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MLS Eastern Conference Preview: Part 1

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In this two-part series, Sven87 breaks down TFC's closest competition. We'll look at how each of these teams performed in 2014, what they've done in the off-season, who to look out for, and what lies ahead.

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Chicago Fire

2014 performance:

The Chicago Fire, tied with the Impact and San Jose for the least wins in the league last year (6), came in at second-to-last in the Eastern Conference with a paltry 36 points. Chicago did manage to make history, however, setting the record for most draws in an MLS season (18). Many of those draws likely could have turned into wins, had reigning MLS MVP Mike Magee remained healthy throughout the season. With a succession of hamstring, calf, and hip problems, Magee only managed to make 17 appearances last year, and while 7 goals and 4 assists in his limited playing time seems a respectable output, many asserted that the Fire’s star striker could have been significantly more effective without the nagging knocks (and ultimately season-ending injury). To add insult to injury, the Fire were essentially forced to sit idly by and watch as commissioner Garber and the creepy bears from the new jars of Kraft Peanut Butter stomped all over their time-consuming and resource-depleting efforts wooing Jermaine Jones,as the MLS ‘un-biasedly’ determined that New England would become the new destination for the USMNT star.

Notable offseason moves:

The Fire, unsurprisingly, saw quite a bit of turnover in the offseason, declining options on 9 of their players and losing 8 others for various reasons. Chicago lost a leader in the dressing room as midfielder Logan Pause announced his retirement. They also said goodbye to towering defender Bakary Soumare (who played 25 matches for them last season) and midfielder Sanna Nyassi, both of whom were picked up by other MLS sides in the re-entry draft. Most notably, two strikers (on a team that scores largely by committee) have also left the side, as former Red Robbie Earnshaw (who was averaging a goal every 58 minutes) had his option declined and Juan Luis Anangono was transferred to a Mexican side.

Insert two new attacking designated players, David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike- both still in their 20s, both from African nations (Ghana and Nigeria, respectively), and both leaving top-tier Swedish clubs to come to the windy city. Add to that Guly Do Prado, a 33 year old Brazilian striker who previously played for Southampton, and a third DP in experienced Scottish midfielder (32 year old) Shaun Maloney from Wigan, and the new-look Chicago offence suddenly appears to have great potential to turn heads if the right chemistry can be established. To round it all off, Chicago brought in a replacement for Soumare in 31 year old (and 6’3) central defender Adailton, who joins the club from a second tier Brazilian side.

Key player:

Between their two shiny new DP attackers, an (eventually) healthy Mike Magee, and Guly Do Prado, the Chicago Fire attacking corps should have enough firepower to be scooping the ball out of their opponents’ net on a regular basis. So the real question is- does new addition Adailton adapt to MLS play quickly enough to not be the weakness exploited time and again in Chicago’s backline? He‘s got the leadership, experience and size to compete- but his lack of pace and unfamiliarity with the league could be an impediment to Chicago’s success in 2015.

Storyline/Prediction for 2015

When you look at their new additions, it’s likely that the Chicago Fire will no longer be the tie-happy laughingstock of the league in 2015. With an unprecedented roster of attacking players (and Shaun Maloney supplying them), the true question will be whether Chicago’s holding midfielders and (especially central) defenders can do enough to keep the ball in the opposing half of the field. If they’re quick to find the right formation and chemistry, Chicago will likely be competing for one of the final playoff spots in 2015.

TFC links-

With Earnie out of the picture, the feisty Quincy Amarikwa is the most glaring former Red on the roster. Contributing 8 goals and 5 assists last season (and a strong 2015 pre-season according to various reports), Amarikwa has made his case to be in the discussion for a starting spot, even with the heavily crowded group of competing strikers.

Columbus Crew SC

2014 performance:

The Columbus Crew enjoyed a late-season slip from Eastern conference competition, winning their last 3 games to sneak into 3rd place (just three points ahead of 5th but only three back of second). The Crew would ultimately suffer defeat in the Eastern conference semi-finals, losing handily to the Revolution by an aggregate score of 7-3. The 2014 season was an impressive campaign for the likes of Ethan Finlay (11 goals and 7 assists), Tony Tchani, and new Crew starting keeper Steve Clark, with designated player Federico Higuain (also 11 goals and 7 assists) again showing why he has been one of the most consistently impressive MLS players in the #10 role. Michael Parkhurst also shone in the daunting task of filling the incredibly roomy galoshes of departed defender Chad Marshall.

Notable offseason moves:

In the expansion draft, the Crew lost an underachieving striker in Jairo Arrieta, who had only contributed 8 goals over the past two seasons after an impressive 2012 campaign. Columbus also traded away two versatile players in defender Josh Williams, and (more significantly) Bernardo Anor, whose 6 goals and 27 appearances were quite an impressive output from a player who saw time at attacking mid, wide mid, and fullback over the campaign. Toward the end of 2014, the Crew also suffered the loss of three good men from their logo. Good riddance.

Columbus brought in quite a few interesting names this off-season, along with a familiar face that Crew fans will be happy to welcome back. Like Chicago, Columbus took a trip to Scandinavia and plucked a couple of players- but in this case, they'll be used to round out the middle of the pitch. Defender/holding midfielder Mohammed Saeid (out of contract from a newly promoted Swedish club), and Kristinn Steindorsson (midfielder from a club in Sweden’s top league) will be welcomed with open arms to the city of... whatever Columbus is known for. They also acquired a couple of players who will be joining their defensive corps- new MLSer Hernan Grana (an Argentine right back from the country’s second division), and Chris Klute, who played 25 games for the Colorado Rapids last season. But the two most intriguing pick-ups by the Crew were of course attacker Kei Kamara, making his return after a (relatively) unsuccessful stint in England, and Cedrick Mabwati. The latter is a 22 year old Congolese winger who honed his trade in Atletico Madrid’s system, and was most recently contracted to Real Betis (who were just relegated from the BBVA).

Key player:

It’s tough to choose one here. Personally, I’m most intrigued by Mabwati. Kamara is fully expected to pick right back up where he left off, and even if he falters- Higuain will help lift his game to where it should be. But what will Mabwati bring to the table? And the other important question that may fly under the radar with all these new acquisitions- will Wil Trapp continue the impressive development/progress we saw from him in 2014?

Storyline/Prediction for 2015

With such a strong end (playoffs aside) to 2014, expect the new-look Crew to come firing out of the gate in 2015. Kamara has played in the MLS, so he shouldn’t take too long to re-adjust, and if Mabwati can show why he has been connected to top-tier Spanish sides, this club has the potential to be a top 3 side in the East. I would expect Columbus to have one of the hottest starts of all MLS teams in 2015, and if Higuain stays healthy- this is very much a playoff team that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

D.C. United

2014 performance:

A 4-game winning streak midway through the season, coupled with a strong end to the season (no losses in their last six), saw DC United perform the un-thinkable by moving from last to first and claiming top spot in the east (and third overall) in 2014. Their 43 point improvement shows that TFC should have no excuses for being unable to right their own ship in a seemingly short amount of time. Designated player Fabian Espindola’s 11 goals and 9 assists, Eddie Johnson finally picking up his game when others saw their performance drop, and Bill Hamid’s impressive season between the posts were all crucial to the success of the black and red. DC United were eventually eliminated by the New York Red Bulls 3-2 (aggregate) in a hard fought Eastern conference semi-final matchup.

Notable offseason moves:

In stark contrast to their off-season strategy in 2014, DC United opted to keep as much of their squad together over the winter months. Aside from declining options on some of the more fringe players of their squad (including Canadian defender Nana Attakora), the only real contributor to the team to be shipped out was midfielder Lewis Neal who played in 26 games (but only started 7 of those).

There were a few notable new faces coming into the land of Kevin Spacey’s brutish brilliance as Markus Halsti, Jairo Arrieta, and Michael Farfan will all be joining the squad. Last season Halsti played 26 matches for Malmo in Sweden’s top flight, helping them to the league championship. Halsti slotted in at central midfielder, occasionally captaining the side, and started all 12 of the team’s Champions League matches. The 30 year old can also play the role of defender, and could be a significant contributor to United in 2015. Farfan will be re-joining MLS after a brief and unfruitful stint at Cruz Azul, and former Crew striker Arrieta (who bounced around a few times over the off-season) will be looking to re-capture his finishing touch in DC.

Key player:

While I’m curious to see what Halsti will bring to the table, Fabian Espindola is the key man for DC United. When he is healthy and on his game, the 29 year old is a menace for defenders, combining well with the likes of both Luis Silva and Eddie Johnson, and can change the outcome of a game quicker than Kyle Bekker can say "nutmegged".

Storyline/Prediction for 2015

What’s truly terrifying is that DC didn’t seem to get any worse over the off-season. If you take the eastern conference champions (playoffs aside), and add in one of the best players from Sweden’s top league in 2014… what do you get? Well who knows- because the truth is, with other teams making significant moves and efforts to improve, and DC’s core of veterans getting a year older (and potentially more frail), nothing is guaranteed for the incumbents. That being said, A top-3 prediction for DC United does not seem, at all, to be a far stretch this coming season.

TFC links-

Alright, there’s no way around it- losing Luis Silva was a terrible move by TFC’s head office. The young American attacker scored 11 goals and assisted on 4 in 2014, and still has potential to perform even better in 2015.

Montreal Impact

2014 performance:

2014 Was a season to forget for the Montreal Impact, finishing dead last in all of MLS while only scraping together 28 points over the course of the season. Despite the silver lining of bringing the Voyageurs Cup back to La Belle Province (presumably to eat poutine out of), Montreal struggled throughout the entire season, and no number of moves or management changes could dig them out of their bottomless pit. Marco Di Vaio scored less than half of his 2013 tally (and neither Andrew Wenger nor Jack Mac could help top that off), the Impact defence was absolutely atrocious, and even their starting keeper saw himself eventually get de-throned and shipped out of town. Young Impact designated... hero, Ignacio Piatti, tried to come charging in atop his steed two thirds of the way through the season, but only ended up factoring into 6 matches (contributing 4 goals and an assist).

Notable offseason moves:

Montreal were one of the busiest teams this off-season, understandably going for a full-out Bruce Jenner switcheroo. In an effort to keep this section under 10,000 words, here is a summary of some of the more significant moves IMFC made.

Di Vaio retired. Practically irreplaceable. Ferrarri, Danso, Pearce, and (surprisingly) Ouimette have all found new homes, which actually seems logical considering the performance of the Impact defence in 2014. Like TFC, the Impact also decided to give INF the boot (but surprisingly didn’t wait until Christmas day to spring that on him) and ship off a former number one keeper (Troy Perkins) to the Seattle Sounders. In a surprising trade, the Impact also sent Joe Bendik’s favourite plaything, attacking midfielder Felipe Martins, to the New York Red Bulls in exchange for midfielder Eric Alexander and defender Ambroise Oyongo.

The list of players coming in is similarly long, but there are a few who will play more of a leading role with the Impact throughout the season. Old Italian (surprise?) Marco Donadel will be joining our favourite bike-rack hurdler Nigel Reo-Coker in bossing around the Impact midfield. Newcomer Bakary Soumare will have a formidable companion in the backline in Laurent Ciman, a Belgian international coming over from Standard Liege. And Waking The Red’s former favourite road-runner Dominic Oduro has been shifted back up to striker with the Impact, hoping that he can sprint the ball right into the net before the keeper can even catch a glimpse of the Ghanaian (or, more realistically, before he loses it).

Key player:

Ignacio Piatti. Absolutely. It will be interesting to see how Donadel and Ciman perform over the course of a gruelling MLS campaign, but Piatti is the key contributor- he has tremendous technical ability, is a fantastic passer, and has proven to be able to find the back of the net when given the opportunity. He was a great pickup for the club, kind of like the attacking version of Mattias Laba.

Storyline/Prediction for 2015


Did they do enough? Was this a DC United-type overhaul, or will they again crumble and fall to the bottom of the table? Unless Oduro has a fantastic season and re-gains his scoring touch, and Ciman and Donadel are significantly more gifted in the endurance department than I’ll give either of them credit for, the magic of Ignacio Piatti will not be enough to keep the Impact afloat. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any predictions that have them higher up than 7th in the east by the end of the season.

TFC links-

Dom Oduro. He already changed his hair color to blue. Will he impress the Impact fans more than he impressed the (roughly half of) TFC supporters? If they unleash his speed and find him making the right runs, TFC could regret losing Papa Dom.

New England Revolution

2014 performance:

The Revs 2014 season was a true roller coaster ride. They came out of the gate sluggish, seemed to find their way with a 5 game winning streak, and then hit absolute rock bottom, losing 8 in a row throughout June and July. Soon came the arrival of USMNT bad boy Jermaine Jones, and with help from "MVLee" Nguyen, the Revs quickly found themselves back on an upward trajectory, winning 9 of their last 11 (including another 5 game win streak). The Revolution ended the season in 2nd place in the east, and fared well throughout the playoffs- only getting the wind knocked out of their sales by the sole team that could stop them- the LA Galaxy in the MLS Cup final. Lee Nguyen’s 18 goals were a significant factor in the Revs’ success, with the second highest scorer on the team only converting five.

Notable offseason moves:

Although eleven of New England’s players had their option declined or saw their contract expire, few of the departing players played important roles in the squad in 2014. In fact, the only two remarkable individuals leaving the side are defender A.J. Soares (who played 32 games for the Revs in 2014) and striker Patrick Mullins, picked up by Orlando in the expansion draft.

In terms of player acquisitions, New England added a number of depth players, few of whom will likely see significant minutes in 2015. The Revs reinforced their attack with the additions of Okoli and Bowen, two players whose scoring resumes would barely even hold a candle to Lanky McNoSkill (or as Preki refers to him, scoring juggernaut Justin Braun). However the Revs did manage to turn a few heads as they went back to the future in welcoming back Juan Agudelo, whose inability to secure a work permit led to Stoke City releasing the striker (after a loan spell at Utrecht), enabling his comeback to MLS. Agudelo’s last stint with New England included converting 7 goals in 14 appearances in 2013, a rate which the Revs would undoubtedly be thrilled to see him duplicate in 2015.

Key player:

Juan Agudelo. While questions about MVLee’s ability to maintain his level of performance will linger, and Jones’ total impact on the Revs remains to be discovered, New England has been lacking a pure goal-scoring forward, and are very much hoping that Agudelo can fill in that spot, as he makes his return to Gillette Stadium.

Storyline/Prediction for 2015

The Revolution should again be a benchmark-setting club in the East in 2015. Captain Goncalves, with his deputies Nguyen and Jones, will continue to lead this club and empower them to overcome adversity. It may again be an up-and-down season depending on injuries and Gold Cup departures, but there will be more ups than downs, and many would be surprised if the Revs do not find themselves in a playoff spot midway through October.

TFC links-

Versatile midfielder/defender (sort of) Jeremy Hall was acquired by New England during the off-season. Most TFC fans are still trying to figure out why. Maybe they were lacking in community engagement. Also, putting my CMNT scarf on for a moment, "teal" is a goddamn colour (that’s colour with a U), NOT a name.