With more parity than virtually any other soccer league in the world, Major League Soccer is one of the toughest competitions in sports to accurately predict.
Factors such as the salary cap and roster restrictions mean that injuries and unheralded players raising their game can make a crucial difference to any team's season.
Here is how Yahoo! Sports sees the regular season panning out in the Eastern and Western Conferences (with each team's overall finishing position in parentheses) and who will be crowned the MLS Cup champion on November 23.
The top two teams in each conference, plus the next four-best records, qualify for the postseason.
1. D.C. United (first overall)
There is no reason to think that the Supporters' Shield winner from the past two seasons will be any weaker this time around. Adding Marcelo Gallardo and his band of Argentines will only strengthen the dominant team in the league.
2. New England Revolution (second)
The Revs have been consistently strong in the regular season in recent times, only to suffer an agonizing series of MLS Cup final defeats. Despite losing four starters, Steve Nicol's team still has the key components in place and will continue to be a major force.
3. New York Red Bulls (fifth)
New head coach Juan Carlos Osorio is on a mission to tighten up the leaky defense which held the team back last year. Goal scoring is unlikely to be a problem as long as Juan Pablo Angel continues to shine and Jozy Altidore maintains his solid development.
4. Kansas City Wizards (sixth)
It was hard to see how the Wizards would make any progress deep into the offseason. But then they signed Claudio Lopez and Ivan Trujillo to leave them with a more potent offense than before Eddie Johnson departed.
5. Chicago Fire (eighth)
It would be no shock to see five Eastern Conference teams qualify for the playoffs and the Fire could sneak in late. While undoubtedly an explosive team and capable of beating any side in the league, consistency may be a problematic factor.
6. Columbus Crew (13th)
The Crew have not strengthened themselves enough to get into the playoff picture in this tough conference. A difficult season beckons for Sigi Schmid and his club, with uncertainty remaining over the mindset of star player Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
7. Toronto FC (14th)
The magnificent fans of Toronto deserve a winning team, but they won't be getting one this season. New head coach John Carver faces a thankless task – especially now that midfielder Carl Robinson wants to return to a British club.
1. Houston Dynamo (third overall)
Few would argue that Dominic Kinnear has proved himself as the best coach in MLS by taking the Dynamo to two straight championships. The importance of having a settled unit cannot be underestimated and Houston has the look and the mindset of winners.
2. Los Angeles Galaxy (fourth)
Galaxy fans will pray that their big three of David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Carlos Ruiz stay healthy. If they do, then Ruud Gullit's side should emerge as a real force. Beckham looks more motivated than ever, while this year's supporting cast, highlighted by Brazilian midfielder Alvaro, is significantly improved.
3. Chivas USA (seventh)
The Goats ran out of steam in 2007 and entered the playoffs exhausted and injury-depleted. They will have learned valuable lessons from that experience and should be more of a postseason threat. Head coach Preki understands what it takes to win in MLS and is feeling confident.
4. FC Dallas (ninth)
The arrival of Denilson caused major disruption last season and Dallas entered the postseason low on confidence. Steve Morrow wants to make his team tougher to beat and it should stay in playoff contention throughout the campaign – but fall short in the end.
5. Real Salt Lake (10th)
Everyone is agreed that RSL will be significantly better this season – but by how much? Scottish striker Kenny Deuchar will put away most of the chances presented before him and Kyle Beckerman is a warrior in midfield. But this club is still largely an unknown quantity.
6. San Jose Earthquakes (11th)
Head coach Frank Yallop believes his team can get into the playoff hunt. Unfortunately for him and his Quakes, life as an expansion club is harder than ever. While Yallop faces an uphill task, San Jose will not be disgraced despite its lack of attacking firepower.
7. Colorado Rapids (12th)
Too much hinges on the efforts of Christian Gomez for the Rapids, who needed to push the envelope further in the offseason in order to be contenders this year. They won't concede too many goals, but expect plenty of low-scoring draws and narrow defeats.
MLS CUP PLAYOFFS
Predicting winners in the MLS playoffs before the season is fraught with danger as the most important factors going into the postseason are form and health. But here we go with our picks for overall glory come November.
EAST – D.C. United defeats New England Revolution
WEST – Houston Dynamo defeats Los Angeles Galaxy
MLS Cup final
D.C. United defeats Houston Dynamo
So there you have it, a championship for United and its South American contingent, another run to the final for the Dynamo and near-misses for the Revolution and Galaxy. But don't hold me to it.
- Houston Dynamo