Yesterday Santa delivered his gifts to the Western Conference and today he’s hitching up the sleigh to the reindeer that weren’t told they were bad for soccer culture by fans of the teams that invented soccer in 1975 and is heading East. Here’s what he’s got for our friends in the Eastern Conference.
Atlanta United - I ain’t gotta flex, boy I got it, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
What do you even get the best team in the best conference? More than winning, more than a new Designated Player, more than a record transfer fee for Miguel Almiron - all I want is for Atlanta United to keep breaking people’s brains about what’s possible in MLS. The team’s success is clearly too much for some people and the takes and shots just make the way that the Five Stripes took the league apart that much more enjoyable. At this point Atlanta is just showing off and I never want it to end.
NY Red Bulls - Being good at soccer
OK you can press, we get it, we all get it. But when it mattered the most the Red Bulls couldn’t play soccer - they couldn’t adjust their tactics when Chris Armas thought for some reason that he should and they couldn’t break down Atlanta United when pressing wasn’t an option in the second leg of the conference finals. Tyler Adams was the engine that drove the NY press and he’s gone - if the team wants to take the next step it needs to evolve more than just having a system that teams struggle to play against and develop the ability to play soccer.
New York City Football Club - Enough money to buy David Villa’s replacement’s pride
No doubt tired of looking across the field at Yankee Stadium and seeing a tarp over a mound that could be easily removed and widen the playing surface beyond 35 yards, David Villa is taking his talent to Japan. NYCFC will need to find a player willing to exchange playing soccer on a field that a league that wants to be in the top five in the world should find to be a massive embarrassment for money. Probably a lot of money. That or they’re just waiting for Pep to decide that Zack Steffen isn’t going to fit in with Manchester City and send him on loan to New York after their summer tour of the US.
Should MLS make NYCFC do something about its stadium? No - don’t be silly, the league just needs more teams.
DC United - I can’t think of anything...
The Black and Red finally have a soccer stadium, they finally have players worth having on an MLS roster, and the front office seems to have made peace with the supporters groups... and yet, it just seems like there’s something missing... something good teams have that brings everything together in order to make the next step to be truly formidable and contend for a championship. Surely, there’s nothing that’s been sitting around since 2010 that has been OK sometimes but is perhaps just benefiting from having skilled players that make up for the obvious deficiency that is holding the club back... I can’t quite figure it out.
Columbus Crew - Existentialism
They were #Saved, what else could they want? Surely, all of their problems are now solved and they can go back to having Gyasi Zardes as striker. Who bought them anyway, an international oil billionaire with a track record of turning around loved but under-funded underachievers?
Nope, it’s the guy that owns the Cleveland Browns, the team that has won 21 games in the six NFL seasons since they were purchased.
I guess what Santa brought the Crew is the MLS version of the answer to the question - is it better to cease existing or to be a Cleveland Browns fan?
Philadelphia Union - A league that remains stagnant
2018 was the perfect season for the Union. The Eastern Conference wasn’t quite as much of a pungi pit for mediocre teams as it was last year, Fafa Picault seamlessly replaced Chris Pontius, and Alejandro Bedoya got six yellow cards. They were in every way, shape, and form the 11th best team in MLS this season. As an organization, Philly has been slow to make changes and the ones it does are generally questionable if not awful, Picault did a lot to avert the David Accam trade turning into a shambolic disaster that ruined their entire season. So far they’ve traded Keegan Rosenberry to the Rapids and are hoping that if they do nothing else all off season Austin Trusty and Mark McKenzie will lead them to success.
No wonder Earnie Stewart was brought into a leadership role with the USMNT, USSF excels at doing nothing and hoping something good happens.
Montreal Impact - A season 2
The team had an up and down 2018 - there was the disgraced international coach trying to redeem himself, the coach who had to prove herself to the boys, and Nolan Gallard having to overcome his past even though his old life and family troubles kept trying to pull him back into a life he thought he left behind, and nobody even knows if it’ll be back for 2019. I sure hope it is.
No but really, someone called Danie Lovitz plays for this team and got called into national team camp for January.
New England Revolution - A more substandard field
What’s happening in New England? Every new manager comes along and tries to assert themselves when taking over a new team and Brad Friedel is no different. He quickly declared that the best player on the Revolution was bad now and shuntered Lee Nguyen in a kind of MLS purgatory for 1⁄3 of the season before shipping him off to LA and making him endure a successful playoff run and this offseason he’s answered the question - is Kellyn Rowe just another MLS Kellyn who needs a new team?
Friedel’s team didn’t really have an identity or style. The Revolution didn’t do anything particularly well last year and whatever they have to build on will include fitting into their manager’s narrow definition of what a valuable player to the club is. Maybe he can convince Robert Kraft to just completely let the playing surface at Gillette Stadium go in the offseason and hope that the horrible field continues to be the team’s best asset in 2019.
Toronto FC - A 2019 calendar
TFC will get what it probably really needs this offseason. 2018 was a loss for the team. It’s highlights were badly throwing away a chance to win the Concacaf Champions League to start the year and giving MLS analysts a reason to say that Atlanta United was bad actually after the last game of the regular season. Maybe they can hold on to the core of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Sebastian Giovinco for one more year. As long as Jozy doesn’t top his 2018 season by proving that he has what it takes to miss 25 games in a season in 2019, and the team’s depth isn’t completely useless again they’ll probably manage to score more points in the table than Minnesota United next year.
Cincinnati Fussball Club - A lot of things going absolutely right
I’d like to congratulate the Fussballs on being the 10th best team in the Eastern Conference in 2018. They’ll have a lot to compete with as Minnesota United also beings their inaugural season in MLS, but they seem to have... well the roster is shaping up.
Looking at it, the team seems to be focused on gathering as many players that could be characterized as “projects” in one place. Will Greg Garza stay healthy? Can Kendall Waston manage to keep it to just three red cards this year? Will Forrest Lasso’s height translate in MLS? Can Fatai Alashe get back to being the kind of central midfielder that can anchor a team capable of finishing 8th in the Western Conference? How many analytics posts will Darren Mattocks feature in? Will the perpetual preseason predictions that Fanendo Adi can score 25 goals a year finally prove to everyone that 16 goals is and always was his ceiling?
We’ll find out!
Chicago Fire - Whatever they can get
Eventually something has to change for the Fire, right? Every year they can’t just go into the offseason with half a dozen players still on their roster heading into December can they? Just because it’s what they’re doing every year in the hopes that their dysfunction, horrible management, and commitment to overspending on a player that was so good he managed to help them finish with 32 points in the league goes unnoticed and that the fans will just come back to suburban Chicago via a train ride and bus transfer all on their own.
Santa is going to help them scrape together another 23 or so players, Bastian is going to play center back again probably, and somehow Veljko Paunovic is not going to get fired.
Orlando City - A sense of shame
At this point, Orlando is joining the Portland Timbers as teams that are actively hurting MLS by embarrassing the league. Sure, San Jose set the record for least wins in an MLS season, sure Colorado is letting Tim Howard lengthen his career so he can make bets he loses and get tattoos on his butt, but Orlando is taking being a complete and utter embarrassment to new levels. From trading for Sacha Kljestan, to having their fanbase - which seeming knows no shame - express shame about how awful their team is (imagine how upset the unlettered, cargo-short clad, Sons of Anarchy cosplaying fans of Orlando would have to be to write words and not just chortle incoherently at their front office) and having their all time leading goal scorer abandon the team with their best player seemingly on his heels - the most plausible explanation is that Orlando is trying to be this awful on purpose, even the worst executed plans have things go accidentally right for them. There really can’t be another explanation for why the team lost 15 or 18 or howmanyever games in a row last season. This is why I stand with the Iron Lion Firm in agreement that nobody should support the Orlando City Soccer Club.
Just think, next year we get to do this for a team that is going to be owned by David Beckham and play in Miami, I can’t wait.