Soccer

2024 MLS Season Preview: Can the Crew Repeat? Will Messi Bring Miami to Glory?

Our picks for top contenders in both conferences, as well as some best bets for top goalscorer.

February 20, 2024

It was only a few short months ago that the Columbus Crew were crowned MLS Champions, winning their third MLS Cup in franchise history. As is the case for all defending champs, they’ll have the target on their backs entering the 2024 season and enter the year with high expectations.

There are plenty of other storylines that we’ll be following as the season kicks off, and we’ll highlight some of the key teams and players throughout the article. Specifically, we’ll provide outlooks for some teams in both the Eastern and Western Conference while highlighting some players who have the chance to put together standout individual seasons.

Eastern Conference

Ohio Power: The Crew and FC Cincinnati

Unsurprisingly, the Crew (+520) have relatively short odds to win the regular season Eastern Conference championship and to defend their MLS Cup title (+800). The core of the championship team returns, with no key on-field contributors leaving the roster since the team hoisted the trophy.

In terms of additions, Marino Hinestroza has the best chance to contribute, though he’s only 21 years old and will be playing stateside for the first time. There’s a case to be made that the factor that really sets the team apart is coach Wilfried Nancy, and with both he and Cucho Hernandez back in the mix, this team shouldn’t be counted out even if there is a premium on their odds.

The core of the (Crew’s) championship team returns, with no key on-field contributors leaving the roster since the team hoisted the trophy.

We’ll stick in Ohio to highlight another top contender in the East in FC Cincinnati (+650 to win Conference, +1200 to win MLS Cup). The team took home the Supporters Shield for earning the most points in the regular season in 2023 before being bounced by the Crew in the Eastern Conference Finals. They also don’t boast the same stability as their cross-state rivals. Brandon Vazquez departed for Mexican side Monterrey after taking a step back in 2023, but his presence will certainly be missed after he bagged 26 goals across 62 games in the MLS.

After a one-year loan in Cincinnati, the team also predictably lost Yerson Mosquera, who is signed to Premier League side Wolverhampton but currently loaned to Villareal of La Liga. That isn’t to say the cupboard is bare, as reigning MLS MVP Luciano Acosta (17 G, 14 A across 32 games in 2023) is back in the mix, as is Defensive Player of the Year Matt Miazga.

The team also pulled off a surprising addition to their back line with USMNT star Miles Robinson sticking around domestically, rather than going abroad for a more high-profile assignment. Overall, this is a playoff team, but losing that offensive firepower could ultimately cost them the chance to replicate the success of 2023.

Beyond the Buckeye State

We can’t possibly get through this preview without mentioning Inter Miami CF (+150 to win East; +275 to win MLS Cup), currently the favorite to win the title. Lionel Messi singlehandedly changed the outlook of the team, as it went from going winless in nine straight games prior to his addition to the roster, to putting together an 11-game unbeaten streak (including a nine-game winning streak) after he joined the squad.

Messi’s brought the band back together from his glory days at FC Barcelona with Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets, and Jordi Alba on the roster, so this isn’t just the Messi show. The name value up and down this roster is second to none in the league, but bringing things together to form cohesive play on the field could be a different story. Nevertheless, it’s a guarantee that they’ll step onto the field with the most talented player in the league in every game that Messi plays. That’s a big advantage.

Another team worth targeting at current odds is Atlanta United FC (+1400 to win Eastern Conference, +2500 to win MLS Cup). They have some questions in the back after the aforementioned Robinson departed, though they also boast a lot of star power with young phenom Thiago Almada, new addition Bartosz Slisz, and homegrown talent Nicholas Firmino. If things come together, they’ll be dangerous.

Western Conference

LAFC: Another Conference Title?

The conversation in the West rightfully has to begin with LAFC, as they’re the two-time defending conference champions. It comes as no surprise that they have the shortest odds (+295) to once again reign supreme in the West, and that they have the second-shortest odds to win the MLS Cup (+770).

Key contributors Denis Bouanga and Eduard Atuesta are still with the team, but otherwise, LAFC returns only 50 percent of its overall minutes from last season. David Martinez and Omar Campos are imports from Mexico and Venezuela, respectively, while Hugo Lloris is a big-name addition to take over in goal. There’s still talent here, but LAFC could take some time to gel to start the season and it’s entirely possible things don’t come together for them in the way necessary to remain best in the West.

Other Western Contenders

The Seattle Sounders (+620 to win West; +1700 to win MLS Cup) are in the best position to take advantage of any opening. Before we jump into the analysis of the roster, it’s worth noting that they present excellent value to win the MLS Cup, as they have only the seventh-shortest odds in the league despite being the projected second-best team in the West.

In contrast to LAFC, the Sounders have a relatively stable roster. That bodes well for goal prevention, as they allowed opponents to find the back of the net only 32 times last season – tied for the lowest in the league with Nashville SC. Their downfall was their inability to score. That remains a concern, but it could conceivably improve thanks to the addition of Pedro de la Vega. De la Vega is a 23-year-old from Argentina, so placing responsibility solely on him to improve the scoring output of the squad is a slightly uncomfortable proposition, but he has bagged 17 goals (14 assists) in 127 career games.

In contrast to LAFC, the Sounders have a relatively stable roster. That bodes well for goal prevention, as they allowed opponents to find the back of the net only 32 times last season…

Some of the other odds-on favorites look poised to take a step back in 2024, including the LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo. That leads us to Sporting Kansas City, who would return a pretty penny for winning either the conference (+1200) or the MLS Cup (+3000). It’s an older roster that had health issues in 2023, which bogged down their regular-season success.

However, when the squad had all their top options available, they averaged 1.7 points per game (three points are awarded for a win). If injury variance falls in their favor this season, they should move up considerably from their eighth-place finish in the conference last season.

Top Goalscorer

We now turn our attention to the player props available on Tipico. The favorite to lead the league in goals shouldn’t come as any surprise, with Lionel Messi (+265) having by far the shortest odds. There’s no arguing with the GOAT, but for those looking to play a longer shot option there is a case to be made. In his six games with Inter Miami last season, Messi had only one goal. More importantly, he had 20 total scoring chances and seven shots on target, neither of which would pace him toward the top of the league.

That gives us a good place to jump over to Juan Camilo Hernandez Suarez (aka Cucho Hernandez), who has the fifth-shortest odds (+1300) in this prop. He led the league by a significant margin in both scoring attempts (165) and shots on target (58) all while playing only 27 games. There’s no reason to believe he won’t be the focal point of the Crew’s attack once again.

In a similar odds range, we have Hany Mukhtar (+1400). He’s a proven scorer, having bagged a league-best 54 goals since the 2021 season, and he also scored the most goals in the league in 2022.

Those are some of my favorite picks, but there’s a few more names we have to note before wrapping this up. Denis Bouanga (+950) mentioned in the LAFC preview, and as the league leader in goals last season he can’t be ignored.

Giorgos Giakoumakis (+1100) is another talented player on Atlanta’s roster. He had an impressive MLS debut in 2023, finding the back of the net 17 times (tied for second in the league) while playing at least 600 fewer minutes than anyone else who scored at least 15 goals. At 29 years old, there’s no reason to believe he’s going to slow down.

For those willing to take a true flier, Brian White (+3500) of the Vancouver Whitecaps is a longshot to consider. The only three players to get more shots on target than White last season were Mukhtar, Bouanga, and Cucho. He tallied a career-high 15 goals while feeding off the strong play of Ryan Gauld, and that duo remains in place for 2024.

Dale Weber
Dale began working at RotoWire in 2017 writing MLB game wraps. He now covers primarily MLB, NFL and racing, but also has experience writing in a wide range of sports, including MMA, golf and soccer.
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