Major League Soccer is upon us again and the most fraught prediction game in the sport can begin once more.
Trying to guess the outcome of one the world's most evenly matched leagues is a fast track to madness, but that doesn't stop us from having a go year after year.
The 2008 guessing game was far from a success, with Yahoo! Sports – like most observers – backing the Columbus Crew to finish outside the playoffs. Several months later, and with both the Supporters Shield and the MLS Cup safely stashed in Ohio, the resounding champion was able to snub its nose at all the doubters, us included.
Once again, the East looks to be the stronger conference, with the Crew and the Chicago Fire likely to be among the frontrunners. Here we take a look at each conference and risk ridicule by predicting the finish for each team in MLS.
Eastern Conference predictions
2. Columbus Crew (second) – Head coach Sigi Schmid left for Seattle after winning the title, but the core of the team remains together. And it's structured around the brilliance of Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
4. New England Revolution (seventh) – The defensive stability of previous years could be affected by Michael Parkhurst's departure, and there might not be enough firepower at the other end.
6. Kansas City Wizards (10th) – The Wizards are certainly capable of matching the best teams in MLS, yet they could struggle to find the consistency to clinch a playoff berth.
7. D.C. United (11th) – How the mighty have fallen. The experiment on a core of South Americans failed dramatically last season and this campaign represents a rebuilding period.
Western Conference predictions
2. Houston Dynamo (fourth) – Houston's experienced backbone of senior players know how to get it done and will be keen to put up a strong challenge after last season's early playoff exit.
4. Colorado Rapids (eighth) – A lack of genuine star power shouldn't stop the Rapids from putting together a strong campaign. They will be tough to stop at home.
5. Los Angeles Galaxy (12th) – Better without David Beckham? We'll see. Becks will return for a brief cameo and then be gone for good, while Bruce Arena tries to rebuild a disjointed and fractured club.
7. FC Dallas (14th) – The arrival of van den Bergh can't disguise the defensive doubts about this unproven squad. Head coach Schelles Hyndman needs to show he can adapt from the college ranks to the pros.
8. Seattle Sounders FC (15th) – This exciting new franchise has high-profile ownership and passionate support. However, life for any expansion team is desperately tough and hard lessons await.
MLS Cup playoff predictions
Conference finals – East: Chicago Fire beat Toronto FC … West: Houston Dynamo beat Real Salt Lake
MLS Cup – Chicago Fire beat Houston Dynamo
So there you have it, a title for Blanco and the Fire, a near-miss for Houston – and more problems for the Galaxy. We look forward to being proven wrong, again.
- Houston Dynamo