Liga MX top scorer Alan Pulido to Sporting Kansas City, and Rodolfo Pizarro to Inter Miami have landed. The Chicharito versus Carlos Vela Mexican matchup will make the crosstown rivalry between LAFC and the Galaxy must-watch TV."
Susannah Collins: "I've spent a lot of time in Nashville, and from what I've seen, everything they do, they do it big. Music City is going to bring it when it comes to support for this squad, and I cannot wait to see the way Nashville grows the game in that region of the States.
"I like the way they've built their roster with a mix of MLS experience and talented young guys. We'll have to wait and see whether or not the product on the pitch will match the buzz that's already in place in that city."
B/R Football: Zlatan Ibrahimovic has gone, but Chicharito has landed! What are your thoughts on his impact for Galaxy and the league?
Matt Doyle: "There are two types of star players: floor raisers and ceiling raisers. I think Zlatan at this point raises the floor, so by lobbing 60 balls into the box you'll score some goals. He took a bad team and made them respectable.
"They have needed to overhaul their style, play a more modern game, have more energy—and that's where Chicharito comes in. He's just 31 and is a more multi-faceted player at this point. He's not as good as Zlatan, but I think he will raise the ceiling in a way Zlatan didn't. That said, if they don't get some new defenders, they are going to suck anyway!"
SC: "Chicharito and the LA Galaxy just feels like a perfect fit to me. This is a player who is supremely talented but perhaps in the last few years, for whatever reason, wasn't utilised enough or properly. That will change with the LA Galaxy."
JD: "One of the major stars of the Mexico national team, Chicharito brings both an increase in Mexican viewership, jersey sales, and an instant in-town rivalry with fellow national team member Carlos Vela.
"The Galaxy, at times last year, played with an overdependence on the big Swede. The addition of Chicharito will make for a more balanced side."
B/R Football: Many considered LAFC the best football team last season, but they just couldn't see out the results side of things. What are your thoughts on them this time around?
JD: "LAFC was one of the greatest teams MLS has ever seen, and I don't see that changing this year. You can expect another phenomenal season. The key departures of Walker Zimmerman and Lee Nguyen were costly; however, the signings of midfielders Francisco Ginella and Jose Cifuentes strengthen their midfield tremendously.
"The first full season of young star Brian Rodriguez will be an interesting one to watch. You can expect him to have a breakout season. Without many large weaknesses, added team depth, and a great coach and leader in Bob Bradley, expect to see LAFC at the top, fighting for everything."
SC: "What LAFC were able to accomplish in the regular season last year was nothing short of remarkable. And while I'm picking them to top the Western Conference once again, it's a massively tall task for them to tally 70-plus points again this year, especially when I feel that the West has only gotten collectively stronger."
B/R Football: Seattle Sounders are the reigning champions. What makes them so good at winning when it matters?
JD: "Sounders possess big-moment players. Since the arrival of Nicolas Lodeiro in 2016, the Sounders have won two MLS Cups and have established themselves as the most dominant team of the last decade.
"In the Western Conference final against LAFC last season, Raul Ruidiaz outclassed the MVP Vela, scoring two goals and propelling his side into the MLS Cup final. They even have a big-moment coach in Brian Schmetzer, who won his first MLS Cup less than five months after taking over as head coach. Expect more of the same from them"
SC: "They are just a smart team, top to bottom. From the front office to the coaching staff to the players...they simply know how to win.
"I fully expect them to be a contender in the West once again in 2020. They also have this uncanny knack of getting hot at precisely the right time. Their formula works—it will continue to work."
B/R: Inter Miami are ready to go, what should we expect from them?
JD: "David Beckham's name attracts rumours of signings and loads of expectation, but I do not see Inter Miami's season going according to plan. The signing of Pizarro, in addition to Matias Pellegrini, will help. However, with legal issues regarding the name, troubles with stadium plans, and no obvious direction, the distractions may prove to be too large to overcome.
"A reasonable expectation would be to finish higher than the other newcomer, Nashville SC—yet they will still watch the playoffs from their couches."
SC: "I find Miami interesting. It's taken them a while to sort themselves out, but now that it's finally taken shape, I think they will be a really fun team to watch.
"They've built this team around MLS experience, bringing in guys like Luis Robles, Wil Trapp, and Roman Torres. But the signings of Pellegrini and Pizarro are huge wins and harks back to the Atlanta United model of bringing in young Central and South American talent.
"Diego Alonso feels like a smart choice as head coach having proved himself in Liga MX and, from what I know, will implement a system where they try to control possession and dictate the pace of the game right out of the gate—he's got some pretty impressive tools on the roster to do just that."
B/R Football: Give us an early prediction—one big thing we should expect this season.
JD: "The unanimous favourite will be Carlos Vela for the Audi Golden Boot, and many experts are also pointing towards Chicharito, but my safe choice is Josef Martinez. Since arriving in Atlanta, Martinez has scored 77 goals in 83 MLS appearances and will not stop anytime soon."
SC: "Let's be honest, in MLS anything can happen! But I do believe that there is going to be an exceptionally fun race for the Golden Boot this year between fellow countrymen Vela and Chicharito...and I'm giving the edge to Chicha. Just call it a hunch."
MD: "If you want dark-horse MVP candidates, then I think Heber is your No. 1 guy. He's flying completely under the radar, but he is fantastic.
"His movement is great, he does the Roberto Firmino-type stuff off the ball. NYCFC are one of the teams that press a lot in this league, and it comes from him at CF. He is an all-round frontman, and I have no idea how he has had such a low-profile career.
"We have seen guys in this league sold for tens of millions of dollars to bigger leagues and be successful, and to me, he is the same level of player as those guys. NYCFC fans are very happy to have him, and if they win it, he will be the best player on that team."
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