Accountability time: Revisiting our 2015 MLS season predictions
With the 20th MLS season about to come to an end, it's that time of year for us: accountability time.
As the Columbus Crew and Portland Timbers get set to duel in the 20th MLS Cup, it wouldn't be fun if we didn't look back on the way we saw the season unfolding prior to it actually happening. Of course, none of us saw either finalist winning the title, but that doesn't mean we were totally off base.
What did we get right? What did we get wrong? Here's a selection highlighting our best calls and our most egregious ones made back in March (when the season even happening was still in jeopardy amid CBA negotiations. Remember that?). For record keeping, you can find all of our season predictions here. Below are the 10 questions we asked SI's Grant Wahl, Brian Straus, Liviu Bird and Alexander Abnos:
Who will win MLS Cup?
NOT QUITE: Straus, Bird picked Seattle. Wahl picked LA. Abnos picked New England. All wound up making the playoffs, but none reached the conference finals. We re-made our MLS Cup predictions ahead of the playoffs. You can see those here.
Who will be the first recipient of the Landon Donovan MVP award?
NOT BAD: "Robbie Keane. He’s already the best foreign Designated Player signing in league history. Now he’ll win his second straight MVP award." - Wahl
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Sebastian Giovinco is the favorite to win the award, with Benny Feilhaber and Kei Kamara the other finalists. Keane, however, was the only repeat member on the league's 2015 Best XI after another stellar season in LA in which he scored 20 goals–a new personal best in his MLS career.]
The breakout player we'll be talking about in the fall (a la Lee Nguyen, Dom Dwyer) is ___?
NOT BAD: "A couple of offseason Ghanaian acquisitions have caught my eye: Kwadwo Poku at New York City FC and Adam Kwarasey with the Portland Timbers. Poku seems like a dynamic, strong central midfielder who could flourish in Jason Kreis' diamond-midfield system. He's drawn comparisons to and models himself on Yaya Touré, and if he can be as effective in a similar role for NYCFC, he could be a new "hipster favorite," as Nguyen has been for a while. Kwarasey should fit into Caleb Porter's system much better than Donovan Ricketts could the last couple years, as his distribution is much better and his presence a bit more calming, with less drama in stopping shots and commanding the back line." - Bird
STARTED OUT BRIGHT: "The Vancouver Whitecaps have plenty of speed and attacking commitment – now they appear to have found their finisher.
Uruguayan striker Octavio Rivero, 23, combines size with skill and tallied 10 goals in 16 games for O’Higgins during the fall Chilean Primera División season. We’ll certainly all be talking about him if he maintains that strike rate in MLS." - Straus
NOT QUITE: "Tommy Thompson, San Jose Earthquakes. The 19-year-old appeared in a handful of games last season, but his skill on the ball and visionary passing stood out on an otherwise woeful Quakes team. With direction from a new coach that is among the most successful in MLS history (Dominic Kinnear), there's no reason why Thompson can't thrive in 2015. It'll help that he'll have Chris Wondolowski and Swiss DP signing Innocent Emeghara to work with in attack." - Abnos
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Poku was a revelation in NYCFC's midfield, though he had to fight through a crowd to receive playing time. Kwarasey has been a steady difference-maker in the back for the Timbers. Rivero scored goals in five of his first six games but managed just five the rest of the season. The highly regarded Thompson only played 465 MLS minutes and didn't score. One candidate: Columbus's Ethan Finlay, who rose to Best XI status after a 12-goal, 13-assist All-Star campaign.]
Which eight teams will MISS the playoffs?
NOT BAD: "East: Montreal, NYCFC, Orlando City, Philadelphia; West: Colorado, Houston, Real Salt Lake, San Jose" - Straus
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Seven out of eight. Not too shabby!]
What's your Year 1 forecast for NYCFC?
NAILED IT: "We’ll see glimmers of the sort of stylish soccer coach Jason Kreis unleashed at Real Salt Lake, but NYCFC lacks the stability the manager enjoyed out west, and that ultimately will leave the club on the outside looking in as the playoffs approach. Lampard’s late arrival, questions on defense and in goal, the lingering stadium issues (imagine the headlines the first time Joe Girardi complains about the arrangement) and the fact that the front office still is taking shape during the build-up to the regular season all indicate that NYCFC will need a year to find its footing." - Straus
[EDITOR'S NOTE: NYCFC finished eight points out a playoff spot, Kreis was fired and Patrick Vieira will take over in Year 2.]
What's your Year 1 forecast for Orlando City?
PRETTY MUCH: "The atmosphere at the Citrus Bowl, some sublime passing from Kaká, and guaranteed great quotes from manager Adrian Heath ensure a fun first season in MLS. But a lack of reliable finishing will doom the Lions’ playoff prospects. There’s a solid foundation, however, and Heath and GM Paul McDonough will have Orlando primed for a playoff run once they move into their new stadium in 2016." - Straus
NOT BAD: "Fourth place in the East—and perhaps even more important, a great response from fans in Florida, where Orlando has a chance to replicate what’s happened with MLS teams in the Pacific Northwest." - Wahl
[EDITOR'S NOTE: OK, so Orlando finished in seventh but was in the playoff hunt until the final weekend. The fan response in Florida was impressive all season and should only continue to grow as the club moves from the Citrus Bowl into its new venue.]
With a different cast around him, how many goals will BWP have after his record-setting season?
NAILED IT: "Henry assisted on 10 of Wright-Phillips’ 31 MLS goals (regular and postseason) in 2014. Henry also drew a lot of defensive eyeballs away from his English understudy. But BWP still reads the game well, and his composure didn’t board the plane with Henry. So let’s say 16 goals." - Straus
NOT QUITE: "Less than 10. As Henry said multiple times, if Wright-Phillips could finish the chances he got at a more efficient rate, he would have scored far more goals in 2014. Without that constant service from Henry, who assisted BWP eight times in the regular season and twice in the playoffs, he might not get anywhere near the amount of opportunities, depending on what role Sacha Klještan plays in midfield for the Red Bulls." - Bird
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Wright-Phillips scored 17 goals in the regular season and added another in the playoffs. He was inches from a second, that would've forced the Eastern Conference final into extra time.]
Over/under: 15.5 goals for Jozy Altidore in Toronto
NAILED IT: "Under, but not by much." - Straus
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Altidore scored 13 goals in league play and added another in the Canadian Championship.]
What coach is already feeling the heat entering the season?
PRETTY MUCH: "I would have said Montreal’s Frank Klopas, given his trigger-finger owner and the Impact’s performance last season, but Klopas has bought some time by reaching the CCL semis. So I’ll say Colorado’s Pablo Mastroeni. The Rapids dealt with a lot of injuries last year, but another season of struggles would make things tough for him." - Wahl
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Klopas did buy himself some more time, but he was ultimately shown the door by Impact owner Joey Saputo, with interim manager Mauro Biello earning the full-time gig. Mastroeni, meanwhile, endured another rough season, finishing last in the West, but he has the full backing of the Rapids' front office.]
The not-yet-announced/known incoming transfer sure to create the most buzz will be ___?
NAILED IT: "It seemed ridiculous at the time, but Didier Drogba was probably closer to joining the Seattle Sounders from Galatasaray than many would believe. According to two sources in Seattle, the team even left an international roster slot open late into the season in the hopes that Drogba would be the man to fill it. Could this summer finally be when the Drogba-to-MLS flirtation is fulfilled? Remember, commissioner Don Garber confirmed that he turned down a $10 million offer from the league already in 2012 before joining Shanghai Shenhua instead." - Bird
WHAT COULD'VE BEEN: "Xavi to NYCFC. We’ll see whether he comes this summer or at the start of 2016, but if it is this summer he’ll be tremendous fun to watch on a team with Frank Lampard and David Villa." - Wahl
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Drogba to Montreal was one of the signings of the season. Xavi, meanwhile, was reportedly in talks with NYCFC but ended up signing in Qatar. Andrea Pirlo wound up filling that third DP void.]