The LA Galaxy may be two-time defending champion, but calling Robbie Keane's side the clear favorite to three-peat isn't easy in a stacked field of title contenders.The LA Galaxy should be the MLS Cup favorites based simply on the fact that two straight MLS Cup titles says so. Throw in the fact that Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan are leading the way, and Bruce Arena is pulling the strings, and you have a team that should by all accounts be expected to lift the MLS Cup for a third straight time.
If the Galaxy are to do that, it will take surviving the toughest field LA has ever had to navigate to win a title. Of the eight teams heading into the MLS conference semifinals, which kickoff this weekend, it can be argued that as many as seven of them have very legitimate chances at winning it all.
The long shot? Try New England, a young team that has enjoyed an excellent turnaround in 2013, but a team that quite frankly doesn't have the experience and weapons that the rest of the field has.
Beyond the Revs though, you have seven teams that can each make valid claims to being able to win the 2013 MLS Cup Final. Not all of them have the same chance of winning it all though.
What factors go in trying to handicap the field? Star power, form heading into the playoffs, past playoff experience and match-ups in the semifinal round all play a part in trying to figure out just how all eight remaining title hopefuls stack up.
Here is how we break down the field of contenders, in order from longest of long shots, to the favorite to win it all:
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (One percent chance of winning MLS Cup)
Jose Goncalves leads a stingy defense, while Juan Agudelo, Diego Fagundez and Kelyn Rowe lead a dynamic attack. What are the Revs lacking? The steel in midfield to control matches and shut down opposing playmakers. The 2013 playoffs will serve more as a learning experience than a title run for Jay Heaps' side.
HOUSTON DYNAMO (Six percent)
The Dynamo are known for stepping it up in the playoffs, even after mediocre regular seasons. Thursday's emphatic win suggests Dom Kinnear's side can make a run at a third MLS Cup Final, but with Sporting KC and New York looking extremely tough, and Houston looking more vulnerable than ever at home, getting back for a third time, let alone winning, seems a long shot.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS (Eight percent)
If we were talking purely about talent, Seattle's percentage of winning the title would be higher, but the reality is this Sounders team has underachieved for most of the season. The play-in round win against Colorado is a big confidence booster, but now Sigi Schmid's side has to beat a very confident and organized Portland Timbers side playing some of the best soccer in the league. Even a win in that Cascadia rivalry won't guarantee a title run, not with a showdown against the Galaxy potentially looming in the West final.
REAL SALT LAKE (13 percent)
RSL had some hiccups late in the season, but turned in another strong season despite having major roster turnover last winter. Alvaro Saborio needs to step up his game in the playoffs, while Javier Morales needs to be at his best if RSL is going to win its first title since 2009. Nick Rimando is in top form, but the defense will need Chris Schuler to be a dominant partner for Nat Borchers if RSL is going to be able to beat the Galaxy in the West semifinals.
PORTLAND TIMBERS (15 percent)
The Timbers don't have the player name recognition of some other teams, but what Caleb Porter has done with this team is astounding, and the soccer the Timbers are playing will give them a chance against anybody. Diego Valeri's health is key to the Timbers attack really being able to fire, but it could be Max Urruti who gives Portland the missing ingredient to help their attack match their stingy defense. Why isn't Portland rated more highly on this list? Lack of playoff experience compared to some of the other teams, and the very tough road through the West will make lifting a trophy in Porter's first season difficult, but not impossible.
NEW YORK RED BULLS (17 percent)
The Red Bulls finished with the best record in the league this year, and finished the regular season unbeaten in eight straight. So why aren't they at the top of the list? The teams ahead of them have had more success in the post-season in recent years, and that experience could give those teams the edge over this Red Bulls team. That being said, if Henry and Cahill keep playing at a high level, and the defense can avoid making mistakes like in playoff year's past, this Red Bulls team definitely has the capability of winning the club's first MLS Cup.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY (18 percent)
Peter Vermes' side gets the edge over New York because of having the best team defense in the league, and having had two years of playoff disappointments to give Sporting KC the experience and toughness to finally clear that hurdle. With Graham Zusi pulling the strongs, and Matt Besler leading a stifling defense, what Sporting KC needs to win the club's first MLS Cup since 2000 is for a goal scorer to emerge. If Dom Dwyer, C.J. Sapong, Claudio Bieler or Teal Bunbury can give Sporting KC some consistent goals, Sporting KC can definitely win the title this year.
LOS ANGELES GALAXY (22 percent)
The Galaxy endured ups and downs, and struggled when its top stars were missing, but with Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez all back in the fold, the champions have the weaponry to make another run. This year's version isn't quite as deep, and the losses of David Beckham and Mike Magee will be felt this time of year, but there is still too much firepower, and Arena still pulling the strings, to not consider LA the favorites, if only by a slim margin.