Today is Opening Day for Major League Soccer, or as they call it, "First Kick." The 19th season of MLS promises to be one of its best with Michael Bradley, Julio Cesar, Jermain Defoe, and Gaston Fernandez highlighting another significant influx of talent.
Here are my annual predictions for this coming season:
Rookie of the Year - Andre Blake, Goalkeeper, Philadelphia Union
Blake should be starting for the Union by midseason and with Philly's improved lineup he could be a key in the Union's chase for a playoff berth.
Defender of the Year - Matt Besler, Sporting Kansas City
The newly minted captain of the defending MLS champs has emerged as the best centerback in American soccer, and his 2014 MLS and World Cup campaigns should prove this without a shadow of a doubt.
Golden Boot - Jermain Defoe, Forward, Toronto FC
This will likely be a close race, with the likes of Chris Wondolowski, Robbie Keane, Mike Magee, Jack McInerney, and Marco Di Vaio all contending. But Defoe will be motivated in Toronto and should score 20+ goals if he can stay healthy.
Goalkeeper of the Year - Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake
Those who have followed MLS in recent years already knew of his outstanding work, but he is getting more notoriety nationally with his impressive Gold Cup performance for the USMNT, leading them to the title.
Most Valuable Player - Michael Bradley, Midfielder, Toronto FC
Bradley should enjoy this coming year, emerging as the undisputed leader of the USMNT and up and coming Toronto FC. With all of Toronto's changes, Bradley will be called on to lead on the field and in the locker room, and he will pass these tests with flying colors.
Coach of the Year - Caleb Porter, Portland Timbers
Porter will have Portland contending for the Supporters Shield in his second season with the Timbers, after leading them to an impressive turnaround last year.
Eastern Conference - Sporting KC, New York Red Bulls, Toronto, Houston, Philadelphia
Western Conference - Portland, LA Galaxy, Seattle, Real Salt Lake, San Jose
MLS Cup - Sporting Kansas City over Portland Timbers
Sporting KC will have a lot of challenges just to repeat as Eastern Conference champions, let alone MLS Cup winners. But KC is the total package, and should be able to fend off a young and talented Timbers squad to win back-to-back titles. The Timbers are one year away.