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MLS 2024 predictions: Is an Inter Miami championship inevitable?

A full season of Lionel Messi in MLS. The GOAT made an immediate impact for Inter Miami last year, but his best moments came in the Leagues Cup and US Open Cup. There’s no guarantee of success for Inter Miami (see their chaotic pre-season). Messi, however, will surely produce some magic - assuming he can stay fit. Graham Ruthven

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

The opportunity to track exciting young talents with big club roles, including those who might represent their country at this summer’s Olympics. The US’s Diego Luna (RSL) and Caleb Wiley (Atlanta United), Paraguay’s 20-year-old Diego Gómez (Inter Miami) and Argentina’s 22-year-old World Cup champion, Thiago Almada (Atlanta United), are just a few I’ll be watching closely. Megan Swanick

Young player who European clubs will be scouting …

Noel Buck. The New England Revolution’s 18-year-old midfielder has already been linked with a number of Premier League clubs and this could be the season his development reaches another level. He registered five combined goals and assists in 25 games last season. An improvement on that could prompt a bidding war. GR

18-year-old New York City FC forward Jovan Mijatović. He has all the makings of an elite talent. A rangy, left-footer, Mijatovic arrives in MLS from Red Star Belgrade – he was reportedly the subject of interest from Bayern Leverkusen after scoring eight goals in around 600 minutes in Serbia’s top-flight earlier this season. JL

Thiago Almada’s days with Atlanta United feel numbered, so numbered that I’m surprised they didn’t expire this winter. 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 sure to accrue ever-increasing attention from across the sea, especially as the dual-national U19 England player impresses on the international stage as well. MS

Inter Miami’s season will finish …

With glory. Inter Miami have assembled arguably the strongest roster in MLS history. They have a lot more than just Messi to make the difference. Indeed, Tata Martino has a number of talented youngsters to do the leg work Messi, Luis Suárez, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba are unable to at this veteran stage of their careers. Inter Miami appear to have a good balance. GR

With an MLS Cup trophy. Because Lionel Messi is set to miss more than a fifth of Miami’s regular season slate should Argentina make a run to the Copa America final, the Supporters’ Shield is probably off the table. But this team is set up to blow through a knockout tournament. JL

In the playoffs, but short of the trophy. In fact, I think they fall short of the championship game itself. There will be other opportunities for a trophy though and I imagine they take one. With Open Cup participation in a state of debate, their likely options are Supporters Shield, Leagues Cup, or Concacaf Champions Cup. With extensive travel for an ageing squad a potential fatigue-factor for some of that, my guess is a repeat of Leagues Cup will be their most likely bit of brass.

Columbus Crew’s high-energy style makes them must-watch TV. Photograph: Adam Cairns/USA Today Sports

Your Season Pass must-watch team is …

Columbus Crew. Wilfried Nancy’s team weren’t just MLS Cup winners last season, they were also the most entertaining side in the league. Columbus played a high-energy, attack-minded game and having kept the bulk of their squad together, there’s no reason to believe they won’t play the same way in 2024. GR

Inter Miami. They’re the correct answer here given, uh, *gestures at everything*. But I’ll toss the Columbus Crew in here as a close second. Wilfried Nancy’s team plays the most entertaining style in the entire league, complete with a steadfast commitment to possession while star Cucho Hernández roams in the attack. JL

The Columbus Crew. The reigning champs play so pretty, 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 over a decade, though the eastern conference will be hotly contested. MS

One bold prediction …

The Jim Curtin era in Philly will come to a shuddering halt. Continuity is generally considered a good thing in soccer, but there is a point at which it leads to staleness. The Philadelphia Union might now be at that point. There were signs of sagging last season. Their underlying numbers dropped significantly from 2022 to 2023. 2024 could make the end of the Curtin era at Subaru Park. GR

Aaron Boupendza will be the best non-Messi attacker in MLS. The guy looked absolutely incredible after moving from Saudi Arabia to FC Cincinnati last summer. He landed in the 99th percentile among MLS strikers in non-penalty xG per 90 minutes, according to FBref. Boupendza looks every bit like the real deal. JL

As the new season starts, the league is mired in multiple off-field controversies, including a referee lockout and heated debates surrounding the future of US Open Cup. Now entering its 29th season, the ‘26 World Cup looming and ‘Messi-mania’ threatening to impact everything from roster rules to new fandom, my bold prediction is this season will be as memorable for its off-field evolutions as any of the soccer happening on the pitch. MS

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Your MVP will be …

Lionel Messi will win the official MVP award, because it has become taboo not to hand every individual award to the Argentine (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 centre-forward in MLS and is a good bet to exceed the tally of 19 goals in his debut season for Atlanta United. GR

Lionel Messi. I’m not as confident in this pick as I’d like to be, simply due to the games he’ll miss while with Argentina, but it seems foolish to bet against Messi for this award. Even if he only plays in 25 games, he could still hit 25 goals and 25 assists. JL

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

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. MS

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. MS

Your MLS Cup champions will be …

Inter Miami. Management of game minutes and disruption due to the Copa America means Messi and co. might struggle to challenge 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 hint of what Inter Miami are capable of in a knockout format last season as they won the inaugural Leagues Cup and reached the US Open Cup final. Once Inter Miami get momentum behind them, they will be almost impossible to stop. How many teams will be truly equipped to topple them in a single-game format? I say none. GR

Inter Miami. They’re not perfect – you can’t be perfect in MLS given the roster rules are designed to promote parity, 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 playoffs, nor will they be able to match Miami’s quality and depth in central midfield. The defense will be a problem, sure, but would it shock anyone to see Tomás Avilés turn into an elite MLS center back by the end of the year? Absolutely not. We’ve never seen a team in MLS with a ceiling quite this high. JL

The Columbus Crew. It’s not easy to repeat the MLS Cup trophy in this parity-driven league, but the Crew seem like a team capable of running it back in ‘24. Wilfried Nancy is among the most inspired managers in MLS; his team’s dominant style worked wonders in possession and in front of goal last year. While Julian Gressel (now with Inter Miami) could be missed, the Crew return with their trophy-lifting squad more or less intact, touting MVP contenders like Colombian striker Cucho Hernández and domestic midfield legends like Darlington Nagbe. Nancy’s second year in Columbus will be one to track. MS

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League Table

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