MLS season preview roundtable
The MLS season starts on Saturday. SI.com's American soccer writers -- Grant Wahl, Avi Creditor and Tom Dart -- were asked to predict how the season will play out:
Wahl: Robbie Keane, Los Angeles Galaxy. Look for this race to be neck-and-neck between Keane and the reigning league MVP, San Jose's Chris Wondolowski. I doubt we'll see a repeat of Wondo's league-record-tying 27 goals last season, but both could surpass the 20-goal mark. I also wouldn't be surprised to see a healthy Chris Pontius from D.C. United take the next step when it comes to becoming one of the league's top scorers.
Creditor: Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes. Doubt Wondolowski once, fine, so did just about everybody. Doubt Wondolowski twice, shame on me. Wondo has scored the most goals in the league in each of the last three seasons, and he only missed out on the Golden Boot three-peat because of an assists tiebreaker with Dwayne De Rosario in 2011. I agree with Grant that he might not reach 27 again, but San Jose's attack should be plenty potent. Wondolowski, fresh off signing a Designated Player deal, should get his fair share of opportunities to add to his unprecedented prolific stretch.
Dart: Keane. With 16 goals in 28 games last term despite the distraction of Euro 2012, the Irishman should contribute 20-25 strikes this year. He turns 33 in July, so sooner or later he'll lose some speed and regress. But not yet.
Wahl: Robbie Keane, Los Angeles Galaxy. The Galaxy are now Keane's team after the departure of David Beckham and the self-imposed sabbatical of Landon Donovan. Bruce Arena confirmed that by naming Keane the captain for the entire season this week. It's deserved, especially after Keane extended his contract in the offseason. Keane was terrific last year and only stepped up his game during the playoffs before winning his second title in two years. Look for the somersaulting Irishman to beat out Thierry Henry (New York) and Boniek García (Houston) to become the first European player to win the MLS MVP award.
Creditor: Thierry Henry, New York Red Bulls. New York's offseason was an unusual one that included a ton of roster turnover and resulted in the club not installing Mike Petke as head coach until about a month ago. When all the dust settled, though, a very quality, stable MLS team remained. The Red Bulls have the talent and MLS experience to make a run at a Supporters' Shield, and Henry will shoulder plenty of the production. Coming off a 15-goal, 12-assist campaign in which he was a finalist for MVP, Henry has a full season of playing with Tim Cahill with which to work, and the addition of Juninho Pernambucano should create more opportunities for Henry in the attacking third and prevent him from having to dip back so frequently to see the ball.
Dart: Henry. It's between Keane, Omar Gonzalez and Henry, with Pontius as an intriguing outside bet. I'll plump for Henry, who should be as good this year as last, when he was only denied by the otherworldly goal scoring of Wondolowski.
Wahl: The first MLS coach to be fired will be El Chelís. I know, I know, Chivas USA's José Luis Sánchez Solá has yet to manage his first game in the league, but the Goats have all the possibilities of a train-wreck season ahead, and owner Jorge Vergara has a history of impulsive coach firings under his belt at CD Guadalajara. I'd be a little bummed if El Chelís were to go so soon: He's one of the more entertaining coaches in the league.
Creditor: All three Cascadia clubs make the playoffs. Seattle will have to adjust without Fredy Montero and Jeff Parke, but Sigi Schmid has plenty of quality on his roster to make yet another run at the postseason and that elusive MLS Cup. Vancouver quietly put together a great offseason, strengthened its weak links and added even more athleticism and pace to pair with Darren Mattocks up top for a team that squeaked into the postseason last year. Portland is on a mission, from new coach Caleb Porter all the way down the roster. In order for all three Cascadia clubs to make the playoffs, one of 2012 playoff teams Los Angeles, San Jose or Real Salt Lake would have to miss out, which seems unlikely on the surface. Of the three, Salt Lake would appear to be most likely for a downturn.
Dart: The San Jose Earthquakes will finish below FC Dallas in the West. Kenny Cooper and Eric Hassli will prove one of the best striking duos in MLS, and Dallas will be better than expected. While a banged-up San Jose will regress due to the distraction of the CONCACAF Champions League and fewer last-gasp goals. The thing about The Goonies is, they never made a sequel.
Wahl: Houston Dynamo. Lost in the focus on whether Los Angeles can become the first MLS team to three-peat is the possibility that Houston could also make its third straight MLS Cup final. Dominic Kinnear has given a postseason coaching masterclass the last two years, and Houston should be even better this season with a full year of MVP candidate Boniek García and Ricardo Clark, to say nothing of Brad Davis, rising target man Will Bruin and the addition of Omar Cummings. My sense is we'll see a third straight Houston-L.A. final, but this time it'll take place in Texas.
Creditor: Houston Dynamo. Let's see: The Dynamo made the MLS Cup final each of the last two seasons. They had no major defections. They added a potential impact (and MLS Cup-winning) forward in Omar Cummings and filled out other depth needs. Bruin is coming off a 12-goal campaign as he enters his third MLS season. Boniek Garcia gets an entire season in MLS instead of joining midway through the campaign. They don't have to start the season on a lengthy road trip while the construction of their home stadium is concluded. This is a battle-tested, playoff-experienced team that knows how to win when it matters.
Dart: Los Angeles Galaxy. The defending champs remain the team to beat, even without that English midfielder -- what was his name again? Carlo Cudicini is an upgrade in goal, Juninho has joined permanently and if Keane and Gonzalez continue their end-of-season form, LA should feel confident of a hat trick of titles once Donovan returns.