Posted: Monday March 14, 2011 8:11AM ; Updated: Monday March 14, 2011 9:53AM

Experts' predictions for MLS season

Story Highlights

Two writers picked New York to win MLS Cup, with L.A., RSL the other choices

The Galaxy's Landon Donovan is the early favorite to win the MVP award

New York's Tim Ream is a potential front runner as defensive player of the year

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RSL
Alvaro Saborio (left) and Real Salt Lake are strong contenders to win a second MLS Cup trophy in three years.
George Frey/Getty Images

SI.com's experts make their predictions for the 2011 MLS season.

Which team will win the MLS Cup and why?

Steve Davis: New York Red Bulls: Hans Backe's team is star-strewn and stacked with nice complementary parts; prudent offseason additions fortified a side that should dominate the East. If the Red Bulls can finish atop the East -- and they certainly should -- the path is clear for an MLS Cup appearance.

Grant Wahl: Los Angeles. I think Salt Lake will win the West in a close race with the Galaxy (RSL is slightly deeper), but in a short Cup competition I think L.A. will have the poise, the talent and the experience to win the trophy. As long as Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Juan Pablo Ángel stay healthy, L.A. has the firepower to go with a solid defense.

Avi Creditor: Real Salt Lake. The expectations this season are tremendous, and for good reason. There's quality at every position and depth to go along with it. After a disappointing end to a solid 2010, there's a fixation on bringing silverware back to Rio Tinto Stadium in 2011. As long as the great neutralizer, health, stays in the team's favor, there's no telling what RSL could accomplish this season.

Jen Chang: The Red Bulls' untimely dismissal of well-respected assistant coach Richie Williams could yet come back to haunt the team, but New York has everything it needs to make a serious run at winning the MLS Cup. Being in the far weaker Eastern Conference helps too in the sense that the team will likely be assured of a playoff spot early and conserve its players for the postseason.

Which teams will make the playoffs?

Steve Davis: New York, Houston, New England and Kansas City from the East, Real Salt Lake, Los Angeles, Colorado, Dallas, Seattle and San Jose from the West. The balanced schedule will end with way more winning teams in the West as the power quotient is seriously leaning toward the Pacific this year. The new playoff format ensures only three berth per conference; count on the East to grab only the minimum.

Grant Wahl: Salt Lake, Los Angeles, Seattle, Colorado, Dallas, San Jose, New York, Kansas City, Houston, D.C. United.

Avi Creditor: Real Salt Lake, Los Angeles, Seattle, Colorado, FC Dallas, San Jose from the West. New York, Houston, Kansas City, D.C. United from the East.

Jen Chang: Real Salt Lake, Los Angeles, Colorado, Dallas and Seattle from the West. New York, New England, Houston, Philadelphia and D.C. United from the East.

Who will be the MVP?

Steve Davis: Landon Donovan, L.A. He's in a great position to become the league's second two-time winner. Donovan claimed the award in 2009 and had a reasonable case for a repeat last year, leading MLS in assists and contributing important goals to the Galaxy's fine season. Now he's nice and rested, having taken the winter off.

Grant Wahl: Álvaro Saborío, Salt Lake

Avi Creditor: Donovan. After getting months of solid rest for the first time in ages, the Galaxy and U.S. catalyst should be recharged for another vintage season. It certainly helps that he'll be able to play off Juan Pablo Angel and a healthy David Beckham along with some other up-and-coming attacking threats. Donovan may be a "boring" selection, but reaching double digits in goals and assists should not be out of the question for the Galaxy captain and neither should MVP award No. 2.

Jen Chang: Thierry Henry. I think Henry has one last great season left in him. He was troubled by nagging injuries in his debut season which resulted in a noticeable lack of zip. Now he's rested and fully acclimatized to MLS, I expect him to justify his salary.

Who will be Rookie Of The Year?

Steve Davis: Portland's Darlington Nagbe: Portland coach John Spencer has no plans to slowly break Nagbe (the No. 2 overall pick) into the mix. If Nagbe wants to play a lot and shows he deserves the minutes, Spencer will be all about "trial by fire." Plus, Spencer is a former forward, so he'll take special interest in tutoring his marksman protégé on the finer points near goal. Look for New England center back A.J. Soares and D.C. United center back Perry Kitchen to be in the running, too.

Grant Wahl: Perry Kitchen, D.C. United

Avi Creditor: Kofi Sarkodie, Houston.

Jen Chang: A.J. Soares, New England

Who will be the Golden Boot winner?

Steve Davis: Los Angeles' Juan Pablo Angel. David Beckham's crack service? Check. Landon Donovan attracting heaps of defensive attention? Check. That sounds like a recipe for a fantastic year, especially considering that Angel is such an intelligent player, one who can expertly exploit the resources around him.

Grant Wahl: Alvaro Saborio, RSL

Avi Creditor: Saborio, RSL.

Jen Chang: Thierry Henry, New York

Who will be Defender of the Year?

Steve Davis: New York's Tim Ream. Ream excelled as a rookie last year alongside Carlos Mendes in central defense. Put Mexican international Rafa Marquez alongside (as the Red Bulls appear set to do) and Ream is that much better. Plus he hardly looks like the type to suffer a sophomore slump.

Grant Wahl: Rafael Márquez, New York

Avi Creditor: Tim Ream, New York

Jen Chang: Jamison Olave, RSL

Who will be your MLS Cup dark horse?

Steve Davis: New England: Two important caveats here. First, Shalrie Joseph must keep his personal house in order. And the Revs have to get that DP striker they so desperately covet. Coach Steve Nicol knows how to win in MLS; he didn't forget in one season, lousy as 2010 was for the Revs. The roster is already improved, so they aren't far from restoring the winning ways around Gillette Stadium.

Grant Wahl: Kansas City. Teal Bunbury is ready to be a breakout star, and the defense should be better than it's getting credit for.

Avi Creditor: Colorado Rapids. Can a defending champion really be a dark horse? When it's one as overlooked as Colorado, a team that thrives off disrespect, certainly. The Rapids still boast the strike tandem of Conor Casey and Omar Cummings, hardly lost anybody from the team that climbed the ladder last season, added an intriguing attacking piece in Sanna Nyassi and has been long-linked to an imminent move for Caleb Folan, which would increase depth up top.

Jen Chang: Seattle. The Sounders remain a very talented team, and if the Montero-Zakuani-Nkufo axis can gel, it's potentially potent enough to fire Sigi Schmid's men to the title.

Who will be the next big-name MLS star to leave for Europe?

Steve Davis: Kansas City's Teal Bunbury: With apologies to Tim Ream and promising Chicago goalie Sean Johnson, Bunbury has a slight edge. His preseason injury looks like a minor setback and shouldn't derail matters substantially.

Grant Wahl: Omar Cummings, Colorado

Avi Creditor: Steve Zakuani, Seattle

Jen Chang: Fredy Montero, Seattle

What is your MLS Best Starting XI?

Steve Davis:

GK: Jimmy Nielsen, Kansas City
D: Tim Ream, New York
D: Jamison Olave, RSL
D: Drew Moor, Colorado
M: Shalrie Joseph, New England
M: Marco Pappa, Chicago
M: David Ferreira, Dallas
M: Landon Donovan, L.A.
M: Sebastien Le Toux, Philadelphia
F: Juan Pablo Angel, L.A.
F: Alvaro Saborio, RSL

Grant Wahl:

GK: Nick Rimando, RSL
D: Omar González, L.A.
D: Jámison Olave, RSL
D: Rafael Márquez, New York
M: David Beckham, L.A.
M: Shalrie Joseph, New England
M: Javier Morales, RSL
M: Dwayne De Rosario, Toronto
M: Landon Donovan, L.A.
F: David Ferreira, Dallas
F: Álvaro Saborío, RSL

Avi Creditor:

GK: Nick Rimando, RSL
D: Omar Gonzalez, L.A.
D: Tim Ream, New York
D: Jamison Olave, RSL
M: Landon Donovan, L.A.
M: David Ferreira, FC Dallas
M: Javier Morales, RSL
M: Steve Zakuani, Seattle
M: Kyle Beckerman, RSL
F: Alvaro Saborio, RSL
F: Thierry Henry, New York

Jen Chang:

GK: Kevin Hartman, Dallas
D: Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Seattle
D: Rafael Marquez New York
D: Jamison Olave, RSL
M: Dwayne De Rosario, Toronto
M: Steve Zakuani, Seattle
M: Geoff Cameron, Houston
M: Joel Lindpere, New York
M: Landon Donovan, L.A.
F: Juan Pablo Angel, L.A.
F: Thierry Henry, New York

 
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