Minnesota United is new to MLS, but unlike fellow expansion side Atlanta United (everyone is united nowadays) this is not an entirely new team. The Loons leave the NASL, where they have played under a few other names since 2010. While it's a club with a solid history and strong supporters, for most MLS and USMNT fans Minnesota didn't enter their consciousness until October 2014, when winger Miguel Ibarra became the first 2nd division player to train with the national team since 2005. He was called up five times by Jurgen Klinsmann, and parlayed that international exposure into a contract with Club Leon in the summer of 2015, before returning to sign with Minnesota this season. But while Ibarra is certainly an attacking threat, he never led the team in scoring. For each of the last three seasons that’s been Christian Ramirez, who led the NASL in scoring two of the last three years (he finished 2nd in 2015). Read More
Writing a data based season preview for an expansion team is an interesting proposition. The only data available are individual player statistics with other teams, but projecting how those players will work together in the new whole is nearly impossible. What data we do have for Atlanta United is that owner Arthur Blank, currently the most depressed sports mogul in the universe, has spent significant money to bring excitement to the city of Atlanta. Exactly how much remains to be seen but given the names on this list it’s safe to say that Atlanta United will be among the spending elite in MLS.
They started by signing a big name coach in Gerard “Tata” Martino, most recently the coach who oversaw Argentina’s drubbing of the United States in the Copa America Centenario. The roster is impressive as well. They signed Kenwyne Jones, the Trinidad and Tobago striker who scored more than 70 goals in England. There’s the young Venezuelen DP striker Josef Martinez, and USMNT left back Greg Garza, on loan from Liga MX. On the wing will be Hector Villalba, another DP from Argentina’s San Lorenzo. Blank also shelled out to have USMNT keeper Brad Guzan arrive in the summer. Oh, and I almost forget their prized signing, worth a reported $8.5 million transfer fee, the Arsenal target Miguel Almiron, a 23 year old attacking midfielder. This list keeps going with MLS veterans Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowicz, and more. Arthur Blank might be feeling better real soon. Read More
US Open Cup. Supporters’ Shield. Coach of The Year. Defender of the Year. You might not believe it, but Dallas will be even deeper and scarier in 2017.
Finally, some hardware! In 2016 FC Dallas ended a 19-year trophy drought by winning the US Open Cup and the Supporters’ Shield, but fizzled out in the playoffs without the magic of Mauro Diaz, who went down due to an Achilles tendon tear. Interesting how the injury occurred against Seattle and then it was the “#NotMyMLSCupChampion” Sounders that benefited in the playoffs, isn’t it? Real fútbol fans know that the team at the top of the table is the true league champion (eds note: we puked a little in our mouth, too. The homerism dies down from here, we promise). Read More
The 2016 season culminated in yet another MLS playoff exit for New York Red Bull. A furious pace was set in the regular season galloping towards playoffs and finishing second in the supporter's shield. But Jesse Marsch and RBNY came up short. The team identity was in place, the intended peak timing was set and the squad was healthy. But once again the cup rewarded opportunism over exacted intention.
The addition of Aurelian Collin and the internal promotion of Alex Muyl were the key additions to the squad that ended the season top of the Eastern Conference. Another season with the same core group allowed for Marsch's high, energetic press to steep and refine. After a miserable start to the campaign which saw them take three points from a possible 21, RBNY proceeded to lose only three more games all season.
The usual suspects were some of the league's best throughout the year. Bradley Wright-Phillips won golden boot on 62 fewer shots than the second place finisher, David Villa. Dax McCarty once again dictated one of the league's best offenses by averaging 68 passes per 90 minutes (fifth best in league for players who played at least half of the games in the regular season). The defense allowed the second fewest goals against in the Eastern Conference, allowing for the best goal differential in MLS. But it was the year of Sacha Kljestan in Harrison, NJ. While sporting a disconnected pirate goatee Kljestan connected phases of possession and controlled territory in the offensive third of the pitch better than anyone in MLS. He led the league in key passes (105), assists (16), and expected assists (9.97) while ranking second in total passes (1723) by an attacking midfielder. Read More
Apart from the mid-season miracle of Nicholas Lodeiro’s arrival in Seattle, the Colorado Rapids were surely the biggest turnaround in MLS in 2016. Pablo Mastroeni’s first two years as head coach saw the Rapids finishing in 9th and 10th in the Western Conference. But after a flurry of offseason moves, Colorado finished 2nd in the West and league tables, competing with FC Dallas for the Supporter’s Shield until the very last week. New Designated Players Shkelzen Gashi and Tim Howard, and bonus pick up Jermaine Jones, helped cement a team culture and identity consistent with Mastroeni’s reputation of sacrifice and grit, and the Rapids didn't lose at home in 2016 until the Western Conference Championship.
While the Rapids were far more successful than last year, their tactics didn't change dramatically. The 2016 Rapids rank among the best defenses in league history, giving up 32 goals against, fewer than one goal per game. (And consider that five happened all in one game!) A mix of old and new-comers solidified Mastroeni’s vision. Axel Sjoberg earn his place as a finalist for Defender of the Year. Michael Azira, a Sounders cast-off, made a perfect match to Sam Cronin as a pair of dominant defensive midfields also dangerous in springing counter attacks. Offensively, the Rapids capitalized on opponents’ mistakes, quick breaks, and flashes of brilliance from across the roster. Gashi also scored an outrageous number of outrageous goals. Still, the Rapids only produced 39 goals from 37.47 xG (20th in MLS), tying the Dynamo for second-fewest. Yet no team let in fewer goals than the Rapids, who allowed fewer than one per game (32 goals against on 41.91 xGA, 4th in MLS). This team is defined by its defense, and after this offseason it’s clear that won’t change in 2017. Read More
After earning the club their first playoff appearance in year two, expectations continue to rise for NYCFC. Coach Patrick Vieira is seen as one of the best young coaches in MLS, and the team appears to have added even more talent in the offseason. Still, their superstars continue to age - can they still be relied on to carry the team in terms of workload and minutes in 2017?
2016 in review
Last year was a tale of two seasons for NYCFC. The first half was a continuation of the struggles of their inagural season, and NYC managed to earn only 18 points in their first 15 games. The nadir of that stretch was the now-famous 7-0 loss at home to their neighboring-state rivals. Skeptics began to question if Vieira would even last as long as his predecessor Jason Kreis did.
But that 7-0 humiliation was also the season debut for Frank Lampard, and his return (symbolic or not) coincided with dramatic improvement in form. Over the remaining 19 games of the season they averaged almost two points per game and went from being well out of the playoff race to finishing 2nd in the Eastern Conference. Lampard certainly added something to the midfield, as his 8.17 expected goals and assists were 2nd best on the team, despite his playing only 1342 minutes. With Lampard’s return, what had been a chaotic and inconsistent series of lineups from Vieira found some stability as the team’s form improved. Read More
“Cozmo, do you take Giovani Dos Santos to be your lawfully wedded superstar, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until contract’s end do us part?”
“You may now high-five the superstar.”
The LA Galaxy’s 2017 season is married to Dos Santos’ performance. Read More
After years of ineptness Toronto FC finally has become a competitive club in MLS. Never afraid of spending the money, the Canadian side's results on the field never reflected the club’s ambitions for making the playoffs. They finally made it for the first time in 2015 and followed that up in 2016 by hosting the MLS Cup Championship game, though they lost to the champions Seattle. Toronto FC's success relied and will continue to rely on their three DPs: Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley. The three players have a combined salary of over $20,000,000 per season and Toronto FC will be dependent on them if they expect to repeat their success in 2017. Read More
One is tempted - given the Seattle Sounders' dramatic recovery of a seemingly lost 2016 season to seize a playoff berth, and, ultimately, the MLS Cup - to take those last 14 games (plus the playoffs) as the best sign of what the team has to offer in the coming season. But with new acquisitions bolstering the bench, players developing in key positions, others returning from injury, and still others adjusting adjusting to the league, the team could easily see improvements over the championship campaign. Designated Player Clint Dempsey was available for only four games of Seattle's stretch run thanks to a heart condition, but is now cleared to play. Brad Evans struggled with injuries throughout the last half of the season. Young starters Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan are a year older and more experienced. Left back Joevin Jones is entering his physical prime. Even if the Sounders have not put the dire days fully behind them, this is a team that should expect to make the playoffs and contend in the postseason. Read More