2016 MLS preview: Who will impress and what players should we look out for?

The 21st Major League Soccer seasons gets underway on Sunday night and promises to be one of the most explosive and competitive in recent history. As the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo gear up for the start of a new campaign, here’s a look at what can be expected of the 20 teams ahead of the action. 

Eastern Conference 

Chicago Fire 

Managed by Velko Paunović, the man who led Serbia to last year’s U20 World Cup title, the Fire will be looking to improve vastly on their woeful 2015 season. Progress has been hampered by the departure of playmaker Shaun Maloney, while lingering questions over youth along the back line could prevent them from making the playoffs. 

Player to watch

David Accam: The Ghanaian forward displayed enough glimpses of quality in 2015 to show he can be the driving force behind the team’s attempts this season. 

Odds: 80/1 

Columbus Crew 

The reigning Eastern Conference champions remain the favourites heading into the new campaign following improvements in almost every position. With their key signings from last summer now having a full off season under their belt, they are likely to be the pace-setters of the Eastern Conference. 

Player to watch

Kei Kamara: The former Middlesbrough man provided the main attacking threat for Colombus last season, tying for league top scorer with 22 goals.  

Odds: 7/1 

DC United 

Coach Ben Olson has financially had his hands tied behind his back for a few seasons. Through a shrewd approach to the budget which relies heavily on MLS veterens and low-cost deals, Olson has established a tough-to-beat side. Without any major signings it’s hard to see them competing this season.  

Player to watch

Bill Hamid: On his day the reliable goalkeeper has the ability to squeeze out points through a string of match-winning saves. 

Odds: 25/1 

Montreal Impact 

Holding on to Didier Drogba is a key factor. The veteran striker single-handedly lifted his side into the MLS Cup reckoning in 2015, and the Impact will again be heavily reliant on his goals and leadership skills. A lack of dedication on Drogba’s behalf could prove disastrous in what should otherwise be a promising season.  

Player to watch

Didier Drogba: If the Ivorian talisman can replicate his form from the previous campaign, the Impact will be a shoe-in for the playoffs.  

Odds: 25/1 

New England Revolution 

A largely unchanged team from the 2015 which saw the Revs crashing out of the playoffs in the knockout round. A failure to recapture Jermaine Jones after protracted contract negotiations has left a hole in midfield. Despite a lack of squad depth, a list of potent attackers means the playoffs is still on the cards. 

Player to watch

Lee Nguyen: The dynamic midfielder’s creative flair and style has enabled him to grow into one of the league’s most attacking threats in recent seasons. 

Odds: 25/1 

New York City FC 

The league’s most exciting outfit have brought in Patrick Viera to make improvements on their inaugural season. The summer arrivals of Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo have helped to attract crowds of 25,000 at the Yankee Stadium but the star studded signings are yet to adjust to their new surroundings. With David Villa upfront, the playoffs are a must. 

Player to watch  

Andrea Pirlo: A successful season hinges on markedly improved performances from one of the greatest deep-lying playmakers in the game’s history. 

Odds: 25/1 

New York City Red Bulls 

New head coach Jesse Marsch surprised everyone by winning the club’s second Supporters Shield last season. The odds-on favourite to make the MLS Cup final last season suffered a shock defeat in the Eastern Conference final, but with the likes of Lloyd Sam, Shaun and Bradley Wright-Phillips leading the line, this could be the year the Red Bulls finally break through. 

Player to watch

Bradley Wright-Phillips: The Red Bulls need goals from the former Southampton man to stay at the top of the Eastern Conference.  

Odds: 5/1 

Orlando City 

Boardroom turmoil resulted in stagnated transfer activity in the offseason and could negatively impact Orlando’s chances. Question marks hang over their defensive frailties, but their midfield has been shored up with the signing of Antonio Nocerino, while key man Kaka remains among the league’s best creative forces. 

Player to watch

Kaka: The veteran will need to maintain a strong presence on and off the field if Orlando are to reach the playoffs. 

Odds: 25/1 

Philadelphia Union 

An entirely new-look side, Union have made good signings from abroad and drafted some promising young defenders but without a goalscoring threat they are destined for another season rooted to the league’s basement.  

Player to watch

Chris Pontius: A talented player who can use his speed and vision to deliver service to the Union’s strikers. 

Odds: 50/1 

Toronto FC 

With help from the technically gifted and agile Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto finally made the playoffs at the ninth time of asking last campaign. Strong additions to the defence coupled with consistency from Jozy Altidore could lead to TFC taking the MLS by storm.  

Player to watch

Sebastian Giovinco: The MLS MVP was unstoppable in 2015 – producing 22 goals and 16 assists. It would be foolish to think this season will be any different.  

Odds: 16/1 


Western Conference 

Colorado Rapids 

An intriguing mixture of veterans and young players, but under the leadership of Pablo Mastroeni, they have never been able to mount a challenge. Their long-running attempt to acquire Tim Howard’s services has proven to be a major distraction. A constant struggle to find the net has been a downfall, and it is almost certain that Colorado will finish towards the league’s bottom. 

Player to watch

Kevin Doyle: The summer signing played reasonably well last campaign but will need help at the top of the Rapid’s formation. 

Odds: 66/1 

FC Dallas 

After a crushing defeat in the Western Conference final, FC Dallas are aiming to go all the way this time around. Key signings such as Carlos Gruezo and Carlos Lizarzo add depth and flair to the squad touted as one of the early-season favourites.  

Player to watch

Maynor Figueroa: Former Wigan Athletic defender will be looking to make an impact following a short spell at Colorado Rapids.  

Odds: 12/1 

Houston Dynamo 

Dynamo will need to find some consistency in their second season under Owen Coyle. The Scotsman had difficulties adapting to the rigors of the MLS in 2015 as the team came up short of the playoffs by a considerable nine-point margin. Goals will not be easy to come by following the departures of Giles Barnes and Brad Davies. 

Player to watch

Will Bruin: Capable of a clinical finish, this could be the season Bruin finally fires his way into the league’s goal scoring elite. 

Odds: 40/1 

LA Galaxy 

Head coach Bruce Arena has made wholesale changes to the squad. The big-name players such as Steven Gerrard and Robbie Keane have returned, while the additions of Nigel De Jong, Ashley Cole and Jelle Van Damme makes Galaxy an all together mouth-watering proposition. They have more squad-depth than many other MLS sides which will stand them in good stead in the long-run. 

Player to watch

Steven Gerrard: The big-name marquee addition will play a crucial role marshalling the side in central midfield. 

Odds: 9/2 

Portland Timbers 

The defending MLS Champions underwent an overhaul of fringe players in the offseason, but the starting XI will remain effectively unchanged. Head coach Caleb Porter should have the formula that will drive the club back to the playoffs, although ready-made placements are yet to be found for key players Jorge Vilafana and Rodney Wallace.  

Player to watch

Liam Ridgewell: The former Birmingham City defender’s wealth of experience will be priceless as the Timbers aim to defend their title. 

Odds: 7/1 

Real Salt Lake 

Having missed out on the playoffs for the first time in seven years in 2015, Real Salt Lake will have to go back to basics under head coach Jeff Cessar. Blessed with a vibrant attack including club hero Yura Movsisyan and Burrito Martinez, the defence remains a major area of concern.  

Player to watch

Yura Movsisyan: The former RSL forward could play a crucial role following his return on loan from Spartak Moscow. 

Odds: 33/1 

San Jose Earthquakes 

The floundering franchise have failed to live up to expectations since their move to the shiny new Avaya Stadium. A lot more consistency in the starting lineup will be required in order to establish a better finish than last season’s mediocre league position.  

Player to watch

Chris Wondolowski: At the age of 31, Wondolowski remain’s one of the league’s most potent strikers. He will aim to make this campaign his seventh straight double-digit year. 

Odds: 33/1 

Seattle Sounders 

Huge changes have been made during the offseason, including the sale of Obafemi Martins to China. Jordan Morris is a ready made replacement, and if he lives up to his reputation the Sounders will have an extremely dynamic attack. Their expectations of winning the MLS Cup may finally be realised this year.  

Player to watch

Clint Dempsey: The ex-Fulham forward will look to improve on his goalscoring tally, having found the net ten times last campaign. 

Odds: 14/1 

Sporting Kansas City 

A very good first season in the Western Conference in 2015 ended in a cruel playoff exit. A very limited salary budget could make the playoffs a stretch, but KC have recruited well with veterans Brad Davis and Justin Mapp adding depth to the flanks. 

Player to watch

Benny Feilhaber: The former Derby Counter man has blossomed under Peter Vermes’ tutelege and his creative abilities could play a crucial role. 

Odds: 20/1 

Vancouver Whitecaps 

The Whitecaps outdid expectations in 2015 by finishing second in the Western Conference. A strong influence of Latin American players makes squad one of most fascinating prospects in the entire league. Carl Robinson’s side have held on to the majority of their key players, and made a few acquisitions to bolster the squad. 

Player to watch

Pedro Morales: The Chilean maestro is central to Whitecaps attacks and is capable of chipping in with a number of goals and assists. 

Odds: 16/1 

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