To preview the 2012 season, each B&RU writer gave his predictions for the MLS Cup playoffs. Please feel free to agree or disagree and give your own predictions in the comments below.
Chest: In the East, I think the most realistic option is Sporting Kansas City. Houston stood still and Philly regressed, so the teams that were truly close are further behind. United, Columbus, or Chicago could have conceivably caught up to the Sporks, but it might take a few too many weeks to come together for those sides.
Out West, I feel like the only person who doesn't see the Galaxy rolling over everyone. Instead, I'm picking the Seattle Sounders (who, by the way, look miles ahead of LA based on Wednesday's CCL action). I don't like it, but the fact is that they have the coach, the home field advantage, and the personnel all over the field and deep down the bench (David Estrada is the latest example). They can win track meets, they can win possession duels, and they score on set pieces. Finally, unlike LA, they aren't replacing an MLS Best XI player at a crucial position with a rookie or a USL-caliber journeyman that Chivas USA didn't want.
My MLS Cup pick: The hell with these other teams. I'm picking United to catch fire en route to the final a la 1996 and 2004. It's time to add 5 stars.
Benuski: To be a (slight) contrarian, I will say that this will the year that the Real Salt Lake will win the Western Conference, but that Sporting Kansas City will win the Eastern Conference and the Supporter's Shield. Going up against almost all of the Western Conference teams three times is going to make it hard for any one of those teams to pull away, and so I think that whomever wins the East will have a decent shot to win the Shield as well.
As for the finals? I'm going to stay chalk and say that RSL and Sporting will meet for the MLS Cup as well, with Salt Lake winning and clinching the double. People seem to be sleeping a bit on RSL this year, saying that this is the year for the Seattle Sounders or the behemoth that is the L.A. Galaxy. Without the CONCACAF Champions League this season, Real Salt Lake have one goal and I think that they will achieve it.AMT: I've got RSL taking the Shield and Houston winning the East. DC United claims star #5 before anybody else can get to four. (What? I said at the outset, "Call me overly optimistic.")
Martin: While some have suggested that the LA Galaxy will struggle defensively without Omar Gonzalez, I still think they'll be able to repeat as Supporters' Shield winners, and their MLS Cup 2011 opponents the Houston Dynamo will finish on top of the Eastern Conference. But neither team will return to the Final.
I've got FC Dallas topping the Chicago Fire in MLS Cup 2012, after the Fire defeat D.C. United in the Eastern Conference Final. Somehow, United will lose when Joseph Ngwenya flubs an equalizing opportunity and the ball bounces off Christian Gomez's hand. I know it doesn't make a bit of sense, but I still think it's the likeliest scenario.