2018 Season Previews

Every One of our 2018 MLS Season Previews by Drew Olsen

Whew! After more than two weeks of team previews, we're finally done. If you missed any or just want to get primed for every team's season, here's the full list:

Eastern Conference
Atlanta United by Tiotal Football
Chicago Fire by Kevin Minkus
Columbus Crew by Jason Poon
D.C. United by DCU_Exile
Montreal Impact by Aaron Nielsen
New England Revolution by Ian L.
New York City FC by Jared Young
New York Red Bulls by Benjamin Bellman
Orlando City SC by DCU_Exile
Philadelphia Union by Jared Young
Toronto FC by Aaron Nielsen

Western Conference
Colorado Rapids by Benjamin Bellman
FC Dallas by Jason Poon
Houston Dynamo by Drew Olsen
L.A. Galaxy by Harrison Crow
Los Angeles FC by Kevin Shank
Minnesota United by Ian L.
Portland Timbers by Drew Olsen
Real Salt Lake by Jason Poon
San Jose Earthquakes by Kevin Minkus
Seattle Sounders by Harrison Crow
Sporting Kansas City by Kevin Shank
Vancouver Whitecaps by Aaron Nielsen

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Los Angeles FC 2018 Season Preview by Kevin Shank

In October of 2014, it was announced that an expansion team was coming to Los Angeles. Three and a half years later, it seems like LAFC are still waiting for a full team. That’s not to say that head coach Bob Bradley cannot field a talented or competitive team, but with only 20 players on their roster, 2018 will be a long season if they cannot fill out their team.

Roster

LAFC’s current situation seems like a mix between 2017 expansion sides of Atlanta and Minnesota with their top-level coach, headline-worthy foreign signings, and a thin roster that leaves people wondering where this team will finish. While this is not Bob Bradley’s first time coaching in MLS or even managing an expansion team, it’s clear that this is a different league than what he oversaw up until 2006. Nevertheless, Bradley will be a great coach for the Black and Gold as he has one of the more impressive resumes in the league (although I bet Atlanta’s Tata Martino or NYCFC’s Patrick Vieira couldn’t last 85 days managing an EPL side).

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Portland Timbers 2018 Season Preview by Drew Olsen

On the back of  humanitarian and league MVP Diego Valeri, the 2017 Timbers won the Western Conference and thought they had a chance at a second MLS Cup. Unfortunately, injuries struck at the worst time and they bowed out of the playoffs with barely a whimper. With a new coach and some shrewd offseason signings, Portland will try again to end their season with an addition to their trophy case.

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Toronto FC 2018 Season Preview by Aaron Nielsen

Toronto was arguably the best team in MLS history last season, on their way to their first Eastern Conference title, their first Supporters' Shield, and their first MLS Cup trophy. They've only added more talent in 2018 so are hoping to do it all again, this time with a CONCACAF Champions League trophy thrown in.

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Seattle Sounders 2018 Season Preview by Harrison Crow

The Seattle Sounders have been to eight straight playoffs, two straight MLS Cups. They even won one of those cups, despite (roughly) accruing a combined 0.5 expected goals between BOTH matches. 2018 projects to be another successful season for a team with talent from stem to sturn, but with back to back off-seasons of only six weeks for a team whose first choice eleven run north of the MLS age median, there is plenty of inherited risk.

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NYCFC 2018 Season Preview by Jared Young

New York City FC had their best season ever in 2017. They finished second in the league with 57 points and sported a +13 goal differential. But NYCFC plateaued and was bounced from the playoffs by Columbus, which prompted a good deal of change this offseason. NYCFC declined options on eleven players, and also moved upcoming star Jack Harrison to Manchester City, much to Pep Guardiola’s surprise, er, I mean, excitement. But it’s safe to say that NYCFC upgraded their overall talent with some smart and exciting signings. The big question that remains; did Claudio Reyna and Patrick Vieira do enough?

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Vancouver Whitecaps 2018 Season Preview by Aaron Nielsen

Bucking most analytical trends, last season was an unexpected success for the Whitecaps. Beyond a new starting striker, they haven't changed much for 2018, so will hope their luck continues.

2017 in Review

My view going into the season last year was that Vancouver was not a playoff team. They surprised me and many others by finishing third in the Western Conference, only a point behind Western Conference leaders Seattle and Portland. The Whitecaps went on to beat San Jose 5-0 in the first round of playoffs, and finished the season with a disappointing conference semi-finals loss to Seattle. After they tied nil-nil at home, they went to Seattle and never looked like a threat, losing by two.

My concern for Vancouver going into last season was that after losing Pedro Morales, they didn't have anyone to maintain possession. Despite their final record, this was accurate, as Vancouver only had 39.2% possession, lowest in MLS. They also took an incredible 131 fewer shots than their opponents, a disparity better than only Colorado and Minnesota. Furthermore, their expected goal differential was -5.95, 16th in the league. Their PDO was 1089 (3rd highest in MLS), suggesting they got lucky in their offensive productivity. In sum, this team defied nearly all the analytics that tell us if a team is good or not.

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Chicago Fire 2018 Season Preview by Kevin Minkus

The Chicago Fire had a tremendous 2017, and it seems their 2018 squad will mostly look like that one. In many leagues, this stability, paired with the team’s younger players developing further, would spell positive results for the upcoming season. But the increasing amount of allocation money coming into the league means that the Fire’s competitors are stockpiling TAM-level players while Chicago stands pat. In all, the Fire may fail to improve without adding a few more pieces.

2017 RECAP

The Chicago Fire’s 2017 season should be considered a remarkable one. After two consecutive wooden spoons, the Fire finished the season in 3rd in the Eastern Conference. They put together an 11 game unbeaten streak that had them at the top of the East on July 1st. They had the league’s Golden Boot winner, Nemanja Nikolic, who put in 24 goals. Though they ultimately bowed out of the playoffs with a 4-0 home loss to the Red Bulls in the knockout round, the massive turnaround from 2016 should mark the season a success.

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Houston Dynamo 2018 Season Preview by Drew Olsen

Last season was a solid if unspectacular one for the Dynamo, as they exceeded expectations in the regular season and made a surprising run to the Conference Finals. With more important subtractions than additions in 2018, they'll hope to tread water in an improved West.

2017 in review

Last year was a surprisingly smooth one for the Dynamo. As evidenced by the mostly slow and steady incline of the season progression chart above, Houston was the Little Engine That Could. They made BBVA Compass Stadium a stronghold, eked out results on the road, and found their way to the Western Conference Finals.

At home, the Dynamo were offensive juggernauts. Buoyed by the best goal celebration in MLS, they averaged 1.8 xGF per game and only 1.04 xGA on their way to 12 wins and only one loss at BBVA. The 40 points they earned were second only to Toronto and their 41 goals and +25 GD at home were both best in the Western Conference. When they turned it on, they seemed unstoppable.

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Atlanta United FC 2018 Season Preview by Tiotal Football

It’s obvious Atlanta United’s expansion year was a success. You’re probably tired of reading about that. Quickly though, and then I’ll get into the more descriptive soccer things and a look to next year. In 2017, ATLUTD finished 4th in a strong East and were inches from 2nd and a first round bye with plenty of weird bounces that could've gone either way. That’s a successful first year (before you even talk about the goals and the attendance and the merchandise sales). It’s the sort of expansion year that a team might just want to consolidate around and make incremental improvements to, heading into the next season (Ron Howard voice: they would not do this).

Key Team Features in 2017

Atlanta United’s most distinctive attribute was the high press. Atlanta disrupted its opponents’ own-half buildups at a rate bested only by the New York Red Bulls. Atlanta’s opponent’s in turn passed the ball in their own half less than any other team in MLS, frequently opting to bypass the press and go long with lower percentage passes and more direct play. Only Red Bulls were forced to defend a higher percentage of long balls relative to other passes.

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