I found this MLS season particularly tough to handicap ... because more teams seemed to have improved during the off-season, but obviously they can't all rise in the standings.
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said something similar after training this morning.
"The league improves year after year; always gets tougher," he said. "Certainly when you look at the West, you look at certain additions that Vancouver made to their squad, you look at the addition’s that Portland’s made, you look at the additions that LA’s made, those are obviously some pretty formidable situations. San Jose has switched around a little bit. The East has obviously made moves there and improved themselves. I think the league continues to grow, continues to improve themselves year in and year out. Dallas as well with the pickup of Oscar (Pareja) as the coach and (midfielder) Henry Thomas, etc. But that just means that you’ve got to stay there as well. You can’t sit back and rest on what you’ve accomplished, you’ve got to continue to grow and improve, and I think we’re doing that."
Anyway, here's what I settled on:
EASTERN CONFERENCE1.) NEW YORK RED BULLSRoster from 2013 Supporters Shield winners kept largely intact.2.) SPORTING KANSAS CITYDefending MLS Cup champs look able to survive their few key losses.3.) PHILADELPHIA UNIONTwo new DPs should upgrade into playoffs, maybe Supporters Shield race.4.) NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTIONYoung talent returns after 16-point improvement last season.5.) D.C. UNITEDRebuilt roster looked rock solid at Carolina Challenge Cup.6.) TORONTO FCThey won the off-season, but regular-season skepticism still warranted.7.) HOUSTON DYNAMOClub history demands respect; but as others climb, someone must slip.8.) CHICAGO FIRENew coach, wobbly defense and can Magee possibly duplicate MVP season?9.) COLUMBUS CREWImproved defense, first-year coach could signal start of climb in Columbus.10.) MONTREAL IMPACTInconsistent Impact didn’t do much in off-season while others improved.
WESTERN CONFERENCE1.) PORTLAND TIMBERSContinued improvement even after big turnaround started last season.2.) SEATTLE SOUNDERS FCLots of changes could mean slow start, but roster has stars and depth.3.) LOS ANGELES GALAXYAlways a contender, and seem improved unless aging stars start slowing.4.) REAL SALT LAKERoster solid again, but loss of coach Jason Kreis adds big question mark.5.) SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKESEnded 2013 with a rush that recalled form of 2012.6.) FC DALLASLongtime coach and familiar faces gone, might step back before forward.7.) COLORADO RAPIDSKids produced in ‘13, but coaching uncertainty could slow progress.8.) VANCOUVER WHITECAPSLoss of Camilo, yet another coaching change: Show-me attitude appropriate.9.) CHIVAS USANew ownership and cutting Chivas cord should pay off … but down the road.