MLS 2016 preseason roundtable: PST’s writers discuss the hot topics
Ahead of the 2016 Major League Soccer season kicking off this Sunday, PST’s crew of five writers thought this would be a good time to discuss the hot topics.
[ MORE: All of PST’s 2016 MLS previews ]
Below are some tough questions we all try our best to answer, as an exciting season in North America’s top flight awaits.
Enjoy, and feel free to answer yourself in the comments below.
The team your most excited about seeing this season is _____ & why?
Joe Prince-Wright: Orlando City. Any team with Kaka is worth watching. As long as they can sort out the defensive issues they had last season they’ll be hugely entertaining going forward, especially with Cyle Larin around and new man Nocerino.
Nicholas Mendola: Orlando City SC. With Kaka and Nocerino together, along with Cyle Larin up top, the second season should go much better than the first.
Andy Edwards: Once again, it has to be the Vancouver Whitecaps. They were already the most enjoyable team to watch, in my opinion, last year, and they went out and added a 25-year-old scorer of 100 professional goals (Masato Kudo) and a two-time World Cup veteran in winger Christian Bolaños. They doubled-down on fun, how could you not like that?
Kyle Lynch: I think Orlando City will be an exciting team to watch this season. Cyle Larin has a year of experience and Antonio Nocerino could be the signing of the offseason.
Kyle Bonn: Oh man, the league is so deep this year, there’s not one team that truly stands out this season. Has to be Toronto because they have the most to prove with their star-studded lineup.
Who will score more goals this season: Sebastian Giovinco or Cyle Larin?
JPW: I like Larin’s chances of doing it big this year. Plus, Giovinco may miss time for Euro 2016. That said, it will be tight. I’ll go with Larin, Canada’s next great hope.
AE: Tough to say. There’s obviously a bit of regression to Giovinco’s otherworldly numbers from last year (right?), not to mention he might miss time for EURO 2016 and he’s being pushed out to the left wing to begin the season. On the other hand, Larin is still just 20 years old, and if we know anything with absolute certainty, it’s that players that age go through pretty drastic peaks and valleys. I’ll take Giovinco by a couple — say, 17-14 on the season.
KL: Giovinco will score his share of goals, but I’m going with Larin on this one.
KB: Larin because he’s a pure goalscorer, but it will be close. Giovinco goals+assists will outdo Larin by quite a large margin.
Will the Atomic Ant suffer a sophomore slump? Discuss.
JPW: No way. This guy is pure class. It’s all about Toronto slotting the right pieces around him.
NM: You’ll have to define sophomore slump. Giovinco is coming off a season that is nearly unrepeatable so might his numbers drop off? Sure, but I doubt we’ll see a legit drop-off in form.
AE: Not a sophomore slump — he’s as season a pro as anyone in the league — but the combination of no longer playing as a second striker and the league’s defenses having seen him for an entire season does make me think he’ll fall short of matching last season’s numbers, though the team around should be hugely improved so we won’t necessarily have to do so.
KL: He may not put up such a historic season statistically, but he will still be the most dangerous man on the pitch in any game he plays. I don’t expect his numbers to be as high, but I wouldn’t call it a slump.
KB: No, because he’s class. Carry on.
After impressive offseason moves, LA is pretty stacked y’all. Do the Galaxy storm back in 2016 to win it all?
JPW: This really could go either way but I’m inclined to say they use the experience of Keane, Gerrard, Cole and Giovani to go deep in the playoffs. Not sure if they’ll win it all, but they’ll be very, very good.
NM: They’ll be very, very good, but I do worry about the age of the group. Ruling them out is silly, but I’m not calling them the favorites.
AE: In one word, yes.
KL: It will be interesting to see how some of the new signings transition to MLS, but the Galaxy are all in to win the title this season. They have plenty of talent to make the playoffs, and once they get there, it’s hard to bet against that much big-match experience.
KB: No. In fact, I don’t think they’re that good of a team. It’s an old, name-driven squad and I think they take a step back. They’ve somewhat lost the mojo.
Will solid outfits New York Red Bulls, Columbus Crew stay atop the East?
JPW: Sure, they’re basically the same teams who battled it out at the top of the East last season but I would like to have seen some bigger signings for both. That said, continuity in MLS is key.
NM: They’ll be near the top, but their Northern neighbors in Toronto and Montreal will threaten, if not take, the top.
AE: They’ll both be in the top four in the East, but to me it’s Toronto FC’s conference to lose. I realize how insane it is to say that.
KL: When the regular season ends, expect both these teams to be in similar positions towards the top of the table.
KB: Yes. They hardly lost anything of consequence outside of Matt Miazga, and they both should pace the conference.
Usual suspects to dominate out West?
JPW: I think the same teams who made the playoffs last year will repeat in 2016. Colorado, Houston, San Jose and RSL not catching up quick enough.
NM: L.A. will be very good, and Dallas and Vancouver are still the class of the league on the basis of consistency and depth. Seattle and Portland will have a battle with several teams to stay in the mix.
AE: For the most part. With the exception of Real Salt Lake, it’s hard to see anyone bridging that gap between playoff teams and non-playoff teams. San Jose and Houston will both be much better this season, but so will the teams on which they’re supposed to be making up ground.
KL: I see the same teams making the playoffs, but the regular season is going to be a battle. The West has a whole lot of talent, and I think the standings will stay very close throughout the year.
KB: Yes and no. It’s such a deep conference, it’s hard to tell what direction things will play out. Sporting KC has a lot to prove after last season, and FC Dallas is young and on the way up. Portland returns as defending champions but not the favorites, so that’s all you really need to know.
Drogba, Gerrard, Lampard, Pirlo, Cole. Who has the best season?
JPW: Lampard. I think this is the year he will truly shine, if he stays healthy. He and Pirlo will be given the keys by Vieira.
NM: Drogba, if only because the others have a ways to rise to meet his 2015. Pirlo will do much better under Patrick Vieira and with an understanding of the league.
AE: I actually think Lampard has a really good season this year, if for no other reason than he should be healthy coming into the season and he’s had a few months to pick up the pace and feel for the league. Drogba shouldn’t play more than 24 games during the regular season — there’s just no use in it — so his numbers won’t be what they could have been.
KL: I’ll go out on a limb and say Pirlo. After a very disappointing first season, a player of Pirlo’s class will surely turn things around.
KB: Drogba, the only one with any gas left in the tank.
Jordan Morris over/under 10 goals & 10 assists?
JPW: I’m going over. Seen enough of him to know he will cause defenses all kinds of problems. With Oba Martins gone, he’ll have a big impact.
NM: Under... but not by much.
AE: Under. Well under, actually. If he can chip in 7 goals and a handful of assists, Seattle will be fine. That’s Clint Dempsey’s team now, and he’ll assume a lot of the scoring responsibility that Obafemi Martins left behind. Nelson Valdez will be the “surprise” standout of the Sounders attack this season.
KL: I think he’ll break the ten goal mark in his rookie campaign, although his assist numbers may be lower.
KB: Close, but under. I think he might hit the goal tally, but the assists will be tough for him to mark.
Rank the Portland Timbers’ chances of a repeat out of 10... Go!
JPW: 4. Rode a hot streak last season. Will still be a threat in playoffs this season.
NM: 2. Really found their form late last year but it felt like riding a hot streak rather than showing pure class.
KL: 3/10. Repeating in this league is hard to do, and getting through the West is going to be a gauntlet.
KB: Probably a 3. It’s already tough to repeat no matter who you are, but that conference is stacked, so it will be even tougher. That’s less a knock on them and more a parading of their competition.
Who will be 2016’s breakout player?
JPW: Harry Shipp. Despite his move to Montreal, he will prove Chicago wrong for letting him leave. And look out for Eric Miller in Colorado too...
NM: Shkelzen Gashi, Colorado
AE: We’re already quite familiar with Kekuta Manneh, but he goes for 25 goals and assists combined this season.
KL: Tim Parker with the Vancouver Whitecaps. Coming off of a strong rookie campaign, Parker earned a call-up to the USMNT camp and solidified a spot as Vancouver’s starting center-back. He could develop into a top defender.
KB: Joevin Jones. This is kind of a weird pick because he’s a known quantity, but I think he steps it up a notch. The guy has 51 caps for T&T as a 24-year-old. Fifty-one! He’s on an attack-minded Seattle team, and I think he can really turn on the jets down the flank.
And your preseason pick for MVP and Coach of the Year?
JPW: Cyle Larin & Greg Vanney
NM: Michael Bradley & Patrick Vieira
AE: David Villa & Bruce Arena
KL: For MVP I’m going with Fabian Castillo of FC Dallas, and I’ll take Orlando City’s Adrian Heath for Coach of the Year.
KB: Giovani dos Santos is a good pick for MVP, as he will need to carry that team. Coach of the Year is going to Jesse Marsch.
Which coach could be the first to go?
JPW: Not sure how much longer Pablo Mastroeni may last at Colorado if they struggle early on.
NM: Jay Heaps, New England
AE: Jim Curtin, Philadelphia
KL: If the Rapids get off to a slow start, Pablo Mastroeni may be on his way out.
KB: Jim Curtin has to be on a short leash with all the changes taking place there.
How big of an impact do you expect Earnie Stewart’s offseason moves to have in Philadelphia?
JPW: I think the Union will improve this season. Not saying they’re going to make the playoffs but if they’re hovering outside with a few months to go, look at what Montreal did last year... Stewart could work his contacts to draft in plenty of very good free agents in the summer months.
NM: The Union will be much, much improved, but it’s still hard to think they not only make up the 12-point gap they had from the final playoff spot and see too many teams drop behind them.
AE: In the long term, hopefully quite a bit. This season, I’m not sold at all (I was never sold on Curtin being the guy, either). If they start slow and another season appears to be going down the drain, Stewart won’t hesitate to get rid of Curtin and bring in “his guy.”
KL: I like what Stewart’s done with the Union, but I think the results might come slowly at first.
KB: This is tough. They didn’t bring in any big names, so he’s hoping they mesh together well. It might take a while for the players to figure things out, and time isn’t exactly a luxury the club can afford. So not well, is my guess.
Patrick Vieria: hit or miss at New York City FC?
JPW: Hit. Has the mentality to instantly demand respect of players and he will get the best out of the star names.
NM: Hit, although that postage stamp of a pitch is going to drive him bonkers
AE: I’m cautiously optimistic about Vieira’s NYCFC tenure. The part of the job that worried me with him — the roster rules and regulations — have been navigated incident-free this offseason, thanks to Claudio Reyna and staff, so now it’s time for Vieira to take quite a talented squad and make all the pieces fit.
KL: Miss. Kind of. It’s his first gig and he’s adapting to a completely different league, so there will be a learning curve. I wouldn’t put any bets on NYCFC making a deep run.
KB: Hit. New coaches often take time to work into their role, especially in MLS, but he’s a sharp soccer mind, and that roster has potential.
Favorites for the US Open Cup?
JPW: My automatic selection is always Seattle. It’s like Arsenal and the FA Cup.
NM: Columbus Crew.
AE: FC Dallas — does any team in the league have more interchangeable depth?
KL: Seattle loves playing in the Cup, so I’ll go with the Sounders.
KB: I like New York to make a run here, since a lot of the Western teams will be occupied with a tough opponent each and every week.
Surprise package of the season: which team will come from nowhere to impress?
JPW: Sporting Kansas City. Not sure if they’re quite coming from nowhere, but last year was a down year for Vermes and SKC. I expect them to come back in a big way.
NM: No one. The teams that will improve a lot are teams that have superstars and disappointed last year: NYC and Orlando.
AE: New York City FC will make the playoffs, and that’ll surprise a lot of people.
KL: I think San Jose has some good young pieces and a great coach in Dominic Kinnear. They’re not a contender, but if they steal a few wins the playoffs could be possible.
KB: Hard to say. I don’t think there are many surprises this season, but if I’m going out on any kind of limb, it would be behind Orlando City. They can make moves in a shallow East.
Expect another bad year from _____
JPW: Chicago Fire. New coach in Paunovic who may take some time to figure this out. Lots of work to do in Illinois.
NM: Colorado. They have pieces, but ultimately there’s too much quality above them in the West.
AE: Chicago Fire. Veljko Paunovic is apparently playing the long, long, long game with regards to their rebuild.
KL: Real Salt Lake.
KB: LA Galaxy. Another step back as their competition goes ahead. I’m not a big fan of their offseason, and I don’t think it will be a season to remember.
MLS Cup 2016 will be played between which teams, and who wins?
JPW: Toronto and Seattle. TFC wins it 2-1.
NM: Toronto FC 4-3 FC Dallas. Go crazy now.
AE: LA Galaxy 3-1 Toronto FC.
KL: FC Dallas vs. New York Red Bulls, with MLS Cup heading down to Texas.
KB: Montreal vs. Seattle. Montreal wins. Drogba scorched the league at the end of last year, and while that form is unsustainable for a full season, it’s just about making the playoffs and getting hot. If they manage his minutes right (which could be difficult) and keep him fresh for the playoffs, he could make them a dangerous team in the Cup format.