This Sunday, Major League Soccer enters its 21st season. A total of 20 teams will compete to become MLS Cup champion. Last season, the Eastern Conference had its haves and have nots. Teams were either solidly in the playoffs or were soundly eliminated. This season should look a bit like last season, but will be a lot closer. One team did take a fall compared to last season but this should be a much more open playoff race than last season.
1) Columbus Crew SC
Columbus Crew SC looked especially impressive in the preseason. And now that Kei Kamara has re signed to a DP contract, Columbus can get down to business. Columbus made some depth signings up top with Conor Casey and Ola Kamara, there should be no shortage of fire power. This team could, dare I say, win the Supporters Shield as well as go on an MLS Cup run.
2) New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls started last season under a lot of uncertainty, given Thierry Henry retired and Tim Cahill went to China. New York’s big transaction was selling Matt Miazga to Chelsea but that shouldn’t keep them from putting forth a great MLS season. They may not win the Supporters Shield this season but they are going after an MLS Cup and should be in the thick of it in the playoffs.
3) New England Revolution
The Desert Diamond Cup champions were very impressive, and that wasn’t simply because they played in and won a preseason tournament. I was particularly impressed with the trio of Teal Bunbury, Charlie Davies and Lee Nguyen and feel that these three can really do some damage this season. While they may fall short in the standings, an MLS Cup run is definitely in the cards.
4) Toronto FC
Because of renovations to BMO Field, Toronto will start their season with an incredible road stretch. An eight game road stretch to be exact, meaning Toronto will not play a home game until the beginning of May. While this may result in a poor record to start the season, it would mean Toronto will be able to enjoy playing at home a lot more than others in the final months of the season (six of their final eight games are at home). With Clint Irwin, Will Johnson and Drew Moor along with Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, this is a stacked team ready to contend.
5) Orlando City SC
After getting over their first year jitters, Orlando will see the best improvement this MLS season. Orlando has kept their team and with another season under their belt, this team will get even better and thus get in a playoff spot.
6) D.C. United
D.C. United is very tough to predict. The team seems to alternate between having a great season or a terrible season. For instance, D.C.’s Eastern Conference standing results since 2010 have been 8th, 6th, 2nd, 10th, 1st and 4th in 2015. Last year was probably the first season in which they had an “average” season and I could expect more of the same. D.C. United will qualify for the playoffs and given they do not have to deal with CONCACAF Champions League anymore, could get a bit better, but they seem like a comfortable 6th place team in the regular season.
7) New York City FC
NYCFC is going to improve this season, even if Patrick Vieira has to still adjust to managing in MLS. Nothing against Jason Kreis, but City Football Group got their own man and the established stars like Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard and David Villa are at least listening to Vieira. The issue is that NYCFC somewhat answered their defensive issues, but not completely. And as long as the team is overly reliant on old players with names, but past their prime to be the top contributors, it’s going to be another disappointing season.
8) Montreal Impact
Montreal is going to be the big shock of the Eastern Conference and suffer the biggest drop. Dropping from 3rd last season, the Impact is going to struggle with the “will he or won’t he leave” dilemma of Didier Drogba. Drogba is staying for now, but it’s not a guarantee he will stay the entire season. If Drogba stays the entire season, Montreal could push for the final playoff spots but it won’t be like last season.
9) Philadelphia Union
The Union had a very up and down offseason. While they lost players like Andrew Wenger, Cristian Maidana and Danny Cruz, Philadelphia did pick up Chris Pontius and rookie standout Josh Yaro. Sadly, this isn’t going to be a great season in MLS but maybe they can break their back to back U.S. Open Cup Final losses and get that trophy on the third attempt.
10) Chicago Fire
It sadly won’t be an improvement or the Fire this season. Just about everything about Chicago screams mediocrity. Trading beloved Fire player Harry Shipp to Montreal doesn’t help either. It kind of looked like there would be slight improvement but after getting rid of Joevin Jones, Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko, this is a multi-year process.