The 2016 MLS season is here, what to expect

Today is the day, the 21st season of MLS action gets under way, in many ways 2016 is the calm after one storm and before an even bigger one, 2015 saw two new team jump into the fray of MLS (NYCFC and Orlando City SC) both came with some big names, Kaka, Frank Lampard (well eventually), David Villa, Mix Diskerud (is he still a big name?) and both struggled on the pitch to compete as neither made the playoffs in a rather weak Eastern Conference. It was also the start of the new TV deal for MLS, a new CBA, and lots and lots of new sponsorships for the league.  So with no new teams this year and a year where there simply haven’t been any of those huge signings like last year, don’t forget we also saw Steve Gerrard, Jermaine Jones, Giovani dos Santos and Sebastian Giovinco join the league, but maybe those come this summer?

There are new stars but smaller names, like Ashley Cole, Lucas Ontivero, Yura Movsisyan, Carlos Gruezo and Shkelzen Gashi, we also the return of a player I really like is Simon Dawkins now a DP with San Jose and there are a lot of open DP spots around the league.  We saw some big name players change places, Dan Kennedy, Jeff Larentowicz, and Mike Magee to LA Galaxy, Marco Pappa and Jermaine Jones to Colorado, Marcelo Sarvas to DC United, Maximiliano Urruti and Mauro Rosales to FC Dallas, Christian Miadana to Houston, Harry Shipp to Montreal, Brad Davis and Justin Mapp to Sporting KC, Will Johnson and Clint Irwin to Toronto FC and Blaz Perez to Vancouver.

All of this before we see 2 new teams likely join the league in 2017 and then 2 more in 2018, so even without those huge name signings it is a big year for the league as those new sponsors will want to see some ROI and the league needs to find a way to get the TV numbers moving up in a hurry.

So as a fan what should you expect?  Will it be another year with the big clubs missing out on MLS Cup (come on none of you picked Portland vs Columbus last year, don’t lie about it)? Well it is a crap shoot to try to pick who will win what at this point of the season, MLS has too many variables to be very accurate but I do have some thoughts

I think some teams made themselves better in the offseason, others stayed the same and some have left me scratching my head as to what they are doing, I am going to run through every team with short thoughts, these are in alphabetical order:-

  • Chicago Fire – 2015 30pts 8-20-6 – The Fire were the worst team in MLS last season so is anyone surprised with almost a complete makeover? 16 players out from the roster, and nobody overly impressive coming in but one has to expect a lot of pressure on David Accam and Gilberto their two DP’s to lead this rebuilt squad to bigger things but I think the playoff drought likely lasts another year for the Section 8 fans.
  • Colorado Rapids – 2015 37pts 9-15-10 – The Rapids finished last in the West despite big midseason signing of DP Kevin Doyle who finished with 5 goals and 2 assists in 20 matches, but they like the Fire are doing a fairly complete rebuild with 15 players out. Different from the Fire they have brought in another DP striker in Shkelzen Gashi, and are expecting Tim Howard to join them after the Everton season, now for me the question is Jermaine Jones who was a DP last year but was traded to the Rapids from the Revs, not sure how that is going to work. I do think we should see more from Dominique Badji, Dillon Serna and Dillon Powers all who have shown a lot of potential. The West is brutal and everyone is getting better, but it is hard to see the Rapids getting that much better to move up much this year.
  • Columbus Crew – 2015 53pts 15-11-8 – The Crew made it to MLS Cup after finishing 2nd in the East last year, there wasn’t a lot that needed to be fixed and little was done in the off season. As long as they have Federico Higuain pulling the strings and Kei Kamara to finish things off, it leaves room for guys like Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram to contribute.  They should be just as solid as they were last year, expect them to fight for the top of the East and make a solid playoff run.
  • DC United – 2015 51pts 15-13-6 – DC is an interesting team, they made two moves that I think make them better this year. Picking up Marcelo Sarvas should play a big role for them, and if Luciano Acosta delivers the potential, the 21 yr old from Argentina could be the newcomer of the year. I would have picked DC to be a top team in the East but they didn’t look good at all in their CCL matches, they will need to get it together to make the playoffs even in a still weak Eastern conference.
  • FC Dallas – 2015 60pts 18-10-6 – It was GD that kept them from winning the Supporters Shield last year, and while they lost a couple pieces like Dan Kennedy, Blas Perez and David Texeira but they actually got better, adding Maximiliano Urruti, Mauro Rosales and Carlos Gruezo. I hate to make predictions but my reality is I think they may be the best team in MLS and they are going to be very tough to beat.
  • Houston Dynamo – 2015 42pts 11-14-9 – Brad Davis is gone, he has been the heartbeat of this team since before they moved to Houston, they replaced him with Christian Maidana, and some other role players. Their best hope will be if Cubo Torres regains the form we know he is capable of, if so then they might be able to push their way into the playoff picture. If not it could well be a miserable long, hot summer in Houston.
  • LA Galaxy – 2015 51pts 14-11-9 – 8 field players on their roster over 30, and despite that they have some of the brightest young talent in the league with Gyasi Zardes, Jose Villarreal, Bradford Jamieson IV and Sebastian Lletget.  Then add in Giovani dos Santos and Robbie Keane, and veterans like Jeff Larentowicz and Mike Magee you have a decent team.  If you can get guys like Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole and Nigel de Jong to deliver you might have an unstoppable force, but MLS is a long haul type season, lots of travel and physical play, so it is a big IF.
  • Montreal Impact – 2015 51pts 15-13-6 – If there ever isn’t drama with Montreal it will be a huge story, last year they made a huge run last year by picking up Didier Drogba last season.  However at seasons end he was a question mark, now he is a bigger question mark, he won’t be playing or training on turf so he is expect to miss the first 6 weeks of the regular season, with him they are a playoff team, without him there are a lot more questions than answers. I would love him to play every match but he won’t and Montreal will suffer and miss the playoffs.
  • New England Revolution – 2015 50pts 14-12-8 – Perhaps the most interesting team in the East for me, a couple of interesting additions in Gershon Koffie and Je-Vaughn Watson that should make up for the departure of Jermanie Jones. The future is now for guys like Juan Agudelo, Teal Bunbury, Charlie Davies, Diego Fagundez and Kelyn Rowe, if Lee Nguyen can find the form that he had in 2014 then the Revs win the East and maybe everything.  The supporter shield will most likely again go to a team in the weaker East and if I had to pick I might just go with the Revs.
  • New York City FC – 2015 37pts 10-17-7 – Only the Chicago Fire lost more matches than NYCFC, and the result was the firing of Jason Kreis and a good number of roster moves. The big move was getting Jack Harrison the #1 pick in the MLS Draft from Chicago, they also added some interesting younger players like Federico Bravo, Shannon Gomez, and Ethan White.  This side is going to try to ride the second season of David Villa, Frank Lampard, Mix Diskerud and Andrea Pirlo, but for me the question is what do they do with Poku?  I think NYCFC was a hot mess, I think they are still a hot mess.
  • New York Red Bulls – 2015 60pts 18-10-6 – The best team in the regular season last year, so clearly you don’t try to change much. However you can’t stop some things, like the departure of Matt Miazga to Europe. Still with Bradley Wright-Phillips, Sacha Kljestan, Lloyd Sam and Dax McCarty you have a very solid core and a good number of role players around them.  This is a team living the RSL motto of “The Team is the Star” and making it work, little will stop them from having another great year.  They should make the playoffs and I wouldn’t be surprised if this team does real well especially if Gonzalo Veron lives up to expectations.
  • Orlando City SC – 2015 44pts 12-14-8 – Like their fellow expansion side they missed the playoffs last year, and that of course lead to a good number of changes with the biggest signing being the rather controversial signing of Antonio Nocerion a former teammate of Kaka at AC Milan. Their success will come if Cyle Larin can continue his rookie of the year form, if Kevin Molino can stay healthy and return to form and can Bryan Rochez live up to expectations?  Of course with Kaka pulling the strings they are going to be entertaining to watch and I think they will be a team that moves up into a playoff spot in the East if anyone stumbles.
  • Philadelphia Union – 2015 37pts 10-17-7 – Bringing in Earnie Stewart as “Sporting Director” was the start of the rebuilding of the Union, I don’t expect it to be overnight but I do think it will be interesting to see how they use this year to build back up around Maurice Edu using their 3 top 6 2015 draft picks. Number 2 Joshua Yaro, Number 3 Keegan Rosenberry and Number 6 Fabian Herbers all will likely be called upon to play big roles this year, with Herbers and Yaro being Generation Adidas it should also free room for the Union to maybe bring in some more players during the summer transfer window. Rebuilding teams usually takes time, I expect that will be the case for the Union, but sometimes young players surprise you. I still expect them to miss the playoffs but they could be a fun team to watch.
  • Portland Timbers – 2015 53pts 15-11-8 – The defending MLS Champs will find that being on top is never easy and without names like Will Johnson, Jorge Villafana, Rodney Wallace and Maximilano Urruti it gets harder. They did add Chris Klute, Jack McInerney, and Ned Grabavoy. Still defending the title won’t be easy and in the West it will be even more difficult but they are still a very good team with Valeri, Chara, Nagbe and others.  If you want to know how hard it is to understand MLS, consider that the Timbers got hot the last month of the season and ran that streak all the way to MLS Cup. This is a playoff team if they simply play up to their capabilities.
  • Real Salt Lake – 2015 41pts 11-15-8 – Injuries, call ups and a formation change simply were too much for RSL to deal with last year and the result was missing the playoffs. Some big changes in the off season to supplement picking up Juan Manuel Martinez late last year, bringing back Yura Movsisyan from Spartak Moscow and signing Sunny Obayan should help, but not finding a CB to fill in for Chris Schuler (who is still recovering from injury & out of contract) will hurt. This team should score a lot of goals with a healthy Joao Plata, a full preseason for Martinez and the arrival of Movsisyan, but the key will be as it has been since his arrival, how good will Javier Morales be? They should fight for a playoff spot and perhaps their biggest signing was that of Asst Coach Richie Williams.
  • San Jose Earthquakes – 2015 47pts 13-13-8 – The reality is that the Quakes are as good as Chris Wondolowski is, but this year they bring back Simon Dawkins who should help out on the offensive side of the ball.  The question is who else will step up, because unless somebody does it is likely they will continue to struggle. I expect we could see a big season from Matias Garcia and maybe Shea Salinas, if so then the Quakes would be back into the mix of it all, but I don’t see it.
  • Seattle Sounders – 2015 51pts 15-13-6 – So a lot of departures (Martins, Pappa, Neagle, Rose, Pineda and Gonzalez), but the attention has been largely about the addition of Jordan Morris and talk of who the Sounders may bring in to fill their 3rd DP spot.  This is a top team if all the pieces click but that is a lot of shoes to fill with departures, but you have to expect that with the deep pockets of the Sounders they will be OK. If their key guys, Dempsey, Alonso, Evans, Friberg and Ivanschitz stay healthy they will make the playoffs and be a tough team to battle.
  • Sporting KC – 2015 51pts 14-11-9 – Sporting may have lost Krisztian Nemeth in the off season, but picking up Brad Davis and Justin Mapp give them a ton of midfield depth to go along with Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber.  With an open DP spot you have to expect they will be looking for a big time forward to bring in during the summer transfer window.  In a very competitive Western conference playoff spots will be very tough to get and any missteps by SKC and they could find themselves on the outside looking in.
  • Toronto FC – 2015 49pts 15-15-4 – With the money spent one expected a bit more from TFC but as you can see with 15 wins and 15 losses they were either red hot or ice cold.  In the off season they added some bite on the defensive side of the ball, by adding Drew Moor, Will Johnson and Steven Beitashour.  In the offseason we saw Jozy Altidore strive for better fitness for the USMNT and that should pay off for TFC as well, but this team is going to ride the talent of Sebastian Giovinco, and that is a lot of talent.  They should be better this year, and instead of just making the playoffs they should be fighting for a top spot in the East.
  • Vancouver Whitecaps – 2015 53pts 16-13-5 – Like TFC this is a team with a lot of talent that was either very good or very Meh, and 2016 should build upon all that young talent having more time playing together and with Morales, Laba, Rivero, Manneh and Techera they will be a team to reckon with.  They must find a way to get more wins at home where they were just 9-6-2, if they can figure that out they will be almost unstoppable. They won’t sneak up on anyone this year, but with the talent they have they won’t have to, a solid bet to make the playoffs with the only question being how much more can they do than just make it in?

OK, that is one of the longest posts I have ever made but hopefully it gives you something to help get you ready for the MLS season, it always is a long season and anything can happen.  I am not going to pick who will make it to MLS Cup because the playoffs are a crap shoot but I will say I think the West is still the better conference and with a weaker East it is likely the Supporters Shield will be won by a team there.

That’s How I See It

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