Fearless MLS predictions: Champ, MVP, top Rookie and more

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I’ve managed to tiptoe right up the edge of Major League Soccer’s 17th season without actually proffering my picks for high-profile awards and honors.

So let’s get these on the record:

MLS Cup Champion

Los Angeles Galaxy: I know, I know, nothing new here. But I’m not about to overthink this one. The Galaxy in a word: loaded. Defense will be an issue, of course. Bless Andrew Boyens, but he’s no Omar Gonzalez, and L.A.’s central defense will suffer. But in the end, it won’t matter. Until somebody shows they can dethrone Bruce Arena’s men, the champs are still the champs.

Next best in the West

Seattle Sounders: Sigi Schmid’s team has two solid league MVP candidates (Mauro Rosales and Fredy Montero) and another who probably should get more consideration for it, but probably won’t (Osvaldo Alonso).

Eastern Conference champion

Sporting Kansas City: Things just keep ticking along at Livestrong Sporting Park. Our friends at The Daily Wiz blog said it best: it’s been a long off-season around SKC, too much time to ponder what might have been but for 45 minutes against Houston in last year’s conference final.

MVP

Mauro Rosales: Remember how David Ferreira was really good in his first year at Dallas – and then got even better in his sophomore MLS season? Well, same deal with the Sounders smooth, right-sided attacking midfielder. By the way, he’s already been everything that Freddie Ljungberg wanted to be but couldn’t be at CenturyLink Field.

Golden Boot

Fredy Montero: I do believe I have already said a few words about this. Exactly 998 of them, if I’m being precise.

Goalkeeper of the Year

Nick Rimando: He started the calendar year with a mighty bang, standing tall in the U.S. shirt against a hellacious barrage down in Panama. He was among Major League Soccer’s best last year; no reason to see things changing now.

Defender of the Year

Geoff Cameron: Dominic Kinnear has declared the long-legged fellow is a center back now. For sure. No more “take backs” or anything.  So Cameron has a chance to firmly establish himself as The Man in terms of MLS center backs.

Rookie of the Year

Kelyn Rowe: The New England Revolution midfielder (and third pick in 2012 draft) collected his share of bright preseason reviews. It looks like he’ll get plenty of minutes along the outside spots at Gillette Stadium this year.

Comeback player

David Ferreira: He’s still suffering after-effects of last year’s broken ankle, unable to play tomorrow against the Red Bulls. But there were glimpses of the former league MVP’s qualities in preseason, and there’s plenty of time over the long MLS season – longest yet, in fact, with the final set for Dec. 1 – for the Colombian playmaker to become the old Ferreira again. (I also expect D.C. United DP Branko Boskociv to have a big year in his return from a lengthy injury absence.)

Breakout player

Joao Plata: Toronto’s tiny dancer of a winger was becoming a force last year as a rookie, never mind that the team around him was absolutely awful for about two-thirds of the season. Now he’s got DP forward Danny Koevermans alongside on the front line at BMO Field, and that could really help un-muddle the offensive puddle in Ontario. He had three goals and five assists last year; don’t be shocked if Plata doubles those totals this year.

Top Defense

Houston Dynamo: Cameron gets plenty of (deserved) praise, but all the attention sometimes obscures the fact that Andrew Hainault has established himself as a quality MLS defender, too. There’s nothing wrong with Tally Hall in goal, although you rarely hear his name mentioned among the league’s top back-stoppers. That may change this year, especially if the Dynamo “D” looks as strong as I expect it will.

US Open Cup winner

Chicago Fire: There’s a bunch of U.S. Open Cup pride around Toyota Park; the Fire has a record four trophies, most recently in 2006. They’ll fight hard for another one. (So will three-time U.S. Open Cup champ Seattle, of course? But the Sounders have CONCACAF Champions League and a tougher conference to simultaneously contend with.)