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Which teams are the biggest contenders to win 2017 MLS Cup?

Wednesday 25th October 2017
The Major League Soccer playoffs begin on Wednesday. Twelve franchises will take part. But being realistic, only several have a chance of lifting the MLS Cup trophy. We have analysed the teams best equipped to go all the way.
So, which side is the favourite to win 2017 MLS Cup?

The likely candidates include an expansion franchise, a regular-season juggernaut, and one of MLS's most experienced squads. Translation needed? We are referring to Atlanta United, Toronto FC, and Seattle Sounders.

An expansion franchise looking to make history



First, let's start with Atlanta United. They might be young, but they're not stupid - as the old saying would go. In fact, ATL emerged as the competition's biggest surprise and had no problems clinching a playoff berth in MLS debut. That is not easy to achieve - ask Minnesota United how its season went. Atlanta, however, used their impressive home form to get this far, registering 11 wins, along with three draws and three losses. The new franchise ended the regular season fourth in the Eastern Conference with 55 points.

Without question, Atlanta's attacking line is the main reason for recent success. The foursome of Yamil Asad, Hector Villalba, Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez can match up against all others in MLS. And the numbers back up that claim. Martinez is the league's fourth top scorer with 19. Almiron found the net 9 times and provided 14 assists. Villalba contributed 13 goals and assisted 11, while Asad scored 7 and set up 13. Overall, Atlanta's attacking quartet finished with 48 goals and 39 assists.
The scintillating attack, however, is not everything. Former FC Barcelona and Argentina manager, Gerardo Martino has done an excellent job in his first season as coach. Consequently, his name has been linked to the USMNT position after Bruce Arena's recent departure.

The Atlanta coach has relied on a strong attack and an experienced defensive line. Brad Guzan, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Carlos Carmona and Greg Garza have all emerged as solid contributors. Martino knows how to lead a team. This campaign's results prove that.

A Canadian based side looking the strongest



Atlanta provide a huge threat, but they aren't the favourites in the Eastern Conference. That particular honour belongs to Toronto FC. The Canadian franchise made history by finishing the regular season with 69 points, the highest ever recorded in MLS. With Sebastian Giovinco among this season's top MVP candidates, working alongside the US international striker Jozy Altidore, the Reds are once again a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.
Toronto's biggest strength is in attack. They led the league in goals scored with 74 in 34 matches, averaging 2.17 per game. Giovinco made 25 appearances, finding the target 16 times while providing 6 assists. His partner in crime, Altidore, contributed with 15 goals in 27 games.

One of MLS's biggest surprises in recent times, however, is Victor Vazquez. The Spaniard has emerged as an interesting threat. He finished the regular season second on the assist leaderboard with 16. The winger also scored eight goals during his 31 appearances.

Toronto is more than just an attacking team though. They only conceded 37 goals this campaign, which ranked first in the East and second in the entire league. And although their midfield is underrated, Michael Bradley is among the best playmakers in MLS. The former AS Roma midfielder is often criticised due to his 'lackluster effort'. It is extremely unfair. He doesn't score or assist regularly, but his presence makes a huge impact on the squad.

With that strong team balance, Toronto should be considered as genuine contenders to go all the way. The key now is having belief in own ability.

A Western Conference team looking to contend



Don't worry. We haven't forgotten about the Western Conference. Although it's undeniable that the East has made the headlines during the regular season, the West also has a candidate to win the MLS Cup. The Seattle Sounders.

The Sounders might not be the league's best team; however, they possess one of the most experienced MLS rosters. Aside from quality, experience plays a big role in the playoffs. Seattle have already proven their capabilities, ending the campaign second in the Western Conference with 53 points. One more victory would have been enough to earn the top spot from Portland Timbers.

Seattle's strength lies in the collective effort. They also have a lot of individual talent though. It only takes one look at the Sounders' roster to realize that. Stefan Frei offers vast experience between the posts. Chad Marshall, Osvaldo Alonso and Roman Torres anchor the backline. Nicolas Lodeiro and Clint Dempsey lead the way in attack, with Will Bruin also emerging as a reliable scoring threat in past few matches.

The Sounders have talent and experience in equal measure. Will it prove sufficient in the race for MLS's most prized trophy?
Twelve candidates remain. But Atlanta, Toronto and Seattle are the top three contenders for 2017 MLS Cup. All will be revealed on 9 December.
Juan Pablo Aravena

29-year-old sports analyst and journalist with over three years of experience in the industry. Writes about all kinds of sports from football to golf, but there is no question his biggest passion in life is football. Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Colo Colo fan.


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