Santa is coming! He’s bringing gifts for all the good little kids in MLS - let’s see what he brought the Western Conference...
Sporting Kansas City - Something that finally works
Peter Vermes has tried everything - playing exciting soccer, playing unwatchable soccer, getting rid of Benny Feilhaber because he thought Yohan Croizet would bring his skills from something called First Division A to MLS and make up for the production that one of the best midfielders in the league over the past half-decade had... Next year they’ll try something else and maybe it will work. Maybe we won’t have to watch Vermes gesticulate wildly with an incredulous look on his face as a forehead vein throbs uncontrollably while his team somehow struggles to get what worked all regular season to carry over into the playoffs.
Seattle Sounders - More than two good players
The Seattle Lodeiro-Ruidiazes dazzled fans in the second half of the 2018 season rising all the way from 10th to 2nd place in the West. The problem came in the playoffs when their depth issues once again came to the forefront and the team was eliminated by the 8th best side in the league this year. Somehow the response to this has been to lock down Cristian Roldan for five years (so we can watch him run a lot and work really hard while he enjoys a career of callups for January camps and off year Gold Cups) and to significantly overpay Jordan Morris who had a decent rookie year, followed by a significant drop off, followed by tearing his ACL, and has somehow come to embody everything that is wrong with US Soccer’s relationship with MLS. Surely that won’t be a salary burden on a team that has shown a refusal to spend on players until the summer transfer window every year.
LAFC - Some defense
If the best expansion team in the history of MLS to lose to Minnesota United 5-1 could use anything it’s a good defense. Bob Bradley somehow has gotten the reputation of being a defensive minded manager, but this year should have dispelled that once and for all. LA gave up 52 goals this year, scored 68, and did it because their best center back decided he wanted out of MLS, their starting defensive midfielder got hurt, and Bradley’s response was to play six attackers on the field at once with Lee Nguyen and Benny Feilhaber playing in central midfield. It was amazing and fun, I’m sure it gave Peter Vermes an ulcer. If they figure out the defense thing LAFC is going to win the Western Conference.
FC Dallas - More... Texas?
Whatever anyone says about the music being loud in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta United understands one thing - if you treat MLS games like they’re events that are worth paying attention to, fans will too. FC Dallas has been one of the best teams year in and year out and yet nobody watches them. Dallas is a sprawling hellscape that has merged two metropolitan areas into one congested space with no natural barriers to stop the endless spread of strip-malls and new Applebee’s franchises - tap into that FC Dallas, create an atmosphere that someone who would pay $1.3 million for a house like this would appreciate and you have a blueprint for a full stadium.
Portland Timbers - Becoming a competitive MLS team
Sure, they got to MLS Cup. Sure, in 2015 they won MLS Cup, but what I said about the Seattle Loidero-Ruidiazes goes double for the Portland Valeris. For a team that has no interest in developing players through its academy, let a real player who actually exists called Zarek Valentin regularly start at right back hoping that nobody noticed and kept Jeff Attinella, a player who averaged two goals allowed away from home in the post-season and saw his tremendous accomplishment awarded with an MLS Playoff Best XI recognition, play keeper, Portland did pretty well. They finished in 8th place in MLS, 5th in the West, and had a 54 point season. In the mind of their owner, they’re elite so as the successful teams in the league develop academies and find ways of adding depth, Portland will probably hope that Jeremy Ebobisse learns how to score goals and that Diego Valeri just carries them on his back for another season.
Sorry Portland, what was that? I can’t hear how good you actually are and how good your original culture that came up with the unused anywhere else in the world of soccer ‘Till I Die motto*** is over the music in our stadium full of 70,000 people while your team makes MLS look bad by rolling over in the final.
Real Salt Lake - Some hard conversations
Any team that had a -3 goal differential doesn’t need Kyle Beckerman being too old and slow to keep up with MLS attackers slogging around the midfield or Nick Rimando taking early retirement by standing in goal watching shots sail into his net. Allegedly, this team has a talented young backline with Justen Glad and Brooks Lennon waiting to launch themselves into the elite of MLS and possibly beyond, as long as they keep the same core players from 2014 who were already in their 30s back then around, there’s nothing the youngsters or attackers can do to save them. Pass ‘em out Trey.
LA Galaxy - Bruce Arena
This is much more a gift for the rest of us, please let the American Louis van Gaal have a chance to manage Zlatan. Please, Santa, it’s all I want. (Or Jermaine Jones, it would be the best two months in MLS history).
The Vancouver Whitecaps - Some good sense
They have $22 million by virtue of the fact that Carl Robinson realized he shouldn’t let the best soccer player Canada has ever produced play left back despite his every instinct probably screaming at him otherwise. Alphonso Davies was a unicorn in MLS, he’s a once in a generation lottery ticket for a team in the league - his transfer fee is higher than all but Toronto’s entire wage bill in MLS last season, it will not happen again for the Whitecaps for a long time, as long as Santa doesn’t bring them the next Pedro Morales everything should be OK.
Houston Dynamo - Becoming a competitive MLS team, or Diego Valeri
The Dynamo are the Timbers without Diego Valeri - they don’t care or don’t produce enough through their academy, their depth is lacking relative to their competition, and despite having a USMNT left back, their defense is mediocre and their goalkeeper is a journeyman whose main attribute is not having to take up an international roster slot. It is not 2010 anymore, the Dynamo won’t compete until the put a decade’s worth of resources into their club.
Minnesota United - Some attention
Speaking of putting a decade’s worth of resources into a club... Somehow lost in the incredible cacophony of “Atlanta’s Supporter Culture is FAKE: MY SOON TO TURN INTO A 404 ERROR MESSAGE COLUMN” written by members of the Timber’s Army and readers of Timbers blogs is this work of tremendous intellect by a Minnesota United supporter. To their credit, FiftyFive.One, which is probably named after some kind of riff on being 100 degrees hotter than 451 degrees or something that you’d need a literature Ph.D to think is clever, left the criticism of Atlanta United bringing members of the larger supporter culture and fabric of the city itself into the fan experience up so we can still read it. Despite being humble Midwesteners who just want to do their jobs, shovel their driveways without having a heart attack, and gorge themselves with their most significant cultural contribution to the United States - the juicy Lucy - it’s clear that Minnesota United needs some attention. So far their greatest achievement in 20 plus years of soccer history has been existing in one form or another, but that’s clearly not going to cut it while Atlanta United is busy doing things like winning MLS Cup and while LAFC was building a competitive roster for its inaugural season - so please, for the love of the Cohen Brothers pay attention to Minnesota United and their new technicolor stadium - it has safe standing!
Colorado Rapids - More expansion teams
The Rapids answer the vital question of - what if the guy who owned Arsenal also owned a team in a league that nobody else in the world paid attention to? Here is your answer. Somehow a team like the Rapids can exist and completely disregard the need to put a team of 11 soccer players on the field every week and Don Garber can talk about making the league better by adding more teams. Colorado can’t get much worse but clearly nobody cares anyway.
San Jose Earthquakes - Disruption
You know what this team needs - aggregate extensible infrastructures, harness 24/7 vortals, a custodian of datafication. Or just to be contracted - but no, let’s expand the league, a league without promotion and relegation that had a team win four games in it clearly just needs more teams.
***really though RCTID - Rose City Til I Die, thank you for showing America how soccer culture should be Portland.