Toronto F.C. won the Major League Soccer championship last season, and it would be risky to bet against it entering the new season that started this weekend. Toronto hasn’t lost a step, and it won’t have any worries about losing its top players — Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco — to World Cup duty this summer. (Insert American and Italian groans here.) But who knows? Nine M.L.S. clubs have won championships in the past 11 years, and only one has repeated in the past decade. A quick glance around the league on opening weekend offers a glimpse at a few other potential contenders.
A New Team: Los Angeles F.C.
Major League Soccer’s newest team — Los Angeles F.C. — also might be its most intriguing. It will begin life with an established Mexican forward (Carlos Vela), a promising Uruguayan wing (Diego Rossi) and a coach, Bob Bradley, who led his last expansion team, the 1998 Chicago Fire, to the league championship. L.A.F.C. has more celebrity owners than anyone can count and, by the end of April, it will have a new $350 million stadium. L.A.F.C. was slow to build out its roster, and it was still adding players last week. Few would dispute that L.A.F.C. has got the team launch and branding parts of its job right. If it gets the soccer right, too, then the crosstown Galaxy — currently down on its luck — better worry.
Year 2 in Atlanta
Atlanta United broke attendance records in its inaugural season and then broke the bank this winter, signing the Argentine teenager Ezequiel Barco for a fee reported to be $15 million. You’ll have to wait four to six weeks to get a look at Barco; he’s out with a leg injury sustained in the final week of preseason. But adding him to an attack powered by Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez and Hector Villalba suggests 2018 could be another welcome workout for the Mercedes-Benz Stadium scoreboard. One note of caution: Winning 4-3 games can be tons of fun for fans, especially when you get 60,000 of them in the same room. Losing 4-3 games means you’re just a really bad defensive team, and seasons rarely end well for clubs like that.
Clock Ticking at N.Y.C.F.C.
N.Y.C.F.C. issued no fewer than five news releases during the off-season declaring itself “delighted” with this move or that one, and several of them — most intriguing was the arrival of the 20-year-old Paraguayan Jesus Medina — surely have strengthened a team that faded out of the playoffs uncomfortably early for the second year in a row. The loss of the underrated young wing Jack Harrison (gone to England’s Middlesbrough, and replaced by Medina) and the age of the star striker David Villa (he turned 36 in December) make this a critical year for N.Y.C.F.C., and Coach Patrick Vieira knows it. “We know that we can challenge,” he said this week. “We know that we can win games.”