Major League Soccer’s 20th season is mere weeks away. The young league has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years and promises to take the soccer fans in the country on yet another exciting journey. In our run-up to the new season, The Other Half will preview each and every team of MLS to give our followers a comprehensive idea of what they can expect when the defending champions LA Galaxy take the field against Chicago Fire in the first week of March.
As we focus our attention on the Eastern Conference, let us take a look at the teams on the I-95 corridor: DC United, New England Revolution, New York City FC, New York Red Bulls, and Philadelphia Union.
New Additions: Markus Halsti (MF/DF), Andrew Driver (MF), Matt Metzger (MF), Jairo Arrieta (FW), Miguel Aguilar (FW), Michael Farfan (MF).
Departures: Samuel Inkoom (DF), Lewis Neal (MF).
After the biggest single-season turnaround in MLS history, DC will have big expectations in 2015. The Black and Red have maintained team cohesion this offseason by not making a whole lot of moves, mostly to bolster depth with CONCACAF Champions League in both the spring (the 2014-15 knockouts) and summer/fall (the 2015-16 group stage, for winning the East in the regular season last year). The team’s biggest test will be to avoid an early season slump, with key forward Fabian Espindola (11 goals and 9 assists in 2014) serving a 6 match ban for pushing an official in the second leg of their playoff loss to the Red Bulls. Someone will need to step up and fill in the hole left by the dynamic Argentine alongside Luis Silva (11 goals) if DC are to continue their excellent form from last season, especially since that someone can’t be Eddie Johnson, who is nursing a major injury. One plus is that Espindola will be seeing some action on the pitch during his suspension, as DC are playing in CONCACAF Champions League’s knockout stages, where they face Costa Rican side LD Alajuelense, though they need a miracle to advance after being slaughtered 5-2 in Costa Rica. This is a key season for DC with core players like Perry Kitchen, Bill Hamid, and Nick Deleon in the last seasons of their contracts, with Hamid almost certainly headed to Europe after the season. For Ben Olsen’s side, the time is now for United to build on a dominant 2014 with an even better 2015.
New England Revolution
New Additions: Jeremy Hall (DF), Sean Okoli (FW), Juan Agudelo (FW).
Departures: A.J. Soares (DF), Patrick Mullins (FW), Tony Taylor (FW).
The MLS Cup runners-up have been somewhat quiet this offseason, only picking up a spare defender from Toronto FC for what amounts to nothing (a fourth-round SuperDraft pick), a Seattle homegrown forward acquired for a slightly higher price (a first-round SuperDraft pick), and Juan Agudelo, who left the team after 2013 to go sign with Stoke, but couldn’t get a work permit. This is worrisome for a team that lost two players in the expansion draft and who also lost one to Europe. At the moment, the Revs only have 20 players under contract and did not have a pick in the first two rounds of the SuperDraft. New England was in need of another striker and luckily enough, it seems like there will be a healthy competition up top between once hyped USMNT prospects Agudelo and Charlie Davies. However, the back line is full of question marks, especially after A.J. Soares departed for Italy. Jose Goncalves is a Best XI caliber center back just two years removed from being named MLS Defender of the Year and Chris Tierney is a quite skilled left back with amazing free kick prowess. Andrew Farrell, who played right back last year, looks to slot into Soares’s position, but who will play right back? The only natural right back besides Farrell is the shaky Darrius Barnes; do the Revs want to try Kevin Alston, normally a left back, on his bad foot? The first full season of Jermaine Jones in New England brings high hopes, but if the team doesn’t address depth issues, they will kill all the hype and momentum they’ve been building up since signing him.
New York City FC
New York City FC are one of the expansion teams this season, joining the Red Bulls as the second side from the New York Metropolitan area. After the Frank Lampard fiasco, City tried to set things right with the fans by inking USMNT midfielder Mix Diskerud, who will probably play as the attacker in the diamond midfield. Playing behind him in the “shuttler” roles will be Lampard (once the Premier League season ends) and Ned Grabavoy, who has experience in the diamond having played under Kreis at RSL. They’ll be providing service to former La Liga star David Villa, who will undoubtedly be one of MLS’s top scoring threats. Alongside the superstar Spaniard will be one of three youngsters: the talented but troubled Sebastien Velasquez, top draft pick Khiry Shelton, or the promising Patrick Mullins. The big questions come in the back. Who will play the holding midfielder role in the diamond? At RSL, Kreis used Kyle Beckerman this role, and if the season started today, it’d likely be former FC Dallas captain Andrew Jacobson slotting in there. The back line is the major issue. Jeb Brovsky and Chris Wingert are quite serviceable fullbacks, but in the middle, they’ll be playing George John – who barely played last year due to injury, but who has been a Best XI caliber center half when healthy – and aging Jason Hernandez, who was unspectacular for a San Jose team that gave up a lot of shots last season. In goal is promising, but inexperienced, Ryan Meara, on loan from the Red Bulls. How the back line holds up will determine if NYCFC blossoms or fails in their first season!
New York Red Bulls
New Additions: Jesse Marsch (Coach), Ali Curtis (Sporting Director), Sean Davis (MF), Sal Zizzo (MF), Sacha Kljestan (MF), Felipe (MF), Leo Stolz (MF), Stefano Bonomo (FW), Ronald Zubar (DF), Andrew Jean-Baptiste (DF), Mike Grella (FW).
Departures: Mike Petke (Coach), Andy Roxburgh (Sporting Director), Ryan Meara (GK), Jamison Olave (DF), Ambroise Oyongo (DF), Eric Alexander (MF), Saer Sene (FW), Thierry Henry (FW), Ibrahim Sekagya (DF).
It’s been a rough offseason for the Red Bulls. First, a new expansion team tries to win over new fans with world-class signings. After that, star player Thierry Henry (10 goals, 14 assists in 2014) hangs up his boots. Then, their Sporting Director leaves, and the new guy – Ali Curtis – fires Mike Petke, the most successful and beloved head coach the team’s ever had, who led the team to within a goal of MLS Cup. And with Tim Cahill rumored to be heading out, things look bleak for Metro supporters, despite the return of MLS Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips (27 goals) and the addition of USMNT midfielder Sacha Kljestan in the midfield. There are still so many questions for this team. Will Ronald Zubar and Andrew Jean-Baptiste be able to replace departed Jamison Olave and Ibrahim Sekagya? Who will provide the service for Wright-Phillips that Henry provided so well? Does Red Bull still care about the New York side? What’s actually in Ali Curtis’s 300 page business plan? Somehow, the team will have to answer these questions, or it will be a long season for everyone involved.
New Additions: CJ Sapong (FW), Eric Bird (MF), Dzenan Catic (FW), Steven Vitoria (DF), Fernando Aristeguieta (FW).
Departures: Zac MacMath (GK) on a loan, Pedro Ribeiro (MF), Amobi Okugo (MF), Carlos Valdes (DF).
The Union have been rather quiet this offseason so far, which makes almost no sense for a non-playoff team. With the loss of Okugo and Brian Carroll out of contract, the team needs to fill a hole at holding midfielder (rumors linked them to William Kvist and Cezary Wilk, but neither amounted to anything), which will likely be filled by Maurice Edu, despite him playing better at center back. Meanwhile, the team lost Carlos Valdes to South America once more, but brought in towering Benfica defender and set piece specialist Steven Vitoria on loan to replace him. Curtin also needed to bring in a target striker up top, and did just that, bringing in CJ Sapong via trade, Dzenan Catic via SuperDraft, and Young DP Fernando Aristeguieta – who scored 4 times in 3 preseason games after signing – on loan from Nantes. The rest of the team has some quality pieces to work with. Goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi gets a much-needed offseason break to recover after a long season that saw him shine in the World Cup. Vincent Nogueira quietly excelled in his first year in MLS, and now the 26 year old Frenchman must build on it. Andrew Wenger (7 goals), acquired from Montreal early last season, has finally found a role for himself on the left wing. With a new striker and one of the more underrated midfields in MLS, the Union are ready to put Jim Curtin’s “Bastards” mentality to the test.