By: timbersfan , 11:46 PM GMT on March 17, 2012
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Another MLS season is upon us starting this weekend, and I've been working the phones and the pressing the flesh to get ready for the 2012 campaign. Come back on Friday for my interviews with all 10 MLS East coaches, a companion to my interviews with all nine MLS West coaches. But for now let's look into the crystal ball for my predictions on MLS '12:
How will the regular-season standings finish?
1. Los Angeles. The reigning champs had the best offseason of any MLS team, retaining David Beckham and Juninho and bringing back forward Edson Buddle. Omar González's injury absence will hurt the back line, but coach Bruce Arena will find a way to compensate.
2. Salt Lake. When healthy, RSL is the team that best stacks up with the Galaxy. The window may be closing on the decorated group of Javier Morales, Kyle Beckerman, Nat Borchers, Jámison Olave, Nick Rimando and Álvaro Saborío.
3. Seattle. The Sounders have three MVP candidates in Fredy Montero, Mauro Rosales and Osvaldo Alonso. How Eddie Johnson fits into the team may determine how high Seattle flies.
4. Portland. If new DP Kris Boyd can bang in the goals (and I think he can), the Timbers will take the next step and make the playoffs.
5. San Jose. The Earthquakes had the second-best offseason of any team, acquiring Colombian playmaker Tressor Moreno and Dallas's Marvin Chávez, among others. Chris Wondolowski is a proven finisher in this league.
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6. Dallas. In the competitive West, even making the playoffs is difficult, as FCD will find out. I don't expect a big drop-off from last season, but I do think the uncertainty over losing young stars Brek Shea and George John to Europe could have an impact.
7. Colorado. New coach Óscar Pareja is going to need some time to establish his system.
8. Vancouver. New coach Martin Rennie has a wealth of attacking options and has improved the defense, but his team has to play a lot of games against the West, which is by far the better conference. Too bad: the Whitecaps might make the playoffs if they were in the East.
9. Chivas USA. I don't think Chivas is a bad team, but I do think the West is brutally tough. Keep an eye on Ecuadorean Osvaldo Minda in the midfield.
1. Kansas City. Sporting won't sneak up on anybody this year, but that's OK. This is a young team on the rise that has figured out how to play Peter Vermes' 4-3-3 system. Graham Zusi is set for another big year in the midfield, and count me in the group that thinks Bobby Convey as a wing forward will work.
2. Houston. The Dynamo is more settled this year, with Geoff Cameron emerging as a star center back (not a midfielder) and less need for the kind of midseason changes we saw in '11. Brad Davis just keeps going and going and going ...
3. New York. Spectacular success or brutal failure is always a possibility for the league's most interesting team, but I think the Red Bulls will fall somewhere in the middle by the end of things. Thierry Henry should score goals again, but I'm not totally sold on a spine that includes Rafa Márquez, Wilman Conde and rookie goalie Ryan Meara.
4. Chicago. Speaking of spines, it's hard not to like what Sebastián Grazzini and Pavel Pardo have brought to the Fire, which was a genuinely good team for much of the second half of last season. If Dominic Oduro can keep scoring the same way, look for a return to the playoffs in a wide-open East.
5. Toronto. One of the best-supported teams in MLS has never made the playoffs ... until it happens this year. Coach Aron Winter went through a lot of players in 2011, but he has found a good combination spearheaded by Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans.
6. D.C. United. Reigning MVP Dwayne De Rosario has more support this year in forward Hamdi Salihi and a healthy Chris Pontius and Branko Boskovic, but this is still a work in progress to get back to the old D.C. United.
7. Columbus. There are some good pieces on Robert Warzycha's team, from Emilio Rentería to Eddie Gaven to Chad Marshall, but the Crew has never quite recovered from losing Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
8. Philadelphia. I can understand why the Union jettisoned Sébastien Le Toux and is building for the long term, but that vision could be accompanied by some growing pains this season.
9. New England. New coach Jay Heaps admits he has a ways to go in rebuilding the Revs, so don't expect miracles in Year One.
10. Montreal. The expansion Impact will play hard and do their fans proud, but goals may be hard to come by at the start.
Which team will win the Supporters Shield?
Los Angeles. Arena has built a fearsome outfit out West, one that can sustain success over the long haul. The Galaxy isn't always pretty, but L.A. is ruthless.
Which team will win MLS Cup?
Salt Lake. The playoffs are more of a crapshoot than the regular season, and the switch to a two-game conference final will give Salt Lake a better chance to dethrone L.A. in a short time-frame scenario.
Who will be MVP?
Landon Donovan, Los Angeles. He may be 30 now, but Donovan is primed for a season setting up the Galaxy's other stars, and it helps him to have so few MLS games on international dates this year. Other top candidates: Javier Morales, Salt Lake; Robbie Keane, Los Angeles; Fredy Montero, Seattle; Thierry Henry, New York.
Who will win the Golden Boot?
Thierry Henry, New York. The man still knows how to score. Don't see that changing this season. Other top candidates: Chris Wondolowski, San Jose; Robbie Keane, Los Angeles; Fredy Montero, Seattle; Kris Boyd, Portland; Dwayne De Rosario, D.C. United.
Who will be Rookie of the Year?
Luis Silva, Toronto. So much about putting yourself in contention for Rookie of the Year is finding a situation where you can start and have an impact. Silva appears to have found a good spot in Toronto to do both. Other top candidates: Kelyn Rowe, New England; Andrew Wenger, Montreal; Darren Mattocks, Vancouver; Tony Cascio, Colorado.
Who will be Defender of the Year?
Nat Borchers, Salt Lake. With defending DoY Omar González out for much of the season, longtime RSL stalwart Borchers goes to the top of the list.
Who will be Coach of the Year?
Frank Yallop, San Jose. This is the year people will remember that Yallop is a two-time MLS Cup-winning coach. His smart offseason moves will pay off.
Who is your MLS Cup dark horse?
My pick: Kansas City. I know K.C. is the favorite to win the East, but I think the gap between this team and the top teams in the West is smaller than people think. When I say "dark horse," I mean dark horse to win the MLS Cup final.