Remind me to title next year's review "Nobody Likes You When You're 23." Because you gotta claim those 90's pop references early. Also, I call "88 Lines about 44 Teams" whenever that happens.
See, Major League Soccer starts its twenty-second season this week with twenty-two teams. I thought that was a cute coincidence. LAFC is scheduled to join soon, maybe they can keep this going. Twenty-three in year 23, Twenty-four in year 24, and so on.
Up until season 28, where they will totally never expand again.
These are really big cities with millions and millions of people and people don’t have a division one pro team to call their own with their own stadium, so we will be a 28 team league and I think that is it for us. We have to set into the right format, build more value and more popularity in our markets and get those stadiums up and operating. That is going to take many, many years to fulfill manage and roll out effectively.
That was Don Garber talking to NBC Sports' Joe Prince-Wright. The most obvious theory is that there is an inverse relationship between the number of expansion teams and the expansion fee that the league is able to charge. There is probably also an inverse relationship between the number of expansion teams and the quality of the expansion bids. That's why "with their own stadium" stuck out for me more than the number 28.
The other thing I noticed was that Garber maintained the fiction that the 24th MLS team has been chosen. But he did not say the word "Miami." This might have something to do with how there are at least six bids that are in better shape than Miami's alleged franchise right now. This is absolutely nothing against the city of Miami, the county of Dade, its citizens or its flamingos. Nobody wants to be the public official who got outsmarted by David Beckham, and the region's recent sports owners have poisoned the well on a colossal scale. I'm just restating the obvious - Miami's gonna be a few more minutes.
Having an extra spot open, and having that be pretty obvious to anyone paying attention, might lead to complacency. So might the realization that smaller markets (Sacramento, St. Pete, Cincy) are generally looking a little sexier right now than bids from bigger markets like Detroit and San Diego.
As we mentioned in passing last blog, stadiums are hard. Really, really hard. It would be much, much easier to simply choose teams by market size. But then San Diego's bid would have no incentive to get its stadium act together, and Raleigh would REALLY have no incentive to get its stadium act together.
There's also the outside chance that Garber has assessed the situation accurately, and addressed it honestly. No, really. Six more teams are going to come in by, MLS hopes, 2022. When Garber says that's going to be it for a while? That's probably true. The next teams might have to wait until nearly 2030. Pythons can get bigger as they age, but their rate of growth slows significantly, and in any case they have to rest while they digest the pig they swallowed.
If they give out Nobel Prizes for Metaphors, then give me my medal now. That was stellar. I should bow and leave, but I promised a season preview.
Anyway, there I was, wondering how on Earth someone was supposed to decide in what order Columbus, Orlando, Philadelphia and Montreal were going to be not good enough to make the playoffs, and my wife said, "Why not just ask the Magic 8-Ball?" I love my wife so much.
So I will give my superficial opinion of each teams' chances, and then ask the Magic 8-Ball what it thinks. You can't buy this kind of analysis.
In predicted alphabetical order of finish:
ATLANTA UNITED: We all love the moves this team has made. Right coach, right DPs, right buzz in the community. They're also in the East, which...look, this isn't prejudice. Since 2009, the West has won six out of the last eight Open Cups, five of the last eight Supporters Shields, and seven of the last eight MLS Cups. Oh, and Kansas City brought an Open Cup and MLS Cup with them when they moved West. These things are cyclical, but I don't think we're back to early 1990's Eastern dominance quite yet. Also, Brad Guzan is Typhoid Mary.
Will Atlanta make the playoffs? DON'T COUNT ON IT. Magic 8-ball, going against conventional wisdom! Saucy!
CHICAGO FIRE: Stan Kroenke and Merritt Paulson have won MLS Cups, so you don't have to have good ownership to stumble into success. But man, these guys. They improved their midfield by a billion percent with McCarty and Juninho, and people still don't want to give them the time of day. If they miss the playoffs again, Hauptman should be forced to sell. Just for grins, let's read this early article about Hauptman back in 2008:
Hauptman said everything about owning the Fire has been a learning experience and that he truly sees potential.
“All I see is opportunity everywhere I go – sponsorship, ticket sales, suite sales, concessions, our TV deal. We’re moving in the right direction. With a little bit of new energy and focus, we could start to accomplish something. Obviously we want to win on the field, but off the field as well.
“I’m not interested in being average.”
Good news, Andrew! You're not!
Will Chicago make the playoffs? WITHOUT A DOUBT.
Obviously, I asked a follow-up question. Are you aware that I meant the Chicago Fire soccer team? IT IS DECIDEDLY SO. This Magic 8-Ball is a hot take machine. It should have its own show.
COLORADO RAPIDS: Wait, Stan Kroenke has an MLS Cup? How in the world did that happen? And doesn't that make the Rapids the most successful team that he owns? Maybe benign neglect is the order of the day - had Tim Howard not been sacrificed in service to his country, there is no reason to think he couldn't have been Stefan Frei on that fateful day in December, and the Rapids could have burgled their second championship. I think this year decides whether Mastroeni has a future in this whole coaching thing, because they've added nobody in particular to a roster that wasn't exactly dazzling to begin with. That screams out "regression to the mean," and I think they'll be very lucky to see the playoffs.
Will Colorado make the playoffs? VERY DOUBTFUL.
COLUMBUS CREW: Just when Columbus was making its way into the American consciousness, they add the SC to their name and now they'll get mixed up with the capital of South Carolina again. That's just poor planning. Boy, I was sure high on these guys last year! In retrospect, that was misguided! I say that to cheer up both Rapids fans and Crew fans, because, like Colorado, this is a side led by a hard-nosed former international hoping to substitute grit from glamor. It failed in a noisy, ugly way last year, and I can't say I'm bowled over by the changes they made. I hope they do great, because it's so frustrating when a team comes out with a SWEET uniform scheme and then stinks up the place.
The Magic 8-Ball has faith in Berhalter, though. Will Columbus make the playoffs? MOST LIKELY.
DC UNITED: This team is going to have a great year. Maybe not this one, but hey. They've finally broken ground on their permanent home, and twenty years of patience is going to pay off. Ticket prices will go up, and you'll occasionally find yourself missing the bouncing rows and the raccoons, but it's going to be so much better very soon. Maybe the racist NFL team can implode, and give DC United even more oxygen. It's not like there's a lot of news happening in that town. Oh, how will their team do? Umm...fourth? That's what they did last year, and nothing can go wrong by predicting the past.
Will DC United make the playoffs: MY REPLY IS NO.
FC DALLAS: What kind of cockamamie league has Washington ahead of Dallas alphabetically. That's just tiresome. Boy, are people ever in love with these guys! They're young and beautiful! Why the hell aren't people going to see this team? Because they built their stadium based on economic and population projections that didn't take into account the collapse of the economy in the late 2000's? That's no fun! At least they didn't fold. I don't know the precise border of Dallas fandom vs. Houston and Kansas City, but if you have a chance to hop on this bandwagon and turn it down? You might miss a heartbreaking loss in the CONCACAF Champions League AND a heartbreaking loss in MLS Cup in the same season! You can't buy those kind of memories.
Will Dallas make the playoffs? YES. That was straightforward.
Will Dallas win CONCACAF? MY SOURCES SAY NO. That's a shame.
Will Dallas win MLS Cup? YES DEFINITELY. Okay, then! Congratulations, Dallas!
HOUSTON DYNAMO: This team has high hopes for a strong comeback from Cubo Torres. Well, compared to Luis Angel Landin, Torres is Hugo Sanchez - just like compared to Owen Coyle, Wilmer Cabrera is Rinus Michels. They managed to weaken the Galaxy by getting fan-favorite AJ DeLaGarza and fan-barely tolerated Leonardo, but that's the sort of move you make to add depth to a championship contender - which Houston ain't. They'll fight like demons for an extra playoff game - maybe three.
Will Houston make the playoffs? AS I SEE IT YES.
LOS ANGELES GALAXY: They never spell out "Los Angeles" anymore. That frustrates me for reasons I can define poorly, if at all. No one wants to read a Galaxy fan bemoan his team's status, but try to see this from my point of view. LA had two of the deadest weights in the league last year, and still took Tim Howard to penalties. We're in a period of league history where the MLS Cup is up for grabs to anyone lucky and gritty enough to gut it out. This team was looking to start with Gio, Zardes, Lleget, Van Damme, AND all the money in the world.
And we give the keys to Curt Onalfo, give away AJ DeLaGarza (remember the championship depth thing I was talking about? This is what I was thinking of), and then everyone gets hurt. We're about as deep and sturdy as a hot tub in Barbie's Malibu Dream House now, and so much of this was self-inflicted. Look, read this, this sums up what the Galaxy have done to themselves this winter. And next year, the Galaxy get to have their fanbase cannibalized yet again, yay! If the stupid rumor I heard today that LA is considering John Terry is even close to accurate, just let the damn Chargers have the building and have Phil Anschutz go back into the railroad business. On the bright side, maybe Alessandrini is magic.
Will the Galaxy make the playoffs? YOU MAY RELY ON IT. So apparently I'm just panicky.
MINNESOTA UNITED: In the league a year early, and they will look it. Literally - their beautiful NASL sublimated loon shirt couldn't be duplicated by Adidas in time for this season. They'll have to settle for their beautiful crest. On the bright side, Christian Ramirez is staying, and Miguel Ibarra is back! On the not so bright side, they might have come back if Minnesota had stayed in the NASL. At least Minnesota went out and got a proven coach who can build a foundation for long-term success in - just kidding, it's Adrian Heath. I wish this team all the best, but if they stay out of the cellar, it'll have more to do with Onalfo than Heath.
Will Minnesota make the playoffs? OUTLOOK GOOD.
Do you realize they're in MLS this year, and not NASL? YES.
You don't want to think this over? MY REPLY IS NO.
I'm starting to question this prediction methodology, to be quite frank.
MONTREAL IMPACT: Oh, these guys! I like these guys. When their big name turned into a liability, they put him on the bench like bosses and nearly made some significant noise in the playoffs. Then they lost in crushing, heartbreaking fashion. Wait, that's bad. That's really bad. And they didn't even answer Grant Wahl's ambition rankings questions! What the hell! I hate these guys! Boo! That was fun. We should do this more often.
Will Montreal make the playoffs? VERY DOUBTFUL. Okay, Minnesota is making the playoffs, and the Impact are staying home. You heard it here first, and almost certainly last.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION: Rob Stone went OFF on the Revolution and the Krafts, and it's really difficult to argue with him. Move them to East Tiverton and call them the Marksmen, already. Stone at ESPN was such a loyal soldier, covering everything from darts to MLS, that it was jarring for me to see him swinging the hatchet. I'd like to think this would be the come-to-Jesus moment for the Krafts, but they've been impervious to everything else so far. The success of the Patriarchs has meant nothing or less to the Revolution, so imagine if the NFL team starts losing once in a while.
Will New England make the playoffs? SIGNS POINT TO YES. So I guess Kei Kamara stays happy this year, that's good.
Will the Krafts build a soccer-specific stadium? OUTLOOK NOT SO GOOD.
Will they sell the team soon? MOST LIKELY.
Magic 8-Ball's got scoops today.
NYCFC: They did a LOT better than I thought they would last season. Hey, wouldn't it be funny if they played in Yankee Stadium for decades? Or maybe they can move to Hartford and groundshare with the Revs. They're starting a waxwork of Andrea Pirlo until such time as they have the nerve to bench him. He started all 32 games last year. I know it sounds fatuous to say that's a bad thing, but that's a bad thing. Keeping guys one (or two) years too long turns great teams into good teams and good teams into average ones, and I don't know if NYCFC are good or average.
Will NYCFC make the playoffs? MOST DEFINITELY.
Understandably suspicious at the 8-Ball's enthusiasm, I asked a follow-up. Will Vieira bench Pirlo? ASK AGAIN LATER. Cagey little ball.
NEW YORK RED BULLS: Wow, look at everybody jump off the bandwagon! So they lost a preseason series to Vancouver. So they dumped the captain. So the front office seems like a Russian nesting doll of hatchet men. So the days of signing big big names are over. So the parent company seems preoccupied with Leipzig. There are a lot worse things to build on than Kljestan and Wright-Phillips. What's the worst that could happen?
Will the Red Bulls make the playoffs? CANNOT PREDICT NOW. Uh-oh.
ORLANDO CITY SC: I think I'm actually most excited about the Brek Shea offloading. Is that mean? That feels mean. The broad and enriching season preview from the league site says the Eastern Lions are staring tenth in the face, which also seems mean. Cyle Larin isn't just some derp off the street. He's the future of Canadian soccer. And Matt Doyle thinks Orlando will give up 60 goals and score 65, which would certainly be worth watching. Me, I think if Kaka didn't lead the team to the playoffs last year, there's not much reason to think that he will now that he's a year older. But they've added a couple of intriguing names in defense. Tampa Bay Rowdies and Open Cup warrior PC is attempting to make the enormous leap from NASL to MLS. And by golly, Jonathan Spector has come home, or at least to the United States. I'm not going to bet any fingernails on those two leading The OC to glory, but I'll definitely be following.
Will Orlando make the playoffs? YES. Well, there you go, the commenters on the MLS site are right to shoot hell out of their mouths.
PHILADELPHIA UNION: Aww. "I wish something good would happen for Philadelphia sports fans" is a boomerang of a wish, but talk about a fanbase that deserves better. The first line in Jay Simpson's MLS bio is "After a successful career for Arsenal’s reserve team," which, um, can be read and interpreted and believed in many ways. I mean, is that better than being bad for the first team? I'm a bit lost. Speaking of guys coming, for want of a better term, home - you know who the Union is all excited about? Oguchi Onyewu. Guy's a beast, they say. We should think about calling him up, we could use some depth on the USMNT.
Will Philadelphia make the playoffs? IT IS DECIDEDLY SO.
Oh, come on, Magic 8-Ball, you know I meant the Philadelphia Union. I SURE AS HELL WASN'T TALKING ABOUT THE 76ERS. Okay, then.
PORTLAND TIMBERS: So, is it better to get what you want, or nearly get what you want? Both Columbus and Portland followed up their MLS Cup campaigns on 2015 with varying degrees of troubling pratfalls. But you couldn't call the Crew complacent, or their fanbase. With Portland? Championships cover a lot of cracks, until one day you're DC United and you have more stars on the shirt than wins in the league. In other words, I'm not really feeling Portland bouncing back. There's probably a strong correlation to "How do you think Portland will do?" and "What do you think about Nagbe for the US?", now that I think about it. I'm kind of a drawn out "I dunno...." on both questions, myself.
Will Portland make the playoffs? MY REPLY IS NO. Sorry, Tims.
REAL SALT LAKE: Honest to God, my fingers wanted to type "STALE LEAK." But I couldn't complete the anagram. The rebuilding has been a wee bit behind schedule, and it had to be extremely galling to see Garth Lagerwey bowing in front of another MLS Cup. You want this organization to succeed (offer not available in Denver) - small market, passionate fans, and a philosophy much more bracing than the big-name idiocy coming from the New York and Los Angeles teams. And they still have a bunch of proven big names, as far as MLS talent goes - I dunno if Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando will end up in the Hall of Fame one day, but I do know that I intend to vote for them. It just might not be on the basis of the 2017 season.
Will Salt Lake make the playoffs? IT IS CERTAIN. Okay, never mind, let's hear it for veteran talent.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES: I'm not optimistic about teams whose Presidents have a bio page for a team in a completely different sport. It's almost as if Lew Wolff is taking a cue from Robert Kraft's book on balancing multiple needs of multiple teams...except the A's don't win, either. Unless this franchise plans on putting in the World's Largest Outdoor AA Meeting, Lew's got to get his head right about this club. I love and respect Kinnear and Wondolowski, I really do. Please don't tell them I said they're totally screwed this year. At least they finally ditched John Doyle.
Will San Jose make the playoffs? MY SOURCES SAY NO. Everybody's sources say no, 8-Ball.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS: Will be interesting to see how Dempsey combines with Lodeiro. Like, maybe twenty or more wins interesting. God, I'm so depressed, the god-damned Sounders won the Cup and got better. That was by far the worst thing to come out of 2016, if you ask me. Maybe I'm jocking Dallas so hard because I think they're the only ones besides Toronto that could possibly put down a spike strip in front of the Sounders. Let's talk about happier things - the dog we're fostering has pneumonia and has to stay at the vet all weekend. (She'll be fine. So will the Sounders. Me, I'm not so sure about.)
Will Seattle make the playoffs? REPLY HAZY, TRY AGAIN. I think the 8-Ball meant that sarcastically.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY: You think these guys are campaigning for a restored Central Division? Their main foes would be Chicago, Minnesota, Houston, Columbus - oh, right, Dallas. But still! Anchored by the talented and utterly detestable midfield of Feilhaber and Espinoza, the sharpest-dressed men in the league will rely on Matt Besler to anchor the defense...along with Graham Zusi, converted into a right back. Can I go ahead and read between the lines on that career path? At least he'll never buy a drink in Mexico.
Will Kansas City make the playoffs? AS I SEE IT YES.
And, will they play more than one game in the playoffs? YOU MAY RELY ON IT. Oh! Okay, 8-Ball feeling the Blue Hell.
TORONTO FC: It's possible that this team is getting too much love. I mean, they hosted the championship, the opponent didn't get a shot on goal - literally every other scenario is the hard way in comparison. But man, you look at that roster and your heart goes pitter-pat. Sebastian Giovinco is in his prime - and he might not even be the most talented player on the team. Just kidding, he obviously is. This is preview 20 or whatever, I wanted to see if you were still paying attention. But, despite what US men's national team fans might tell you, Altidore and Bradley would make an MLS contender all by themselves. I also think they have the best coaching staff in the league...but that's largely because I cheered for most of them on the 1996 Galaxy, so I'm not a good source here.
Will Toronto win the Eastern Conference? IT IS CERTAIN. Okay, Dallas over Toronto in MLS Cup.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS: Having steamrolled their way into the CONCACAF Champions League semfinals, this MLS powerhouse - what's that? They stunk last year? Oh, Canada, you and your unorthodox way of choosing your continental representatives. Well, in between refreshing the #MLS4VAN hashtag, the Whitecaps will start a totally unknown quantity in Fredy Montero. The prognosis for guys returning to MLS to play for the archrival is mixed...with Landon Donovan as MAYBE an exception here. And if you were under the mistaken impression you were going to sneak Alphonso Davies by the rest of your fantasy division, well, Leander Schaeckerlens on Yahoo put a stop to that.
Will Vancouver make the playoffs? MY SOURCES SAY NO
Will Vancouver beat Tigres? MY REPLY IS NO
So, the Whitecaps 2017 season is pretty much done already? VERY DOUBTFUL
Well, there you go. The Ball knows all.