I had Alan Hinton help me out on my MLS power rankings at the end of last season, and I asked the Sounders legend to continue that role this year. His first offering included so much content, though, I felt it would work as its own post.
Here are some of Hinton’s thoughts on the first week (edited for clarity):
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Thank you for inviting me again this year. It was fun last season.
My take is that the Supporters’ Shield champions will come from the following, in no particular order after only one game: Sporting Kansas City, Los Angeles, Real Salt Lake, Seattle, New York and Portland.
Dark horses could be Vancouver and Toronto. Houston is always in there but not quite tops.
Kansas City is a very good, genuine, hardworking team with talent, but no upgrades from 2013, so staying still regarding talent is often a negative in a fast-improving MLS. New York will win games but not sure with Thierry Henry and his moods.
L.A. looked good vs. RSL and will be up there with Keane, Donovan and Gonzalez. RSL always in the mix. Portland was super in 2013 and needs to continue its midfield domination. Goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, can he have another All-Star year? Super crowd driving on Timbers, so it’s very hard to win in Portland.
Sounders fell off the cliff end of last season winning one of last 10 games. I support the much-needed change, and after a good training camp and a good opening-day win vs. Kansas City, I am optimistic Sounders can have a winning season and make playoffs again for a sixth-straight season.
I see a new calmness with the Sounders squad and a good spirit developing already. This squad seems to me to be very committed and happy to play for the top team in MLS in a great city. Last season, too many groups and too many cliques, which means whispering in corners kills the team’s togetherness. In addition, 2013 had way too many injuries, which hurt.
Dempsey will be a big star this season, and I am sure even he will agree he did not play his best soccer at end of last season. Clint Dempsey is a top player and will score between 10 and 15 goals. I like all the new players and especially the continued encouragement of more homegrown players like Yedlin (super last year), Okoli and Kovar with more coming through. Coach Sigi Schmid, his coaches and staff do a fantastic job every day in a very tough and challenging MLS. The best fans in MLS will again drive the Sounders to victory.
Vancouver had a good start and time will tell if they will be a contender. Toronto had major team upgrades with GK Julio Cesar, Jermain Defoe (England national team and former Spurs goal-scorer) plus popular U.S. and Roma star Michael Bradley. Should make Toronto competitive. Time will tell.