Group celebration - white - CCL

Major League Soccer is back.


Portland Timbers defeated expansion side Minnesota United FC 5-1 on Friday night to officially kick off the 2017 MLS regular season. Action continues on Saturday with seven more matches before Vancouver Whitecaps FC host Philadelphia Union on Sunday night in their MLS season opener (6:30 p.m. PT at BC Place – tickets still available).


After missing the playoffs a year ago, the ‘Caps have a lot to prove.


You can see that in the different Power Rankings below, which have Whitecaps FC near the bottom of the league. However, they also have a lot of potential – so much so that a few ESPNFC pundits picked them to complete the Cascadia threepeat and win the MLS Cup.


Here’s what people are saying about the ‘Caps heading into 2017 (keeping in mind these were published before Thursday's thrilling 2-0 win over New York Red Bulls in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals):


POWER RANKINGS

ESPNFC (19th): “The Caps got their season off to a decent start with a draw at Red Bull Arena in the CONCACAF Champions League, but the loss of Yordy Reyna to foot surgery is a definite setback. Fellow new arrival Fredy Montero will now be asked to carry the scoring load up top.”


Sports Illustrated (19th): “The Big Question: Have last year’s problems been fixed? Vancouver was a trendy MLS Cup pick a year ago, but simply couldn't score goals or prevent them–two things that are, uh, pretty important! The defense is still largely the same, but the attack should benefit from the additions of former Sounders standout Fredy Montero and Peruvian striker Yordy Reyna (though the latter is out injured until the summer). The Whitecaps should continue to be exciting to watch, but last season was such a weird disaster that it’s hard to be too confident in them entering 2017.”


MLSsoccer.com (20th): “The Whitecaps’ ability to contend for a playoff berth rests squarely on the shoulders of new forward signing Fredy Montero. If he can score 10-15 goals and Kekuta Manneh can get close to double digits from a central attacking position, the ‘Caps have a chance. But if the goals are not flowing, their already suspect defensive unit will not be enough to carry them to the red line.”


MLS CUP PREDICTIONS

Herculez Gomez (ESPNFC): “Is it crazy to think that a team that two years ago was in contention for the Supporters' Shield without a goalscorer find themselves with one of the most exciting goalscorers MLS has ever had, and not be in the mix? I'm all in on a Cascadia Treble.”


Graham Parker (ESPNFC): “I'm going to go for Vancouver Whitecaps, though that may be as much about the way that the season and playoffs offer the kind of twists and turns that see solid-but-unspectacular teams find a way through by the time early December rolls around. The Whitecaps were derailed by injuries last season, but were better than their final position suggested. A lot depends on whether Yordy Reyna returns from injury in the summer like a new signing, or whether he ends up as a cap writeoff for the year, but let's guess that he helps Cascadia keep its winning sequence running into a third surprise year.”


Also picking Whitecaps FC was ESPNFC’s Steve Nicol, a 10-year manager at New England Revolution. The remaining ESPNFC pundits predicted FC Dallas (x5) and Toronto FC (x3).

Power rankings and predictions: What people are saying heading into 2017 -