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MLS 2024 predictions: Is an Inter Miami championship inevitable?

I’m most excited about…

A full season of Lionel Messi in the MLS. The GOAT made an immediate impression for Inter Miami last year, but his best moments came in the Leagues Cup and US Open Cup. There is no guarantee of success for Inter Miami (see their chaotic preseason). However, Messi will certainly provide some magic, assuming he can stay fit. Graham Ruthven

Watching the league’s talented young players grow. With Diego Luna, Noel Buck and a host of others (including my personal favorite, coming soon) ready to take a step forward, there is a bumper crop of talent in the MLS this year. As MLS strives for global relevance, developing and selling good young players is a useful tool. Joseph Lowery

The possibility to follow exciting young talents with major club roles, including those who could represent their country at this summer’s Olympics. American Diego Luna (RSL) and Caleb Wiley (Atlanta United), 20-year-old Paraguay Diego Gomez (Inter Miami) and Argentina’s 22-year-old World Cup champion Thiago Almada (Atlanta United) are just a few examples I will be keeping a close eye on. Megan Swanick

Young player who will scout European clubs…

Noel Buck. The 18-year-old New England Revolution midfielder has already been linked with a number of Premier League clubs and this season could see his development reach a new level. Last season he recorded five combined goals and assists in 25 games. Improving this could lead to a bidding war. GR

18-year-old striker for New York City FC Jovan Mijatovic. He has everything to be an elite talent. Mijatovic, a slim left-footer, comes to the MLS from Red Star Belgrade – he was Reportedly the subject of interest from Bayern Leverkusen after scoring eight goals in around 600 minutes in the Serbian top flight earlier this season. JL

Thiago AlmadaThe days at Atlanta United feel numbered, so numbered that I’m surprised they haven’t ended this winter. The 22-year-old Almada may be the big transfer of the summer. But New England Revolution’s 18-year-old starting midfielder Noel Buck seems confident he will attract increasing attention from across the sea, especially as the dual-citizen England U19 player is also making an impact on the international stage makes. MRS

Inter Miami’s season ends…

With glory. Inter Miami has put together perhaps the strongest roster in MLS history. They have much more than just Messi to make the difference. Tata Martino does indeed have a number of talented youngsters who can do the legwork that Messi, Luis Suárez, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba are unable to do at this experienced stage of their careers. Inter Miami seems to have a good balance. GR

With an MLS Cup trophy. With Lionel Messi set to miss more than a fifth of Miami’s regular-season roster if Argentina reaches the Copa America final, the Supporters’ Shield is likely off the table. But this team is ready to win a knockout tournament. JL

In the play-offs, but without the trophy. In fact, I think they fell short in the championship game itself. However, there will be other opportunities for a trophy and I can imagine them taking one. With participation in the Open Cup in full discussion, their likely options are Supporters Shield, Leagues Cup or Concacaf Champions Cup. With a lot of travel being a potential fatigue factor for an aging squad, I think a Leagues Cup repeat will be their most likely piece of brass.

Columbus Crew’s energetic style makes them want to watch TV. Photo: Adam Cairns/USA Today Sports

Your Season Pass must-watch team is…

Columbus crew. Wilfried Nancy’s team not only won the MLS Cup last season, they were also the most entertaining team in the league. Columbus played an energetic, attack-oriented game and because they’ve kept most of their team together, there’s no reason to think they won’t play the same way in 2024. GR

InterMiami. They’re the right answer here, uh, *gestures at everything*. But I’ll throw in the Columbus Crew as a close second here. Wilfried Nancy’s team play the most entertaining style in the entire league, complete with a determined commitment to possession, while star Cucho Hernández roams in attack. JL

The Columbus crew. The reigning champions are playing so beautifully that it would be criminal to neglect them for anyone else. French manager Wilfried Nancy’s second season in charge could see the Crew become the first repeat champions in more than a decade, although the Eastern Conference will be hotly contested. MRS

One bold prediction…

The Jim Curtin era in Philly will come to a shuddering halt. Continuity is generally considered a good thing in football, but there is a point where it leads to boredom. The Philadelphia Union could be at that point now. Last season there were signs of subsidence. Their underlying numbers fell significantly between 2022 and 2023. 2024 could mark the end of the Curtin era at Subaru Park. GR

Aaron Boupendza will be the best non-Messi forward in MLS. The man looked absolutely fantastic after moving from Saudi Arabia to FC Cincinnati last summer. According to FBref, he ranked in the 99th percentile among MLS forwards in xG per 90 minutes without penalty. Boupendza looks exactly like the real thing. JL

As the new season begins, the league is embroiled in multiple off-field controversies, including a refereeing ban and heated debate over the future of the US Open Cup. As we enter our 29th season, the ’26 World Cup looms and ‘Messi mania’ threatens to impact everything from roster rules to new fandom, my bold prediction is thatHis season will be just as memorable because of the developments off the field like all football that takes place on the field. MRS

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Your MVP will be…

Lionel Messi will win the official MVP award, as it has become taboo not to award every individual award to the Argentinian (see the 2023 Ballon d’Or). However, you asked for *my* MVP and for that I nominate Giorgos Giakoumakis. The Greek is the best pure striker in the MLS and is a good bet to surpass the total of 19 goals in his debut season for Atlanta United. GR

Lionel Messi. I don’t have as much confidence in this pick as I would like simply because of the games he will miss during his time with Argentina, but it seems foolish to bet against Messi at this price. Even if he only plays 25 games, he can still score 25 goals and 25 assists. JL

Lionel Messi. I don’t think Inter Miami will capture the trophies available in the league, but I do think it’s individually safe to imagine that the 36-year-old GOAT will still be the biggest game changer in Major League Soccer this year. MRS

Eastern Conference Playoff Teams

Atlanta United, FC Cincinnati, Columbus Crew, Inter Miami, Nashville, New England Revolution, NYC FC, New York Red Bulls, Orlando City. GR

Columbus Crew, Atlanta United, Inter Miami, FC Cincinnati, Philadelphia Union, Orlando City, New York City FC, New York Red Bulls, Nashville SC. JL

FC Cincinnati, Columbus Crew, Inter Miami, Philadelphia Union, Atlanta United, New York Red Bulls, Orlando City SC, New England Revolution, NYCFC. MRS

Western Conference Playoff Teams

Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, LAFC, LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, Sporting KC, St. Louis City, Vancouver Whitecaps. GR

Seattle Sounders, LAFC, Sporting Kansas City, Vancouver Whitecaps, FC Dallas, LA Galaxy, Minnesota United, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake. JL

LAFC, Seattle Sounders, Real Salt Lake, Colorado Rapids, St. Louis SC, FC Dallas, Sporting Kansas City, LA Galaxy, Portland Timbers. MRS

Your MLS Cup Champions Will Be…

InterMiami. Management of minutes and disruption through the Copa America means Messi and co. may struggle to compete for the Supporters’ Shield, but Inter Miami will finish comfortably above the playoff line in the East and that will give them a platform to make a serious MLS Cup run. We got a sense of what Inter Miami are capable of in knockout form last season when they won the inaugural Leagues Cup and reached the final of the US Open Cup. Once Inter Miami gets the momentum behind them, they will be nearly impossible to stop. How many teams will really be equipped to topple them in a single-game format? I say none. GR

InterMiami. They’re not perfect – you can’t be perfect in MLS, as the roster rules are designed to promote equality, rather than dynasties – but Miami will triumph in this year’s MLS Cup. Opposing defenses simply won’t be able to stop Messi in the play-offs, nor will they be able to match Miami’s quality and depth in central midfield. Defense will certainly be an issue, but would it shock anyone if Tomás Avilés turned into an elite MLS center by the end of the year? Absolutely not. We’ve never seen a team in MLS with such a high ceiling. JL

The Columbus crew. Repeating the MLS Cup trophy won’t be easy in this parity-based league, but the Crew look like a team capable of running it in ’24. Wilfried Nancy is one of the most inspired managers in the MLS; His team’s dominant style worked wonders in possession and in front of goal last year. While Julian Gressel (now at Inter Miami) could be missed, the team returns with their trophy-lifting squad more or less intact, touting MVP candidates like Colombian striker Cucho Hernández and national midfield legends like Darlington Nagbe. Nancy’s second year in Columbus will be one to watch. MRS