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2019 MLS Season Preview: Los Angeles FC and NYCFC look primed to dominate this year

Andy Witchger | Wikimedia Commons

While the major sports of basketball, baseball, football and hockey will take their place on the foreground of North American culture, there is another sport that is entering its most dramatic stage —soccer. 

The domestic league for soccer across the United States and Canada, Major League Soccer will soon begin their chase for the MLS Cup. Revamped with a new format allowing for two more teams, the MLS Cup promises to be more competitive than in years past.

Western Conference

Los Angeles Football Club 

In only their second season, Los Angeles FC have cemented themselves among the upper echelon of MLS teams. 

Having earned 72 points and their first trophy in the Supporters Shield, Los Angeles FC is the favorite to win it all this season. 

Their attack is prolific, having scored 85 goals in the regular season, and is led by MLS MVP finalist Carlos Vela. 

The Mexican international has taken this league by storm, setting the single-season goals record with 34. Although their defense is strong, anchored by Defensive Player of the Year finalist Walker Zimmerman’s 3.6 clearance a game, this team lives and dies with Vela.

Seattle Sounders Football Club

The 2016 MLS Cup Champions are back in the playoffs dreaming once more of the MLS Cup in their grasp. 

The Sounders, who have never missed the playoffs in their existence, are led by Raúl Ruidíaz, whose expected goals average of 12.2 is among the top 10 in all of MLS. In addition, the attack is bolstered by the return of American forward Jordan Morris, along with his 10 goals and seven assists on the season. 

The goalkeeping of Stefan Frei has also been impressive, with 10 clean sheets to his name. The Sounders biggest X-factor will be their ability to score goals so the attack needs to step up.

Real Salt Lake

In legendary goalkeeper Nick Rimando’s final season, in which he registered 10 clean sheets, Real Salt Lake could win the MLS Cup for the first time in a decade. 

Their claim to fame is their defense as they only concede about a goal a game. In addition, their total possession percentage of 49.4 indicates a willingness to defend. However, to win games, they need to score. Salt Lake does not score often, only registering 1.35 goals per game which is below league average.

Minnesota United Football Club

Known for their porous defense in their previous two seasons, the Loons tightened up. Only conceding 1.26 goals per game, the defense is led by Defensive Player of the Year finalist Ike Opara and Goalkeeper of the Year finalist Vito Mannone. Opara has registered 5.2 clearances a game, aiding Mannone’s 11 clean sheets. The Loons can also score if needed, having scored 52 on the year, but their claim to any chance of the MLS Cup is the backline.

LA Galaxy

The most accomplished team in MLS history and winner of five MLS Cups will head into these playoffs relying on Zlatan Ibrahimovic more than any team will rely on any other player. Having scored 30 goals and contributing 7 assists, Ibrahimovic is the engine, the figurehead and the leader of the Galaxy. He could take a game and bend it to his will. If the Galaxy wants to win a sixth cup, Ibrahimovic must deliver on his gigantic ego.

Portland Timbers

The Timbers have one the best playmakers in the league in the form of Diego Valeri. With eight assists and eight goals, Valeri is the heart of the Timbers’ midfield. 

In addition, Argentine international Sebastián Blanco has contributed 10 assists and six goals, demonstrating the Timbers’ depth of playmaking ability. 

Another Argentine, Brian Fernandez, led the team with 11 goals. Goals will come for the Timbers these playoffs. However, the ability to make plays through Blanco and Valeri will be vital if the Timbers want another MLS Cup.

FC Dallas

Although they boast the MLS assist leader with 13 in Michael Barrios and upstart talent in Paxton Pomykal who registered the second-most expected assists on the team with 3.3, they must also play well on the road. Dallas has the worst away record of any team in the MLS playoffs, with 11 losses and only three wins.

Eastern Conference

New York City Football Club

NYCFC, having achieved the number one seed in the conference as well as clinching a place in the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time, will look to build on their record-setting season. 

For the Pigeons, the combination of the playmaking ability of Maxi Moralez and the engine-like hustle of captain Alexander Ring will be most important. 

Another player to watch out for is Héber Araujo dos Santos, whose 15 goals led the team. 

Finally, look out for how the confines of Yankee Stadium will factor into opponents’ formations and strategies as there is less room to play with.

Atlanta United Football Club

The defending MLS Cup champions look poised to make another run at the title. 

Although they had a slow start to the season and had to contend with the loss of Paraguayan star Miguel Almiron to England, reigning MVP Josef Martínez had another productive season, scoring 27 goals. 

In addition, Julian Gressel has stepped up for Atlanta and produced 11 assists on the season, softening the blow of losing Almiron. Also, the play of Brad Guzan, who had 14 clean sheets, must be respected.

Philadelphia Union

The Union are good at scoring goals, but not the best when it comes to defending their own goal. This year saw the emergence of Kacper Przybyłko, who led the team with 15 goals. In addition, Mexican international Marco Fabián contributed seven goals for the Union. However, one X-factor for the Union will be forward David Accam, who had the highest goal per 90-minute rate on the team, registering about a goal a game.

Toronto FC

After the departure of Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto filled the role by committee. Alejandro Pozuelo led the team with 12 goals, while American striker Jozy Altidore scored 11 for Toronto. Pozuelo also led the team with seven assists and if he can channel his playmaking ability into positive chances for Toronto, then they have a chance at glory.

DC United

This team does not score. It is almost shocking considering the talent in attack they possess. 

The duo of Luciano Acosta and Wayne Rooney oozes goals, in theory. However, Rooney has only registered 11 goals this season and Acosta only has six. More surprising, Acosta only has one assist in contrast to Rooney’s seven. 

What DC lacks in attack, they make up for in defense, as they have only surrendered 38 goals. A large part of that is thanks to Goalkeeper of the Year finalist Bill Hamid, whose 14 clean sheets led the league. Hamid will take them far, but their stars need to play like stars.

New York Red Bulls

The Red Bulls are always in the playoff picture, but they can never win the big one. They are still formidable, with Bradley Wright-Phillips being a goal-scoring threat every time he takes a touch in the box. The emergence of Daniel Royer and his expected goals tally of 14.7 also provide the Red Bulls with goal-scoring opportunities. Luis Robles is always reliable in between the posts, and their defense is decent.

New England Revolution

The Revolution have been sparked by the arrival of Carles Gil, the 2019 MLS Newcomer of the Year. He missed just eight minutes during the regular season and his 10 goals and 12 assists provided playmaking that the Revolution craved. However, the Revolution have the worst goal differential of any team in the playoffs, possessing a minus seven. New England’s defense needs to step it up for any chance at MLS glory.

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