The 2022 MLS season is kicking off Saturday with some notable first-day matchups, including MLS Cup runner-up Portland Timbers hosting 2021 Supporters' Shield winners New England Revolutions and Charlotte FC playing their first-ever game on the road against D.C. United.
Our crack staff has you covered ahead of Opening Day with our awards picks. Can New York City repeat as MLS Cup champs? Which players should you keep a close eye on this season? Who will be the top scorer? Let's take you through who we think will garner end-of-season superlatives.
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Most likely to win golden boot
Chuck Booth: Cristian Arango, LAFC. Arango set the league on fire when he joined LAFC, scoring 14 goals in 17 matches. While he won't be able to keep that going over the course of a full season, I expect big things as Steve Cherundolo is building a solid team out west. Hopefully, having a healthy Carlos Vela to take pressure off of him will improve Arango's chances as well.
Roger Gonzalez: Valentino Castellanos, NYCFC. The Argentine striker is rightfully on the radar of both River Plate and Boca Juniors. MLS champ and their hero last season en route to the title, expect a 20-plus goals from him as the club looks like contenders once again to win it all.
Thomas Rongen: Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, LA Galaxy. Chicharito edges out another Mexican, Carlos Vela, for my pick here. Hernandez will benefit from Douglas Costa, who's the ideal man to create chances for him. Expect Chicharito back at his very best.
Top breakout candidate
Booth: Caden Clark, New York Red Bulls. This is a tough one because there are so many talented players in MLS who fit the bill here. But I'll take Caden Clark after his loan back to New York Red Bulls from RB Leipzig. Clark had the chance to stick in Germany but wasn't deemed to be ready, so he returns to MLS with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. While he had four goals and five assists last season, those are numbers that can rise with more experience under his belt especially as he looks to show why he won't need to spend another year on loan in MLS and move to Germany full time.
Gonzalez: Jesus Ferreira, FC Dallas. He's a recognizable name as he's played a bit for the United States men's national team, but I suspect this is the season where he reaches double-digit goals and earns a move to Europe. With Ricardo Pepi gone and with Paul Arriola on the wing, expect big things out of a guy looking to play his way into Gregg Berhalter's lineup consistently.
Rongen: Christian Arango, LAFC. He scored 14 goals in only 17 games after joining from Millonarios midway through last season. Arango averaged a goal every 100 minutes, and if he replicates those numbers, he could be devastating for opponents.
Booth: Douglas Costa, LA Galaxy. I picked Costa for a few reasons. At the top of his game, Costa was a joy to watch and I'm hoping that he can rediscover that form in MLS after being on a Gremio side that was relegated in Brazil. But if he can't, this could be a move where the Galaxy end up with more egg on their faces in the transfer market when Greg Vanney looks to lead the team back into the playoffs. So this is my favorite move for the explosive potential on both ends.
Gonzalez: Thiago Almada, Atlanta United. This is a tough one. I think both Xherdan Shaqiri and Douglas Costa can be magical, dominant players in this league. Thiago Almada, however, gets the edge for me. The Velez Sarsfield man was such a smart signing by Atlanta United, because if he pans out, they've got the potential to sell him for an MLS-record transfer fee. He's brilliant on the ball, he's unselfish and he can tear defenses apart. I expect some wild highlights from him this season.
Rongen: Lorenzo Insigne, Toronto FC. What a coup for MLS and TO. Just 31 this summer, a Napoli legend and Euro 2022 champion. Scoring double-digit goals for six straight seasons. He should make Toronto FC a contender once again.
Most disappointing signing
Booth: Douglas Costa, LA Galaxy. See how I teed myself up there … Costa hasn't had more than five combined goals and assists in league play since 2017 with Bayern Munich where he had four goals and three assists across 23 appearances. Those numbers won't cut it occupying a designated player spot in Los Angeles.
Gonzalez: Robert Voloder, Sporting Kansas City. The club overpaid for a 20-year-old center back with very little experience, and in a league where attackers dominate, they would have been better suited investing in somebody that has proven their worth in this league. That's not to say he can't turn into a fine player, but I believe there is something to be said about a German U-20 talent who ends up in MLS at such a young age. For talent in South America, it is a step up. For Europeans, not so much.
Rongen: Xherdan Shaqiri, Chicago Fire. Yes, he was superb at Stoke City, but failed at Bayern, Inter Milan and Liverpool. Only 11 games at Lyon in his last stint. Expect some awesome moments at times, but not the player the Fire needed to turn their fortunes around.
Defender of the year
Booth: Yeimar, Seattle Sounders. Part of a Sounders defense that only allowed 33 goals last season, Yeimar has helped turn them into quite a stout defensive unit. There is concern over everyone staying healthy for the Sounders this season, but if they do, this defense will be stout once again due to Yeimar at the center of everything. Already on the radar for the Colombian national team as well, there's nowhere to go but up from here.
Gonzalez: Walker Zimmerman, Nashville SC. That's right ... he's going to win it for the third straight season. He's the most consistent defender in the league and he's playing himself into a starting role with the United States men's national team at the World Cup. Not to mention, he's been pivotal in the club making the playoffs each of their first two seasons. Prediction: By 2030, the award becomes the Chad Marshall/Walker Zimmerman MLS Defender of the Year Award.
Rongen: Miles Robinson, Atlanta United. Finally, someone will dethrone Walker Zimmerman. Robinson finished third in the last two seasons and is now ready to claim the trophy. He has become a key member for the club and country and is primed to go abroad soon.
Team most likely to disappoint
Booth: Colorado Rapids. They seem to have forgotten that midfielders are important. After winning the Western Conference by a hair last season, they sold Kellyn Acosta to LAFC and loaned Cole Bassett to Feyenoord with an option to buy without securing proper replacements. Bryan Acosta hasn't hit the highs from Spain in America yet and too much will be on his shoulders as the Rapids slip to the middle of the pack in the Western Conference.
Gonzalez: Colorado Rapids. I agree with Chuck here, it's Colorado. There is no way the Rapids reach 61 points and win the Western Conference again. Some of the other teams in the west have improved, but Colorado, on paper, has gotten worse.
Rongen: NYCFC. Last season's MLS Champions will prove to be something of a fluke. It took two penalty shootouts to win it all. NYCFC clawed their way into the playoffs, eighth in the Eastern Conference, and eventually into the final. They were worthy winners last year but I can't see them replicate the same heroics this season.