Last season Toronto managed to claim the sixth and final playoff spot in the MLS Eastern Conference standings. This placement was a disappointment for the majority of fans as Toronto were unable to host a playoff match at BMO Field following an early playoff exit. Despite offseason improvements by Toronto, the Eastern Conference remains a competitive division with plenty of competition. As a result, Waking The Red previews the six clubs in which Toronto will have to beat out at least one of in order to claim a playoff berth for a second successive season.
Winners of the 2015 Supporters Shield, New York looks poised to win their third Eastern Conference title in four years. Despite having a quiet offseason, it is clear that this is still the best club in the conference due to their strong midfield including Sasha Kljestan and Dax McCarty. The only thing that may hinder New York from success is the departure of defender Matt Miazga to Chelsea who has yet to be truly replaced. However, with strong chemistry throughout the team, a top goalkeeper in Luis Robles and a clinical finisher in Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York is the team to beat in the East.
Last season, Columbus displayed an exceptional 4-2-3-1 formation throughout that created plenty of goals from crosses by Ethan Finlay to Kei Kamara. As long as that partnership remains intact, they pose an incredible threat for defenders. Similar to Toronto, their downfall last season was defensively as they surrendered 53 goals, however with the addition of Corey Ashe and Amro Tarek, they should be able to reduce the amount of goals conceded. As a result, Columbus will certainly be a lock for a playoff spot once again this season.
Although it pains all of us to admit it, it looks likely that the Montreal Impact will be a playoff team in 2016. With the return of Didier Drogba coupled by the additions of Harry Shipp and Lucas Ontivero, Montreal Impact will have a fluent attack and be a very tough team to contain. They have plenty of other big names on the roster including Venegas, Piatti, Donadel and Ciman and have several pieces off the bench to make them a very deep team. Last season their kryptonite was having a slow start due to fixture congestion and not having Drogba at the time, however without facing those adversities this season, they could very well compete for the top of the conference.
Similar to Toronto, D.C. United took the approach of acquiring proven MLS veterans that would be positive additions to their team. Lamar Neagle, Patrick Nyarko and Marcelo Sarvas were all acquired this offseason and will help boost their already loaded attacking content. Unfortunately for DC United, they also lost major pieces in the offseason such as Eddie Johnson, Chris Pontius and Perry Kitchen. Even more importantly, star goalkeeper Bill Hamid will be injured for most of the season which will certainly affect the team and hinder their ability in the first half of the season. Although DC are likely not a threat to win the conference this season, they definitely have a great chance of qualifying for the MLS Cup playoffs.
Orlando City SC
Following a strong inaugural campaign in MLS, Orlando City are a club on the rise. Their most notable addition this offseason is the signing of Italian International Antonio Nocerino. With the bulk of their starting contingent returning this season and the potential growth of Rochez and Larin as their strikers, Orlando should be a very difficult team to play against. If the club is able to avoid some of the injuries that they went through last season and continue their late season form, Orlando will certainly compete for the final playoff positions in MLS.
New York City FC
Although the offseason wasn't too noisy, the club has a great chance of making the playoffs this season simply due to the fact that legendary midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard are going to be playing all season this time behind David Villa. As long as the designated players remain relatively healthy, their role players are still strong enough to get the job done especially Mix Diskerud and Kwadwo Poku who are both good young players. The defense remains a big concern for the club, however Andoli Iraola is a decent defender as well as new signing Ronald Matarrita. New York City are a couple of on-loan Manchester City defenders away from being a contender in the Eastern Conference.
Although New England has been a consistent playoff team in recent seasons, key departures of Kevin Alston and specifically Jermaine Jones will be too difficult to overcome. With no major reinforcements coming in this offseason, and the improvements made throughout the conference, New England will likely be on the outside looking in come October. The two remaining clubs in the conference face the least possibility of earning a playoff berth. Both Chicago Fire and Philadelphia Union had unexciting off seasons to say the least and are very likely to remain at the bottom of conference once again.