2011 MLS Predictions

Inspired by Sports Illustrated‘s predictions for the 2011 MLS season, the staff of New England Soccer Today decided to make predictions of our own.

Which team will win the MLS Cup and why?

Brian O’Connell: Real Salt Lake will win the MLS Cup because, simply put, they are the most complete team in the league right now. They attack, they defend, and most importantly, they have the most dynamic midfield in MLS. The only way they don’t win if the injury bug bites given the amount of the extra-MLS competition they’ll endure this season.

Sean Donahue: Real Salt Lake may not have the big names of New York and Los Angeles, but they are the best team in the league. Not only is their starting XI the most impressive as a unit in the league, but they have the depth to match. They possess the ball better than any other team and it showed both in their league form and in the CONCACAF Champions League against the best teams in the region. While losing Findley may hurt a bit, the addition of dynamic midfielder Arturo Alvarez will only improve the team this season.

Julian Cardillo: Los Angeles Galaxy. They may not be well-rounded as a roster, but they have a very well rounded starting 11. And, even if the roster is 50% experience 50% youth, the Galaxy have depth and the coaching talents of Bruce Arena on their side. Signing Frankie Hejduk and Juan Pablo Angel may look like they were forcing transfers to happen, but both those players- especially Angel- have more to contribute to MLS. The Galaxy have the funds, the fan base, and the desire to lift their first MLS Cup since 2005. If David Beckham remains injury free and Landon Donovan can stay consistent, the Galaxy will produce solid results. The defense may be young, but few will dispute the defensive talents of Sean Franklin, Michael Stephens, and Omar Gonzalez.

Which teams will make the playoffs?

Brian O’Connell: New York, Philadelphia, and Columbus in the Eastern Conference, with FC Dallas, Real Salt Lake, Los Angeles, Colorado, Seattle, Portland, and San Jose from the Western Conference. Once again, the West will dominate the league given the talent shortage along the Atlantic. There’s no way the Eastern Conference provides more than the minimum amount of representatives for playoff fare this season.

Sean Donahue: In the Western Conference Salt Lake, Los Angeles, Colorado, FC Dallas, Seattle, and San Jose should all be favored to make the play-offs again. New York is the clear favorite in an otherwise weak Eastern Conference. Columbus is weaker than last year, but should still have enough to gain a spot in the East. Kansas City will benefit from the extra spot in the East and from a few veteran signings and should grab the third slot. The tenth and final spot is a bit harder to predict. Philadelphia, Houston, D.C., and New England have all improved and could compete for the final spot, as could expansion side Portland. It’s tough to forecast how this one will play out, but my early guess is D.C. grabs the final spot.

Julian Cardillo: Los Angeles Galaxy, Real Salt Lake, New York Red Bulls, FC Dallas, Colorado Rapids, Sporting Kansas City, San Jose Earthquakes, Houston Dynamo, CD Chivas USA, New England Revolution

Who will be the MVP?

Brian O’Connell: It has to be Alvaro Saborio. He was one of the best players in the league last year and I can’t help but think that he’s got even more in tank this year. Without him, RSL is a mid-table team.

Sean Donahue: Juan Pablo Angel. Angel is still the best pure finisher in the league and on a team with Landon Donovan and David Beckham to set him up, he’ll find the back of the net plenty of times this season. He also won’t have to worry about missing time during the Gold Cup.

Julian Cardillo: Thierry Henry. You know he can score, you know he wants to be here. Since he arrived, Henry has been the MLS ambassador to the rest of Europe. On his own, Henry can score. But on a team with guys like Lindpere, Richards, Tainio, and Marquez, Henry will by dynamite for both the Red Bulls and this league.

Who will be Rookie Of The Year?

Brian O’Connell: Will Bruin (Houston). My perspective may or may not have been altered after watching Bruin tear up a pathetic Revolution defense in the preseason finale, but if the kid gets the same service he received from Brad Davis in his brace-scoring preseason performance, he may very well end up a Golden Boot contender as well.

Sean Donahue: Darlington Nagbe (Portland). Nagbe already appears to have locked up a starting spot in Portland and with Kenny Cooper to set up, he should grab his fair share of assists once healthy.

Julian Cardillo: Will Bruin, Houston. They needed a scorer, they found one. Bruin has been tearing the cover off the ball in preseason. Of course, the regular season is much more competitive so expect Bruin to need a few weeks before he starts scoring.

Who will be the Golden Boot winner?

Brian O’Connell: I’ll go with Juan Pablo Angel. If he and his supporting cast stay healthy all season, there’s no reason why the Colombian shouldn’t accumulate the most goals this season. 

Sean Donahue: Angel, for the same reasons he’ll win MVP.

Julian Cardillo: Omar Bravo, KC. There will be lots of pressure on KC this season, but one guy who the team can rely on is longtime Mexican giant Omar Bravo. Compared to most DPs, Bravo is still young and has plenty of fight. He hasn’t been as engaged in scoring since his first tour of duty with Guadalajara in Mexico where between 2001 and 2008 he scored 101 goals. But with SKC counting on Bravo and needing goals, he seems like the league’s most definite producer.

Who will be Defender of the Year?

Brian O’Connell: Rafa Marquez will show us that he’s worth every penny of the millions he’ll earn from Red Bull this year. Paired with Tim Ream, New York should have no problem starving their opponents this season – thanks in large part to the superior skills of Marquez.

Sean Donahue: Omar Gonzalez. Gonzalez was a part of the Galaxy’s strong defense last season and with another year under his belt and some international experience, he should be even better this year.

Julian Cardillo: Rafael Marquez, NY. Marquez has played in the defensive role through the Mexican national team’s high times. He has played as a defender in La Liga, Champions League, and the World Cup. His foot can unleash an absolute cannon, and he has always been great at sneaking in on set pieces. A defender who can score? Worth Gold.

Who will be your MLS Cup dark horse?

Brian O’Connell: It has to be Portland. Something about northwestern expansion teams that just scream “playoff contenders” to me. That being said, I expect Vancouver to make a run at the postseason but, I’m afraid, they’ll ultimately come up short. So, Portland it is.

Sean Donahue: Seattle. Seattle came on very strong towards the end of 2010, but came up short in the playoffs. There is no reason they can’t take that form into 2011 and go on an even better run this season.

Julian Cardillo: If  San Jose can match the late season push they had last season and have consistent 2011, there is no reason why the Quakes can’t win their first title since their rebirth. Chris Wondolowski may be a known presence, but he is confident and dangerous. Bobby Convey has long been a deliverer of great service. The long time struggle for San Jose has always been in defense. If the Earthquakes’ defense can remain solid, they are in for a good year.

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

Brian O’Connell: I know he’s young, but I’m tempted to say Andy Najar only for the fact that he managed to shine on such an abysmal squad last season. He’s the kind of creative wunderkid who I could very well see ending up overseas within a year’s time.

Sean Donahue: Juan Agudelo (New York). He’s young and getting a work permit may hold him back, but with the talent he’s shown both in MLS and now internationally, scouts have surely taken notice.

Julian Cardillo: Steve Zakuani, Seattle

What is your MLS Best XI?

Brian O’Connell:
GK: Nick Rimando (RSL)
D: Omar Gonzalez (LA)
D: Jamison Olave (RSL)
D: Rafa Marquez (NY)
M: Landon Donovan (LA)
M: Javier Morales (RSL)
M: Joel Lindpere (NY)
M: Shalrie Joseph (NE)
M: David Ferreira (FCD)
F: Juan Pablo Angel (LA)
F: Alvaro Saborio (RSL)

Sean Donahue:
GK: Kevin Hartman (FCD)
D: Omar Gonzalez (LA)
D: Tim Ream (NY)
D: Rafa Marquez (NY)
M: Landon Donovan (LA)
M: Javier Morales (RSL)
M: David Beckham (LA)
M: Bobby Convey (SJ)
M: David Ferreira (FCD
F: Juan Pablo Angel (LA)
F: Thierry Henry (NY)

Julian Cardillo:
G: Donovan Ricketts (LA)
D: Jamison Olave (RSL)
D: Omar Gonzalez (LA)
D: Rafa Marquez (NY)
M: Landon Donovan (LA)
M: Brad Davis (HOU)
M: Joel Lindpere (NY)
M: David Ferreira (FCD)
M: Bobby Convey (SJ)
F: Kenny Cooper (POR)
F: Thierry Henry (NY)

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About Sean Donahue

Sean Donahue has been covering the New England Revolution since 2002 for various publications. He has covered four MLS Cups, in addition to covering various international matches, including World Cup Qualifying and the CONCACAF Gold Cup. He has done freelance work for the AP and ESPN Boston. Sean hosted Revolution Recap, a weekly radio program covering the New England Revolution and U.S. Men's National Team from 2005-2008. He is a member of the North American Soccer Reporters. Sean can be reached at nesoccertoday@gmail.com or followed on twitter @SeanLDonahue