Mailbag: MLS Season Predictions, NWSL's New Commissioner, Arsenal's Woes


With MLS’s 25th season set to kick off, the questions this week are heavy on the outlook for this season–with plenty of other global soccer topics sprinkled in, too.

It’s time for another soccer Mailbag, so let’s dive in:

Who will win MLS Cup this year?@ssgtweber

With the 25th MLS season starting Saturday and 26 teams now in the league, I’ll take this occasion to make my predictions for not just MLS Cup but other topics as well.

MLS Cup (and Supporters’ Shield) winner: LAFC. Simply put, it’s the best team in the league, and it’s not really that close—last year or this year. Of course, the best team doesn’t always win the MLS Cup, but I think coach Bob Bradley (whether he’ll want to say so or not) will have learned something from last year’s end-of-season issues and playoff loss to Seattle after a transcendent regular season and apply that in 2020.

MVP: Carlos Vela, LAFC. Only the great Preki has won two MLS MVP awards, and it says here that Vela will join him with a repeat MVP trophy from last season. Vela’s class is obvious, but he also brings it game in and game out for a team that is built around him and scores in bunches.

Playoff teams: Here’s how I see the seven playoff teams in the West:

1. LAFC

2. LA Galaxy

3. Seattle Sounders

4. Sporting Kansas City

5. Portland Timbers

6. San Jose Earthquakes

7. Houston Dynamo

And in the East:

1. Atlanta United

2. NYCFC

3. New England Revolution

4. Columbus Crew

5. Toronto FC

6. D.C. United

7. Inter Miami

Top American goal-scorer: Gyasi Zardes. Say what you will about his first touch, but the man scores goals for club and, yes, country.

What contingency plans are leagues like MLS making in light of coronavirus?@BabaRobi

With games in some other countries being postponed or played in empty stadiums, MLS is keeping a very close eye on coronavirus. I spoke to someone with knowledge of the situation, and I’m told MLS had a conference call with all team presidents on Friday to discuss the coronavirus situation. 

No measures are expected to be taken in this weekend’s games, but it’s certainly a possibility if the situation gets worse in the U.S. (as is expected). I’m told senior leadership of MLS has met multiple times about coronavirus and that MLS is part of a security taskforce that includes other U.S. pro leagues like the NBA, the NFL, MLB and the NHL. The group shares information and planning behind the scenes for situations like this one.

After taking nearly three years, did the NWSL find the right person for commissioner? What are the major issues she faces? @WeatherManNX01

As SI reported on Thursday, former U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee chief marketing officer Lisa Baird has been named the NWSL commissioner. Everyone I have spoken to in the league, including several owners, think they hit a home run with Baird, who has extensive experience building brands and digital networks, to say nothing of increasing sponsorships for them. 

One big issue Baird faces is finding common ground with a disparate group of NWSL owners that doesn’t always see eye to eye on things. Another issue is the challenge of adding more league-wide sponsors to complement Budweiser, which signed on after the Women’s World Cup. But these are tasks that Baird seems well-suited for.

What’s the most interesting storyline in MLS this year outside the city of Los Angeles@Matt_Showalter

For me, it’s whether Inter Miami can build a real following in South Florida after a challenging few years getting the idea of the team on solid footing—and then whether this year’s team can actually make the playoffs. As you can see above, I think Miami will find a way to get into the postseason. For starters, the East isn’t nearly as difficult as the West is, plus I think there’s enough talent (led by Rodolfo Pizarro) and experience (led by Luis Robles) to make it happen.

Why does Arsenal insist on breaking my heart!? – @ElBorregoal

That brutal finish to lose to Olympiakos in Europa League was a kick in the teeth to long-suffering Arsenal fans, and it rammed home how poor David Luiz really is at this point when it comes to actual defending, especially on set pieces. He needs to find a club where he can play defensive midfield, which is how he tries to play even when he’s nominally a center back. I’m actually optimistic on Mikel Arteta in the long term, but he needs some time to get the right people for the way he wants to play. And I’m not certain he’ll get that time.

Has anybody declined faster than Juve’s Miralem Pjanic? He used to be one constant in the midfield but now his form taken a deep dive. I’m afraid the Juve midfield will cost them the Scudetto. For sure they’re going out next round of Champions League.@TheAhmedAli2

I think Pjanic has struggled against top competition, but I don’t think he’s completely washed yet. That said, Juve’s midfield has been a concern, and it was again in the 1-0 loss at Lyon mid-week. Coach Maurizio Sarri spoke openly afterward about his team not listening to his wishes for a faster tempo, but that’s kind of on Sarri, isn’t it? Honestly, though? I think Juve will turn it around against Lyon in the return leg at home, and if I had to pick one team to win Serie A it would still be the gang from Turin.

Pick up soccer game: You can only choose current MLS coaches for your team. Who are your first three picks?@acreach

I’m going to go with Thierry Henry, Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Ben Olsen. You need a goal-scorer (Henry) and a great passer (Guille), and I’ll go with Olsen just ahead of Robin Fraser, Frank de Boer and Tab Ramos because Olsen will take the game too seriously and scare everyone else with his competitiveness.

How much influence does a TV network have on commentators? In other words, when you were at FOX did their political leanings ever bleed into sport commentators? – @acreach

A TV network has a huge influence on its broadcasters in a million ways. But I was at Fox Sports for seven years, and I didn’t feel like the political leanings of Fox News crept into what commentators…

Read more at this link (News Source).

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