2018 MLS predictions: Toronto FC picked to repeat as champion

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Tom Szczerbowski

Can anyone stop the juggernaut that is Toronto FC?

That's the question entering the 2018 MLS campaign, which kicks off Saturday when TFC begins its title defense with an Eastern Conference final rematch against the Columbus Crew at BMO Field.

Less than three months after Toronto completed a treble by sinking the Seattle Sounders in the MLS Cup final, Goal has unanimously picked Sebastian Giovinco and Co. to repeat as Supporters' Shield winners and tapped them as favorites to again lift the MLS Cup as well.

But which dark-horse contenders could potentially dethrone TFC? Who will take home MLS MVP honors? Which player is poised for a breakout campaign? Goal editors and writers have provided their predictions below:

  1. Brad Penner

    Most Valuable Player

    IVES GALARCEP: David Villa. He may be 36 years old, but Villa is still a goal-scoring machine. With New York City FC upgrading through the addition of Jesus Medina, Villa should have another outstanding season and hold off Miguel Almiron for his second MVP.

    JON ARNOLD: Sebastian Giovinco. At some point, Giovinco has to stop shredding MLS opposition. This is not that year. The Atomic Ant will again be key for Toronto, leading the team in scoring and helping the Reds to more trophies.

    THOMAS FLOYD: Miguel Almiron. The 24-year-old Paraguayan playmaker isn't long for MLS, but he'll make the most of his time stateside by delivering a dominant season as the focal point in Atlanta United's high-octane attack.

    ALLEN RAMSEY: Sebastian Giovinco. There are plenty of good candidates, but the simple pick here is the best player on the best team in the league.

    BEN VALENTINE: Albert Rusnak. Miguel Almiron figures to be a popular preseason MVP pick, but Rusnak quietly was almost as productive last season. Real Salt Lake’s struggles hid that somewhat, but Rusnak will get more exposure this year in what should be a much better side.

    SETH VERTELNEY: David Villa. Yes, he's 36, but Villa somehow shows no sign of slowing down and has actually been getting better and better in his three MLS seasons. He could pick up his second MVP if he continues that trend.

  2. Greg Bartram

    Coach of the Year

    IVES GALARCEP: Bob Bradley. After a dozen seasons away from MLS, Bradley is back and will make the most of a talented expansion squad with Los Angeles FC.

    JON ARNOLD: Greg Vanney. Unless voters have fatigue and want to reward a coach of an up-and-coming team (perhaps more in the spirit of the award), Vanney should be able to repeat. TFC is set for a big year, and Vanney has so far steered the team with an expert touch.

    THOMAS FLOYD: Jason Kreis. It's been a rough few years for a coach seen as one of the brighter minds in American soccer, but a productive offseason has given Kreis the tools to make Orlando City an Eastern Conference contender after last season's 10th-place finish.

    ALLEN RAMSEY: Gerard "Tata" Martino. Atlanta came on strong in year one and any step forward would represent the club actually contending for a title in just its second season.  

    BEN VALENTINE: Gregg Berhalter. The Columbus Crew not only have to deal with replacing two key players in Ola Kamara and Justin Meram but also face the specter of relocation. If Berhalter can navigate this club to a successful season, he deserves the award.

    SETH VERTELNEY: Gerardo "Tata" Martino. If the Argentine can take Atlanta from an expansion team making the postseason to a second-year side atop the East, it will be one of the biggest MLS coaching feats in recent memory.

  3. Brett Davis

    Defender of the Year

    IVES GALARCEP: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. The Atlanta central defender came on strong late in 2017, and should carry over his dominant form into an outstanding second season.

    JON ARNOLD: Francisco Calvo. After a rough start, Calvo and Minnesota United settled into life in MLS. The Loons have an opening to be better this year in a Western Conference full of teams in transition and Calvo will lead the charge from the back.

    THOMAS FLOYD: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. The Argentine defender was a commanding presence in his first MLS season but seemed to fly under the radar as Atlanta's attack grabbed the headlines. Look for Gonzalez Pirez to get his due this year.

    ALLEN RAMSEY: Walker Zimmerman. Bob Bradley's LAFC team will play good defense, and with a former Defender of the Year playing beside him in Laurent Ciman and plenty of eyes on the expansion club, Zimmerman should stand out in 2018. 

    BEN VALENTINE: Justen Glad. An injury slowed his start to 2017, but Glad should continue his development into one of the league’s best center backs while anchoring Real Salt Lake's defense.

    SETH VERTELNEY: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. Year two in MLS should be even better than year one for Gonzalez Pirez, who still managed to finish fourth in the Defender of the Year voting in 2017. A classy defender on the ball who can get involved in the attack, the Argentine should take his game to new heights in 2018.

  4. Kim Klement

    Goalkeeper of the Year

    IVES GALARCEP: Zack Steffen. The playoff hero for the Columbus Crew finished 2017 on a roll, and he should dominate in net in his second full season as a starter.

    JON ARNOLD: Andre Blake. This award is tough to call. Tim Melia was fantastic last year, and nobody saw that coming. But you can't go wrong picking Blake since the Jamaican makes good stops and generally has plenty to do.

    THOMAS FLOYD: Brad Guzan. The U.S. national team goalkeeper was quietly impressive after his midseason arrival, and he should post pristine numbers with that stacked Atlanta team in front of him.

    ALLEN RAMSEY: Zack Steffen. The 22-year-old was playing at a very high level in the 2017 playoffs and, if he can carry that into the new season, looks primed to make his mark as one of the top shot-stoppers in MLS. 

    BEN VALENTINE: Alex Bono. Bono solidified himself as the No. 1 last season and out-dueled fellow U.S. national team prospect Zack Steffen in the playoffs. While Steffen may be a popular pick for this award, Bono will fare well behind a Toronto defense that should be a touch more stable than its Columbus counterpart.

    SETH VERTELNEY: Alex Bono. The 23-year-old doesn't quite get as much credit as some of Toronto's other big names, but Bono was a huge factor in TFC's treble-winning season last year and should only improve in 2018.

  5. Getty Images

    Newcomer of the Year

    IVES GALARCEP: Alejandro Romero "Kaku" Gamarra. Carlos Vela and Ezequiel Barco are poised to have major impacts, but Gamarra should thrive as the focal point of the Red Bulls' attack.

    JON ARNOLD: Ezequiel Barco. The "Little Boat" goes directly into a situation that should suit him, coached by Tata Martino in Atlanta with guys like Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez in the attack. The young Argentine will excel. 

    THOMAS FLOYD: Carlos Vela. A dynamic talent with a high soccer IQ, the Mexico international will be the centerpiece of an LAFC team built to contend for a playoff spot off the bat.

    ALLEN RAMSEY: Carlos Vela. The safe pick for this category — there is a lot to like about Vela and he'll have an entire team built around him, unlike the rest of the newcomers. 

    BEN VALENTINE: Alejandro Romero "Kaku" Gamarra. Kaku has big shoes to fill replacing Sacha Kljestan as the Red Bulls' key creator. But he should be well set up to succeed in New York, with excellent attacking pieces around him in Bradley Wright-Phillips and Daniel Royer.

    SETH VERTELNEY: Carlos Vela. The Mexico international has been on the scene for so long that it's easy to forget he only just turned 29. Bob Bradley will build LAFC's offense around the considerable talents of Vela, who is poised to thrive in his first MLS season.

  6. Rookie of the Year

    IVES GALARCEP: Joao Moutinho. The first overall pick in the 2018 draft looks set to start for LAFC, and Bob Bradley will give him the chance to show why he was so highly regarded coming out of Akron.

    JON ARNOLD: Jon Bakero. If his college career was any indication, the Hermann Trophy winner will be able to score goals, especially with a Chicago Fire team that showed last year it can get a scorer in a good position to finish.

    THOMAS FLOYD: Tomas Hilliard-Arce. The LA Galaxy will be much improved after a busy offseason, but if there's one spot where a promising prospect can break into the lineup, it's center back — setting up the No. 2 overall pick to contribute for a contender.

    ALLEN RAMSEY: Tomas Hilliard-Arce. It's getting harder for rookies to step right in for MLS teams, but the Stanford product has the talent to compete for playing time early and LA Galaxy boss Sigi Schmid knows how to develop defenders.

    BEN VALENTINE: Joao Moutinho. The No. 1 overall pick will start from day one for LAFC — something that will be somewhat unique with his draft class. There will likely be some struggles for the 20-year-old, but the fact that he transitioned from Sporting CP's academy to college soccer speaks well to his adaptability.

    SETH VERTELNEY: Joao Moutinho. The first overall pick in the draft is something of a tweener, with no clear position on the field. But he is talented enough that LAFC will find a place for him, and his pathway to playing time is more clear than many of the other rookies in the class of 2018.

  7. Adam Hunger

    Breakout Player

    IVES GALARCEP: Tyler Adams. As good as he was in 2017, Adams should settle into his natural central midfield role and emerge as a dominant figure for the Red Bulls

    JON ARNOLD: Harold Cummings. The center back was a savvy signing that didn't work out for the San Jose Earthquakes after his broken leg. Now the Panama international will push for a World Cup roster spot as the anchor of a Quakes back line that badly needed a top-caliber player last season.

    THOMAS FLOYD: Jefferson Savarino. The 21-year-old was a key factor in Real Salt Lake's second-half surge last season and seems poised to post big numbers over an entire campaign.

    ALLEN RAMSEY: Abu Danladi. Taken with the first pick of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, the Ghanaian netted eight goals in his first year in MLS and looks primed to reach double-digit goals in 2018. 

    BEN VALENTINE: Tyler Adams. The Red Bulls teen showed enticing flashes last year despite not playing his best position. He should grow into a bigger role this year and become a key player for the team in the center of the park.

    SETH VERTELNEY: Alphonso Davies. Many thought 2017 would be the season that Davies broke through and in a way it was – playing 26 MLS games is quite a feat for a 16-year-old. But Davies didn't score and only had one assist last year. Expect those numbers to rise in 2018 for a 17-year-old with endless potential.

  8. Brett Davis

    Golden Boot

    IVES GALARCEP: Josef Martinez. The Atlanta United striker should see a ton of good service from his side's upgraded midfield.

    JON ARNOLD: Josef Martinez. Martinez scored 19 goals last year, but remember that came in only 20 matches. Nobody else who played significant minutes even came close to matching his 1.12 goals per 90 minutes. Putting up a figure that good will be tough. If the Venezuelan stays healthy, though, he can up the quantity.

    THOMAS FLOYD: Josef Martinez. There's little doubting Martinez's credentials as the Golden Boot favorite. The more ambitious question: Can he break the league's single-season scoring record of 27 goals?

    ALLEN RAMSEY: Josef Martinez. If he can stay fit through the entire season, with the attacking talent around him, the Atlanta forward will have all the chances he needs to hit 25 or more goals in 2018. 

    BEN VALENTINE: Josef Martinez. Injury may have been the only thing that stopped Martinez from taking this honor last year. Expect more of the same in 2018 in an attack that should again be one of the most dynamic in the league.

    SETH VERTELNEY: David Villa. The Spaniard was barely overtaken by Nemanja Nikolic in 2017, but expect the Hungary international to return to earth a bit this season. As noted earlier, Villa shows no sign of slowing down at age 36 and he gets his fair share of penalties to help boost him in the scoring category.

  9. Douglas DeFelice

    Dark-horse contender

    IVES GALARCEP: Los Angeles FC. Not only does Bob Bradley have a very good chance of leading his team to the playoffs, but a run to the MLS Cup final isn't as far-fetched as some might think.

    JON ARNOLD: Houston Dynamo. Wilmer Cabrera's team overachieved last season, but now the club has a full season of Tomas Martinez plus Alberth Elis staying around after arriving on loan from Monterrey last season. If the Dynamo can figure out how to win a road match they'll be one of the best teams in the West.

    THOMAS FLOYD: Orlando City. The Lions added an experienced center back in Lamine Sane, brought in silky midfielder Oriol Rosell to dictate the tempo, and bolstered their attack with Sacha Kljestan, Justin Meram and Josue Colman. Factor in a full season of Yoshimar Yotun and Dom Dwyer and it's tough to imagine this team not surging up the standings.

    ALLEN RAMSEY: Los Angeles FC. It's always a rough road for an expansion team to contend for a title, but Bob Bradley will have his side organized defensively and has enough talent up front that scoring shouldn't be a problem.

    BEN VALENTINE: Real Salt Lake. There are a lot of questions with the situation at striker, but RSL boasts an abundance talent on the wings, one of the best No. 10s in the league, a bevy of good young players and a coach who gets results in Mike Petke.

    SETH VERTELNEY: Orlando City. Could this finally be the year the Lions make the playoffs? With proven veteran additions like Justin Meram and Sacha Kljestan, as well as shrewd foreign signings like Lamine Sane and Josue Colman, Orlando is poised to vastly improve on its 10th-place finish in 2017.

  10. Tom Szczerbowski

    Supporters' Shield

    IVES GALARCEP: Toronto FC. The Reds are going to be tough to stop over the course of the regular season with their improved depth and firepower.

    JON ARNOLD: Toronto FC. The team that won it last year got better in the offseason. Maybe there's an early-season adaptation period that keeps them from lifting the Supporters' Shield again, with CONCACAF Champions League and the Voyageurs Cup to contend with, but TFC should still outpace the rest of the league.

    THOMAS FLOYD: Toronto FC. Expect Atlanta's big names to clean up the individual awards, but TFC still has plenty of star power and — more importantly over the regular season grind — the deeper, more balanced team after another savvy offseason.

    ALLEN RAMSEY: Toronto FC. Injuries and complacency could come into play for a team that looked dominant throughout 2017, but this is still the best roster in the league. 

    BEN VALENTINE: Toronto FC. It will probably be a bit closer this year, but there’s no reason to doubt the reigning holders and MLS champions as long as they've got their trio of Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley.

    SETH VERTELNEY: Toronto FC. The league's deepest team got even better in the offseason, with signings like Ager Aketxe and Gregory van der Wiel giving the Reds the depth to handle the long grind of an MLS season better than any other team.

  11. Getty Images

    MLS Cup

    IVES GALARCEP: Toronto FC over LA Galaxy. Though NYCFC is going to give the reigning champs a run for their money, Toronto will ultimately be too tough to deny as a repeat MLS Cup winner.

    JON ARNOLD: Toronto FC over Houston Dynamo. Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco, Victor Vazquez and Justin Morrow are still there. Gregory van der Wiel and Auro have been added, and even though Raheem Edwards left, Marco Delgado, Jonathan Osorio and Jordan Hamilton give plenty of depth to a TFC team that can repeat as champion.

    THOMAS FLOYD: Atlanta United over LA Galaxy. Atlanta ran out of steam in the playoffs last season after a hectic home stretch, but expect Tata Martino's young, talented squad to learn from that painful experience and step up when it matters most this year. While a reloaded Galaxy side has the firepower to emerge out of a muddled Western Conference, there will be no denying Atlanta in an MLS Cup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

    ALLEN RAMSEY: Toronto FC over Seattle Sounders. The Western Conference is muddled, and the loss of Jordan Morris is a big blow, but the Sounders have the depth to make another run to the final and TFC still looks like the odds-on favorite to win it all. 

    BEN VALENTINE: New York City FC over Real Salt Lake. The Eastern Conference figures to be a tough fight this season with its strength at the top. But Patrick Vieira has the right mix and depth to keep his squad effective in the regular season and fresh for the postseason. That will be enough to get by RSL, which emerges out of a wide open Western Conference.

    SETH VERTELNEY: Toronto FC over Sporting Kansas City. At this point it's hard to bet against Greg Vanney's side, which has the potential to become a dynasty.