Every season, crazy things happen in Major League Soccer that no one saw coming; that no one felt bold enough to go on record predicting to look brilliant when it happens. It always happens. In 2012, the San Jose Earthquakes won the Supporters Shield, Chris Wondolowski scored 27 goals, and Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon each scored double-digit goals. Had I asked you how many of those were likely to happen last February, you'd likely have some only one - Wondolowski - if not none.
Heck, 2012 was so crazy that the New York Red Bulls - even given all their money spent and media attention for big name stars - failed to win a trophy in 2012. So, maybe that's not a good example of the unprecedented side of MLS, but the point still stands.
Without any further ado, my sometimes-bold predictions for MLS 2013:
New York Red Bulls finally win a trophy, the Supporters Shield. Argument 1: Rafa Marquez is gone. If that's not enough to convince you, it would be near impossible for the Red Bulls to mimic the disastrous level of disarray the club reached from 2010-2012 under the leadership of former head coach Hans Backe. The Swede never fully gained an understanding for the mechanisms of MLS - i.e. the draft, allocation money, discovery lists, right of refusal, etc. - that would have allowed the Red Bulls' heavy spending on Designated Players to become a consistent side.
Enter new head coach Mike Petke, a former Red Bulls player and MLS veteran, who from the get-go will conduct intra-MLS business on a level much higher than Backe ever did, and a leader of men that will earn the respect of his players, something else Backe never had. It's about time all that money actually bought something. Besides, it's been 16 years now; they have to win one eventually, right?
This is the year the "magic runs out" for DeRo. No one wants to see this day, ever. Probably even no one sees it coming, believing that D.C. United star man Dwayne De Rosario will put up 12 goals and 8 assists (his averages for the last for yours) every year until he's 35 years old, and the Canadian will re-write his MLS legacy a hundred times over. Well, DeRo is 35 this year, and he has had some fairly serious injury problems the last couple years that may signal the early stages of breaking down as a player.
I'll be sad to see it, but won't be shy to say I told you so when DeRo puts up 6 and 6 this year - which, mind you, is still a serviceable player. That's how good he's been for near a decade now.
Breakout Player of the Year: Ryan Johnson. To say Johnson will have a successful sixth season in MLS at age 28, under new Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter, isn't a huge stretch of the imagination, so I will say I think Ryan Johnson is in for a huge year in 2013. Porter's 4-3-3, possession-based system will fit Johnson well, catering to the Jamaican international's biggest assets - size, strength and speed - much like Sporting Kansas City forward CJ Sapong.
Throw in the fact he'll have the likes Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri created chances from the midfield, Johnson is a good bet to surpass his career-high in goals scored (11 for San Jose Earthquakes in 2009), and creep closer to the 15-goal threshold.
The Eddie Johnson Newcome(r)back Player of the Year Award: Robbie Findley. Last year I thought Eddie Johnson should have been eligible for Newcomer of the Year, despite his previous tenure in MLS, or at least Comeback Player of the Year. I don't know whether he was up for either, but he should have won both. This year, that player will be Robbie Findley.
There's something humbling about leaving MLS, going to Europe and failing like a miserable idiot, which each of Johnson and Findley have now done. Findley comes back to MLS - and Real Salt Lake, namely - where he scored 29 goals for the club from 2007-2010. Fabian Espindola is in New York, meaning Alvaro Saborio needs a strike partner in Jason Kreis' 4-4-2 system. Enter Findley's blazing fast speed, the reason - prepare yourself for this - Robbie Findley made the United States' 2010 World Cup roster. Ugh. Nice one, Bob.
Other distinct possibilities that could come true and make me look like a genius:
- Second coach fired: Oscar Pareja, proving Stan Kroenke does in fact realize he still owns Colorado Rapids
- Vancouver Whitecaps become "the new Earthquakes," as in the most fun team to watch, score 60 goals