One man's 2020 MLS preseason predictions

(Photo: msoto88/Wikimedia Commons)

 

by Chris Ashley

As the league continues to take strides in becoming a globally recognized league, the level of talent on the pitch has increased dramatically. That means that the races to become the best of the best will be even tighter in 2020. Who is in line to win each of the league’s individual honors at the end of the season? And what teams will be hoisting trophies this year?

Let's find out, as we look at 14 different honors available in 2020.

Here you'll find my annual “predictions bound to be wrong.” For transparency and context, and to keep your expectations at an "appropriate" level, I have listed my 2019 predictions and the actual winners prior to my 2020 picks below. We start with the lead man in charge...
 
Coach of the Year
My 2019 Prediction: Adrian Heath (Minnesota United)
2019 Winner: Bob Bradley (LAFC)
My 2020 Prediction: Caleb Porter (Columbus Crew)
 
After a disappointing first season in Columbus, Porter and company went out and made some huge moves this offseason, adding Lucas Zelaryan and reuniting Porter with Darlington Nagbe. I think because of this shrewd roster building, Columbus will see the greatest jump in points from last year to this year. Porter should be rewarded for that work.
 
Goalkeeper of the Year
My 2019 Prediction: Brad Guzan (Atl*nta United)
2019 Winner: Vito Mannone (Minnesota United)
My 2020 Prediction: Brad Guzan (Atl*nta United)
 
There is a good argument to be made that Guzan should have won this award last year. Sure, he tied Mannone in Goals Against Average at 1.26, but he also led the league with 14 shutouts (to Mannone’s 11). I think Atl*nta will be a top team in the league again this season and Brad should have a great statistical year.
 
Newcomer of the Year
My 2019 Prediction: Pity Martinez (Atl*nta United)
2019 Winner: Carles Gil (New England Revolution)
My 2020 Prediction: Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez (LA Galaxy)
 
If Rodolfo Pizarro was playing for a non-expansion team, he may get the edge here. However, no one will have more eyes on him in the league this season than Chicharito. If he can come close to living up to the hype, and I think that he can, he will easily walk away with this trophy.
 
Comeback Player of the Year
My 2019 Prediction: Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)
2019 Winner: Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)
My 2020 Prediction: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC)
 
Listen. I know this is a HUGE gamble that Jozy will actually stay healthy for a full season. But if he does somehow avoid the injury bug, he will be a huge part of a top tier team. Because of that, he seems like an obvious pick here.
 
Defensive Player of the Year
My 2019 Prediction: Kemar Lawrence (New York Red Bulls)
2019 Winner: Ike Opara (Minnesota United)
My 2020 Prediction: Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)
 
I don’t expect Nashville to be great this year. However, I think they will be solid defensively and that will help them be better than most are predicting. The anchor of that defense is Zimmerman and I think Nashville’s acquisition of him will turn out to be the transaction of the year.
 
Rookie of the Year
My 2019 Prediction: Andre Shinyashiki (Colorado Rapids)
2019 Winner: Andre Shinyashiki (Colorado Rapids)
My 2020 Prediction: Daryl Dike (Orlando City)
 
Rookie of the Year is always the biggest crapshoot when it comes to making predictions. I got lucky last season picking the right guy on the right team who would get the right amount of playing time. This season is harder. I think Robbie Robinson in Miami will probably get more playing time than UVA product Daryl Dike. However, I think Orlando is a team that will take big strides this year, and I think Pareja is the right manager to get the most out of young talent.
 
Golden Boot
My 2019 Prediction: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy)
2019 Winner: Carlos Vela (LAFC)
My 2020 Prediction: Josef Martinez (Atl*nta United)
 
Vela and Rossi will split goals for an LAFC team that really can't be as dominant as last season. Gyasi has a chance with new pieces around him, but I can’t trust him until he shows it to me. Enter Josef. The man hates to finish second. His record was broken last year by Vela and with an improved team chemistry around him, he will be motivated to take his crown back.
 
Most Valuable Player
My 2019 Prediction: Carlos Vela (LAFC)
2019 Winner: Carlos Vela (LAFC)
My 2020 Prediction: Nico Lodeiro (Seattle Sounders)
 
I think the Sounders will be contenders in the league once again; it'd be silly to count them out. I also think they have a chance to be the first MLS team to hoist a CONCACAF Champions League trophy. No one is a bigger piece of their success than Lodeiro.
 
Supporters’ Shield
My 2019 Prediction: Sporting Kansas City
2019 Winner: Los Angeles FC
My 2020 Prediction: Atl*nta United
 
Atl*nta wants to win all the trophies. One that has eluded them thus far, as they narrowly missed out on the prize in 2018, is the Supporters' Shield. The East is the weaker conference this season, and with the new unbalanced schedule, there will be more points to be had by the top teams in the conference. Atl*nta gets another trophy in 2020.
 
U.S. Open Cup Champions
My 2019 Prediction: Los Angeles FC
2019 Winner: Atl*nta United
My 2020 Prediction: Sporting Kansas City 
 
Only three MLS teams have won the Open Cup 4 times. Only two teams, neither MLS sides, have won the trophy five times. Kansas City takes this competition seriously each year and they will be much improved from last season. My money is on SKC pushing their chips in on being the “first to five” in MLS.

Western Conference Finals
My 2019 Prediction: Sporting Kansas City vs. Los Angeles FC
2019 Actual: Los Angeles FC vs. Seattle Sounders
My 2020 Prediction: Los Angeles FC vs. Portland Timbers
 
Seattle’s back line overhaul makes me incredibly nervous, so I can't pick them to win the West this season. I think Sporting Kansas City will be focused on the U.S. Open Cup over the summer and a deep run will lead to heavy legs come playoff time. LA Galaxy just feel like they are a year away still even though I think they’ll be much improved this season. LAFC will be there, and the Timbers will make a surprise playoff run.
 
Eastern Conference Finals
My 2019 Prediction: New York Red Bulls vs. Atl*nta United
2019 Actual: Atl*nta United vs. Toronto FC
My 2020 Prediction: Atl*nta United vs. New York City FC
 
In full transparency, I’ve swapped between Atl*nta, NYCFC, and Columbusprobably a half a dozen times while writing this. I think it is definitely a combination of two of those teams that make it to the conference finals. But here we are, with who I genuinely believe are the two best teams in the conference.
 
MLS Cup Runners Up
My 2019 Prediction: Sporting Kansas City
2019 Actual: Toronto FC
My 2020 Prediction: Atl*nta United
 
They will be great this year in the second season under Frank de Boer. But I think the LAFC train is rolling from last year, and while I worry about their defense, I think an early boot in CCL will benefit them at this point in the season.
 
MLS Cup Champions
My 2019 Prediction: Atl*nta United
2019 Actual: Seattle Sounders
My 2020 Prediction: Los Angeles FC
 
LAFC was unquestionably the best team last season, but they didn’t even make it to MLS Cup, let alone win it. I think they learned a lot from that failure and, contrary to Bob Bradley’s disgruntled “get lost” response, Carlos Vela did in fact grow in his big game experience in the playoffs. This year, I think they will make winning MLS Cup their singular focus.

And I believe that focus will be rewarded.

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