There's no question that 2014 is going to be an important year in MLS history.
With money juggernaut New York City FC and grassroots-fueled Orlando City SC joining the league in 2015, this upcoming season for MLS will be the end of an era. And to close out this chapter, there are several interesting storylines to watch as the league kicks off on Saturday, March 8.
For Utahns, Real Salt Lake's upcoming season is an important point of interest. Salt Lake lost last year's MLS Cup final in a shootout to Sporting Kansas City, and then proceeded to lose some key players and gifted manager Jason Kreis to NYCFC. With Jeff Cassar leading RSL, it's unknown whether the players can continue the run of form that led them to an MLS Cup victory in 2009 and a runner-up spot in 2013, or whether the club will die off into the pitfalls of the MLS standings.
Nationally, there are a tremendous amount of storylines to watch this year. Can Toronto FC — having signed United States men's national team general Michael Bradley, Brazilian No. 1 goalkeeper Julio Cesar, experienced England striker Jermain Defoe and young Brazilian Gilberto — make waves in the Eastern Conference after so long at the bottom? Can USMNT star Clint Dempsey find a drop of success in Seattle? Will the L.A. Galaxy return to form and make moves toward an MLS Cup?
It's all building toward what will be a dramatic and nail-biting MLS season. And one that hardcore and new fans alike won't want to miss out on.
Here's a rundown of all 19 MLS clubs and where they'll finish at the end of the 2014 season:
In what will be Chivas USA’s final season in MLS, don’t expect things to get any better. Fan attendance will likely decline for the club, and Chivas’ on-the-field work won’t ring in any results. Some new players might make things intriguing at times, but the team is expected to stay at the bottom and coast to its place in history as a failed MLS experiment.
San Jose will be brutish and physical, as usual. But the Earthquakes won’t make much of a run to the postseason. Few offseason moves and the aging of some top players, like Chris Wondolowski and Steven Lenhart, will only spell doom for the 'Quakes. After not making the playoffs in 2013, this next season isn’t looking any brighter for the side — despite its recent club rebranding, which some believed to be an utter failure.
Things were looking positive for the Columbus Crew after Anthony Precourt bought the club and promised an image refreshing. But the Crew didn’t do much in the offseason to make them all that new of a team. They switched one USMNT defender for another — Michael Parkhurst for Chad Marshall — and added a new coach in Gregg Berhalter. But these moves don’t add much of a punch to lift the team out of the basement.
Montreal barely made the playoffs in 2013, and that was with dynamic scorer Marco Di Vaio and world-class defender Alessandro Nesta. But Nesta is gone and Di Vaio is aging and likely on his way out of the league after the 2014 season. Some small offseason moves might help IMFC stay in the conversation, but ultimately the Impact are going to suffer a considerable drop.
At the beginning of the offseason, FC Dallas looked like a team that was going to drop to the bottom of the bunch. The team lost experienced striker Cooper, excellent midfielders Jackson and David Ferreira, and just didn’t seem to be moving upward after a season where it didn’t qualify for the playoffs. But it added midfielder Adam Moffat to the fray, and snagged up Colorado’s former manager, Pareja. Though Dallas isn’t assured a spot in the postseason, the club will certainly make things interesting in the Western Conference.
Philadelphia didn’t impress in 2014 by any shot, despite bringing Sebastian Le Toux and Conor Casey together as a scoring tandem. But by adding Austin Berry and Maurice Edu this offseason, the Union’s stock value certainly rose to new levels. They may not be an easy lock for the playoffs, as MLS usually demands a learning curve for teams that make so many offseason moves, but Philly has what it takes to inch toward a playoff spot.
The Rapids were always in the playoff talk in 2013. They stayed up in the standings and seemed to have an assured playoff spot from day one, with rookies Deshorn Brown and Dillon Powers leading the way. But Colorado’s manager, Oscar Pareja, moved down south to Dallas, leaving Colorado without a coach — a position the club still hasn’t filled. This next year will be tough for Colorado, especially if it doesn't don’t sort out its manager situation before first kick.
Things didn’t start off very hot for the Chicago Fire in 2013. But after they acquired Mike Magee in early summer, things turned around and the Fire narrowly missed out of the playoffs. With a full season ahead, and Magee fully onboard after a brief holdout in the preseason, the Fire will blaze through the competition. They've added some talent, like Lovel Palmer of RSL fame, and can be serious contenders come the fall if they stay consistent in the latter half of the season.
D.C. United had a rough go of it in 2013. The club finished in the MLS basement as one of the worst clubs in MLS history. Despite a U.S. Open Cup victory over Real Salt Lake, United was atrocious and an ugly sore spot in the Eastern Conference. But in the last couple of months, they added Eddie Johnson, Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Luis Silva and Fabian Espindola, making the club an instant playoff contender.
Vancouver also was a club that narrowly missed the playoffs, and that was despite having the MLS Golden Boot winner in Camilo. But Camilo left for Liga MX club Queretaro in the offseason — a move that inspired much controversy — and things looked down for the Whitecaps. And the club lost manager Martin Rennie, too. But the Caps’ saving grace is the addition of attacking midfielder Pedro Morales, an excellent player out of Spanish club Malaga. Vancouver also grabbed dynamic designated player Matias Laba from Toronto, so the Caps will certainly be boasting a healthy midfield this year. New VWFC manager Carl Robinson will play a very physical, English-style of soccer given his history as a player in England, which won’t make MLS any more glitzy than it has been. But if the Caps' midfield can stay strong, they might sneak their way into playoff contention.
Houston Dynamo manager Dominic Kineaar has an excellent ability of getting his teams far in the playoffs. He knows how to win — no matter how ugly or sloppy. The Dynamo aren’t by any means a top squad, but they’re balanced enough to garner positive results. That’s going to continue in 2014, as not much of the team has left and Brad Davis, who spent time away with the USMNT in 2013, will have a freer schedule to be in Houston.
New England — even though its logo, jersey and stadium situation are all stuck in the past — are a team certainly moving forward. The Revs already made the playoffs last year behind the tremendous work of 19-year-old Diego Fagundez, and now after adding Diago Kobayashi and Teal Bunbury in the offseason, things are only going to get better for the New Englanders. And if 2014 isn’t totally successful, the Revs got the steal of the MLS SuperDraft by taking Patrick Mullins with their pick. Mullins is tapped to make moves in MLS going forward. So while 2014 will be a good year for New England, the future is looking bright as the next phase of MLS nears.
Don’t worry RSL fans, the Claret and Cobalt will still be in contention. It’s just going to be a rough season. RSL is packed with successful players, like Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando, who both have been called up to the USMNT consistently. But the departure of Jason Kreis, who left to coach the oil money club of New York City FC starting in 2015, will have a tremendous impact on RSL. Jeff Cassar will lead in a similar fashion as Kreis, for sure, but RSL may decline in terms of style and consistency, which could see the club fall considerably in the standings. Cassar's style might differ from Kreis', so it'll be up to the team to keep being the star.
Michael Bradley. Jermain Defoe. Julio Cesar. All three of these players are internationally recognized talents that have made their way to Toronto. They’ll join Gilberto, a young Brazillian forward, too, and lead a Toronto club that’s been in desperate need of success. Though their talent level has jumped considerably, TFC will need time to gel and work well together, which will make the 2014 season a bit of a testing period to see if the Reds can be a dominant force in the immediate future.
In early 2013, Seattle was being championed as a potential title contender. But after a slow start in the spring and a burnout in the fall — despite the arrival of U.S. standout Clint Dempsey — the Sounders crashed out in the playoffs and never lived up their potential. This year might yield better results, as Dempsey has been given more time to adjust to MLS’ style of play. DeAndre Yedlin and Lamar Neagle, two young studs in Seattle, have had time to grow and develop, too. Even though the Sounders dumped Eddie Johnson off to D.C. United, they signed Kenny Cooper, an aging yet incredibly experienced striker who could make all the difference for the rave green warriors this upcoming season.
Not many will disagree in thinking that 2013 was a down year for the L.A. Galaxy, who won back-to-back MLS Cup titles in 2011 and 2012. But without megastar David Beckham, and with injuries and international duty for Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, L.A. barely had time to build a cohesive group to push for the playoffs. Now, with Donovan and Keane rejoining the team full time and L.A. manager Bruce Arena making some key international signings in the offseason, the Galaxy will be one of the top MLS sides in 2014. Always in the thick of it, L.A. will return to form this season.
Similarly, Red Bull New York will be pushing hard to keep its Supporters’ Shield title, which is awarded to the club with the most points at the end of the regular season. RBNY barely missed out of moving forward in the playoffs last year, and critics touted them to win the MLS Cup last year. As their young guns — like Lloyd Sam and Eric Alexander — begin to develop, their already skilled side will continue to lead the way in MLS and remain near the top.
Last year's MLS Cup winners remain very strong going into this season. Not only has the team kept the successful parts together, but it's bound to have more of prolific midfielder Graham Zusi, who won’t be caught up in playing for the USMNT following the 2014 World Cup in June — as he was last season. SKC will be looking to defend its crown and maintain a spot near the top of the MLS mountain. It shouldn't have much of a problem doing so. SKC wil top the Eastern Conference.
Portland Timbers manager Caleb Porter reached the Western Conference final in his first year as a coach in the North American league. It’s very likely Porter will go for a repeat performance, especially after adding dynamic players Gaston Fernandez and Norberto Paparatto to his budding squad. The Timbers have strengthened their attack and bolstered their back line with those moves, putting them easily at the head of the Western Conference, as they were in 2013. And it wouldn't be shocking to see them nab the Supporters' Shield this season.