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Coffee with the Caps, Friday April 16

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MLS: Preseason-Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Chicago Fire FC Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

It is here, folks.

No, I’m not talking about my biweekly drivel — it’s the MLS season, which returns today in all its glory (or lack thereof). Much like the start of the baseball season, the opening weekend of MLS is a beautiful thing — almost every team can point to some reason for optimism, can cling to some hope where they can predict a playoff berth with a straight face.

That includes Vancouver, although I think the 86 Forever gang was on the mark in our tempered expectations for the Caps this season. But hey, if a number 10 comes, Caio Alexandre breaks out, Lucas Cavallini wins the golden boot, every other team in MLS eats dodgy lasagna before playing Vancouver ... the fantasy lives on, if only for a few more days.

We did our Whitecaps-centric predictions and if you are a good and loyal 86F reader, then you have watched all of our season preview discussions (if not, well, get busy before Sunday). But I figured I’d toss out my “almost certainly wrong but what the hell” MLS-wide predictions and you all can laugh at me in December.

Eastern Conference

  1. Columbus Crew
  2. Atlanta United
  3. Philadelphia Union
  4. Orlando City SC
  5. Toronto FC
  6. New England Revolution
  7. NYCFC
  8. FC Cincinnati
  9. Nashville SC
  10. New York Red Bulls
  11. Chicago Fire
  12. DC United
  13. Inter Miami
  14. CF Montreal

The East is a mess to predict and at some point just became throwing darts against a wall. I am weirdly high on FC Cinci, even though they’ve done nothing in their MLS history thus far to warrant optimism. But they’ve done a lot to improve themselves and it has to start coming together eventually ... right? Otherwise, I could see Toronto making me look like a fool by winning the conference this year and Orlando falling back to earth in spectacular fashion. And who knows, maybe one of the teams in the bottom half will stitch together a surprise run? The conference is wide open.

Western Conference

  1. LAFC
  2. Seattle Sounders
  3. Minnesota United
  4. Portland Timbers
  5. Colorado Rapids
  6. Sporting KC
  7. Austin FC
  8. FC Dallas
  9. Vancouver Whitecaps
  10. San Jose Earthquakes
  11. LA Galaxy
  12. Real Salt Lake
  13. Houston Dynamo

Predicting the west is a bit more straightforward — there is a clear class of teams (the playoff teams from last year) who seem to still clearly be the most competitive, although I suspect the Caps, Quakes and even the Galaxy will make it competitive for a playoff spot also. I’m pretty high on Austin FC — I like a lot of their signings and how they’ve targeted South America. They probably won’t actually finish 7th because their depth leaves something to be desired but I wanted to stick my neck out there because I don’t think a Nashville SC-like rise is beyond them.

Supporters’ Shield: Columbus

I think LAFC probably is the better team on paper but Columbus have an easier path to the shield (international call-ups will be a bit friendlier, even though the East is way more dysfunctional).

MLS Cup: Portland Timbers def. Orlando City SC

You always figure there are a couple of teams that are always in it year-in and year-out who will be able to make a deep playoff run, with a different team in the mix to make it interesting. The trick to not looking like an idiot when making these predictions is to figure out who those teams are.

I did not intentionally intend to pick a repeat of last year’s MLS is Back title but I could see similar dynamics playing out — Orlando won’t have Daryl Dike (if we’re being honest) but I could see Alexandre Pato settling right in and picking up right where things left off at center forward. The Lions have a ton of wing depth and Mauricio Pereyra still knows how to boss a midfield.

And Portland? With their two most valuable players (Chara and Valeri) set to turn 35, this is probably this core group’s last chance to win silverware. And they have the depth to do it (as much as it pains me to say it). The injury woes from last season will make this team a more formidable foe this year and they know how to get it done in knockout tournaments.

Golden Boot: Carlos Vela

The obvious predictions are sometimes the right ones.

Shameless Self Promotion

Our final season preview video pod is a more global look at the future of the Whitecaps, including what might happen to Marc dos Santos and what is up with the youth development pipeline

Best of the Rest

On how the Canadian teams will be at a disadvantage this season, geographically speaking

What the 4-4-2 means for the Caps this season and other tactical musings from Between the Sticks

The Caps have organized a fundraiser for Allen Leung, their manager of ticket operations, after he fell and became paralyzed from the waist down. You can donate to help Allen and his family out here

On the growing trend of megastars in other sports — particularly the NBA — buying into MLS franchises

Will the rush of Brazilian players to MLS (including one Caio Alexandre) set the stage for a larger migration?