With the 2016 MLS season slated to begin on Sunday, it’s time to look forward to what we can expect from each of the 20 teams in the New Year. So what you’ll find below is a series of quick questions and expectations for each team in MLS as the new season approaches.
Their new coach is Veljko Paunović, the man who led Serbia to the U-20 World Cup title back in July. He has a revamped team with some decent firepower up front that could be very good if used right. He also has a young midfielder named Matt Polster who could be the backbone of the team for years to come. But there are simply too many questions about this team, particularly the youth along the back line, for them to make the playoffs. But at least they’re heading in the right direction, it seems.
The defending Eastern Conference Champs remain the favorites heading into the new campaign because they’ve only gotten better in almost every position. With their important additions from last summer now having a full offseason under their belt, and depth added at key positions, they will be the pace-setters out East. But can they live up to expectations?
Their offseason makeover was more dramatic than it had been in past years, and for good reason since it seemed Ben Olsen’s men had stagnated last year. Bill Hamid won’t return until the summer from his long-term injury, and midfield stalwart Perry Kitchen left to pursue other opportunities. Since they confine themselves to mainly MLS based upgrades, it’s hard to see them pushing far this season.
They kept Didier Drogba, which means they will be a factor in the East. If he can replicate his form from the stretch run last year, the Impact will be incredibly tough to unseat. They have Laurent Ciman, who is the best defender in MLS, and added versatile winger Harry Shipp to a good group of wide midfield players, who are so critical in Mauro Biello’s system. They should make the postseason again, but what is their ceiling beyond that?
Ever the quiet team in the MLS off-season’s of chaos, the Revs didn’t really change much from their team that fell short at the end of 2015. The Jermaine Jones situation is still a mess, considering how much he meant to that team when he played. His replacement, Ivorian Xavier Kouassi, won’t arrive until July and is injured at present. They also aren’t very deep at all. Making the playoffs is possible… if their starters stay healthy.
New York City FC
MLS’ most fascinating team brought in Patrick Vieira to right the wrongs of their inaugural season, and get the most out of a star studded squad. All of their DP’s have had an offseason to understand each other and their new system, and their defense should be better having been the focus of their offseason transfer moves. Depth is a question, particularly behind David Villa, but with what they have the playoffs are a must. They can get there, but does the team gel quickly enough to do so?
New York Red Bulls
After surprising everyone to win the Supporter’s Shield last year, Jesse Marsch is tasked with doing it all over again with a squad that has not been improved in any way. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a good refrain to describe this team, but their early fortunes may be determined by their center backs. Gideon Baah is tasked with replacing Matt Miazga, and Damien Perrinelle is still recovering from a knee injury. Is this the year the Red Bulls finally break through?
They went through some boardroom turmoil, and it showed on how long it took them to make signings this offseason. Their defense is a major question mark, although their fortunes may be entirely determined by whether Cyle Larin continues his form from last year, because there are questions about where the goals are coming if they aren’t coming from him. Antonio Nocerino should help fix some of their midfield frailties, but will he fix enough of them to get the Lions into the playoffs?
Buoyed by an entirely new technical staff led by Earnie Stewart, the Union have been entirely remade this offseason. They have made good signings internationally and drafted promising young defenders, but unless they can find someone to score goals (they only scored 42 last season), they’ll be rooted to the basement again. But, like with Chicago, things appear headed in the right direction.
Sebastian Giovinco and friends finally made the playoffs in their 9th season, but flamed out spectacularly against their bitter rivals from Montreal. Their defense desperately needed fixing, and Greg Vanney thinks they’ve done just that. If they have fixed those woes, and Jozy Altidore finds some consistency, there are going to be few MLS teams that can cope. But as always with TFC, there is doubt that they can put all of those questions to bed for good.
This is a ship without a rudder. They have a mixture of interesting veterans and young players with potential, but under Pablo Mastroeni, they’ve never been able to put it all together. Their full court-press for Tim Howard’s services is also a major distraction. They also don’t score goals, even as they’ve tried desperately to fix that. There may not be a more certain outcome this year than Colorado finishing in the basement of the West, and potentially the league.
On the other hand, FC Dallas have to be Western Conference favorites. Signing players like Carlos Gruezo and Carlos Lizarazo add depth and flair to a squad already brimming with it. Their biggest “concern” might be what striker bangs in the majority of their goal, as they let Blas Perez leave. But with what they have already in tow, they may not only be MLS’ most fun team to watch, but also its best.
In their second season under Owen Coyle, the Dynamo will look to find some consistency. Cubo Torres did not perform last year, and most of their goals came from the now departed Brad Davis or Giles Barnes. Their roster is not loaded with players that jump out at you either. Their biggest obstacle to success may be their struggles to win away from Houston, which they did very little of last season.
Their offseason makeover under Bruce Arena was their biggest in many years, and it was needed as the team looked to have been getting stale around the edges, even with Steven Gerrard and Gio Dos Santos coming to Carson. But adding Nigel De Jong, Jelle Van Damme and Ashley Cole for next to nothing makes them ever the more intriguing. They have more depth it seems than most MLS teams can muster, which will obviously serve them well over the long haul. Do these pieces make them better than Dallas and Vancouver? We’ll soon find out.
The defending MLS Cup Champions underwent an overhaul around the edges, but that doesn’t change their starting XI much, which was one of the best collections in MLS. Replacing Jorge Villafaña will be hard, but Chris Klute and Zarek Valentin should be able to do the job. The questions are about their depth are legitimate, though. Their quest to repeat may go as far as their depth will take them.
Under Jeff Cassar, they took a major step back last season as some of their mainstays either aged or left. Their attack should be vibrant with the return of club hero Yura Movsisyan and the full campaign of DP Burrito Martinez, but their defense is a major area of concern. Either their defenders are too old or too young. If Stephen Sunday and Kyle Beckerman provide adequate protection for the back four, they could make a playoff run, but they will likely require plenty of Nick Rimando heroics to make the postseason once again.
San Jose Earthquakes
Dominic Kinnear’s second season back in San Jose could be an interesting one. They nearly made the playoffs last season despite starting slowly and having issues winning games at home. Having DP Innocent for a full season should make them better, and adding Alberto Quintero to their midfield should help compatriot Anibal Godoy and budding star Fatai Alashe, but will they achieve a level of consistency they didn’t last season?
Like their Cascadian foes from Portland, they underwent a massive change in depth options this offseason, not to forget selling Obafemi Martins to China. Jordan Morris is a readymade replacement, and if he meets half of his promise, the Sounders will have an incredibly dynamic and vibrant attack. Not having Roman Torres for half of the season will hurt at the center of defense, and their depth options are decent quality for MLS, but not outstanding. Their expectations are MLS Cup or bust as always, and that remains the case this season, but their outstanding questions are the same as they’ve been for years. Is this finally their year?
Their cruel exit from the playoffs last year didn’t distract from what was a very good season in their first year out west. They’ve signed Justin Mapp and Brad Davis, which will make them better on the wings, something so critical in Peter Vermes’ system. But the goals from forwards behind Dom Dwyer are a major question mark, since there is practically no depth at the position. Do they have enough depth to make a run?
This team may be the most fascinating in the entire league. Like FC Dallas, they have a massive influence of Latin American players in their squad. Like FC Dallas, a lot of that influence translates to youthful exuberance and vibrant attacking build-up. Also like FC Dallas, their biggest concern is who scores the goals. They’ve added Blas Perez and Japanese striker Masato Kudo to attempt to fix that problem, and they still have the speedy Darren Mattocks and Kekuta Manneh who need to add finishing ability to their game. If they can do that, this team can win MLS Cup for sure.
So that’s a brief look at every team in MLS, with all of their strengths and weaknesses in tow. One thing is certain: MLS’ 21st season figures to be one of the most competitive and fascinating in recent memory.