Yesterday, we took a look at the status of five of the 10 teams that will compete with Toronto FC for an Eastern Conference playoff spot in 2017. Here are the other five.
The good: The Revs will welcome an influx of talent where they need it most; at centre-back and the base of midfield. Their defence was dreadful for long periods last season, ranking last in August before they rebounded in September and October to give themselves a shot at the playoffs.
Xavier Kouassi, who was signed a year ago but missed the whole season due to injury, will finally take up the role of replacing Jermaine Jones. At centre-back, Antonio Delamea Mlinar has signed from Olimpija Ljubljana with targeted allocation money and will likely be partnered by Benjamin Angoua, acquired from Ligue 1 side Guingamp.
The bad: New England has just felt like a team trending downwards ever since their MLS Cup appearance. They remain in win-now mode but Toronto and New York City have streaked past them in terms of the quality of their DPs and the Red Bulls have fewer flaws.
Jay Heaps has plenty of attacking talent to choose from and Delamea seems a promising signing in defence, but that still leaves a lot of pressure on Kouassi to tie it all together in between. If he has any more injury problems, it could spell trouble.
Outlook: A bubble team in terms of quality but with some implosion potential.
The good: Last year’s top scorers in MLS have doubled down and gone shopping for yet more attacking talent. Sean Okoli, last season’s USL top scorer, will back up David Villa, while Jonathan Lewis could be this year’s Jack Harrison out of the SuperDraft. Finland international Alexander Ring bolsters the midfield and Villa will be licking his lips at the kind of service imminent new signing Maxi Moralez could provide.
It is now looking like Moralez might not be a DP, so that also gives NYCFC a chance to make a significant addition in midfield or at centre-back before the season starts.
The bad: Doubling down comes with risk. Peru international Alexander Callens has signed from the Spanish second division at centre-back, but otherwise New York has done precious little to improve the worst defence in last season’s playoffs. With the amount of forwards and attacking midfielders Patrick Vieira now has to fit into his team, they might be even more unbalanced this year.
It’s difficult to question Villa’s longevity on the back of an MVP season, but this is also a team with two of the league’s oldest DPs.
Outlook: Blowing teams away with attacking firepower works in the regular season, but whether it will transfer to the playoffs is another matter entirely.
The good: Jesse Marsch has topped the Eastern Conference in both of his two seasons as head coach of the Red Bulls and could conceivably do it again this year. They will miss Dax McCarty but can make a good case that they have sold at the right time, with Sean Davis demonstrating that he is ready to step into the midfield in 2016 and 17-year-old Tyler Adams one to watch.
A spine of Luis Robles, Gideon Baah, Aurelien Collin, Felipe, Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips almost guarantees playoff soccer. The Red Bulls had two of the three nominees for the MVP award last season but somehow seem - to their benefit - slightly less glamorous than some of their rivals, and willing to bend to Marsch’s will and high-intensity system.
The bad: From McCarty’s departure to rumours linking Marsch with Red Bull Salzburg and the mysterious Ali Curtis situation, it has not been a particularly stable offseason for the Red Bulls so far.
That should all settle down in time, but it has seemed to serve to get in the way of transfer business the club might like to have completed by now. With McCarty’s $400,000 salary gone and their ability to add another DP, it would be surprising if they did not take a stab at improving on Omer Damari and adding a second major forward weapon to complement Wright-Phillips.
Outlook: The favourites for the East but could do with another source of goals to boost their MLS Cup chances.
The good: The signings of Josh Saunders, Jonathan Spector and Will Johnson would seem to have added some much-needed veteran reliability down the spine of Jason Kreis’ team, and the MLS Cup-winning coach will benefit from having a full preseason to work with the group.
If those three players can help to alleviate the team’s defensive problems they will be on the right track, because goals have not been an issue with Cyle Larin leading the line. The move to a home of their own will help them, too.
The bad: This is a roster that remains massively in flux. Orlando has signed too many bad contracts in its first two seasons in MLS and has a load of essentially dead cash on their salary bill as things stand, with DP Bryan Rochez among those available to anyone who will take him.
Add in the underwhelming performances of Antonio Nocerino and Brek Shea and the downturn in Cristian Higuita’s form and Kreis will need to either find a way to get more out of what he has got or oversee a larger remodelling of the roster.
Outlook: There is enough there to mount a playoff push, but I fear the Lions will need another year to figure out exactly what their core is going to be beyond Larin and Kaka.
The good: The Union’s midfield is an intriguing mix, with Alejandro Bedoya likely to pick up Tranquillo Barnetta’s workload in a more advanced role and Haris Medunjanin slotting in alongside Warren Creavalle or, if fit, Maurice Edu.
Philadelphia’s playoff run last season did not last long, but that they snuck in was progress and they have a few young players in Fabian Herbers, Joshua Yaro and Andre Blake who could continue to improve and push the team forward.
The bad: Philly has lost the second-most games in the East in the past two seasons (31) and 42 points will not get them in the postseason again.
Jim Curtin’s problems remain in both boxes, where their only attempts to upgrade this winter come in the form of Jay Simpson up front and Oguchi Onyewu at the back. Simpson has had one prolific season in the English lower leagues in his entire career, so it’s tough to bet on him becoming the next Wright-Phillips, while Onyewu is now 34 and has bounced around a few clubs without doing much for several years.
Outlook: They would seem to be the lowest-upside team in the East and are unlikely to be back in the playoffs barring a major addition or two.
I’m going to chicken out of offering exact predictions of the standings at this stage and fear even my vague guesses will look ridiculous come October, but here we go:
The Red Bulls, Toronto, New York City and Montreal should all be back in the playoffs.
Columbus, New England and D.C. would be my favourites to join them, though I’m a little cooler on D.C. than many.
That leaves Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia and Orlando. I would not rule any of them out of a playoff spot, but they need more things to come together than the other three bubble teams.
How do you see it?