2016 Season Previews

2016 ASA Season Previews: Every Dang One of Them! by Drew Olsen

In preparation for First Kick we've been writing two team previews per day for the last two weeks. Going in reverse order of 2015 finish, ASA and our (very) small band of writers have published 20 articles, covering each team's 2015 season, their offseason changes, and their prospects for 2016. If you haven't read them all yet, AND WE KNOW YOU HAVEN'T, then you can catch up here.

Eastern Conference

Chicago Fire by Tom Worville
Philadelphia Union by Coleman Larned
New York City FC by Drew Olsen
Orlando City SC by Kevin Minkus
Toronto FC by Jason Poon
New England Revolution by Sean Steffen
DC United by Drew Olsen
Montreal Impact by Benjamin Harrison
New York Red Bulls by Harrison Crow
Columbus Crew by Jared Young

Western Conference

Colorado Rapids by Drew Olsen
Real Salt Lake by Coleman Larned
Houston Dynamo by Harrison Crow
San Jose Earthquakes by Sean Steffen
Sporting Kansas City by Kevin Minkus
Los Angeles Galaxy by Sean Steffen
Seattle Sounders by Harrison Crow
Vancouver Whitecaps by Benjamin Harrison
FC Dallas by Jason Poon
Portland Timbers by Drew Olsen


Coming off of an epic end-of-season run that ended in the Timbers hoisting the first trophy in the club’s 40 year history, expectations are high among the Rose City faithful. While significant changes aren’t usually expected for a championship winning side, Portland has seen quite a few. If everything falls into place for the new arrivals, the team can stay healthy, and Caleb Porter’s patented single-pivot midfield continues to unlock defenses, this club could join Houston, Los Angeles and DC United as the only teams to ever repeat as champs. If all the pieces don’t click, we could see a repeat of the 2014 season when the club’s lofty preseason expectations were met with a finish outside of the playoffs.

2015 in review

The best team during the long MLS season doesn’t usually win the playoffs, and last year was no exception. If you consider the full length of the season, the Red Bulls and FC Dallas were unquestionably the best teams in their respective conferences. And while the Supporter’s Shield is nothing to shake an energy drink at, it’s certainly not the most coveted prize.

So if the Timbers weren’t the best team in MLS last year; they were the best team in MLS when it mattered. With three games remaining in their season and daunting road games in Salt Lake City and L.A. ahead of them, our own playoff odds gave them a less than 50% chance to make the playoffs. After a great run of results in the spring, it looked again like their status was “same as it ever was” and the team was doomed to just miss the playoffs for a second season in a row.

More on the epic run to the cup after the jump.

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The Crew played for the MLS Cup on their home soil last year only to fall short to the Portland Timbers, and while deep playoff runs always go hand in hand with a bit of good fortune, Columbus fans have every reason to believe their team will challenge again for this year’s title. Every player who started in the MLS Cup Final returned to the team and they added players, primarily on defense, where they needed help. Despite the stability the Crew will need great performances in three key areas to maintain their status as Kings of the East.

The Kamara Crew

The Columbus Crew’s biggest signing this offseason was locking down the return of the King of Scorers Kei Kamara to a long term deal. Kamara’s 22 goals last season was tied for the league lead and his physical presence up top sets the tone for the rest of the team. His long public and ultimately successful negotiation this offseason was proof that top players do have leverage and ability to loosen the very tight purse strings of the MLS single-entity system. The Crew will need another top flight performance from Kamara to keep their edge.

The biggest offensive signing of the offseason was fellow Sierra Leonean and Norwegian National Ola Kamara. Owner of 28 goals in his last three seasons in Norway and Austria, Kamara adds depth both up top and on the wings. 

The Kings of the Cross after the jump.

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The Red Bulls have consistently been a team stuck in disarray and chaos. They have a front office that has been raked over the coals time and again for choices that were just plain bewildering. Take all of that and couple it with a foreign ownership group/organization that seemingly feels detatched all the time. Yet there has probably been no better period in the Red Bulls 20-year history. With two Supporter Shields in three seasons and a team that position for position is ready to compete for another, things could get exciting, folks.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves... More after the jump.

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2016 ASA PREVIEW: FC DALLAS by Jason Poon

The 2015 campaign was a mixed bag for FC Dallas. On one hand, we saw a young club defy the odds and make a serious claim to be trophy contenders, matching New York Red Bulls on points for the Supporter's Shield only to lose out on goal differential. Then in the playoffs, the Hoops made a strong run, knocking off Seattle in penalties in the semi-finals, but ultimately withered under the pressure of the Portland Timbers in the Conference Finals. In both instances, real, actual silverware was a realistic possibility but ultimately the club fell short and the trophy barren run continues to haunt this franchise. (Last and only significant trophy was the 1997 Open Cup.)

While the club failed to claim any silverware, there were plenty of significant positives from their 2015 campaign that Oscar Pareja and company hope to build on for 2016. FC Dallas is known to have one of the best academies in MLS, which has regularly promoted and integrated academy graduates into the first time. Most notable was the emergence of both El Tri U-23 starting keeper Jesse Gonzalez, who wrestled the starting position from two MLS veterans (Dan Kennedy and Chris Seitz) and USMNT prospect Kellyn Acosta in the midfield. The academy's shining moment was on Sunday, September 6 at Mapfre Stadium against the Columbus Crew when Pareja started four homegrowns across the midfield (Alex Zendejas, Acosta, Victor Ulloa and Coy Craft) along with Gonzalez in net and produced a stunning 3-0 road win.

A look at the goalkeepers after the jump.

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On September 19th, 2015 the Vancouver Whitecaps led the race for the MLS Supporters’ Shield. From then, the team fell victim to an almost-comical trend of league leaders performing like cellar dwellers, collecting five points from their last six games and backing into the playoffs (inasmuch as a second seed can back into anything). Vancouver bowed out of the playoffs on their own turf, losing 2-0 against Portland to follow up on a scoreless draw down south, landing only 5 of 22 shots on target over the two-leg series. At their best, the Whitecaps are a dangerous counterattacking team that overwhelms opposing defenses with an athletic attacking midfield and aggressive passing (note the high total shot ratio of 0.532). At their worst, the team looks much the same… but wastes the ball with poor shot selection and lost possession (note the possession ratio at 0.469, third worst in the league).

2015 in Review

Drew’s 2015 ASA preview called attention to a young and promising attack, but raised questions concerning Vancouver’s defensive strength with a new pair of centerbacks. Ultimately, the Whitecaps defense significantly improved from 2014, ranking second in goals allowed and first in xGA, on the strength of Matias Laba, Kendall Waston, and an outstanding year from goalkeeper David Ousted. Waston and Laba together account for roughly 34-35% of the team’s defensive actions (excluding recoveries and fouls), reflecting the former’s physical dominance (particularly in the air) and the latter’s exceptional activity rate in the defensive midfield. No individual attacker stepped up as a consistent scoring threat across the full season, with streaky production from forward Octavio Rivero and midfielders Kekuta Manneh, Pedro Morales, and Christian Techera.

More on the keepers and defense after the jump.

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2016 ASA PREVIEW: MONTREAL IMPACT by Benjamin Harrison

The 2016 Montreal Impact will be eager to discover whether they can sustain the late season form that propelled them into their second playoff appearance in MLS. There’s hope in the rumor-defying return of Didier Drogba, who carried the team to a 7-1-1 record in his nine starts (scoring 11 goals) to close 2015. Nevertheless, five of those wins came at home, and three came against Colorado and Chicago. Mauro Biello imposed relatively few changes to the roster in his first offseason as head coach, likely indicating some confidence that the changes made last fall are sustainable.

2015 in review

ASA’s 2015 season preview of the Impact projected a position roughly between the cellar and the last playoff seeds – a fair summation of the team’s performance before Biello took over at the end of August. A defensive overhaul cut 14 goals off 2014’s abysmal total of 58 – third worst in the league – with new arrivals taking charge of the defensive midfield and all four positions along the back line. Laurent Ciman (CB), Marco Donadel (DM), and Ambroise Oyongo (RB) arrived perhaps with the greatest fanfare. 23 year-old Angentinian centerback Victor Cabrera, on loan from River Plate, seized the permanent starting role alongside Ciman in late June, and the Impact allowed only 18 goals in his 16 starts from that point.

Before Drogba’s arrival, Montreal’s offense was susceptible to stagnation, overly reliant on the individual skill of Ignacio Piatti in the attacking midfield. Neither Dominic Oduro (poor in distribution) nor Jack McInerney (terrible at everything else) was able to present a consistent threat from striker. Oyongo produced little to show for his promise as an attacking fullback. Dilly Duka and Andres Romero provided only modest support from the attacking midfield. Despite the defensive improvement, the Impact remained at a negative GD before the late season surge.

A look at the goalkeeper and defense after the jump.

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It’s fair to say that the Sounders are one of the most despised team in MLS. But strip away the fans, Alonso’s crunching tackles, the cheeky Dempsey smirk, the league moves that “just so happen” to coincide with things going the Sounders way (as *if* by magic!) and what do you have? 

The answer is simple: a team that makes smart business decisions and continually puts their organization in the best possible position to consistently win games.

But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. More after the jump.

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2016 ASA PREVIEW: DC UNITED by Drew Olsen

United have the most storied history of teams in MLS, but a lot of change is incoming. 2015 was a solid season for the black and red, but changes need to be made if the team is to be considered a contender again for MLS Cup. My guess is that that the season ahead will be a bit of a struggle as the club looks ahead to a new stadium and a new identity in the coming years.

2015 in review

Last season was an interesting one for United. As evidenced by the season progress in the graphic above, the club hovered around the top of the league standings for the first three quarters of the season, largely on the back of their league-leading 11 victories by one goal. They also had the second fewest wins by 2+ goals, ahead only of cellar-dwellers Chicago and Colorado. Unfortunately for United fans, Ben Olsen’s conservative strategy fell apart at the end of the summer, as DC finished the season with six of their 13 losses coming in the final nine games, culminating in a 0-5 rout in Columbus on the last day of the season. They were ultimately eliminated by the Red Bulls in in the conference semifinals for the second year in a row, losing both legs 0-1.

There are multiple ways to interpret the season; is Olsen the Jose Mourinho of MLS or just afraid of offense? On paper, it seems like he’s working with less than many other playoff teams. Fabian Espindola is the only designated player on the team, and he made just 15 starts last season due to injury and suspension. Chris Rolfe led the team with 10 goals, but no other player had more than five. Though a midseason trade for Alvaro Saborio gave some hope that more offense was coming, it never did. It may not have been pretty (and it certainly wasn’t), but Ben Olsen has shown he can consistently get more out of his team than most MLS coaches. It’s a task he’ll try to replicate in 2016.

More after the jump.

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The LA Galaxy had an interesting off-season. It started with the release of Omar Gonzalez and Juninho, followed by the pursuit of Ashley "barely still plays soccer" Cole. The Galaxy took a lot of heat for this pursuit when it was reported they would be using TAM, but anger seems to have dissipated when it was announced that price was closer to 300k. In reality, people should still be getting angry that the Galaxy spent 300k on a 35 year old left back of questionable fitness, but the Galaxy narrative machine is simply too strong for such a reasoned fan reaction. 

The Galaxy further wasted their money on the head scratching signing of Jeff Larentowicz, who demands far more money than he is worth, free agent money on Mike Magee, despite having one of the most promising young talents in the country in Jose Villarreal providing cover at left mid and forward, and finally, paying high dollar for one of the most overrated keepers in MLS history

In their frenzy to blow their newly acquired cap space in the most inefficient way possible, the Galaxy actually managed to stumble their way into three key moves. The first was the signing of Emannuel Boateng, a promising young winger who has impressed in preseason. His speed and dribbling ability should offer a new facet to the Galaxy attack, although Sebastian Lletget is still projected as the starting left mid once he recovers from his groin injury.

The second was the use of TAM to acquire Jelle Van Damme from Standard Liege in Belgium. Van Damme is a physical defender who looks to be a real aerial presence and danger on set-pieces, and, for Galaxy fans, it’s best to keep the mind on his talents and not that time he called Oguchi Onyeywu a dirty monkey, which the Galaxy TOTALLY addressed by getting quotes from lots of people not named Jelle Van Damme about how that’s completely in the past.  (Fans somehow bought it because, again, the Galaxy narrative machine is all powerful).

More after the jump

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