A Look at our Competition in the East
Major League Soccer is growing faster than ever before and none more so than in the Eastern Conference. While, yet again, the bigger name stars head out West, the East seems to be using its money more wisely. We all know how Orlando improved this offseason, but how has the competition fared? You're about to find out.
Key Incomings: Edgar Castillo (LB), Manuel Castro (RW), Brooks Lennon (RB), Fernando Meza (CB), Jake Mulraney (RM), Matheus Rossetto (CM)
Key outgoings: Julian Gressel (RM), Darlington Nagbe (CM), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (CB), Tito Villalba (ST)
Biggest Question: How will the new squad gel together?
Atlanta had a very successful season last year but apparently they felt that it was time to say goodbye to some key stars in their team. It is clear that they had a plan though. They've brought in a good crop of young talent who I believe can come together and have a strong second half of the season after a probable rough start.
Key Incomings: Robert Beric (ST), Alvaro Medran (CM), Miguel Angel Navarro (LB), Boris Sekulic (RB)
Key outgoings: Nico Gaitan (CAM), Aleksandar Katai (LW), Marcelo (CB), Dax McCarty (CM), Nemanja Nikolics (ST), David Ousted (GK), Bastian Schweinsteiger (CDM)
Biggest Question: Can Raphael Wicky get this team to play better without any of the key pieces?
Chicago seems to be one of the only clubs in the entire MLS that is going backward. They lost five nailed on starters and have only brought in four established players alongside a host of draftees and USL players. Maybe Wicky is one of those coaches who does well with what he's got but for right now, he ain't got a lot.
Key Incomings: Saad Abdul-Sallam (RB), Yuya Kubo (ST), Jurgen Locadia (ST), Haris Medunjanin (CDM), Tom Pettersson (CB), Adrien Regattin (RM), Brandon Vasquez (ST)
Key outgoings: Leonardo Bertone (CM), Roland Lamah (LW), Emmanuel Ledesma (RW), Alvas Powell (RB), Victor Ulloa (CDM)
Biggest Question: Can the squad reach its high potential?
When you look at what FC Cincinnati has done this offseason, it is hard not to be impressed. The squad looks very close to completion now. The one area I have a slight worry about is the midfield. While I really like Medunjanin, the other two starters look like they would be Cruz and Amaya. If they have any leftover money, that's where I'd like to see them complete this rebuild. Other than that, I believe this squad has a very high potential and it has the possibility to push FC Cincinnati into the playoffs this season.
Key Incomings: Fanendo Adi (ST), Derrick Etienne Jr. (LW), Darlington Nagbe (CM), Vito Wormgoor (CB), Lucas Zelarayan (CAM)
Key outgoings: David Accam (LW), Federico Higuain (CAM), Wil Trapp (CDM)
Biggest Question: Can they stay healthy?
Columbus actually had a promising squad going into last season but a serious injury bug held them back. This season, they've had a small rebuild and will look to challenge for a home playoff spot in the East if they can keep their key players on the field. My only other qualm is the inconsistency of Zardes. He can be wasteful in front of goal but if he catches fire, the sky is the limit for this squad.
Key Incomings: Yamil Asad (LW), Edison Flores (LW), Julian Gressel (RM)
Key outgoings: Luciano Acosta (CAM), Leonardo Jara (RB), Lucas Rodriguez (LW), Wayne Rooney (ST)
Biggest Question: Can Ben Olsen get the best out of his attacking talent?
Ben Olsen is known for having a defense-first mindset and that was clear to see last season. They conceded one goal in their opening six games last season (courtesy of Dom Dwyer) and finished with the best defense in the East with only 38 goals conceded. Their problems seemed to come from the attack. DC had the 3rd worst attack in the East with only 42 goals scored across the entire season. Only Columbus and FC Cincinnati had worse. With an injury-free Ola Kamara, a fantastic winger duo of Flores and Asad, and some amazing deliveries from Gressel and Arriola, Olsen has a plethora of ways to get the ball in the back of the net.
Key Incomings: Julian Carranza (ST), Jorge Figal (CB), Andres Reyes (CB), Matias Pelligrini (LW), Rodolfo Pizarro (CAM), Luis Robles (GK), Roman Torres (CB), Wil Trapp (CDM)
Key outgoings: None
Biggest Question: Can the kids succeed in year one?
When you look at it now, Miami's squad is coming together quite nicely. They have a solid mix of quality and MLS experience spattered around the squad. They've also brought in a solid coach in Diego Alonso. The only concern for them now is how the two 19-year-old attacking options do in their first year in MLS. If they do struggle, Miami doesn't have too many other options in the squad at the moment.
Key Incomings: Zachary Brault-Guillard (RB), Emanuel Maciel (CM), Romell Quioto (LW), Steeven Saba (CDM), Joel Waterman (CB)
Key outgoings: Victor Cabrera (CB), Daniel Lovitz (LB), Ignacio Piatti (LW)
Biggest Question: Is Thierry Henry a good enough coach?
After his Monaco stint, there are questions to be had for Thierry Henry's coaching ability. Now, I personally believe that it was a very poor situation that multiple coaches struggled in, but the possibility is still there that he's just not a good coach. Time will tell whether he can cut it as a manager or not.
New England Revolution
Key Incomings: Adam Buksa (ST), Alexander Buttner (LB), Kelyn Rowe (CM), Seth Sinovic (LB)
Key outgoings: Juan Agudelo (ST), Jalil Anibaba (CB), Juan Fernando Caicedo (ST), Edgar Castillo (LB)
Biggest Question: Can the squad perform as well as they did at the end of last season?
New England had an amazing run in the 2nd half of last season to famously go from 12th place to a playoff spot. They leaned heavily on their attack through that run and especially on Gustavo Bou. Now they've brought in a DP striker in Buksa to help Bou in the attack. My main worry though is the central defense. They haven't upgraded that position as of yet and don't really have any depth. They would've but their signing got his visa rejected which left New England scrambling to find a replacement.
New York City FC
Key Incomings: Gudmundur Thorarinsson (CM)
Key outgoings: Ebenezer Ofori (CDM), Ben Sweat (LB)
Biggest Question: Is Ronny Deila the man to take NYCFC to the next level?
NYCFC was consistent throughout the whole of last season which saw them enter the playoffs in 1st place. Unfortunately, that regular-season consistency disappeared in their playoff game against Toronto as they lost 2-1 in devastating fashion. Whether new coach Ronny Deila can get the same regular-season consistency to translate into the playoffs will be the key to how far this squad can go.
New York Red Bull
Key Incomings: Mandela Egbo (RB), David Jensen (GK)
Key outgoings: Connor Lade (RB), Kemar Lawrence (LB), Michael Murillo (RB), Luis Robles (GK)
Biggest Question: Where's the cutting edge?
The Red Bulls are just so hard to predict for next season. They could be like they always are and just grind out results to make the playoffs OR they will struggle after making next to no moves this offseason. I can genuinely see both sides and it's harsh to place them in 11th but that's just my gut feeling at the moment. For me, they just don't have that guy that can change a game in a flash. I guess you can say Kaku but without him (which they will be in the summer), they look pretty average. Time will tell.
Key Incomings: Jakob Glesnes (CB), Jose Andres Martinez (CDM), Matej Oravec (CDM)
Key outgoings: Marco Fabian (CAM), Haris Medunjanin (CDM), Fafa Picault (LW)
Biggest Question: Was last season a false dawn?
This is probably another harsh prediction but a lot of these teams are so close to each other in terms of quality. Each team from 11th to 4th could genuinely be in contention for the playoffs. Philadelphia is another one of those teams. The team finished 3rd last season but haven't really improved. With everyone else making positive signings, Philadelphia being stagnant could be their downfall.
Key Incomings: Pablo Piatti (LW)
Key outgoings: Nicolas Benezet (LW), Jay Chapman (CM), Ashtone Morgan (LB), Drew Moor (CB)
Biggest Question: How will they cope without Michael Bradley for most of the season?
The MLS Cup runner ups ended the regular season on a very good run of form and will look to start this season on a similar run. They will be without Michael Bradley due to his ankle surgery last week but I believe they can survive without him. Toronto is a solid team and they are good enough to make it to the MLS Cup Final again.
What does this mean for us?
In my eyes, we are very similar in quality to the range of teams from 4th through 11th. At this moment in time, I think we will finish 8th. I like our squad and fully believe that Pareja can elevate us into the playoffs, but it is hard to discount the other teams' improvements around the conference. Plus, when you look at our squad, it is hard to see where the goals will come from. I believe that the last piece to our puzzle is the LW position that we've clearly targeted according to recent reports. If and when a player in that position arrives, then I believe that we will have what it takes to make the playoffs.
Where do you think we'll finish with our current squad?
'Til next time, this has been Gavin Rushnell and #VamosOrlando