MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER expert Kyle Worthington (@SM_Kyle) analyses the runners and riders from the Western Conference ahead of the 2019 season, picking out his best bets for the MLS Cup.
MLS: Western Conference 2019 Preview
Major League Soccer makes its long-awaited return on 2nd March, and there has never been a better time to get into the league.
MLS was placed on a pedestal and shown much-deserved respect during the winter as Atlanta’s Miguel Almiron signed for Newcastle, breaking their club record fee. D.C. United’s Luciano Acosta was also part of a transfer saga as his move to Paris Saint-Germain fell through on Deadline Day.
Below you can find a snippet about each team in the Western Conference and how I see them fairing in 2019.
Colorado Rapids (150/1 Bet365)
Colorado come into this campaign looking to right last season's wrongs – they finished 11th from 12 in the West and scored just 36 goals in their 34 games, that was the lowest out of the entire league.
Personally, I'm surprised that they've stuck with head coach Anthony Hudson but clearly they're confident in their man and have faith that he and the squad from last year along with their new recruits can do a good job.
The squad has gotten stronger, no doubt about it. Kei Kamara is a very important signing in attack – the MLS veteran has been brought in to add goals to Colorado's game and despite him being 34-years-old, he's a brilliant signing and will almost certainly boost the goals tally. Diego Rubio has been brought in from Kansas City and should add the much-needed flair.
Overall I can't see how Colorado can possibly do worse than the disaster season that they've just experienced, but in terms of making the play-offs I don't see them having a chance, they just won't be good enough. They're definitely worth keeping an eye on throughout the opening weeks, and there may be some good prices knocking around as bookies get to grips with how teams are performing.
My Western Conference prediction: 10th
FC Dallas (20/1 Bet365)
Dallas had a good campaign last time out, finishing fourth in the West just two points off second, which would have seen them qualify for the final series without a play-off. They lost their play-off game at home to a strong Portland side, I remember the game well and they gave a very good account of themselves.
I don't see any reason to suggest why they can't aim to achieve the same again, or even higher. In terms of squad depth, there isn't many other sides who have a solid spine like Dallas do and in addition to the players that they've kept hold off, they've added some real talent in a few areas.
The key signing is 25-year-old Honduran Bryan Acosta from Tenerife for £2.5m. From what I've seen and read, I think he's going to fit into the side perfectly – very fiery in midfield and isn't afraid to put a tackle in. Secondly, I have to mention how excited I am to continue watching Michael Barrios – I'm over the moon that he's stayed with Dallas and in MLS as he's a real talent, predicting his best season yet.
In summary I look at Dallas and can see them being right up there, they're my outside pick for the MLS Cup. Two winnable home games start the season before a tricky trip to Ohio to play Columbus. Looking forward to watching them and I predict that they'll do very well.
My Western Conference prediction: 3rd
Houston Dynamo (66/1 Bet365)
Houston finished ninth last season and were pretty average, scoring 58 and conceding 58 in what was a poor season in the league. Astonishingly they were a different side completely in the US Open Cup and went on to lift the trophy.
Players that they've brought in include experienced defender Chris Duvall, formerly of Montreal and NYRB, he's a good signing, an old school defender who fits MLS to a tee. I'm also going to mention the signing of Aljaz Struna – the big Slovakian defender has been brought in from Palermo and is everything that you'd want from an overseas player, a very high quality signing.
That shock Open Cup win means that alongside the season starting they also have Champions League duty to attend to, this can mean trouble as we saw with Toronto last season who struggled domestically to begin with due to CCL commitments. This of course isn't a foregone conclusion, it's just something to be wary of, with all the teams involved in the CCL. They are however helped by the fact that they open the campaign with three home games.
It's a tough one to call this year for Houston, their season really could go either way but I don't see enough to call anything more than last season.
My Western Conference prediction: 9th.
LA Galaxy (7/1 188BET)
There's no other way to describe Galaxy's season last time out other than massively underwhelming and disappointing. They missed on the play-offs by one point and it was the worst I've seen them look in many years.
However, I don't see that happening again – their squad is simply too full of quality to repeat. No major signings to report which we have become used to with the Galaxy but Zlatan Ibrahimovic remains at the club and has vowed to break every record in MLS. Giovani Dos Santos and his brother Jonathan are also still about..
Galaxy are under the guidance of Guillermo Schelotto this season, he himself could prove to be the biggest signing of the season, a man who has won everything there is to win in South/North American football both as a player and a manager.
It's no doubt a huge season ahead for the Galaxy, arguably the biggest they've ever faced after what happened last year. I fully expect them to live up to the hype and challenge for the Cup.
My Western Conference prediction: 2nd.
Los Angeles FC (10/1 Bet365)
LAFC's first season as a club was something to be proud of, both on and off the field. Sure, the loss to Real Salt Lake in the preliminary play-off round was disappointing but if the season as a whole was a sign of things to come, then this year should be something special.
The squad is strong, so much so that in regard to bringing players in it's been fairly quiet. Nineteen year-old Steeve Saint-Duc has arrived from Strommen in Norway and he's going to be interesting to watch. It's the players leaving the club that concerns me slightly, I was particularly surprised to see Benny Feilhaber depart after he was solid at the back last season.
The main point I want to touch on with LAFC though is the existing squad, it's just crazy how much quality there is in the side. I won't go into too much detail as I'll never be able to stop so I'll start with Carlos Vela. He was the stand out last season and no doubt will be this time around but for me it's Diego Rossi who is about to embark on what could be the biggest season of his young career.
Of course he's only 20 but Rossi joined LAFC from Penarol in Uruguay where he tore it up before making the move. He followed that up by having a phenomenal season for LAFC last year. He's hands down the player to watch across the whole league for me.
Lets summarise; I don't think I want to live in a world where it's not LA Galaxy and LAFC fighting for the conference and luckily I can't see any other outcome come the end of the season. A massive year ahead for the MLS new boys and I really hope it's a good one.
My Western Conference prediction: 1st.
Minnesota United (100/1 Bet365)
I don't like to be too harsh when it comes to previewing teams before a season has even begun but with Minnesota I'll start off by saying that I don't see how I can come across anything but negative. Tenth last season in the West, the stand out stat was that they conceded 71 goals, which simply put is atrocious – it wasn't the worst in the league surprisingly, but that doesn't make things any rosier.
Again, transfers-wise, the key player that they've brought into the squad is definitely the 28-year-old Slovakian, Jan Gregus. Gregus has come in from Copenhagen in Denmark and has been key in midfield for them for a few seasons now, a very strong signing.
No real major outgoings for Minnesota but I just feel they needed a bigger transfer window – more attacking talent is required if they're going to do anything, and defensively they leak goals like it's a sport in itself. They rely heavily on 35-year-old Brazilian Ibson and he's well past his prime.
I see another very tough season for Minnesota, their toughest yet in their short history. A difficult opening few weeks could set the tone for something dismal. Who knows they might surprise me but I'm happy to say they’re going to be this season's whipping boys, and there should be some goldmines throughout the year to take advantage of.
My Western Conference prediction: 12th.
Portland Timbers (15/1 188BET)
Portland fell short at the final hurdle last season, losing in the MLS Cup final against a rampant Atlanta United side which was certainly nothing to be ashamed of. In the Conference itself they managed a fifth-placed finish meaning that the trip to the Final was highlighted as an even bigger achievement.
I'll start with the players who have left the club this time around; Kristiano Armenteros has gone back to Benevento. He had a phenomenal first season in MLS and will be missed massively. Liam Ridgewell has also left after three seasons – another player who's experience alone will be missed.
There’s just the one player coming that I feel is worth a mention, Aljaz Ivacic from Slovenian club Olimpija. The 25-year-old looks sharp from what I've seen in videos and pre-season so he's definitely one to watch, especially over the opening few weeks.
I'll be honest, I find Portland hard to call this season. They're a top side, there's no doubt about that, but they really need to start blowing hot more consistently rather than cooling off from time to time. Their season will be defined early on – if they can get a little streak going and confidence is high then the sky is the limit really. However, I do think their price for the Cup is a little short.
A quick mention for Diego Valeri who remains and is truly the talisman for the Timbers and for MLS as a whole, looking forward to seeing what magic he has in store… again.
My Western Conference prediction: 4th.
Real Salt Lake (50/1 Bet365)
Real Salt Lake scraped the final playoff spot last season by one point ahead of the LA Galaxy – I was surprised myself as I didn't see it coming. I wouldn't call it an overachievement but I didn't expect them to make the play-off berth.
So what to expect this time around? Well one thing that I think needs to change is the goals scored/conceded ratio. They concede far too many for a team who don't score an exceptional amount.
Transfer-wise it's been quiet, no real big moves. They have brought in Brazilian midfielder Everton Luiz from SPAL, he seems to have played in every country and on every continent in the world so I don't see settling in in MLS being a problem for him. He's definitely someone to keep an eye on, that Brazilian flair is something that could kick start RSL this year.
Salt Lake are helped with what looks like a chilled out start to the season fixture-wise compared to a few other teams. They've been dealt a good hand but it may backfire – the first three games will be crucial to shaping their season.
What I will say is that they will 100% be a team who's game will be surrounded by good value price-wise when it comes to betting, which is always good news. Will they make the play-offs? With the expansion in the East with FC Cincinnati coming in to MLS there's an extra spot up for grabs and I'll give that to RSL.
My Western Conference prediction: 7th.
San Jose Earthquakes (120/1 188BET)
Where to start with last season for the Earthquakes? Well you could call it an earthquake because it was a disaster. Finishing the campaign rock-bottom of the West, lying 10 points off their nearest rivals Colorado.
So where did it go wrong? Well to start with, you're never going to get anywhere when you're conceding 71 goals in 34 games and replying to that by scoring just 49 is simply not good enough. I just don't see that changing this season; I can't say it'll be as bad because last season was surely just as bad as it gets, but I don't see vast improvements.
The players brought in to fix the problems are pretty underwhelming, Argentinian Cristian Espinoza has been brought in on-loan from Villarreal – he's spent the last few seasons out on loan in his native Argentina and has struggled but who knows, MLS might be his calling.
On a more positive note, they have managed to bring in 19-year-old Peruvian Marcos Lopez from Sporting Cristal. The youngster impressed last season netting five in 23 games from midfield, and is definitely a very exciting talent.
Overall, I just don't see anything there to suggest a massive turnaround and another tough season could be ahead. Again there could be some tasty prices knocking around on the Earthquakes’ games so keep an eye out week-to-week, especially if they ship goals like they did last term.
My Western Conference prediction: 11th.
Seattle Sounders (10/1 Bet365)
Seattle were the second-most stubborn team in MLS last season conceding just 37 goals in their 34 regular season games, bettered only by the Red Bulls in the East. That incredible defensive effort led to a second-placed finish in the West, and they were knocked out of the play-offs in a thrilling two-leg tie by eventual finalists Portland.
Another club who have had a quiet time of it transfer-wise with no major incomings or outgoings to mention but it's the squad that they've retained which is key for the Sounders. Most importantly, Alonso, Rodriguez and Lodeiro remain in midfield and along with their strong defence these three were pivotal in assuring that second-placed.
I'd like to especially mention Raul Ruidiaz up front. He's about to embark on his first full season in MLS after joining from Morelia half way through last season. He managed an incredible 13 goals in his 16 games last year and if that's anything to go by then he's in for a massive campaign.
I see nothing but a fifth/sixth placed finish at least for Seattle this season – the only reason I'm not predicting them to finish any higher is because I think the LA sides are just too good and will take the top two spots, and I like Dallas to cause a shock and be right up there. After that, it's a scrap between a few teams.
My Western Conference prediction: 6th.
Sporting Kansas City (16/1 Bet365)
An incredible season for Sporting Kansas City last year, finishing first in the West, which for most was a big shock. They're a good side, but I personally think that their standout season was fairly significantly down to the failings of others.
Although it may seem controversial, I just don't see last season's success being replicated. Maybe they'll make me look stupid and do something spectacular again but we'll have to see.
The squad has remained virtually the same and it's full of quality. I will mention new signing Botond Barath who has come in from Honved in Hungary, he joins fellow Hungarians Nemeth and Salloi in the squad. He looks a solid and rugged defender and it seems he'll have a positive impact on an already very good defence.
Don't be thrown off by my early comments about them not replicating last season’s achievements, I do fancy them to be up there, and I'll say fifth minimum but I just think they'll find it a lot tougher than last year if sides such as LAFC, Galaxy and Portland etc are firing like they should.
My Western Conference prediction: 5th.
Vancouver Whitecaps (80/1 Bet365)
A respectable eighth-placed finish for Vancouver last season – it surprised me a bit as I didn't really rate them but they dug in and ended up just missing out on the play-offs.
I'll be honest, it'll take something special for them to improve on that but stranger things have happened. I just think the sides around them are much stronger this year and I think it will tell.
No big signings to report but they have managed to keep hold of Brazilian Felipe Martins and Peruvian forward Jose Reyna, both were instrumental for them last season and it's good to see that they've managed to keep hold of them.
The big news surrounding the Whitecaps pre-season was that 18-year-old Alphonso Davies has moved away from the club, joining Bayern Munich. A huge loss but it was expected – they will almost certainly miss him this campaign.
In summary, I can see Vancouver achieving another respectable finish. They have a good solid squad and have kept hold of several key players. Betting-wise there will be some big prices on Vancouver some weeks and they are always game and capable of causing upsets.
My Western Conference prediction: 8th.
MLS 2019 – Los Angeles FC to win the MLS Cup (7/1 188BET)
MLS 2019 – FC Dallas to win the MLS Cup (20/1 Bet365)