The 25th season of MLS is nearly upon us, and as with any new season, there are endless questions about how this campaign will play out. With unparalleled parity, MLS is one of the most unpredictable leagues in world soccer, but our analysts give it their best shot to predict some of the biggest moments of the 2020 season.
Before the year gets underway when D.C. United host the Colorado Rapids (Saturday, 1 p.m. ET; stream live on ESPN+), unpack these picks and projections from Jeff Carlisle, Herculez Gomez, Noah Davis, Sebastian Salazar, Caitlin Murray, Jason Davis, Arch Bell and Tom Marshall.
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Who will win MLS Cup?
LAFC were the best team in 2019, and they are only getting better. With Achilles heel Zlatan Ibrahimovic in Italy, nothing will stand in the way of the juggernaut. -- Noah Davis (@noahedavis)
No team is as ambitious as the LA Galaxy. Not just with their league-defining superstars, either. They've pushed MLS to new levels with recent coaching and management hires. All that has to pay off at some point. A sixth title, during this historic 25th season, would be an appropriate reward for the team that has done more for MLS than any other. -- Sebastian Salazar (@SebiSalazarFUT)
It's time for the LA Galaxy to reclaim their former glory. Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez should score a ton of goals but, unlike Ibrahimovic, the Mexico international should be a team player that fits into a system rather than being the system. MLS Cup is about winning a mini tournament, not being the best team in the league -- that's what the Supporters' Shield is for -- and the Galaxy have the talent and, after a few disappointing seasons, the hunger to survive a gauntlet. -- Caitlin Murray (@caitlinmurr)
Maybe Bob Bradley is too stubborn to change his approach come playoff time and LAFC will get tripped up again this season. Or maybe he learned a lesson against Seattle and the league's best regular-season team in 2019 will back up their dominance last year with a championship this season. -- Jason Davis (@davisjsn)
Who will be the MLS Cup runner-up?
This is a boring, obvious pick, but Atlanta -- despite losing Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Darlington Nagbe and Tito Villalba -- remains the most complete team in the Eastern Conference. (Are there any good teams in the East?) Frank de Boer should be able to guide this group to his first MLS Cup. -- Noah Davis
It's hard not to pick Atlanta to win it all, but easy to pick them to get out of the East. They are miles ahead of their in-conference competition. Owner Arthur Blank has raised the stakes at this table, and it is unclear whether any of the other Eastern Conference owners have the means -- or the courage -- to compete. -- Sebastian Salazar
A winter of change in the East means there's no obvious candidate to win the conference. The Crew improved dramatically with a pair of signings (Lucas Zelarayan and Nagbe) and figure to be better in Year 2 under Caleb Porter. -- Jason Davis
Who will win the Supporters' Shield?
Yes, LAFC lost some key players, but there are even bigger questions surrounding their competitors. -- Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle)
Win an unbalanced schedule, the Supporters' Shield is meaningless. So I guess LAFC will win it? -- Sebastian Salazar
Barring a repeat of LAFC's dominance from 2019, the battle for the Supporters' Shield will be a dogfight among a handful of teams. The Crew's improvement up the spine of the team and the push to return to the top of the league make them a good candidate to emerge on top when the scrapping is done. -- Jason Davis
The West is as competitive as ever, which will slow down LAFC, leaving New York City FC as the team with the clearest path to the first trophy of the season. -- Arch Bell (@ArchBell)
Who will win the MVP?
No player has won the MVP award two years in a row. Heck, only one player has won it multiple times -- that would be Preki in 1997 and 2003. But Carlos Vela has the supporting cast and the system to get it done. -- Jeff Carlisle
Nicolas Lodeiro has quietly amassed quite a resume in Major League Soccer, but he's also been overlooked in Best XIs, and I think this is the year where he really makes his case. He understands that he has to pick up the goals and the assists because that's what the voters are looking for -- it's not just about winning, it's not just about leading your team to the promised land year after year -- and that's going to be one of his personal goals. -- Herculez Gomez (@herculezg)
This is an admittedly outside-of-the-box pick in a league replete with foreign stars, but Jordan Morris looks primed for a big year following the 13-goal, six-assist season he put together in 2019. The Sounders are solid bets to contend again, which will put Morris and his improvement in the spotlight. -- Jason Davis
Who will win the Golden Boot?
Josef Martinez is unlike anybody I've ever seen in Major League Soccer. There is nobody hungrier to score goals. -- Herculez Gomez
Martinez scored 27 goals in 2019, a year when United played like garbage for half the season. Give him a full year and 30-plus should be in the offing again. -- Noah Davis
Picking Martinez is about placing faith in Frank de Boer's Atlanta United, but also about recognizing Martinez's killer instinct. The Venezuelan will get his goals, even when United play poorly. That's a recipe for another Golden Boot season. -- Jason Davis
Who will be the best new signing?
When it really counts, and I've seen it from Edison Flores in Liga MX last year with Morelia, he steps up. He's that big time, "I love the limelight" type of player. -- Herculez Gomez
Chicharito will score goals, sell tickets, drive TV ratings and generate revenue. No one else will do that. -- Sebastian Salazar
Alan Pulido will single-handedly turn around the fortunes of Kansas City, who missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 2011. SKC need goals, and Pulido will score plenty, proving why Peter Vermes & Co. were willing to pay a club-record transfer fee to get him. -- Caitlin Murray
Zelarayan's move to MLS didn't garner the same hype as some of the other Liga MX-to-MLS moves this offseason, but he is a hidden gem who could become the creative spark for Columbus like Diego Valeri has been to Portland, Lodeiro is to Seattle and Sebastian Giovinco was to Toronto. -- Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup)
Who will be the biggest flop?
"Flop" is a relative term here, but Chicharito has a lot to live up to, namely the 31 regular-season and playoff goals Ibrahimovic scored last year. Anything below 15 will look poor by comparison. -- Jeff Carlisle
One, Rodolfo Pizarro is not a star, so launching David Beckham's MLS team with him as your marquee player is a big disappointment. Also, Miami paid more for Pizarro than Atlanta paid for Miguel Almiron. Let me know when Pizarro gets 10 goals and 15 assists in a season -- I won't hold my breath. -- Sebastian Salazar
Thierry Henry's lone experience as a manager ended in disaster in Monaco, and he won't coach in the most stable environment in Quebec. Leading a perennially inconsistent club like the Impact will bring out some of the impatience Henry is known for and torpedo the Impact's season. -- Jason Davis
This isn't so much to do with Robert Beric himself, but instead the weight of expectation on the club after the rebrand and move to Soldier Field for the 2020 season. Beric has had a stop-start last couple of years in Ligue 1 with Saint-Etienne. -- Tom Marshall
Which player is most likely to seal a high-profile move to Europe?
Diego Rossi doesn't have much left to prove in MLS, and looks ready for a move, which might come sooner than next winter. -- Jeff Carlisle
Most analysts would tell you Rossi's ready, and has been for some time. Having spoken with the player, I can tell you Europe is definitely where he wants to be next. He cost LAFC only a reported $4 million, so any reasonable offer this summer should get it done. -- Sebastian Salazar
Ezequiel Barco's profile has risen with each year in Atlanta, and 2020 figures to be his breakout campaign. With interest in him already high, United will benefit from a strong campaign and sell the Argentine for a healthy profit when the next winter window arrives. -- Jason Davis
Who's the next big-name star to move to MLS?
The wheels are already in motion to bring over Mesut Ozil, with D.C. United already expressing interest. Whether the timing is right is another matter. -- Jeff Carlisle
Edinson Cavani is expected to leave Paris Saint-Germain come summer, and this just makes sense. Inter get their No. 9. -- Herculez Gomez.
Sooner or later, expect to see Antoine Griezmann in Miami, where he can attend all the NBA games he wants. -- Caitlin Murray
Who finishes higher: Inter Miami or Nashville SC?
Looking at the respective rosters, Nashville still seems a bit thin up top, while Miami is more balanced. Miami's deeper pockets hint that it can dip into the transfer market with more gusto should the need arise. -- Jeff Carlisle
Miami has a more exciting core, with some big MLS experience in players like Roman Torres, Lee Nguyen, AJ DeLaGarza, Luis Robles and Wil Trapp, with the exciting playmaking ability of Pizarro. Oh, don't forget the David Beckham factor. There will also be a big Designated Player come summer. -- Herculez Gomez
Nashville's spine is healthy with Joe Willis, Walker Zimmerman and Dax McCarty, and attacking midfielder Hany Mukhtar is an under-the-radar star. It won't be by much, but this team's defense will see them finish on top of Beckham's boys. -- Arch Bell
Will an MLS club win the CONCACAF Champions League this year?
It's really a case of "Show me, don't tell me" for MLS. Yes, Toronto came close a few years back, but there doesn't seem to be an MLS team out there with the depth that that team had. LAFC come close, but their tough draw, plus a thin defense, means they probably don't get it done this year. -- Jeff Carlisle
Whether because of the usual handicaps or just the circumstances surrounding this year's participants, 2020 won't be the year an MLS team breaks through in the Champions League. Mexican clubs retain a healthy advantage in terms of talent and form, and no MLS team will sacrifice the rest of the season to win the CONCACAF tournament. -- Jason Davis
Who will be the first manager to be sacked?
Chris Armas is a good coach, but expectations remain high for the Red Bulls, and the lack of noticeable reinforcements hints that tough times may be ahead. -- Jeff Carlisle
The Whitecaps were a disaster last year. If they don't get off to a better start in 2020, Marc Dos Santos will be job hunting by June. -- Noah Davis
One, look at Henry's managerial history. Two, look at Montreal's managerial history. -- Sebastian Salazar
There are a lot of first- and second-year coaches in MLS heading into 2020, making for fewer hot seats, and many of the coaches who have been around longer work for clubs that are allergic to change. But it's not hard to imagine the Montreal Impact doing poorly and Thierry Henry letting his frustration get to him such that he loses the locker room and public confidence. After all, that's basically what happened to him at Monaco. -- Caitlin Murray
This is Ben Olsen's 10th year in MLS, and if things don't go well, the club's hierarchy -- or even Olsen himself -- may look for a change of direction. -- Tom Marshall
Who will win the All-Star Game: MLS or Liga MX?
The players and coaches in MLS are old hands at this in terms of getting a team together quickly, while their Liga MX counterparts aren't. So while Liga MX might have an edge in talent, MLS will be eager to prove that it can measure up. -- Jeff Carlisle
MLS will win the game, because the MLS team will feature mostly former Liga MX players with a point to prove against an unorganized opponent in exhibition mode. People will take this as a sign that the gap is closing. People will be wrong. -- Sebastian Salazar
Liga MX remains the stronger league with better players overall, but Mexico's top division can't match MLS at the very top end. -- Tom Marshall