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Premier League Gradebook: Which managers get top marks?

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With the current international break disrupting Premier League play for two weeks, now is a good time to take stock on the season so far.

So, that’s exactly what we’re doing at ProSoccerTalk.

On Wednesday, we gave each team grade on their start to the 2013-14 campaign, and now it’s time to put the managers under the microscope.


Plenty of new managers are at the helm of PL clubs across England, so what kind of start have they made? And will they be around for much longer? Find out, here?


Before the season began, Wenger was under huge pressure to deliver the goods at the Emirates, so far, so good as they sit in top spot in the international break. After delivering Champions League soccer for 16 straight seasons, the Gunners haven’t won a trophy for eight years, but the addition of Mesut Ozil and the terrific form of Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud proves that Wenger was right to put faith in his young squad. Bringing in Mathieu Flamini to do the dirty work in the engine room was an inspired stroke, and now Wenger has a perfect balance between defense and attack that was missing in recent years. The Frenchman has reinvented his side time and time again, it seems like he’s done it again after a sensational start to the campaign. Record – (5-1-1)

source: Reuters
A terrific start for Wenger has seen Arsenal surge to the top of the table.


Can the Northern Irish manager really bring back the glory days to Anfield? He’s certainly giving it a real good go, with the new 3-5-2 formation working a treat as Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez spearhead the Reds charge for the top four. Rodgers has spent moderately and been creative in the transfer market, with Mamadou Sakho the only big money addition. Loan arrivals of Victor Moses and Aly Sisokho from Chelsea and Valencia respectively, have bolstered the squad and with Suarez back with a bang, the Reds will be battling for the top four if injuries and lady luck is on their side. Rodgers’ philosophy of passing teams into submission hasn’t wavered, but the Reds have definitely been more direct when they need to be. Record – (5-1-1)


Well, if you didn’t know much about the Argentine manager before the season, now you do. After catapulting the Saints into the top four by October, the former Argentinian international defender has seen his high-pressure approach take the Premier League by storm. He’s shrewdly added three top players in Daniel Osvaldo, Victor Wanyama and Dejan Lovren, and his man management and ability to integrate Southampton’s talented academy crop has seen the squad become extremely strong. They can challenge for the top eight, make no mistake about it. Although you have to say, apart from beating Liverpool away, they haven’t faced too many top teams, yet. Record – (4-1-2)

STEVE BRUCE (Hull City) – B+

Using all his experience from his playing days and managerial stints with Birmingham, Sunderland, Wigan and Huddersfield, Bruce has put together a team of no-nonsense players at the KC Stadium. Strong, physical players who make it hard for the opposition and scrap for every ball, that’s how Bruce played the game and his team reflect his mentality. He’s been in this situation before, and he knows his team have to be hard to beat at home and pick up the odd win or point on the road. 11 points from their first seven matches is a tremendous return, as the Tigers have proved they shouldn’t be taken lightly. Bruce is an old hand at this, expect Hull to carry on the good start. Record – (3-2-2)


The Spaniard has injected all of his Southern European flair and attacking panache on the Toffees in just a few months in charge, and the Goodison Park faithful are loving life. It’s true that David Moyes left him with an extremely solid group of players to work with, but with Romelu Lukaku, Gareth Barry, Antonin Alcaraz, Arouna Kone and James McCarthy, Martinez has been able to stamp his own mark on Everton very quickly. Just one defeat from seven, a rather unlucky reverse at the hands of Man City, has seen the Blues aiming for at least a top six finish. Martinez’ transition from Wigan to Everton has been smoother than perhaps anyone expected. Record – (3-1-3)

source: Getty Images
Everton have been steady thus far under Martinez’ stewardship. Plus, the wonderful attacking creativity is their for all to see.

ANDRE VILLAS-BOAS (Tottenham Hotspur) – B+

Losing your best player, and one of the most exciting talents in Europe, is never easy but Spurs have moved on superbly without Gareth Bale. AVB, alongside Director of Football Franco Baldini, has masterminded one of the most extensive overhauls in Premier League history, with eight quality internationals replacing Bale. Marvelous stuff, and so far they’ve lost just twice and have won four of their opening seven games. After finishing fifth, just, last season, Villas-Boas will be itching to bring Champions League soccer back to White Hart Lane. Can it be done? With Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela, Roberto Soldado and Paulinho all on board and eager to impress, Spurs will use their terrific start to catapult them into the title race. Dark horse. Record – (4-2-1)


The Special One is trying to work his magic with Chelsea, but he’s used an incredible amount of players already as he tries to get his best XI on the pitch at the same time. It seems as though he’s getting their, and after seeing the fight and hunger from Chelsea in their second half comeback draw at Spurs, that spark and glint was back in the Portuguese managers eyes. The way he’s handled Juan Mata has been ridiculed by many, but it seems as though Mourinho isn’t budging on his ‘team first’ mentality, no matter how good these top internationals are individually. He is trying to reignite Fernando Torres and get goals from the Spaniard, if he can do that successfully then Chelsea will be a force to be reckoned with. Record – (4-1-2)

MANUEL PELLEGRINI (Manchester City) – B

Welcome to English soccer, Senor Pellegrini. It’s okay winning every single home game, which City have done impressively so far, but what separates a place in the top six from winning the title is how you grind out wins on the road. And City ain’t getting it done. Pellergini has rotated his squad, and although they got hammered by Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League, two bizarre 3-2 defeats on the road at Cardiff City and Aston Villa are the only blots on the coffee book so far. Finding the right mix of defense and offense has been a struggle for the Chilean manager, but he will learn more about his new team as the season goes on. Plus, a 4-1 pounding of fiercest rivals Manchester United is always a good way to endear yourself to City’s fans. Full steam ahead between now and January. Record – (4-2-1)


It’s been a tricky start for Big Sam, but his side have continued to be difficult to beat, as always, and that massive 3-0 win away at Spurs will breed massive amounts of confidence. Losing both Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing through injury hasn’t helped, but with both expected to come back after the international break, West Ham will look to kick on. What you see is what you get with Allardyce, direct and abrasive soccer is what West Ham does best. With Ravel Morrison complementing grafters Kevin Nolan and Mark Noble in midfield, the Hammers look quite good going forward but haven’t had anyone to finish off the chances. Allardyce has set up the team around Carroll, and when the big Geordie returns the Hammers could challenge for a spot in the top 10. Record – (2-3-2)


A completely new situation for the Swans, and Danish legend Laudrup is having a difficult time trying to juggle the Europa League with the Premier League. In Europe, Swansea have excelled by winning their first two games. But in the league defeats to Manchester United, Tottenham, Arsenal and Southampton have seen them make a shaky start. However, as you can probably see, they’ve played a lot of top teams already, so expect the Swans to rise back up when the schedule evens out. Laudrup has put plenty of faith in Jonjo Shelvey and the partnership between Wilfired Bony and Michu is still developing. Laudrup has unearthed some gems in Pozuelo and Canas, but he will feel that his squad is still a little small. Big few months if Swansea are going to emulate last years top ten finish, this season. Record – (2-4-1)

source: Reuters
The balance between success in the Europa League and PL has been difficult for the Dane to juggle.


Aston Villa have had a mixed start to the season, but it seems as though the new additions Lambert brought in over the summer, on the cheap, have added strength in-depth to the Villans. You can’t fault the Scots passion, but without the injured Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor, they’re a totally different team. With a young core, Lambert has definitely worked on defensive aspects over the summer, and you can see that in his side so far. Solid and steady, Villa should do just fine this campaign. But is Lambert content with that? I think he wants more, but he’s already close to squeezing every last ounce of talent out of this young side. Record – (3-3-1)

ALAN PARDEW (Newcastle United) – C+

Another team that’s had a tumultuous start, the Magpies are finally getting up to speed as they get all of their star names back fit and healthy. Pardew has added Loic Remy to the mix and with his five goals, Newcastle’s fans have a new hero. With Yohan Cabaye having his head turned by Arsenal, you have to salute Pardew’s disciplining of the player, proving that one person isn’t bigger than the club. If Papiss Demba Cisse can return to form, expect St. James’ Park to turn into a fortress once again. Better start than last season, and no Europa League to worry about will give Pardew a boost. Record – (3-1-3)


Things were going reasonably steady for the Scottish manager in charge at the Welsh capital, but rumors of unrest behind the scenes and having his head of recruitment replaced by a friend of the chairman’s son doesn’t bode well. On the pitch, the Bluebirds have been great at home, and you can see how sound they are defensively. That, in part, is down to Mackay’s playing days as a no-nonsense central defender, but going forward he needs more cutting edge from Bellamy, Odemwingie and Campbell. The bookies have slashed his odds to become the next manager to lost his job, and with Cardiff’s owner known to be an uncompromising character, his time could be up. That would be harsh. Record – (2-3-2)

MARK HUGHES (Stoke City) – C

The Welshman has his hands full at Stoke, with an entire squad of players bought by Tony Pulis to work with. But he has got on with his job reasonably well, and the Potters are trying to get the ball down on the deck and play attractive soccer. That will take some time to develop after years of kick and rush, but it will be worth it. Solid defensively, as always, the only problem for Stoke is that they, like many other mid-table sides, are struggling to find the back of the net. Just five goals in seven games says it all. Will the ex-Manchester United and Barcelona forward get his cleats on and show them how it’s done!? Record – (2-4-1)

STEVE CLARKE (West Brom) – C

source: Reuters
With Sir Alex Ferguson’s shadow still looming large, how long will it take Moyes to turn this poor start around?

A poor start to the season was down to some bad calls over the summer. Clarke seemed to rest on his laurels slightly, after West Brom’s best-ever PL finish of eight last term. However after bringing in several recruits before the January window slammed shut – Scott Sinclair, Victor Anichebe and Stephan Seesegnon to name a few – the Baggies look much stronger and a great win at Manchester United was followed by a draw with Arsenal. On their day they can hang with the big boys, but West Brom need to get more consistent if they’re going to succeed. Record – (2-2-2)

CHRIS HUGHTON (Norwich City) – D

Maybe this grade is a little harsh on Hughton, but you know what, they should be doing better after the money the Canaries stumped up over the summer. Yes, they are solid and difficult to beat, but they haven’t solved their problem of scoring goals. The former Birmingham and Newcastle manager has been unlucky with injuries as striker Gary Hooper missed the first five PL games, but Ricky van Wolfswinkel hasn’t set the world alight and a tough stretch for Norwich may see Hughton’s position come under threat between now and the end of the season. File them under the ‘must do better’ category. Record – (2-4-1)

DAVID MOYES (Manchester United) – D-

Yeah, we all know Manchester United have had a poor start to the season, but how much of it is down to poor management from Mr. Moyes? Turns out, quite a bit. Look, he has the impossible task to follow Sir Alex Ferguson as United boss, we all know that. But some of the decisions have been pretty abysmal. The decision to only bring in Marouane Fellaini in the transfer window was laughable, playing Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra when they’re clearly over the hill is worrying and being too conservative has cost United from picking up easy points. The only saving grace for Moyes and United, is that after all this they’re not far behind. And youngster Adnan Januzaj has come form nowhere to be a new hero. Work to do to turn the ship around, but Moyes’ boys better get a shift on. Record – (3-3-1)

MARTIN JOL (Fulham) – D –

Another manager under-fire, despite a much needed win over Stoke before the international break that made everyone around Craven Cottage breathe a huge sigh of relief. Fulham bought wisely, and shrewdly over the summer yet the likes of Darren Bent, Scott Parker, Patjim Kasami and others haven’t gelled for one reason or another. The Cottagers are looking like a beleaguered outfit short on confidence, and with new American owner Shadid Khan quite on Jol’s future, you have to worry for the likeable Dutchman. That said, Jol knows his side are lacking in belief after a poor start, so maybe that narrow win against Stoke was a turning point? Record – (2-4-1)

source: Getty Images
1 win, 6 defeats… it’s been rough for Holloway’s Eagles back in the big-time.

IAN HOLLOWAY (Crystal Palace) – F

Bit harsh to give Holloway a failing grade here, but it needs to be done. I love watching his interviews and think he’s a great character and ambassador for the game, but the lack of continuity and tactical nous shown by the Englishman has really let the Eagles down. Okay, staying in the PL was liking winning the damn thing for Palace, but the tepid displays they’ve put out there so far has been a real let down. With a solitary win against lowly Sunderland the only points they’ve picked up this season, you would expect more fight and determination from the newly-promoted outfit. But I’m seeing players duck out of headers, tackles and turning their backs in the wall, and it seems as though they’re holding back. Instead of taking games by the scruff of the neck like Holloway’s Blackpool side did, it seems as though Palace will make little impact on the PL unless they change their ways fast. Record – (1-6-0)

PAOLO DI CANIO (Ex-Sunderland) – F

What can we say about the fiery Italian? You have to love his passion and commitment to the cause, but his antics proved too much for the Sunderland board and now he’s left the Black Cats in one heck of a pickle after being fired. A squad full of players who are either out of their depth, low in confidence or a mixture of the two, Di Canio’s reign was blasted by many as being completely totalitarian and squeezing any life or character of his players. Tactically he was too gun-ho, but he can probably hold his head high knowing that he gave it 100 percent. However, it went horribly wrong and now new manager Gus Poyet has the difficult task of picking up the pieces and trying to galvanize the squad for a winter-long battle against relegation in the frigid North East. Record – (0-6-1)

Griezmann wins best player award in Spain for last season

SEVILLE, SPAIN - OCTOBER 23:  Antoine Griezmann of Club Atletico de Madrid looks on during the match between Sevilla FC vs Club Atletico de Madrid as part of La Liga at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuanon October 23, 2016 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
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VALENCIA, Spain (AP) Antoine Griezmann has won the best player award in the Spanish league for last season.

The Atletico Madrid forward was announced as the winner in a ceremony organized by La Liga in Valencia on Monday. The Frenchman was not at the ceremony.

[ MORE: Ballon d’Or omissions ]

Atletico also had Diego Simeone win the best coach award, Diego Godin earn the best defender award, and Jan Oblak clinch best goalkeeper.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi was selected as the best forward, and Real Madrid’s Luka Modric as the best midfielder.

Team captains voted for the top players in each position, while a data-analysis system generated the best player award.

Barcelona won the Spanish league last season, ahead of Real Madrid and Atletico.

Biggest omissions from the Ballon d’Or shortlist

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (R) is chased by N'Golo Kante of Chelsea (L)  during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium on September 24, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

France Football released the 30-man shortlist for the Ballon d’Or award given to the world’s best player.

As expected in a EURO year, there are several Portuguese standouts to go with the usual suspects.

There are also some odd omissions.

[ MLS: Pre-playoff power rankings ]

Alexis Sanchez was Arsenal’s second-leading scorer as the Gunners finished second in the Premier League, and the South American attacker scored three goals as Chile won its second-straight Copa America, this one on American soil. It’s baffling that he’s not on the list.

N'Golo Kante enjoyed a season as the engine of the best story in Premier League history, manning the midfield for Leicester, and followed it up by helping France reach the EURO 2016 final. Pretty good, right?

Javier Mascherano and Ivan Rakitic were key pieces in Barcelona’s run to the La Liga crown despite being limited by the transfer ban. Mascherano followed it up by captaining Argentina to the Copa America Centenario final, while Rakitic starred alongside Ivan Perisic as Croatia won a tricky EURO 2016 group before falling to eventual winners Portugal.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 11: Fernando Torres of Club Atletico de Madrid is surrounded by (L-R) Javier Mascherano, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez of FC Barcelona during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Club Atletico de Madrid at Camp Nou on January 11, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Mascherano (far left) and Rakitic (second from right) are among several Barcelona players who didn’t make the cut (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images).

Harry Kane may’ve not been a good choice to take corner for England, but he also was one of the best all-around attackers in the world as Tottenham surged into the Top Four of the Premier League.

With four goalkeepers making the cut, it shows that club success is more important than performance. David De Gea‘s season was certainly on the same plane as Buffon, though the latter won the league with Juventus and edged Spain at EURO 2016.

Marcelo, Leonardo Bonucci, and David Silva were also players who succeeded for both club and country and could’ve found their way onto the 30.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Finally, let’s see how I fared in projecting the 30 men back in mid-September:

— I got 24 on the nose, wrongly guessing that Kante, Kane, Alexis, Mascherano, Rakitic, and Olivier Giroud would make the cut. Giroud led Arsenal and France in scoring, but if Alexis wasn’t going to make it the coiffed Frenchman had no hope.

— Of the six I didn’t get, only one brings me great shame: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should’ve been in the first 15 names on any list, not missing the post entirely. Paulo Dybala is a bit of a shocker from the crew, and Koke is a tricky miss. Luka Modric was our No. 31, while Rui Patricio was our 35. Diego Godin was a bad miss.

— What to learn from this: Atletico Madrid was obviously credited for its return to the UCL final, so Godin and Koke prove that carried a bit more weight than Kante and Giroud making the final with France, and Alexis thriving at the Copa America.

Whose historic hiccup was worse: Portland or Columbus?

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 6: Kei Kamara #23 of Columbus Crew and Liam Ridgewell #24 of Portland Timbers go after a ball during the second half of the game at Providence Park on March 6, 2016 in Portland, Oregon. The Timbers won the match 2-1. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images
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It’s been less than a year since we discussed who was best suited to return to the MLS Cup Final following Portland’s 2-1 win over Columbus in the 2015 title match.

Now we’re wondering who’s fall was more shameful, the Portland Timbers and Columbus Crew each missed the playoffs, just over 11 months after contesting the final. That’s never happened before.

[ MORE: Pre-playoff power rankings ]

We asked our staff to take a stand on the matter of who flubbed worse: Gregg Berhalter’s Crew or Caleb Porter’s Timbers.

Andy Edwards

Columbus: 2016 was Gregg Berhalter’s third season in charge in Columbus, and in each of his first two years, Crew SC took a gigantic step forward — from non-playoff side to in the playoffs in 2014; from young, naive playoff team to MLS Cup hosts in 2015 — which meant 2016 was supposed to be the culmination of a truly great revolution in Columbus.

They started the season slow, with no wins in their first five games. But they had done the same thing just 12 months earlier and there they were playing for the Cup in December. The Crew looked to be slowly turning this season’s corner when the Kei Kamara/Federico Higuain thing exploded and effectively ended their season in May.

(Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

The big knock on Crew SC last year, at least for me, was that they never seemed to figure out a Plan B — if “hit it long for Kei, he’ll knock it down, and Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram will run onto it and toss the alley-oop back to him inside the six” wasn’t working, you’d already beaten them.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

2016 exposed Berhalter, perhaps more than any player on the roster, because of the elongated nature of those struggles — literally the entire season. Finlay (6 goals, 9 assists) and Meram (5 goals, 13 assists) put up fine numbers once again, but they rang hollow for a losing team going nowhere all season long.

Wil Trapp’s age-23 season was completely wasted — he’s no longer “a young player” — and I’d take a long, hard look at Europe this winter if I were him. The defense has been an unmitigated disaster the last two season (53 and 58 goals conceded), mostly due to the all-out attacking nature of Berhalter’s game plans — hint: defending 2-on-4 against counter-attacks almost never ends well. The “other” Kamara, Ola, actually panning out was the saving grace that kept them within a mile of the playoff race.

Nick Mendola

Portland: Maybe it’s an odd year thing; Portland won the 2015 MLS Cup after claiming the West’s best record in 2013.

Or maybe, just maybe, the Timbers ran out of luck under newly-extended Caleb Porter in his fourth season on the job. This time, no one bailed them out.

Portland came out of nowhere to claim the West’s No. 1 seed in 2013, as Porter engineered an astounding 15 draws including 10 on the road. The tactics and lineup selection helped, but so did the arrivals of Diego Valeri and Will Johnson (pretty important, no?).

The Timbers missed the playoffs by a point in 2014, a 3W-1D end to the season not enough to make up for a horrible start to the season.

The next season saw the Timbers win it all, but not without needing a three-match winning streak to leap ahead of four teams and claim the third-seed (Seattle, LA, and KC all finished two points back). Six games later, they went from almost out to on top of the MLS world.

So what happened this year, with many falling all over ourselves to praise the long-term prospects of a Timbers dynasty? A giant failure. The Timbers failed to win a single road game, tossing aside their strong home field advantage (Portland was 12W-3L-2T at Providence Park).

SANDY, UT - APRIL 19: Head coach Caleb Porter of the Portland Timbers encourages his team during their game against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium April 19, 2014 in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

The Timbers scored the second-most penalties in the league this year, with five, so it’s not like fortune avoided them (The Red Bulls didn’t score one).

But, oh, this was ugly.

Portland took three of its the final 12 points available to it. The Timbers lost big in Vancouver and Houston, two non-playoff destinations. In its last 13 games, Portland lost nine and won four.

[ MORE: Yedlin on Newcastle, EFL Cup ]

The Timbers completed the fewest passes in Major League Soccer, 400 less than the closest competitor and 4,300 behind the league-leading Revs. Portland couldn’t take the ball away, either, with the second-fewest interceptions in the league.

You could even argue that losing 4-1 in Vancouver on Decision Day — a loss to a knocked-out Cascadia Cup rival — makes it worse than Columbus’ season alone. This was awful stuff, albeit schadenfreude for the anti-Porter brigade.

Oh, and they bombed out of a poor CONCACAF Champions League group without a Liga MX or MLS opponent in it.

Alright, so Andy tabbed Columbus and Nick took Portland. Let’s get a tiebreaker in here.

Matt Reed

Every champion has a target on its back but the Timbers managed to essentially bring back all of its key starters from a season ago, despite losing Maxi Urruti. The Timbers were involved in 22 games separated by one goal or less in 2016, with Caleb Porter’s side winning only seven of those contests. Had one more game gone in their favor the Timbers would likely be back in the postseason. 

The case for (and against) every Eastern Conference playoff team

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: Benoit Cheyrou #8 of Toronto FC defends Andrea Pirlo #21 of New York City FC free kick at Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images
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Of the six teams remaining in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference, you could argue there are three distinct pairings.

You have red-hot traditional sides in DC United and the New York Red Bulls; There are the big-name driven, deep squads from Toronto FC and New York City FC, and finally the two relative unknowns truly deserving of “wildcard” status in the Philadelphia Union Montreal Impact.

[ MORE: Yedlin on Newcastle, EFL Cup ]

Sure the table tends to tell us who’s who in the pecking order. It’s hard to bet against the Red Bulls seeing they haven’t lost since July 3, and Frank Lampard has somehow quietly been a wrecking ball thanks to dynamite performances from captain David Villa and world-class maestro Andrea Pirlo.

But there are reasons those teams may not be the true favorite to advance to the MLS Cup final, just as there are ways to imagine Philly can punch their way through the East. We’re here to give you both.

Philadelphia Union (6)

Why they’ll win: The young unit might be too green to know it isn’t expected to knock off Toronto in Toronto, or a New York team in New York or New Jersey. Chris Pontius and Tranquillo Barnetta add veteran skill and savvy, while Andre Blake is capable of stealing some of the league’s more terrific strikes.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Why they won’t: Their last win was Aug. 27, and we’re supposed to expect the Union to win on the road at Toronto, RBNY, and then either NYCFC or DC. Nah, dog (though it’d be quite a story and we’d be happy to watch it).

Montreal Impact (5)

Why they’ll win: Didier Drogba may not be mentally in it, but he’s still a fierce competitor who can score with the best of them. By the way, the “best of them” definitely includes Ignacio Piatti. The Argentine has been one of the top players in the league this season, and can take over any game (Yes, even three on the bounce).

Why they won’t: The dysfunction and fall-out from Drogba’s benching permeates the room before match against red-hot DC United, and an average road team fails to meet expectations.

Montreal Impact forward Didier Drogba heads the ball in front of D.C. United midfielder Marcelo Sarvas during the second half of an MLS soccer match Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016, in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)
(Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)

DC United (4)

Why they’ll win: A four-match win streak earned most of DC’s starters a well-deserved rest on Decision Day, and there will be a “Why not us?” cry coming from the DC dressing room. Patrick Nyarko has been a lot of fun to watch. Luciano Acosta is legit as well. Bill Hamid is an excellent shot stopper, and the four-time champion Black-and-Red is overdue for a final, having been absent since beating KC in 2004.

[ MORE: Pre-playoff power rankings ]

Why they won’t: Let’s be honest, most arguments against DC sound quite political. “Well, they can’t win because of the other guys being so good.” DC doesn’t have the firepower of TFC, NYCFC, and RBNY; Would you bet on them beating two of the above, which they likely would have to? (Actually, kinda).

Toronto FC (3)

Why they’ll win: Frankly, this is the best defensive team in the East, with a minimum of three game attacking breakers in Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore. Imports Drew Moor and Clint Irwin aren’t scared of the spotlight, and Will Johnson will be putting on for his city. And they’re good away from BMO Field. This could be TFC’s season, y’all.

Why they won’t: This is Toronto’s 10th season, and happens to be the first one in which it won more matches than it lost. TFC’s debut home match comes on Wednesday evening, and there’s something to be said for experience. While some of its players have plenty, the club does not possess much at all.

New York City FC (2)

Why they’ll win: One of only two teams (Toronto) to finish their road schedule with a .500 record, Patrick Vieira has been able to get the best out of the superstars and the lesser-known members of NYC’s squad. Tactically, we’re not sure there’s another coach in the East with his acumen.

Why they won’t: It’s also Vieira’s first playoffs as a manager, and the whole franchise hasn’t done that dance, either. They have one win in five combined matches against RBNY and TFC.

New York Red Bulls

Why they’ll win: Frankly, as stated above, because they don’t lose. Jesse Marsch hasn’t overseen a loss in three-and-a-half months, has two legit claimants to MVP honors in Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan, and have been reinforced by one of the deepest Academy production lines in MLS.

Why they won’t: New York won just three road matches all year, even if it managed 7 draws away from Red Bull Arena. On top of that, this is year No. 20 of MLS, and founding members RBNY have zero titles and one final appearance. Those ghosts could come creeping up to the door.