Major League Soccer’s season began in March and is almost at the midway point. Philadelphia Union is leading the table in the Eastern Conference, while Los Angeles FC has an impressive lead in the Western Conference.
LAFC can be grateful for the amazing form Mexican forward Carlos Vela has presented so far, with 14 goals and seven assists in 14 matches. If Vela carries on this performance and doesn’t sustain any injury, he will surely be capable of surpassing Josef Martinez’s record-breaking season in 2018, when the Venezuelan scored 34 goals, plus five in the playoffs.
Martinez, who was MVP last season, helped Atlanta United to win its first title last year. The reigning champions are now in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, so they are likely to secure another playoff spot.
Martinez continues to lead Atlanta, but he hasn’t maintained last year’s production, with just five goals in 12 games. Dutch soccer legend Van Nistelrooy once said, “Goals are like ketchup. If you try too hard, they won’t come. And when they do come out, they all come at once.” So, after a slow start to the season, you can be sure Martinez will end up with double figures once again, splashing all that ketchup on the opponent’s goal.
With these two teams secure to make the playoffs, we’ll take a look at some teams who might fall under the radar.
Orlando City SC
Since it joined MLS in 2015, Orlando has never reached the playoffs. Orlando was last in the Eastern Conference last year and always failed to achieve the required top-seven position. Will this season be different?
Orlando is still not in a playoff position—the club is currently 10th in the Eastern Conference—but seems to be improving and is just two points away from seventh-place Toronto FC.
A reason to believe in Orlando’s playoff possibilities is the current form of Nani. The Portuguese winger, who had a stellar career in Europe, moved to MLS from Sporting CP this year and is starting to make an impact. He has seven goals and an assist in 11 appearances, and Orlando will need him to keep delivering if it wants to secure a playoff spot for the first time.
Nani seems to be taking the role that should be filled by Dom Dwyer, since the British striker has only scored four goals so far. Will Dwyer find the connection with Nani and start netting goals more often?
Chicago has been one of the more disappointing clubs this season. After securing an important player with European experience, Argentinian Nicolás Gaitán, the team should be doing better than ninth place in the Eastern side. Gaitán played with Benfica and Atlético Madrid, before he headed to China to suit up for Dalian Yifang.
For Gaitán, just like Martinez, it seems like his ketchup is finally splashing. In the 11th week of the season he was named Player of the Week, after he scored two goals and assisted on two more in victories over the New England Revolution (5-0) and Minnesota United FC (2-0). Unfortunately for Chicago, Gaitán suffered from a leg injury and he might be out for a while. If he returns and keeps the form of the previous two games, Chicago might be ready to get back into the playoffs.
Another player from Chicago who is not meeting expectations is World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger. After renewing his contract last year with the Fire, the German midfielder said he was keen on winning an MLS Cup before he retires or moves elsewhere. Last year he scored seven goals and produced 12 assists, but he has not scored a goal yet in 2019 and has only a single assist.
Los Angeles Galaxy
There would be no MLS prediction without including the highly rated Galaxy, especially because it has Zlatan Ibrahimović. The Swedish forward has continued his prolific goal-scoring rate, with nine in 10 games. Last season he scored 22 in 27 games—nothing out of the ordinary for the former Puskas winner. Zlatan scoring goals is almost a formality.
Last season, even with the numbers produced by Zlatan, the Galaxy didn’t make the playoffs.
This season, however, the Galaxy is in fourth place in the Western Conference and will make the playoffs if it maintains form. Besides Zlatan, the Galaxy leans on Giovanni dos Santos, who has scored three goals and might be a vital help for Zlatan to conquer the MLS and add another title to his long résumé.