What an offseason it has been. There’s been #BarcoWatch, #NagbeWatch, #EscobarWatch, #WheresLarry, #SignAsad, #ReplaceCarmona, a double dose of Hothlanta, and more. While most of our attention has been paid to what Atlanta United has been doing, the rest of the league has been making moves, or in some cases not making moves. So to get prepared for the start of the season we’ll be catching up with the rest of the league and previewing the year for MLS as a whole with run-on sentences, bad jokes, extreme arrogance, and generally the kind of indulgent, crass material you’d expect from a Sam/Parker production.
None of the moves that were made stand in comparison to Atlanta United creating a team that will probably go undefeated this year and then go on to win CONCACAF Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup, but what can you expect from a league that watched Atlanta United score 70 goals in its first season? In honor of Atlanta United throwing the transfer fee record out the window we’ve thrown any reasonable word-count out along with it, so enjoy the next 11,000 words (not really) about MLS.
The high point for the Colorado Rapids was getting got rid of coach Pablo Maestroeni in August last year. That’s it, that’s the high point, their top goal scorer had nine goals, they finished second to last in the West, - only due to the complete ineptitude of the LA Galaxy - and their best player Axel Sjoberg was hurt for most of the year. The team entered the season following a surprising 2016 in which their grinding, insufferable bus parking style saw them finish second in the league. Alas, that seemed to be an aberration as they lacked the depth and cohesion to replicate their success, or luck, from 2016.
A coach for one thing. Anthony Hudson (who?) left his job as the manager of the New Zealand Men’s National Team to take over the Rapids job. Aside from naming big name managers, the Rapids also brought in MLS vet forward Mike Grella, LA Galaxy youth washout striker Jack McBean, and left back Kip Colvey.
Aside from Grellinho the team added center backs Danny Wilson from Rangers and Tommy Smith from Ipswich. Joining them on the backline is US international Edgar Castillo. Midfielder Jack Price joins from Wolverhampton along with Johan Blomberg from Swedish side AIK Fotboll where he had 10 goals and 22 assists in 108 matches joined the squad as well.
It can’t get much worse for Colorado, any team not coached by Pablo Maestroeni should be better than it was with someone else at the helm. It is really hard to say exactly what this team is going to look like. There are a lot of open spots in camp and it’s conceivable that every position is up for grabs on the squad. With all the new faces and a new coach, the Rapids could ride a wave of change to institute a new culture around the team.
Going forward, the Rapids have some nice pieces in Blomberg, Grella, winger Marlon Harrision, and Dominic Badji is both deceptively quick to go along with his physical presence. Designated Player Shkelzen Gashi has never lived up to his hype after joining the team off of a 22 goal season in the Swiss Super League and a new voice in the locker room could unlock that potential.
Their new defensive pieces will compliment, and compete for starting time with, Axel Sjoberg - one of the best center backs in MLS when healthy. All told, the potential for the team to have a fresh start has them using 2018 as a year to build on for next season. Finishing 7th with an outside shot at making the final playoff spot doesn’t seem unreasonable in the weak West.
On the other hand, it could get much worse for Colorado. Anthony Hudson could badly underestimate how harmful air travel and road trips are, the new players could fail to gel, and Badji, Gashi, Grella, and Harrison could struggle to put the ball in the net. Hudson was criticized for deploying boot and run tactics before as All Whites manager, though he did promise to have the team playing more positive soccer. If the pieces don’t come together for Colorado and Hudson gets the tactics wrong, it could be a long ugly season in the Denver suburbs.
Will we beat them?
Last year only an outstanding performance by Tim Howard stopped Josef Martinez from getting a double hat trick. This season, the team will travel to Colorado where they will beat the Rapids 3-1.
Minnesota United Football Club
The Loons spent most of the lead up to 2017 by trying to cram the 18 month job of launching an MLS club into four months. The results were predictable with the team celebrating such successful makers as not being the worst team in MLS history by managing to win more than five games last year and setting the record for most goals allowed in a season.
Surely the Loons will be much better coming into 2018 by signing a Designated Player or two and really have something to offer in the way of being competitive since they wouldn’t be so busy putting in the effort of signing Vadim Demidov. Maybe Dr. Bronner has been waiting to find the money that Steve Buschemi buried in the snow before buying players that will help his club finish higher than 9th, but $2 million was too much for Yamil Asad. They might be adding a 20 year old Colombian attacking midfielder, which could help with Heath’s dedication for playing Kevin Molino - one of the best wingers in MLS - out of position.
In general though, their player acquisition strategy seems to be following the idea that they can build from the MLS draft - which might yield the occasional gem, but is otherwise a way to get depth players - and pick up other team’s cast-offs like Tyrone Mears. Look out Bobby Shuttleworth, Matt Lampson is here to push you for your starting goalkeeper spot.
The Loons will prove everyone wrong and show that a group of players from NASL aren’t far off talent wise than many MLS starters. Their rag tag bunch of depth guys from last year will be backed up by a rag tag bunch of depth guys they drafted and brought in on trial this year. DP or not they’ll make a run at a 6 seed in the playoffs.
Manager Adrian Heath will realize that he can’t force Kevin Molino to play as a no. 10 and put him out on the wing where he should be one of the better wide players in MLS and Ethan Finley will teleport back to 2015 Ethan Finley and not be Minnesota Zardes for the third year in a row. Meanwhile Christian Ramirez will continue to be a goal scoring monster and Abu Dinladi will take a step forward in his second pro season.
This team will be marginally better than they were last year after they finished 9th in the West with 36 points. With the firepower that the league has added in the offseason and the fact that the West was as weak as it was in 2017, the Loons haven’t done much of anything to keep up. They probably won’t allow 70 goals again but they probably won’t win more than 10 games either.
Adrian Heath will continue to be a tactical birdbrain and the Loons (get it? - Loon, birdbrain - GET IT?) will fight to stay out of last in the West. Kevin Molino will get frustrated that he’s being played out of position while watching countryman Joevin Jones flourish in Germany and will start agitating for a transfer - while Christian Ramirez gets a cap from Colombia but follows the path of fellow lower division player Dom Dwyer and sees his goal returns diminish in his sophomore MLS season.
Will We Beat Them?
Atlanta goes to Minnesota on April fools day. The Loons won’t be able to play the trick of facing the Five Stripes with the roster decimated by international callups. Atlanta should win this game easily by a score of 8-0 (OK, I predict 2-1, fine).
The Portland Timbers ended 2017 winning the Western Conference, good for 6th overall in MLS. PTFC was pretty fun to watch, they scored a lot of goals and let a lot of goals get scored on them - especially late which was a real delight. Despite adding several pieces to their defense in the off season the Timbers allowed 50 goals.
By far the biggest plus of the regular season was the emergence of Diego Valeri as a goal scoring machine. The Argentine playmaker turned into an Argentine second forward and really picked up the slack when Fanendo Adi went down with an injury in mid-season.
Portland was lacking a backup for Adi with Darren Mattocks generally not being that good and draft pick Jeremy Ebobisse struggling to break into the starting 11. Valeri put the team on his back and dragged them to the top spot in the West, earning the MLS Landon Donovan MVP Award in the process. Despite getting a first round bye in the playoffs, Portland was summarily bounced by the Houston Dynamo.
Portland should be automatically better now that they aren’t coached by Caleb Porter anymore. New manager Giovanni Savarese joins the club from the New York Cosmos, a team he led to the NASL Championship three times, winning two titles. He also had success against MLS clubs in the US Open Cup, beating both NYCFC and the New York Red Bulls during his tenure.
It isn’t so much that Porter was a bad coach as much that he knew only one kind of tactic, imitating tiki-taka, and when it didn’t work he had absolutely no backup plan.
The team added a few new faces who mostly figure to provide depth at midfield with Paraguayan Cristhian Paredes, former NY Cosmos midfielder Andres Flores, and U-20 USMNT player Eryk Williamson joining the squad. Another notable addition is 24 year old forward Andy Polo who comes to the team on loan from Morelia.
Not listed here are any defenders or goalkeepers who aren’t Jeff Attinella or from New Zealand.
The Timbers new minor league coach actually makes the defense better and Portland manages to hold onto late leads. Adi comes back and is still the player who gets 15ish goals a year, Valeri continues his torrid scoring streak, Sebastian Blanco takes a step forward as a creator, and Ebobisse proves to be an effective backup. With the West still really weak, the front four of Adi, Valeri, Blanco, and Dairon Asprilla (or whoever lines up on the left wing) turns out to be the best in the conference.
On the other hand, it could take a while for Savarese’s tactics to take hold, the defense continues to struggle, and without Darlington Nagbe the team can’t find a replacement to help control the tempo of games. With the ‘who needs defense when you can have possession’ tactic more difficult to implement without Nagbe, the team’s defensive weaknesses are further exploited. Still, the West is so bad and Valeri is so good that any team with him on it should make the playoffs.
Will we beat them?
The Timbers will leave the original MLS baseball stadium and play Atlanta United at MBS on June 24. I can’t see United not being so effective at finding space between the defensive midfield and backline that Diego Chara doesn’t try to kick someone in half and get a red card. Atlanta 4-1 Timbers, with a brace by Josef.
J. Sam Jones
Los Angeles Galaxy
Not a whole lot. Looks like LAG will be the same feckless, toothless, overpaid amalgam of the overrated and talent-less and they will terrible for the second strai—
What?.....uh huh........uh huh......yeah.....yeah.......................uh huh...............yeah.....yeah...............right got it.......................
WE’RE ALL F***ED.
They’re actually gonna do it. They’re signing Zlatan. Dear God. It’s terrifying. The 36-year-old is still a force and man it’s scary to think about what the 6’ 5“ forward, — a few years removed from being one the best players in the world — will do to MLS defenses. Oh my gosh he might score 40 goals. Honestly. 40. Goals. It’s going to be insanity. LAG are going to win the league. He’s going to break ever rec—
What?.........right......uh huh.........yep............yeah...........................................................................................................................................................uh huh..................yeah, I understand.
Nevermind, he’s hurt again.
Anyway, they did dump dead weight in Gyasi Zardes in exchange for Columbus’ Ola Kamara. Kamara put up 19 goals and four assists in 38 appearances as a forward. They would have gotten better just by getting rid of Zardes but to exchange him for a player as talented as Kamara is incredible business and has nothing to do with Anthony Precourt attempting to tank so he can say “lookit” when no one shows up to see his garbage team, he promises.
They also added potentially stud defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen, who makes his MLS return after two years with Randers FC, the kinkiest team in all the Danish Superliga. Kitchen and Jonathan Dos Santos could provide a quality holding midfield pairing for LAG.
Chris Pontius joins the team on a free transfer, after definitely being on the team last year for Philadelphia Union.
Jermaine Jones is gone, a tough loss for fans of players that might decide to suplex an opposing player at any moment because the opposing player’s third eye blinked at him funny.
They could grab a first round bye and maybe more. If Zlatan really is coming and stays healthy, there’s no reason to think him and Kamara won’t be the scariest attacking duo in MLS. Sprinkle in Romain Alessandrini for added effect and that’s a terrifying front. Perry Kitchen should be an upgrade defensively. The Western Conference isn’t exactly stacked and LAG are throwing too much money around to not be successful.
A bad team has added a few shiny parts. They put a spoiler on top of a spoiler on a 1980 Ford Pinto. Sure the car might be a little faster in the short term, but there’s still a lot of work to do to make it serviceable. They’ll be improved, but won’t challenge for silverware. Should this and the hot take be flipped? I honest to god don’t know, stop bothering me.
Will We Beat Them?
Atlanta United will travel to LA for the first time on April 21. We will absolutely 100% beat them like 4-2.
Real Salt Lake
RSL finished in eighth, one point away from a playoff spot behind a team with an even goal differential and a team with a -21 goal differential. The team with -21 goal differential was the one that made the playoff. Aren’t sports fun???*
*They are not.
The Lakers as they’re often called by no one except me just now finished with a respectable -6 GD. Respectable in that they fired their manager three games into the season and wow it could have been a dumpster fire. But former Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke took over for the newly-departed Jeff Cassar and did about as well as expected for a team who’s best player is................
Go ahead. Guess. No, I’ll wait.
Ok, just name one RSL player. Any player on this team. Any time now.
Ok you can google it.
It’s Albert Rusnak!
Rusnak scored a whopping seven goals last year along with three other completely indistinguishable players who even Laker fans couldn’t pick out of a lineup.
Oh, and they had Brooks Lennon too. He’s American! Which is...exciting? Or something? Lennon scored three times. Oh, and the corpse of Kyle Beckerman is there too. I literally forgot.
They brought in one dude on a transfer and I’ve already forgotten his name. Maybe it was two dudes? Hold on...
Ok so his name is Alfredo Ortuno and he’s a 27-year-old forward who’s played maybe five games in La Liga and a whole lot more in Segunda Division (not La Liga). They seem very excited about him.
This team will finish with a better than -6 GD.
They will be boring.
Will We Beat Them?
We face RSL at MBS on September 22. I have spent this whole section being really mean to all the dedicated, hardworking, personality-less lego soccer player set that makes up this team which of course means that yes, duh, we will absolutely beat them by 100. Even I can’t jinx this. (Do not screenshot this and save it until then.)
The Sounders returned to MLS Cup for the second straight year because the West is trash. They got outplayed in MLS Cup for the second straight year because the West is trash.
The Sounders finished the regular season with 53 points, a mark that tied them for the highest point total in the Western Conference. They would have been the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Despite the West being trash and in no way equal to the East, the Sounders definitely weren’t a bad team. They finished with the highest goal differential in the trash Western Conference with a +13 and had typically solid performances from the usual Sounder names to go along with a strong showing from newly acquired Will Bruin. Bruin finished as the team’s second leading scorer with 13 goals. And, again, they did reach MLS Cup for the second straight year despite finishing with the 8th most wins in MLS. They were definitely more there than any other Western Conference team at MLS Cup.
But also — and I can’t stress this enough — they went 1-1-5 against Eastern Conference playoff teams and 2-4-6 against the conference as whole. Of their nine regular season loses, five came against Eastern Conference teams. Is the West trash? Yes. It’s obviously trash. The West is trash.
Well the West is probably still trash. It’s likely that the Sounders are primed once again to be one of the conference’s top teams.
Lamar Neagle, Joevin Jones and Brad Evans are all out. Left back Waylon Francis and Norwegian Black Metal band/midfielder Magnus Wolff Eikrem are in.
Francis will potentially replace Jones at left back. Whoever does take over for Jones has the task of replacing a player who had 11 assists as a defender. Whoever takes over for Jones will 100% not be able to do that.
The 27-year-old Eikrem is the big catch of the off-season and is TAM signing. Dude can pass and will be a welcome addition to the Seattle attack. He may be able to fill the creative hole left by Jones’ absence.
Jones is a huge loss. Clint Dempsey is 35. Nico Lodeiro will miss time due to the World Cup. Most of their remaining defensive players are 30 or older. This team will take a big step back this year and finish third in the Western Conference because it’s still trash.
They’ll make MLS Cup again because the West is trash.
Will We Beat Them?
Seattle heads to the Benz on July 15. Seattle’s old man back line will need oxygen masks by the 30th minute trying to keep up with Barco and company. 4-0.