MLS Eastern Conference Round Up – July 2017

So we’re pretty much at the mid-way stage in the 2017 MLS season and the league standings are really starting to take shape. In this post, we’ll take a very brief look at each team’s season so far in the Eastern Conference.

Eastern Conference

Atlanta United FC

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Having been given the unofficial nickname “The Five Stripes”, Atlanta have arguably had an impressive season so far. Currently sitting in 6th, one of the MLS’ newest teams (they were the this season’s expansion franchise), find themselves above the likes of seasoned clubs such as, Montreal, D.C. United and New York Red Bulls.

The Five Stripes may have lost their debut game (a 2-1 defeat to New York Red Bulls at the Bobby Dodd Stadium), but they more than made up for it with in their second game by thrashing fellow expansion side, Minnesota United. Their first home win came on 18 March 2017 in the form of a 4-0 victory, in front of a sold-crowd, against Chicago Fire. However, so far Atlanta have won as many games as they’ve lost (Seven each) and they’ve earn three ties (draws to us Brits!).

Atlanta will be looking to push on in the second half of the season and make-good of their impressive start. If they can hold on to 6th spot, they could find themselves in the Play-Offs, which would be a remarkable achievement in their debut season. The Five Stripes have the experience of Brad Guzan, Tyrone Mears and Kenwyne Jones in their squad, along with the former Barcelona and Argentina boss, Gerardo Martino, as their head coach. Play Off qualification in the inaugural season will be tough, just ask New York City, but given the investment Atlanta have received, it’s still a real possibility.

Chicago Fire

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“The Men In Red”, as Fire are also referred to, will be 20 years old come October, and they’ll want to mark the milestone by ending the season on a high note. They’ve had a good start to the season and currently find themselves 2nd in the conference, and just one point behind leaders Toronto.

The acquisition of Bastian Schweinsteiger was a signal of Fire’s intent of having a good season. However, striker Nemanja Nikolic, another designated player, signed from Legia Warsaw, has been the main man so far this campaign. The Hungarian has notched up 14 goals so far and he’s currently the MLS’ leading goal scorer.

Fire have a tough run of fixtures to contend with through July and into mid-August, as five out of the seven games they have schedule are away from home to Portland, New York City, Kansas, Columbus and Montreal. A run of fixtures like that is a test for a team and it could be the decisive period in Fire’s season.

Columbus Crew SC

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The “Black & Gold” have had a mixed start to this season. They missed out on the Play Offs last season, but as things stand they’re in for a chance of qualifying this term. That said, results have been “either or” so far, either they win or they lose typically; having only tied (drawn) one game, winning eight and losing nine.

The results this season are reflective of the Crew’s style of play; they’re joint 7th in the whole of the MLS for shots this season, with a total so far of 213. However, accuracy has let them down as only 79 of these have been on target and worse still, only 29 were scored. The majority of goals have been shared between midfielders Federico Higuain (9) and Justin Meram, and striker Ola Kamara (9), which you could say also underlines the team’s ability to work together.

Despite these positives in front of goal, Columbus’ big issue is at the back; they’ve conceded 30 goals so far, that’s one more than they’ve actually scored. Average home attendances this season are the highest the club’s had in nearly 15 years and that’s likely down to the relatively entertaining results they’ve had. However, unless they improve defensively, I think they’re likely to miss out on the Play Offs again this season.

D.C. United

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It’s not been a great start to the season for DC United and they’re currently secind from bottom of the Conference, above a Montreal Impact side who have two games in hand. It’s a disappointment for The Black-and-Red, particularly given their history as one of the most decorated MLS teams. DC have a history of cup success having won the MLS Supporters’ Shield four times, the MLS Cup four times and more than a handful of Conference titles. However, that success has faded in recent years.

Having lost 1-0 away to Philadelphia Union, their first of four consecutive away games, things aren’t looking that bright for the Black-and-Red this year. Anything less than a win at Montreal will only dampen things further. DC’s strikers have been a disappointment this season; the three to have featured are Ortiz, Le Toux and Mullins, have only managed three goals between them. In fact, it’s been the midfield which has carried the Black-and-Red so far, with five league goals coming from Sam, Acosta and Jeffrey. United can also thank their goalkeeper, Bill Hamid, that they’re not worse off, as he’s currently the MLS’ leading save-maker (73 saves from 98 shots faced – at the time of writing), but even with Hamid in goal, they’ve only managed three clean sheets (shutouts to our American friends) all season.

It’s hard to see DC turning their season around at this stage; they’ve dropped too many points, particularly at home. I think they’re running dangerously close to the prospect of finishing bottom of the conference becoming a reality.

Montreal Impact

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Impact de Montréal were only founded in 2010, but they got their name on the map a few years ago  by signing Didier Drogba a couple of years ago. However, his time in the MLS was short-lived and he only managed nine appearances. Since then Impact have managed to have relatively high average attendances despite having a relatively modest squad. They don’t have the superstar names of some of the other clubs in the MLS, in fact arguably their biggest names are Laurent Ciman, the Belgian fullback that featured in Euro 2016, and Blerim Džemaili, the Swiss midfielder who spent a number of years in Serie A.

Impact were the Eastern Conference Play Off runners-up last season, but their chances of making the Play Offs this season seem next to none. They’re also the only Canadian club to have ever made the final of the CONCACAF Champions League – when they finished runners-up in 2014-15. They’ve not always been nearly men though, they’re the three times Canadian Championship winners, though times have very much changed since their last triumph in 2014.

Turning to this season, Impact currently find themselves towards the bottom end of the Eastern Conference, but they’ve had a couple of games in hand, that they need to take advantage of. Argentinian Striker, Ignacio Piatti, is their leading goal scorer at present with eight in the league so far. However, having won four, lost four and drawn five results have been disappointing for a club with a following the size of Montreal. Equally, Montreal’s disciplinary record isn’t great; it seems that they can’t make it through a game without picking up at least two or three yellow cards, and they’ve had four red cards in just 15 games this campaign. It’s petty and all points considered, if the club carry on in the form that they’ve played so far this season, it’s unlikely that they’ll have much to be pleased about at the end of the campaign.

New England Revolution

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The “Revs” finished second in the conference and won the Play Offs in 2014, but in the last two season’s they’ve only managed a fifth and seventh place respectively. They do have some silverware to boast though, having won the MLS Cup five time.

In comparison to most of the other teams in the MLS, they Revs don’t have the luxury of a real ‘big name’ amongst their ranks, and whilst a big name doesn’t necessary guarantee success, the presence of a big name in the dressing room can add a lot in terms of leadership on the field. New England are a team that play with enthusiasm, but occasionally that enthusiasm requires a cool an experienced head to guide it during the game, and that’s where the Revs have struggled in recent years.

This season has been a bit of mixed bag for the Revs; they beat Minnesota 5-2, Real Salt Lake 4-0 and Toronto 3-0 at the Gillette Stadium, but elsewhere they’ve lost four games by just one goal difference. What’s more concerning is the way that they drew three games in a row back in April; too many points have been squandered this season. It’s clear that the Revs have fight in them, as they’ve often come from a goal down to salvage at least a point, but if they had a real leader, they could avoid having to do that in the first place. If they’re lucky, the Revs will finish 6th or 7th this season. They’ve a long way to go.

New York Red Bulls

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The Red Bulls have become one of the more well-known MLS franchises in the last 10 years, mostly thanks to Thierry Henry’s time there, and by the standards of years gone by, this season’s not been great for the team also known as the Metros. Despite this, average attendances have been on the increase and whether or not Red Bull fans want to admit it, the arrival of New York City has helped boost the soccer scene in the New York area.

Bradley Wright-Philips, once of Manchester City, Plymouth Argyle and Charlton Athletic is the Red Bull’s all-time leading goalscorer, currently with 85 goals in 147 appearances to his name, and is still plying his trade. He’s currently their leading scorer again this season, having scored eight in the league so far.

Having topped the Conference standings in the last two seasons, the Red Bulls have had a comparatively poor start to this season, and they’re currently closer to the bottom of the Conference standings than they are the top. That said, they’ve been a difficult team to beat on home soil, losing just twice at the The Red Bull Arena, and those two losses were against LA Galaxy and local rivals New York City. It’s the road games (away games, to us Brits), where the Red Bulls have dropped the most points, and they’ll need to improve, if they’re to make the Play Offs this season.

New York City FC

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Arguably the second biggest part of the City Football Group, New York City have the benefit of a shared wealth of infrastructure and sporting knowledge. All eyes have been on Head Coach, Patrick Vieira, as he plies his trade as the manager of a senior football team for the first time.

The main man has been and continues to be, David Villa, the World Cup Winner and Spain’s all-time leading goalscorer is not only NYCFC’s captain, but also their talisman. Age hasn’t seemed to affected Villa in recent years, he’s continued to show his class and been the talisman. Pirlo, the ‘midfield maestro’ has had a comparatively underwhelming experience in the Big Apple, and he’s understood to be leaving when his contract expires this year.

Vieira has began to show his managerial talent and he’s got the blues playing his way. City’s recent 3-1 win over Minnesota made it four wins in a row, and it’s seen them move up to third in both the Conference and the league. However, it’s also the third game in a row that they’ve come from behind to win at the Yankee Stadium, which goes to show that defensively they could do with improving. Young English winger, Jack Harrison, is also developing into a bright prospect for City, having been amongst the goals this season. NYCFC have every reason to be pleased with the way things are forming. It may not be this year, but City will win some silverware in the coming years, so long as they keep up the current trajectory of progress.

Orlando City SC

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“The Lions” as they’re sometimes referred to, entered the MLS in 2015, the same as New York City and they’ve finished seventh and eighth in their first two seasons. This, their third season and they’ve a real chance to make the Play Offs for the first time.

Jason Kreis, formerly of NYCFC, has taken over as head coach and his squad includes the former world player of the year, Kaká, as captain, Antonio Nocerino, and the experienced Jonathan Spector. Striker Cyle Larin is the club’s top scorer so far this season with 8 goals.

Orlando are currently fourth in the Conference, fifth overall in the league, and that’s largely down to the strong start that they made to the season. The Lions were undefeated up until the start of May, but they’ve only won two of their 11 games since, losing five and drawing the rest. Their recent form has arguably undone a lot of the hard work and success that they had at the start of the season and they’ve got to get a run of wins together soon, even if it’s just to pick up some momentum. They’ve a great chance to reach the Play Offs this season, but they need to improve or else they could find themselves throwing away a their best chance to date.

Philadelphia Union

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“The U” qualified for the Plays Offs last season, but their chances of replicating that this season look slim, to say the least. It took them until their ninth game of the season to register their first win of 2017. They’d lost four and drawn the other four of their opening eight games, but May came along and they picked up their first win, which seemingly spurred them on to a bit of form, as they also won the three games that followed. However, the run of form was short lived, as they then lost the next three.

Philadelphia’s star man this season has arguably been Roland Alberg, the Surinamese attacking midfielder, signed from Dutch side ADO Den Haag. He’s notched up 10 goals since signing at the end of last year and he leads the scoring this term for Union.

As things stand, The U find themselves second from bottom of the Conference, but with a game or two in-hand, but in all honesty, I can’t see them reaching the Play Offs this year.

Toronto FC

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Toronto were runners-up in the MLS Cup last season and managed to finish 3rd in the Conference, but also went on to win the Play Offs. They’ve a good chance of having similar success this season too, as their squad that boast the likes of Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.

So far this season the club find themselves currently sitting second in Conference, closely behind leaders Chicago. The Reds’ positive league position is down to a very simple reason – they don’t often lose games! At the time of writing, Toronto have only lost three games all season. However, they could be top of the Conference, if they’d avoided so many draws (ties). The Reds tied (drew) four of their opening five games this season and that could be something that they look back on and regret at the end. However, there’s every reason for the Toronto fans to remain positive, as they’ve got a very good chance of equaling, possibly even bettering, the success of last season, providing that they maintain their resilient style of play.

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