From East to West: Our 26-team MLS season preview

 (Photo: Ray Terrill/Flickr)

 

by Chris Ashley

Today, we preview all 26 teams before the 2020 Major League Soccer season. Who are the contenders? Who are the pretenders? What players should you keep an eye on this season? Who switched teams? And who will be the regular starters for each team? 

There’s a lot to get to here, so let’s just dive in! We start in Charlotte’s future home, the Eastern Conference.

 

Atl*nta United FC

Last Season

While the defending 2018 MLS Cup champions were not able to repeat their playoff success in 2019 under first-year manager Frank de Boer, the team was able to win two trophies in their third season. They defeated Minnesota United in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final and Club America in the Campeones Cup.

Atl*nta finished the MLS regular season with 58 points (good for second in the Eastern Conference) and ultimately lost to Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Michael Parkhurst retired
  • Darlington Nagbe to Columbus Crew
  • Julian Gressel to DC United
  • Leandro Gonzalez Pirez to Club Tijuana

In:

  • Matheus Rossetto from Club Athletico Paranaense
  • Fernando Meza from Necaxa
  • Jake Mulraney from Hearts of Midlothian
  • Brooks Lennon from Real Salt Lake

Players to Watch

This team will live and die this season answering the question, “Can our three designated players all click at the same time?” If Pity Martinez, Ezekiel Barco and Josef Martinez (or PB&J) can get things rolling, this team will be hard to beat.

Expectations

The Good - A second year under head coach Frank de Boer’s system should iron out some of the growing pains the team experienced last year. 

The Bad - By trading and selling some of the most beloved players in the team’s short history, fans will be watching this season with a critical eye. Especially with a new team coming right up the road in 2021.

Best-Case/Worst-Case - Best-Case? This team has the talent to win every competition they are involved in, even CONCACAF Champions League. The worst-case scenario for Atl*nta fans would be watching the team struggle to add any hardware to the trophy case after the controversial off-season moves. But even in that situation, this team easily makes the 2020 MLS Cup playoffs, something their rivals in central Florida have yet to experience.

Possible Starting XI for Atl*nta United:

 

Chicago Fire SC

Last Season

The final season of the Veljko Paunović era was a forgettable one for Fire fans. Despite a pretty talented roster, the team was unable to capitalize on… well… anything. Inconsistency was the biggest issue; results were very streaky. They did finish on a somewhat high note going undefeated in their final five matches, but failed in a last-ditch attempt to clinch a playoff berth.

They finished the MLS regular season with 42 points (eighth in the Eastern Conference) and failed to make the playoffs. They were eliminated in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

Key Offseason Moves

Despite a few new DP signings, does moving from a stadium in Bridgeview to Soldier Field count? Because that was their biggest move. Oh… that and their universally-despised rebrand.

Out:

  • Bastian Schweinsteiger retired
  • Dax McCarty to Nashville SC
  • Aleksandar Katai to LA Galaxy (Declined Option)
  • Nemanja Nikolic to Fehervar (Free Transfer)
  • Nico Gaitan to Lille (Free Transfer)
  • Grant Lillard to Inter Miami

In:

  • Boris Sekulic from Górnik Zabrze
  • Robert Beric from Saint-Etienne
  • Ignacio Aliseda from Defensa y Justicia
  • Gaston Gimenez from Velez Sarsfield

Players to Watch

Last year’s leading goal-scorer CJ Sapong should see his minutes limited with the additions of Robert Beric, Ignacio Aliseda, and Gaston Gimenez. Can the new attackers get up to speed quickly in order to boost the Fire’s scoring this season? Also keep an eye on goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth, who will be looking to make a statement after being loaned away from Minnesota United last season to the USL Championship’s Sacramento Republic. 

Expectations

The Good - There’s been a much needed shake up on the touchline as Raphael Wicky takes over as manager for 2020. The combative former Chivas USA player and U.S. U-17 coach will hopefully bring a new fire (pun intended) to this team.

The Bad - They’ve had massive turnover on the roster side and that in combination with new leadership probably means this team regresses this season, unless they catch lightning in a bottle. Not something you want as you are moving into a bigger stadium in the heart of the city.

Best-Case/Worst-Case – Best-case scenario for Chicago is that they make the playoffs. But I think that may be a tall task at this point. The worst-case scenario for the Fire would be seeing a rebrand and move to Soldier Field fall flat because the team is simply not competitive on the field this season. Unrest in Section 8.

Possible Starting XI for Chicago Fire:

 

Columbus Crew 

Last Season

It was a tale of two seasons in Caleb Porter’s first season of the (Saved) Columbus Crew. The team started the year losing 14 out of their first 21 league matches. Then, they went on to only lose 2 of their final 13.

They finished the MLS regular season with 41 points (ninth in the Eastern Conference) and failed to make the playoffs. They were also eliminated in the round of 16 in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup by the eventual champions, Atl*nta United.

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Wil Trapp to Inter Miami
  • David Accam to Nashville SC
  • Federico Higauin to the abyss

In:

  • Darlington Nagbe from Atl*nta United
  • Lucas Zelarayan from Tigres
  • Derrick Etienne from New York Red Bulls

Players to Watch

The guy to watch this year for the Crew is undeniably Gyasi Zardes. The additions of Darlington Nagbe and Lucas Zelarayan will help boost Zardes’ productivity and could put him in contention for the Golden Boot.

Expectations

The Good - Year two for Porter could be a huge step up for the Crew. He seems to be bringing in the guys he wants to run his system, and his long-term relationship with Nagbe, dating back to their days at the University of Akron, could pay huge dividends, shoring up a midfield that has recently been lackluster.

The Bad - Much like Frank de Boer in Atl*nta, expectations will be high on Porter to show significant strides this year now that he has made these moves. This team must make the playoffs this year.

Best-Case/Worst-Case - I am actually really high on the Crew this year. I think they have the pieces to get to, and potentially win, MLS Cup. They have been a gritty team that has given even the top-tier sides fits over the last few years. But the worst-case scenario is that consistency issues hang around. If this team cannot consistently perform and they miss the playoffs, Porter could be sent packing before he ever steps foot in that new stadium in 2021.

Possible Starting XI for Columbus Crew:

 

DC United

Last Season

DC United’s 2019 was the first full year at Audi Field, and the last year with captain Wayne Rooney. While the team had an up and down season, they still managed to make the playoffs. However, their playoff hopes were dashed quickly when they suffered a 5-1 defeat in the first round. Ultimately, the season felt like a constant tight rope walk with questions surrounding Lucho Acosta and Wayne Rooney’s futures lingering all season.

They finished the MLS regular season with 50 points (fifth in the Eastern Conference) and lost in the first round of the playoffs to Toronto FC. They were also eliminated in the round of 16 in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup by NYCFC.

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Wayne Rooney to Derby County
  • Luciano Acosta to Atlas

In:

  • Edison Flores from Morelia
  • Julian Gressel from Atl*nta United
  • Bill Hamid (permanently) from FC Midtjylland 

Players to Watch

Ola Kamara is a guy who is in a similar position to Gyasi Zardes in that I think the moves made by DC this off-season will help put him in contention for the Golden Boot. With Paul Arriola going down with an ACL injury in preseason, it will be interesting to see where Ben Olsen plays his top guys to get his best XI on the pitch. 

Expectations

The Good - DC United have made some strong offseason moves coming into the 2020 season and while they have lost some strong pieces as well, they seem to have rid themselves of some of the distractions and stressors on this team.

The Bad - In some ways, the pieces on this team don’t necessarily fit together in the most intuitive way. In order to get the best XI on the field, someone, or perhaps a few someones, will have to play out of position. Throw a likely season-ending injury to Paul Arriola in preseason on top of that, and you can see that there are a few concerning points for this team.

Best-Case/Worst-Case - The Best-Case for DC United this season is to make a strong playoff run… or a strong U.S. Open Cup run. They simply need to have one of those. Ben Olsen has been in charge of the team since 2010. In that time, they have won one U.S. Open Cup (2013), been to the playoffs six times (with their best finish coming in the conference finals in 2012) and haven’t made it out of the first round since 2015. If they don’t show some signs of improvement this year, I think Olsen may be on his way out.

Possible Starting XI for DC United:

 

FC Cincinnati

Last Season

Woof. I mean woooooooof. Cincinnati’s first season in MLS was the best argument I have seen yet for promotion and relegation in this country. They were bad. Like, real bad. Like 24 points, -44 goal differential, wooden spoon is too high an honor for you bad.

They finished the MLS regular season with 24 points (dead last in everything) and playoffs? Are you kidding me? Playoffs?! No. They were also eliminated in the round of 16 in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup by USL Championship side Saint Louis FC.

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Fanendo Adi to Columbus Crew
  • Alvas Powell to Inter Miami

In:

  • Yuya Kubo from KAA Gent
  • Brandon Vazquez from Atl*nta United
  • Haris Medunjanin from Philadelphia Union
  • Siem De Jong from Ajax

Players to Watch

The main guys to watch this season for Cincinnati are the new additions. This is, of course, unsurprising. Adding Haris Medunjanin to the midfield to help anchor their defense, and Yuya Kubo and Siem De Jong as forwards to, you know, actually score some goals for this team, should help FCC improve upon last year’s performance. Captain and centerback Kendall Waston is another important piece for Cincy in hopes of providing some protection against having goals rained upon them. 

Expectations

The Good - Congratulations Cincinnati. You have some new toys to play with. Please don’t send their careers into a tailspin.

The Bad - 24 points. -44 goal differential. Did we mention this? Let’s not do that again, okay? Unless you want to maintain your status as my Fantasy MLS cheat code for whoever is playing against you.

Best-Case/Worst-Case - I mean, when your coach gets fired shortly before the season for making racist remarks, there’s really nowhere to go but up, right? I don’t see Cincy as a playoff team this year. Nor do I see them making any kind of run in the U.S. Open Cup. I guess a “win” for Cincy would be to not be the worst team (by a lot) in MLS again. It can’t be worse than that last year, can it? If it isn’t, better just fold the team and give their MLS slot to Raleigh. Or Vegas. Or Phoenix.

Possible Starting XI for FC Cincinnati:

 

Inter Miami CF

Last Season

New team. Who dis?

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Literally impossible.

In:

  • Rodolfo Pizarro from Monterrey
  • Matias Pellegrini from Estudiantes
  • Wil Trapp from Columbus Crew
  • Luis Robles from New York Red Bulls
  • Ben Sweat from NYCFC 

Players to Watch

Besides the easy answer of everyone, or just pointing to the two designated players, I want to mention two guys that I think have a chance to thrive with a change of scenery. The first is goalkeeper Luis Robles. Robles is, simply put, an MLS legend. But his time in New York had grown a bit stale. I actually think Robles can have a resurgent year, a la Brad Guzan when he went to Atl*nta. Another guy I have high hopes for is defender Roman Torres. At 33, the Seattle and Panama legend has definitely slowed down, but I still think he has some good years in him, and a trip to the warmer Miami climate may do him some good.

Expectations

The Good - Miami has done a good job building a brand, engaging the community, and coming into the league loudly. They have assembled a pretty strong expansion roster and have one of the hottest Mexican scorers in Pizarro on the team. Their CONCACAF Champions League winning coach isn’t bad either.

The Bad - Let’s face it, for all of the great things this team did on a branding (assuming they get to keep their name) and hype front, the actual administrative side has been a bit of a mess. They waited way too long to hire their manager, although they got a pretty good one considering. I’m not sure whether their hiccups in the leadup to their inaugural season were anomalies or a symptom of a much bigger problem. Time will tell.

Best-Case/Worst-Case - The best-case scenario for this team would be to make the playoffs. That is a task that very few expansion teams have managed. Only five teams have done so, in fact: Chicago Fire (1998), Miami Fusion (1998, RIP), Seattle Sounders (2009), Atl*nta United (2017), and LAFC (2018). Another best-case situation would be Rodolfo Pizarro winning the golden boot this season, something I see as a good possibility. The worst-case scenario involves issues that haunted the organization in the buildup trickling over to the play on the pitch, and this team finishing near the bottom of the conference. But have no fear Miami fans, at least you’ll never be Cincinnati.

Possible Starting XI for Inter Miami:

 

Montreal Impact

Last Season

They started the season with Remi Garde on the touchline. They decided to make a mid-season change to Wilmer Cabrera, after he had been fired by the Houston Dynamo. Neither of those men is still there, so that should tell you all you need to know regarding last year’s results.

They finished the MLS regular season with 41 points (ninth in the Eastern Conference) and did not make the playoffs. However, they were able to add to the trophy case by winning the Canadian Championship and earning a spot in CONCACAF Champions League for 2020.

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Ignacio Piatti to San Lorenzo
  • Daniel Lovitz to Nashville SC

In:

  • Saphir Taider (permanently) from Bologna
  • Ballou Tabla (returns) from FC Barcelona B
  • Romell Quioto from Houston Dynamo

Players to Watch

Montreal was able to permanently sign Safir Taider, and that was critical. He has been a huge part of their midfield. They also re-signed their former prodigy Ballou Tabla, and I think a return home will do him well. Pairing those two with Bojan Krkic up top is going to make for some fun offense up in Montreal.

Expectations

The Good - I’m going to put this in the “good” category now, but note that I am very much doing so with my hands crossed and an eyebrow raised until I see results. The team hired Thierry Henry to be their manager for the 2020 season. So, at least they have everyone’s attention now. 

The Bad - They haven’t really added any dynamic playmakers from last year’s team. Taider was already there, and Ballou will be good, but not enough to raise the expected results a terrible amount.

Best-Case/Worst-Case - Best-case for Montreal is that they bring in someone soon or hope they can swing big on a transfer this summer. Otherwise, I don’t see this team making the playoffs. Worst-case for Henry is that this goes about as well as his last managerial gig went in Monaco. (It did not go well.)

Possible Starting XI for Montreal Impact:

 

New England Revolution

Last Season

The season started off very rough for Brad Friedel’s Revolution as they lost 8 of their first 12 matches. Thus, Friedel was handed his walking papers. Enter Bruce Arena. With new leadership and some key summer additions, the Revs only lost 3 of their last 22. The rejuvenated side was able to scratch and claw their way to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. 

They finished the MLS regular season with 45 points (seventh in the Eastern Conference) and lost in the first round of the playoffs to Atl*nta United. They were also eliminated in the round of 16 in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup by Orlando City.

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Juan Agudelo to Inter Miami

In:

  • Kelyn Rowe from Real Salt Lake? (I mean, he’s key-ish)

Players to Watch

It feels like we only got a small taste last year of how great the tandem of Gustavo Bou and Carles Gil can be. I think this team was much improved under Bruce Arena’s management for the second half of the season. These two should continue to further their production together in 2020.

Expectations

The Good - This team seemed to be finding their stride down the stretch last season and with basically everyone returning, they won’t have the disastrous start they did last season.

The Bad - They haven’t really added any major pieces this offseason, and it seems everyone else has. Perhaps something gets done before opening day, or maybe they are waiting until summer to bring in some fresh faces.

Best-Case/Worst-Case - As it stands now, I think the Revs will be much improved in a full season under Arena. Best-case for them right now is that they get to host a playoff match and maybe make a bit of a run in the postseason. The worst-case scenario here is that they don’t bring in any new faces this summer either, and something happens to one of their stars, and the whole thing falls apart. They feel incredibly fragile at the moment with a decently high ceiling, but also a disastrous floor. Whatever happens, Arena won’t take any blame for it.

Possible Starting XI for New England Revolution:

 

New York City FC

Last Season

Last season was a banner year for New York City. Not only did fans watch their team sail to new heights and finish atop the conference, but they also got to witness the complete unravelling of their cross-town rivals in red. Despite the strong regular season, the Pigeons sputtered out in their first playoff match, falling to Toronto FC. 

They finished the MLS regular season with 64 points (good for first in the Eastern Conference) and lost in the second round of the playoffs to Toronto FC. They were also eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup by Orlando City on penalties.

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Ben Sweat to Inter Miami
  • Abdi Mohamed to Greenville Triumph (Ok, this isn’t really “key” for NYC. Just humor me, okay? I’m excited to type Triumph in this piece!)

In:

  • Keaton Parks (permanently) from Benfica B

Players to Watch

This team has a TON of great players. Sean Johnson. Alexandru Mitrita. Heber. I mean, the guy goes by one name for crying out loud. He has to be great! But, perhaps, the most dynamic player to watch on this team is Maxi Moralez. He is the heartbeat of this team and the man who drives the entire offense.

Expectations

The Good - They are returning almost everyone from the team that performed so well last season. Locking up Parks was a key piece of business this offseason. They look poised to make another strong statement in 2020.

The Bad - They are starting fresh with a new manager in Ronny Deila, who was seemingly not their first choice. I also think they are going to miss Ben Sweat this year.

Best-Case/Worst-Case - Make no mistake, this team is an MLS Cup contender again in 2020. They even have a chance to make a run in COCACAF Champions League thanks to their placement in the bracket. If Deila can tweak, rather than overhaul, what made this team so good last year, good things are on the way. On the flip side, it's never easy to adjust to a new man on the touchline. There are sure to be some growing pains early on, so I don’t expect to see New York dominate out of the gate. But I still think even the worst-case scenario sees this team in the playoffs.

Possible Starting XI for New York City FC:

 

New York Red Bulls

Last Season

If you had to sum up the Red Bulls’ 2019 in one word, it would be “inconsistent.” They only had 6 draws all season. The rest of their results? 14 wins. 14 losses. Inconsistent. This team seems to have a bit of an identity crisis. Add onto that a manager on the hot seat and, well, it’s never going to be a tremendous success. Regardless, they were still able to at least reach the playoffs last season.

They finished the MLS regular season with 48 points (sixth in the Eastern Conference) and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Philadelphia Union. They were also eliminated in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup by the New England Revolution.

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Kemar Lawrence to Anderlecht
  • Michael Murillo to Anderlecht
  • Luis Robles to Inter Miami
  • Derrick Etienne to Columbus Crew
  • Bradley Wright-Phillips to LAFC

In:

  • Madela Egbo from SV Darmstadt
  • David Jensen from Utrecht

Players to Watch

Look. Tim Parker and Aaron Long may be the best CB tandem in the league. But I’m not convinced Long is with this team all season. Kaku should be a bigger star than he’s been thus far in New York. He’ll have to be this year. There has been a good bit of turnover the last few seasons that have almost completely reset this team. One guy that I am excited to see play more this season is Omir Fernandez. I think he has potential to be a decent piece for this team in 2020.

Expectations

The Good - Um … yeah. Not much, Bob.

The Bad - The team kept Chris Armas in charge for the season, but no doubt his seat may be the hottest in the league. I cannot imagine he makes it through 2020 in the job. They’ve lost some great players and not added much of anything. This isn’t going to be pretty 

Best-Case/Worst-Case - Best-case scenario is going to be not finishing behind Cincinnati this year. Worst-case is that this team gets the 2020 MLS Wooden Spoon.

Possible Starting XI for New York Red Bulls:

 

Orlando City SC

Last Season

On one hand, I give Orlando credit for giving James O’Connor a fair shot by letting him manage a full season. But perhaps they didn’t have much of a choice since they were the host of the league’s All-Star game in which he was the man in charge. Orlando was consistently poor throughout the season but showed signs of life at times. However, after going winless in their last eight matches, enough was enough and the team let O’Connor go.

They finished the MLS regular season with 37 points (eleventh in the Eastern Conference) and did not make the playoffs. They did make it to the semi-final of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup but were eliminated by their rivals, Atl*nta United.

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Cristian Higuita to Junior FC
  • Sacha Kljestan to LA Galaxy
  • Will Johnson to the abyss

In:

  • Junior Urso from Corinthians
  • Pedro Gallese from Tiburones Rojos
  • Antonio Carlos from Palmeiras

Players to Watch

The three primary attacking pieces for Orlando should be fun to watch under new manager Oscar Pareja. Dom Dwyer, Nani, and Chris Mueller should see their production go up under Pareja’s leadership and tactics. 

Expectations

The Good - Orlando has added some good pieces including a goalkeeper that should shore up a much-maligned position for the Lions. But the biggest thing going right in central Florida is their new manager who should make a great impact on this team’s short history book. Pareja is the right guy for Orlando. He will be able to maximize the youth system, USL League One’s Orlando City B, and the senior team in a symbiotic relationship. 

The Bad - Dom Dwyer has not been any good since moving to Orlando. I’m hoping that will change this year, but I need to see it to believe it when it comes to Dwyer. 

Best-Case/Worst-Case - The best-case scenario for this team is that they finally get over the hump and make the playoffs. I think they get there. Worst-case scenario is that this is a bigger task for Pareja than can be remedied in one season, and their playoff drought continues.

Possible Starting XI for Orlando City:

 

Philadelphia Union

Last Season

The Union’s surprising, phenomenal season was bookended by a rough start (in which they went winless in their first three matches) and a rough ending, losing three of their last four. But the breakout star of 2019 was a guy who started the season playing for the team’s USL Championship side Bethlehem Steel. That man was Kacper Przybylko, who came on like fire in the latter half of the season and led the team with 15 goals last year.

Somehow, they finished the MLS regular season with 55 points (third in the Eastern Conference) and lost in the conference semifinals to Atl*nta United. They were also eliminated in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup by DC United. 

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Auston Trusty to Colorado
  • Marco Fabian to the abyss
  • Fafa Picault to FC Dallas
  • Haris Medunjanin to FC Cincinnati

In:

  • Jamiro Monteiro (permanently) from FC Metz
  • Matej Oravec from Dunajska Streda
  • Jakob Glesnes from Stromsgodset

Players to Watch

If Alejandro Bedoya can stay healthy, he is arguably the most critical piece of this Union team. But if you are looking for some of the hottest players in MLS coming out of last season, look no further than Kai Wagner and Kacper Przybylko

Expectations

The Good - The Union have a bonafide star in Pryzbylko. This team looked strong down the stretch and had potential to make some major noise in the postseason. If they can pick up where they left off last year, this team could be a dark horse pick to win it all.

The Bad - I still do not understand the decision to let Medunjanin go to Cincinnati in the waivers draft. I think he provided a ton to this team the last few seasons and I think they are really going to miss him this year. 

Best-Case/Worst-Case - Best-case scenario is that this team, as I mentioned above, plays to their capacity and contends for MLS Cup. In terms of worst-case, I have a hard time seeing this team failing to make the playoffs, but I suppose that would be a possible worst-case scenario at this point.

Possible Starting XI for Philadelphia Union:

 

Toronto FC

Last Season

Toronto was probably the surprise of 2019. Coming off of a 2018 where the team finished ninth in the conference and 19th overall and parting ways with staples like Clint Erwin, Victor Vazquez, and Sebastian Giovinco, no one expected this team to make much noise. And yet, they managed to go undefeated in their last 10 matches, earn a playoff spot, and pull upsets over the #1 and #2 seeds on the road en route to a spot in MLS Cup.

They finished the MLS regular season with 50 points (fourth in the Eastern Conference) and lost to the Seattle Sounders in MLS Cup. They also made it to the Canadian Championship finals where they ultimately lost on penalties to the Montreal Impact.

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Drew Moor to Colorado Rapids
  • Jay Chapman to Inter Miami
  • Nicolas Benezet to Guingamp (Loan Ended)

In:

  • Pablo Piatti from Espanyol

Players to Watch

Three names every soccer fan knows, even if you’re new to MLS: Omar Gonzalez, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley. But the three USMNT players are not the real stars of this team. No, that distinction goes to Alejandro Pozuelo, who is key to Jozy’s scoring success when Jozy is healthy. Pozuelo is not a bad shot himself and led the team in goals last season.

Expectations

The Good - The team that shocked everyone with their run last season is returning mostly intact. The one piece they have added this season should help boost their attack. 

The Bad - Last year, it seemed that Pozuelo and Altidore needed each other on the pitch to perform consistently. Given Jozy’s age and recent track record for staying healthy, that is not something that can be counted on for an entire season.

Best-Case/Worst-Case - Look, at their best, this team is capable of winning MLS Cup. Do I think that will happen? No, but I also didn’t see them making the final last year either. Worst-case scenario for this team is that they fail to make the playoffs because of the health and consistency of their older players.

Possible Starting XI for Toronto FC:

 

Now we move to the Western Conference, where 2019 darling Los Angeles FC and the 2019 MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders look to repeat their recent successes in 2020.

 

Colorado Rapids

Last Season

The 2019 season for the Rapids was a streaky one. The team did not win in their first 11 matches. They did not lose in their next seven. Then four matches without a win, two without a loss, three without a win, three without a loss, and finally split their final four matches with two wins and two losses. Hot and cold. 

They finished the MLS regular season with 42 points (ninth in the western conference) and did not make the playoffs. They were also eliminated in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup by USL Championship side New Mexico United.

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Tim Howard retired
  • Shkelzen Gashi to FC Aarau

In:

  • Younis Namli (on loan) from Krasnodar
  • Auston Trusty from Philadelphia Union
  • Nicolas Benezet from Toronto FC (via Guingamp)

Players to Watch

The Rapids have talent all over the field, but a lot of that talent is guys who have come to Colorado to reinvigorate their careers. Players like Kellyn Acosta, Kei Kamara, and Charlotte Eagles legend Lalas Abubakar have all seen a resurgence since getting to Colorado, and Charlotte native Clint Irwin will look to continue his rebuild now that the place between the woodwork belongs to him. (Here's hoping he makes his way to Charlotte in 2021.)

Expectations
The Good - The Rapids have really strengthened their back line with the addition of Trusty and permanently adding Abubakar. Benezet and Namil will give the midfield a boost and help create scoring opportunities for Kamara.

The Bad - This team isn’t flashy. And while they had success at times last season, it was built on the backs of some statistical anomalies, like scoring 17 goals off of set pieces. They are going to have to find other ways to score this season.

Best Case/Worst Case - Let’s start with the worst case: this team could find themselves once again on the outside looking in. But, I think this team will actually be much improved and will make a statement of a new era by making the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference.

Possible Starting XI for Colorado Rapids:

 

FC Dallas

Last Season

The 2019 season started strong for FC Dallas as they won five of their first eight. From that point on, however, the team was very inconsistent and finished the season with 13 wins, 9 draws, and 12 losses. After going 0-2-2 in their last four matches before Decision Day, the playoffs were anything but guaranteed. However, thanks to a 6-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City, the team clinched the final playoff spot out west.

They finished the MLS regular season with 48 points (seventh in the Western Conference) and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual champion Seattle Sounders. They were also eliminated in the round of 16 of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup by USL Championship side New Mexico United.

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Dom Badji to Nashville SC
  • Cristian Colman to Barcelona SC
  • Jacori Hayes to Minnesota United

In:

  • Fafa Picault from Philadelphia Union
  • Thiago Santos from Palmeiras
  • Franco Jara from Pachuca (Summer Window)

Players to Watch

Dallas, as always, is a team filled with young talent developed from within their system, from Jesse Gonzalez in goal to Jesus Ferreira and Ricardo Pepi up top. But, perhaps the best academy product on the field this season will continue to be Paxton Pomykal. Look for him to be an absolute force in the midfield.

Expectations

The Good - Bringing in Franco Jara in the summer is just huge. They also have a great core of young talent who has an intimate familiarity with the Dallas system. They are returning basically every significant piece from a team that gave Seattle fits last year.

The Bad - They won’t have the true finishing threat they need until summer and because of their young talent, they may be missing some key pieces during the Olympics for a few weeks.

Best-Case/Worst-Case - If the team can tread water until Jara arrives, and “The Cobra” Zdenek Ondrasek can maintain his late season scoring prowess, I think this team will finish much better than last season. I think a worst-case scenario for this team would be seeing one of the key pieces (I’m looking at you Pomykal) go down with an injury for a significant period of time.

Possible Starting XI for FC Dallas: 

 

Houston Dynamo

Last Season

They started 2019 winning six of their first eight. Then things went off the rails. It took them the rest of the season to match that win total as they added their twelfth win on Decision Day. This team was pretty bad last season and only finished as high as they did thanks to their hot start.

They finished the MLS regular season with 40 points (tenth in the Western Conference) and did not make the playoffs. They were also eliminated in the round of 16 of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup by Minnesota United.

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Demarcus Beasley retired
  • Romell Quioto to Montreal Impact
  • Joe Willis to Nashville SC

In:

  • Marko Maric from Hoffenheim II
  • Zarek Valentin from Portland Timbers via Nashville SC
  • Victor Cabrera from Montreal Impact
  • Darwin Quintero from Minnesota United 

Players to Watch

Houston is a team with a ton of firepower. When they get rolling, there is almost no tandem better than Mauro Manotas and Alberth Elis. Add into that former Charlotte Eagles forward Christian Ramirez and, now, Darwin Quintero, and this is a team that could score a ton of goals this season.

Expectations

The Good - As noted above, I think this team has the pieces to score some goals. The addition of Maric in goal should also help them defensively.  

The Bad - The midfield is a big question mark for and they haven’t added any significant pieces to address that issue. The additions of Valentin and Cabrera should provide some quality and depth to their back line, but I’m still not sold on their defensive strength.

Best-Case/Worst-Case - I think this team can be better than last season. I like some of the moves they have made to try and address their issues. I worry that they still aren’t quite there yet. Best-case scenario would be this team squeaking into the playoffs. Worst-case scenario sees them landing in about the same spot as last season.

Possible Starting XI for Houston Dynamo: 

 

Los Angeles FC

Last Season

Los Angeles FC had the sophomore season others dream of. Not only did they not experience a “slump,” they went on to break a ton of records and notch the best regular season performance of all time. The Supporters Shield winners only lost four times and scored a record-tying 85 goals last season.  

They finished the MLS regular season with 72 points (first in the Western Conference and an MLS record) and lost in the conference finals to the eventual champion Seattle Sounders. They were also eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup by the Portland Timbers.

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Walker Zimmerman to Nashville SC
  • Tyler Miller to Minnesota United
  • Steven Beitashour to … Tractor (not a joke)
  • Lee Nguyen to Inter Miami

In:

  • Jose Cifuentes from Universidad Catolica
  • Francisco Ginella from Wanderers
  • Kenneth Vermeer from Feyenoord
  • Bradley Wright-Phillips from New York Red Bulls 

Players to Watch

Can I say the entire roster? No? Ok. Let me just list the most important folks to keep an eye on. 2019 MVP and Golden Boot winner Carlos Vela. Diego Rossi. Brian Rodriguez. Eduard Atuesta. Mark Anthony-Kaye. Latif Blessing. Is that enough? There are definitely other great players on this roster, but I’ll stop there.

Expectations

The Good - This team is returning most of their big players from last season’s incredible run. Not only that, but they’ve added some really good pieces to the lineup. BWP on a free may be the low-key best depth pickup in the league this year. They should be in contention to be right where they were last season.

The Bad - Trading away Tyler Miller was an interesting move but not a flat-out bad one. Trading away Walker Zimmerman on the other hand? I know they got a lot of allocation money as a result, but that sure looks like a bad transaction. It makes the entire defensive side of this team a huge question mark. 

Best-Case/Worst-Case - It cannot get much better than last year unless they can finish the job and win MLS Cup, or I don’t know, CONCACAF Champions League. They are certainly the favorites to win it all this year, and getting to the mountaintop is definitely within their reach. On the other hand, the league has gotten better and chances are they won’t be able to top last year’s records. Their self-inflicted back-line issues aren’t helping matters either. Add in the additional stressor of CCL play, and it might not be as pretty as last season. That being said, worst-case scenario would be this team finishing third in the west.

Possible Starting XI for Los Angeles FC:

 

Los Angeles Galaxy

Last Season

Zlatan.

No, seriously. Zlatan. That’s it.

Okay, okay. Last year’s Galaxy team wasn’t only Zlatan. But it was a lot him. So much so, in fact, that the rest of the team struggled as a result. The outspoken striker did his part in scoring 30 goals last season for the Galaxy, but that wasn’t enough to keep the team from being extremely streaky. Funny how selfish play works.

They finished the MLS regular season with 51 points (fifth in the Western Conference) and lost in the conference semifinals to their El Trafico rivals, LAFC. They were also eliminated in the round of 16 of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup by the Portland Timbers.

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic to AC Milan
  • Romain Alessandrini the abyss
  • Dave Romney to Nashville SC

In:

  • Chicharito from Sevilla
  • Aleksandar Katai from Chicago Fire
  • Emiliano Insua from Stuttgart
  • Sacha Kljestan from Orlando City

Players to Watch

Remember Zlatan? Well, he’s gone so he will no longer take up all the headlines in LA. But there is another guy who certainly will: His name is Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. The Mexican international has already been the focus of all of the headlines around this team and will likely stay that way all season. But there are a few others you should know, notably Cristian Pavon and Aleksandar Katai. This triad of attackers should make for some fun goal-scoring out in Carson this season.

Expectations

The Good - I actually think Zlatan being gone will help this team. And his replacement in Chicharito is much more willing to do things on the pitch that Zlatan simply wouldn’t. Adding in Katai was a shrewd move. I think this team will score a lot of goals this year.

The Bad - They better hope they score a lot of goals. This team made the playoffs last year with a negative goal differential on the season. And they have not really done anything to reinforce their backline or defensive midfield. They are going to need players to step up, hope to bring in some reinforcements in the summer, or shoot to score 80.

Best-Case/Worst-Case - If they live up to their potential, this Galaxy team has what it takes to win the west. That’s right. I said it. Imagine a season-long El Trafico rivalry. Sounds magical, no? However, the Galaxy haven’t been great at “living up to their potential” in their recent history. That said, I think the worst they finish is third in the conference. A good summer in the City of Angels.

Possible Starting XI for LA Galaxy:

 

Minnesota United

Last Season

Year three in MLS for the Loons was a tremendous victory on many fronts. They opened and played in their brand-new stadium (Allianz Field), the jewel of the north. They made the MLS playoffs for the first time in their history. And they made it all the way to the final of the U.S. Open Cup. 

Minnesota finished the MLS regular season with 53 points (fourth in the Western Conference) and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the LA Galaxy. They were also defeated in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final by Atl*nta United. 

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Darwin Quintero to Houston Dynamo
  • Abu Danladi to Nashville SC
  • Vito Mannone to Reading

In:

  • Luis Amarilla (on loan) from Velez Sarsfield
  • Tyler Miller from LAFC

Players to Watch

There are key players for this team in every part of the field. Luis Amarilla is going to be the goal-scoring threat up top that this team needs. Jan Gregus is a midfield maestro who will serve the ball up to Amarilla. And the back line is anchored by, perhaps, the best defender in the league in North Carolina native Ike Opara.

Expectations

The Good - Minnesota has improved every year under manager Adrian Heath. They return a stalwart defense and have made upgrades in goal and up top.

The Bad - This team has struggled to score goals and shipped off the best attacking threat they’ve had in their short MLS existence.

Best-Case/Worst-Case - If Amarilla can be the goal-scorer they hope that he is, this team should be well suited to return to the playoffs. If, however, they cannot find the goals, this team will be sitting at home come October.

Possible Starting XI for Minnesota United:

 

Nashville SC

Last Season

New Kids on the Block. Get it? That was a Music City reference. I’ll show myself out. That’s all I had.

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Literally impossible.

In:

  • Hany Mukhtar from Brondby
  • Walker Zimmerman from LAFC
  • David Acaam from Columbus Crew
  • Dom Badji from FC Dallas
  • David Romney from LA Galaxy
  • Daniel Lovitz from Montreal Impact

Players to Watch

The heart and soul of this team, and their likely captain, will be veteran midfielder Dax McCarty. If he were a few years younger, that would be a fantastic thing. We’ll see how it works out for them. While I’m not sure they will score a ton, I feel great about a backline that includes Daniel Lovitz, David Romney, and Walker Zimmerman.

Expectations

The Good - They have a strong backline and central spine up the midfield. Acquiring Zimmerman may turn out to be the biggest fleecing an expansion team has ever pulled off.

The Bad - I’m just not sure where the goals are going to come from. I like Accam on the wing and I think Mukhtar can be pretty good in the attacking midfield. But Dom Badji hasn’t been great recently in Dallas. Perhaps a change of scenery will do him well.

Best-Case/Worst-Case - Best-case scenario for this expansion side would be making the playoffs in year one. I suppose the worst-case would be finishing last in the league, although I don’t see that happening. They aren’t Cincinnati after all.

Possible Starting XI for Nashville SC:

 

Portland Timbers

Last Season

Coming off of an appearance in the 2018 MLS Cup, the Timbers started the 2019 season by going winless in (and losing five of) their first six matches. After a much stronger middle of the season, their winless streak started up again at the absolute worst time. They couldn’t record a victory in their last five matches heading into Decision Day, but a 3-1 win over San Jose in the final match of the season secured their spot in the playoffs.

They finished the MLS regular season with 49 points (sixth in the Western Conference) and lost in the first round of the playoffs to Real Salt Lake. They were also eliminated in the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup by Minnesota United.

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Zarek Valentin to Houston Dynamo (via Nashville SC)
  • Brian Fernandez to his demons. Rough story that.

In:

  • Yimmi Chara from Atletico Mineiro
  • Jaroslaw Niezgoda from Legia Warszawa
  • Dario Zuparic from HNK Rijeka 

Players to Watch

It begins and ends with Diego Valeri. The central midfielder is back after a lot of question marks this off-season, much to the delight of SNST MVP and Greenville native Brittany Hildreth. Defensive midfielder Diego Chara is joined by his brother Yimmi this year because, let’s be honest, one Chara is not enough. 

Expectations

The Good - This team is returning almost all of the key contributors from last season. They have also invested in and made upgrades to many spots on the roster. This is a team that has played a lot together and gets behind their manager. 

The Bad - Last year, Portland struggled to find their identity. Giovanni Savarese needs to establish an approach for this team and stick with it. That approach doesn’t need to be playing the ball down the wings and crossing it into the box. 

Best-Case/Worst-Case - Portland, as always, are contenders to win the whole thing if they can hit their stride. I fear that it is going to take the front half of the season to, hopefully, figure out who they’re really going to be. The west is pretty loaded this year, so there is a chance that the worst could happen and Portland could miss the playoffs.

Possible Starting XI for Portland Timbers:

 

Real Salt Lake

Last Season

Despite only winning one of their first six and one of their final four matches, Salt Lake got the results they needed during the middle chunk of the season winning 13 of 23 matches. This team was sneaky good and always seemed to be flying under the radar of the rest of the league.

They finished the MLS regular season with 53 points (third in the Western Conference) and lost in the conference semifinals to the Seattle Sounders. They were also eliminated in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup by LAFC.

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Nick Rimando retired, to the Hall of Fame
  • Jefferson Savarino to Atletico Mineiro
  • Brooks Lennon to Atl*nta United
  • Sebastian Saucedo to Pumas

In:

  • Jeizon Ramirez from Tachira
  • Zac MacMath from Vancouver Whitecaps
  • Justin Meram from Atl*nta United

Players to Watch

The three players to watch for this team all play in the attacking midfield. Albert Rusnak, Damir Kreilach, and Corey Baird will drive the offensive production on this team.

Expectations

The Good - Most of the midfield and defensive pieces have stayed the same from last year.

The Bad - Most of the midfield and defensive pieces have stayed the same from last year. I know, I know. That was a strength too, right? There is something to be said for consistency, but these consistent pieces are getting older and slower while the rest of the league is getting younger and younger. And this team just doesn’t have the firepower to keep up. And they lost Nick Rimando.

Best-Case/Worst-Case - Look, last year I was in constant amazement to see RSL near the top of the Western Conference every time I looked at the standings. This team just wasn’t impressive on paper. The same is true this year. So, while I am more expectant of the worst-case scenario in which this team finishes towards the bottom, you can never count this team out from quietly climbing the table and making noise in the playoffs.

Possible Starting XI for Real Salt Lake:

 

San Jose Earthquakes

Last Season

The beginning of 2019 was a rough one for the Earthquakes who lost five of their first six matches. Things quickly turned around as they lost only two of their next seventeen matches. Just as things seemed to be rolling under first year manager Matias Almeyda, the wheels fell off of the train and the team lost nine of their last eleven including losing their final six matches pushing the team out of the playoffs. Quite the roller coaster.

They finished the MLS regular season with 44 points (eighth in the Western Conference) and did not make the playoffs. They were also eliminated in the round of 16 of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup by LAFC.

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Anibal Godoy to Nashville SC

In:

  • Cristian Espinoza (permanently) from Villareal
  • Carlos Fierro from Cruz Azul
  • Oswaldo Alanis (on loan) from Chivas

Players to Watch

The two biggest attacking threats for this team last year were longtime MLS Veteran Chris Wondolowski and Vako. At 37 years old, Wondo may be playing his last season. I feel like we’ve been saying that for a few years now and yet, here we are. He will no doubt want to go out adding to his all-time MLS goals record in his, likely, final season. Vako meanwhile… I mean, his name is Vako. That’s really great.

Expectations

The Good - They are returning almost everyone from last season, and they are entering year two under a proven winner in Almeyda. His system showed signs of brilliance last season as this team was incredibly strong over the summer. 

The Bad - The biggest problem this team had last year still remains: They don’t have a dynamic goal-scorer besides a 37 year old in the sunset of his career. This team is going to have to score goals to compete and right now, I don’t see where they are coming from.

Best-Case/Worst-Case - I think the best-case scenario for this team would be to make the playoffs. Or maybe to see Wondo score 20+ goals would be acceptable. The more realistic possibility in my mind is that this team takes a step back as the rest of the conference takes multiple steps forward.

Possible Starting XI for San Jose Earthquakes:

 

Seattle Sounders 

Last Season

The Seattle Sounders had a dream season in 2019 that culminated in making it to their third MLS Cup in four seasons and earning the team their second MLS Cup title. Despite a midseason slump that saw the team lose seven of twelve matches over the summer, the team earned enough points to allow them home field advantage in all but one playoff match.

They finished the MLS regular season with 56 points (second in the Western Conference) and won MLS Cup by defeating Toronto FC in the final at CenturyLink Field. They were however eliminated in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup by their main rival, the Portland Timbers. 

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Roman Torres to Inter Miami
  • Kim Kee-Hee to the abyss
  • Brad Smith to Bournemouth

In:

  • Yeimar Gomez Andrade from CA Union
  • Miguel Ibarra from Minnesota United
  • Joao Paulo (on loan) from Botafogo

Players to Watch

When it comes to heroics for the Sounders, perhaps no one comes up with big moments more than goalkeeper Stefan Frei. And while keeping teams off the scoresheet has been critical to Seattle’s successes, they would not have won MLS Cup without the goal scoring that comes from the trio of Raul Ruidiaz, Jordan Morris, and Nico Lodeiro. USMNT youngster Cristian Roldan isn’t bad either.

Expectations

The Good - The strong attack of last year’s team is back and has, somehow, improved with the addition of João Paulo.

The Bad - The defense has been completely gutted and rebuilt. Whether the new-look defense is capable of filling the void remains to be seen, but they will likely experience some growing pains early in the season.

Best-Case/Worst-Case - If you want to know my real opinion of what the best-case scenario for this team is, it can be summarized in three words: CONCACAF Champions League. The Sounders have a chance to cement their dynasty status by being the first MLS team to climb the CCL ladder. They can, of course, also win MLS Cup again but that is, in my mind, secondary to their CCL title pursuit. Worst-case sees this team finish third in the west.

Possible Starting XI for Seattle Sounders:

 

Sporting Kansas City

Last Season

The 2019 season was one Kansas City fans will want to quickly forget. For the first time in manager Peter Vermes’s tenure, the team failed to make the playoffs thanks to an intense injury bug that swept the starting XI late in the season. The team lost 11 of 18 down the stretch to send them plummeting to the depths of the table.

They finished the MLS regular season with 38 points (eleventh in the Western Conference) and did not make the playoffs. They were also eliminated in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup by Minnesota United.

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Adrian Zendejas to Nashville SC
  • Benny Feilhaber to the abyss
  • Krisztian Nemeth to the abyss

In:

  • Alan Pulido from Chivas
  • Roberto Puncec from HNK Rijeka
  • Winston Reid (on loan) from West Ham

Players to Watch

The “missing piece” for SKC for years has been “a true number 9.” Well, now they have one in Alan Pulido and all eyes will be on him this season. Johnny Russell proved he is a superstar last season before battling the injury bug and should be in for a big year if he can stay healthy. Veterans Graham Zusi and Tim Melia make the defense a solid unit on this team that could finally make this the complete package for SKC’s success.

Expectations

The Good - They’ve finally got their number nine in Pulido and depth at that position with Khiry Shelton. Barring more injuries this year, this team should reach the potential many expected last season.

The Bad - The defense is a big question mark on this team. There are a lot of years on the legs of that back line, and the approach will have to change if they want to cut down on opponents' scoring.

Best-Case/Worst-Case - Kansas City may be the team with the widest possibilities in the entire league. Part of me thinks they have the horses to win it all this year. At the same time, if we are looking at the table in October and see SKC sitting at home in the playoffs, I wouldn’t be completely shocked either.

Possible Starting XI for Sporting Kansas City:

 

Vancouver Whitecaps

Last Season

Vancouver lost 10 of their final 16 matches in a season that went from bad to worse for the Whitecaps. They notched only 8 wins all year and had a -22 goal differential. As Johnny Wakefield said on the season preview episode of the Mint City Soccer Show, the word that best encapsulates this team is “afterthought.”

They finished the MLS regular season with 34 points (twelfth in the Western Conference) and did not make the playoffs. They were also eliminated in the third round of the Canadian Championship by CPL team Calvary FC.

Key Offseason Moves

Out:

  • Jon Erice to Albacete
  • Doneil Henry to Suwon Bluewings

In:

  • Lucas Cavallini from Puebla
  • Erik Godoy from CA Colon
  • Leonard Owusu from FC Ashdod

Players to Watch

Besides their marquee signing in Lucas Cavallini, you should also keep an eye on midfielder and workhorse Inbeom Hwang. Hwang has major aspirations to get to Europe and will be pushing this team to perform this year to get more attention on his performances. Anchoring the back line is Ali Adnan who will look to improve now as a permanent member of the Whitecaps for the full 2020 season.

Expectations

The Good - Cavallini should give this team a real scoring threat, and many in Canada are excited to see what the Canadian National Team star can do. Goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau possesses the skill to make some unworldly saves. Scoring goals. Keeping goals out of the back of the net. That’s the gist of this soccer thing.

The Bad - Oh. Except for all that stuff in between the striker and goalkeeper. Hwang was great last year. Everyone else… well… they weren’t. 

Best-Case/Worst-Case - Even in the Best-Case scenario, I struggle to see this team making the playoffs. But they should be better than last season (it’d be hard to be worse). In the worst-case scenario, this team isn’t even the best team in Vancouver (I’m looking at you Pacific FC).

Possible Starting XI for Vancouver Whitecaps:

 

Whew. I hope you enjoyed this 26-team MLS preview. If you did, share it on social media and reach out and say hello on Twitter. Good luck to your MLS team of choice this season… we’re all getting a new one in 2021.

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