It's the best rivalry in MLS: Fire versus MetroStars, which last year involved a bench-clearing brawl, a general manager (the Metros' Nick Sakiewicz) secretly vowing to pay his players' yellow-card fines (a league investigation cleared Sakiewicz) and—oh, yes—some top-notch soccer. So circle the dates on which they'll meet: June 30, Sept. 1 and (SI predicts) Oct. 21 in MLS Cup 2001.
1. CHICAGO FIRE
Loads of firepower both young ( Josh Wolff, DaMarcus Beasley, Dema Kovalenko) and old ( Hristo Stoitchkov, Peter Nowak) will carry the Fire to the title. Its only weakness may be in the back, where sweeper Lubos Kubik, who was traded to the Burn, will be missed.
2. NEW YORK/NEW JERSEY METROSTARS
Midfielder Clint Mathis, who had 16 goals and 14 assists in 2000, is ready for stardom, but can he keep his temper in check? The same can be asked of the entire back line of this intimidating (but chippy) team. Adolfo Valencia (16 goals) will be the most productive of the Metros' three Colombians.
3. MIAMI FUSION
Coach Ray Hudson benefits from the league's biggest upgrade, the Fusion having added defender Carlos Llamosa and midfielders Chris Henderson and Preki, all former MLS Cup winners. If dive-happy striker Diego Serna (16 goals last season) keeps his feet, look out.
4. LOS ANGELES GALAXY
With its sights trained on a date with Real Madrid during August's World Club Championship, the Galaxy might let a few games slide. Expect striker Luis Hern�ndez to earn his league-maximum salary when he leaves Mexico in late May to play full-time in MLS.
5. DALLAS BURN
Ariel Graziani and Jason Kreis are still one of the best up-front duos in MLS, and new sweeper Lubos Kubik will be dangerous moving forward. If 18-year-old Bolivian midfield prospect Joselito Vaca matures quickly, the Burn will be fun to watch.
6. KANSAS CITY WIZARDS
Goalkeeper Tony Meola, the league's MVP last season, and the rest of a solid defense will help the reigning MLS champs win a lot of low-scoring games. New striker Roy Lassiter needs a first-class playmaker to be effective, though, and that's missing here.
7. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES
Striker Landon Donovan, only 19 and on long-term loan from Germany's Bayer Leverkusen, will finally get his wish, a starting job. With Jeff Agoos now anchoring the defense, watch E-Quakes fans get their wish, a trip to the postseason.
8. D.C. UNITED
Once-proud United may be rebuilding, but any team with the explosiveness of 17-year-old midfielder Bobby Convey, the steadiness of defender Eddie Pope and the intuition of Bolivian attackers Jaime Moreno and Marco Etcheverry should make the playoffs.
9. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
Despite coach Fernando Clavijo's best intentions, the chemistry isn't there between the staid Americans ( John Harkes, Eric Wynalda) and the go-my-own-way internationals (Leonel Alvarez, Mauricio Wright).