March 3 will mark the start of the 2017 MLS season beginning with the Portland Timbers taking on new expansion side Minnesota United FC at 9:30 PM EST in Portland. This season welcomes two new expansion sides into the league, younger designated player signings, and lots of movement from players and coaches around the league.
Minnesota United FC are not exactly what people call a “star-studded” team, as they have not signed a designated player as of yet and are choosing to rely on players that had success in the second division such as Christian Ramirez who has scored 51 goals in his last three seasons but will need to prove himself at the MLS level. They are projected to finish last in the Western Conference, but there is no doubt they will be attempting to be this year’s Cinderella team and surprise the skeptics.
Atlanta United FC went about their business almost 100 percent differently than their expansion counterparts. They have brought former Argentina and FC Barcelona manager Gerardo “Tata” Martinez in to coach the team, and have spent a substantial amount of money to bring in players like Josef Martinez, Hector Villalba, and Paraguayan International Miguel Almiron. Almiron is 23 years old and is one of many young, talented players signed in the offseason that will surely give the MLS a facelift. Finally, Atlanta is bringing in some big names in the U.S. like Michael Parkhurst and goalkeeper Brad Guzan. This expansion side looks to be playoff bound on paper, but they will have to deal with first year kinks to see them through and beat their projected seventh place finish.
In other news, the LA Galaxy have undergone some humongous changes as Bruce Arena has left the club to coach the U.S. Men’s National Team and been replaced by Curt Onalfo. The Galaxy also lost Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard, Landon Donovan, Mike Magee, AJ DeLaGarza, and Alan Gordon. They will look to Giovani Dos Santos to score goals, 23-year old defensive midfielder Joao Pedro to help bunker down the midfield, and new signing Jermaine Jones from Colorado to add some experience in the middle if they want to succeed this season.
Toronto FC looks like the team to beat in the Eastern Conference as they will try and perform better during the regular season this year after losing in penalty kicks in MLS Cup 2016. New York City FC, New York Red Bulls, D.C. United, Montreal Impact, and the Philadelphia Union are projected to make playoffs in 2017. Pre-season speculation shows that Atlanta United could easily overtake the Union’s playoff projection and could possibly finish higher up the table if everything goes according to statistics on paper.
In the Western Conference, the Seattle Sounders are picked to finish first with FC Dallas, LA Galaxy, Sporting KC, Portland Timbers, and the Colorado Rapids finishing behind them in playoff qualifying position.
This season promises to be exciting and fast-paced, and it is surely one that will keep the MLS moving forward in a positive direction.