Thursday, March 7, 2019

Still beast of the East?

We'll take a quick Clipboard pause to kick off my annual (and occasionally ill-fated) MLS predictions for the new season. Instead of plopping everything on one plate like usual, I'm gonna split the table finish calls into separate East and West posts with additional team-by-team commentary, and then deal with my award and Best XI picks in another.

So let's get it started...

Atlanta

Yes, I know that Meneer Frank has not quite figured out his snazzy new vehicle just yet, but I think he'll rein in the kooky formations (two midfielders in central park? really, Ajax dude? really?) when Franco Escobar is fit again. And the playmaking firm of Barco and Pity, Esq. will come correct to the horror of the rest of the league soon enough. They also have a few youngsters primed to bust out, so all things considered, they should be tops by the time this thing is all said and done.

DC United

I was so incredibly close to picking them to end up on the summit. Like, super close (imagine my finger pads nearly touching). While it's true that their 2018 glory run was largely accomplished at home, the Black-and-Red are a lot deeper and good bit speedier than they were last year. And with a certain winger's improvement, we may need to can the LuchaRoo nickname and start talking about LuchaRooIola. This once mighty club is back, baby.

NY Red Bulls

This is still an excellent side, and (as usual) they've got a few very promising youngsters to unleash on the league - I especially love the Mathias Jörgensen pick-up. And yet, I'm concerned about a few things in Harrison. I'm worried about what happens if Kaku, Kemar Lawrence or one of the center backs goes down or is away on international duty (which is gonna happen for stretches of the summer, folks). I'm also sorta "meh" on the wing stable, which at this time looks like it has a lot of decent but not great goal threats and not so much pure set-up skill. Most of all, I feel like there will be some growing pains moving on from having Tyler Adams patrol the middle. They will still be an MLS Cup contender come playoff time, but the regular season will be harder for them this time.

Chicago

For my money, this is easily the most improved team in the East. Marcelo will clean up a ton of messes at the back  Basti Fantasti is back in midfield (thank goodness!) and Djordje Mihailovic's fuse is lit, developments that should lift Nemanja Nikoic back toward his 2017 production. The additions of slippery winger Przemyslaw Frankowski, strong man C.J. Sapong and forthcoming playmaker Nico Gaitan all bring new dimensions to the offense. They have a more reliable backstop and young talent to groom all over the field. Now if they can just get a real wingback or two to replace Polster and Vincent...

Toronto FC

I won't lie. The impending arrival of Alejandro Pozuelo and recent news that they're still after a TAM-level winger bumped them up a couple spots here. The bones of a fine team were already there, but these fancy augmentations are sorely needed. Once the new guys are on board, Gregg Vanney can focus on 1) settling on a formation & 2) the voodoo required to keep Jozy Altidore healthy.

NYCFC

Let's be perfectly clear: this playoff spot is entirely dependent on two things happening. Most obviously, they still need to go get at least one proper center forward type. For reals. The second thing that needs to go down is the neutralization of Dome Torrent's tactical flights of fancy. Not only can he not stop messing with the system, but most of his space-age alterations are goofy failures. Either he can get it under control or they can move on from him, I'm not picky. But this team must to get back to soccer tactics born of the earthly realm, or they'll somehow miss the postseason with a pretty kick-ass roster. Pull yourself together, coach.

Columbus

They've got the keeper... until summer, anyway. They've got the back line... well, three-quarters of one. They've got the midfield... with an aging playmaker on the decline. They've got the striker... and even a back-up! But until they solve what is becoming a debilitating lack of end product from the wingers, the Crew will be too easy to solve. They couldn't even defeat a Red Bulls B-side at home last week. I have them in the last playoff slot, but it's a tenuous hold with 2-3 clubs nipping at their heels.

Montreal

Ya know, if the Impact had a third heat in attack, I could justify picking them to sneak into the playoffs. Maybe Maxi Urruti is that guy, but I'm quite skeptical. It says here there were better fits out there (like Sapong, for instance) for a team that wants to bait you forward before galloping out on the counter. The roster is shallow everywhere and a bottom-five attack just won't get it done, son. But, sure, they will battle you to the death behind the dynamic duo of Piatti & Taider.

Philadelphia

This is another incomplete team. I'm not sold on either of their new forwards, or the wingback stable and find Marco Fabian to be overrated by most. I'm even less impressed by the new 4-4-2 diamond, which is far too narrow to survive the league's better opponents and so very improperly staffed as long as Haris Medunjanin is expected to portray a #6. I'm usually a Jim Curtin fan, but c'mon coach, get real on that one. The good news is they have a load of talented youngsters eager to lift the club. The bad news, I fear, is they won't see the field enough to have that chance. It looks like the Philly see-saw is trending down this year.

Orlando City

When it comes to playing in the opponent's end, the Lions are legitimately scary. When it comes to playing in their own end, they're legitimately scarier. I feel for Orlando fans and really wish they could finally reach the postseason, but alas, can't imagine this is the year for it to happen. They should be good for some exciting games and plenty of over bets, though.

New England

This is a weird team. They have nice midfield pieces and some fine wide players, all of which typically will take you far in MLS. The problem is there will be so many mistakes at the back and so much mediocrity up top for them to be successful. Word has it they're still chasing a DP or two. Unfortunately, this club's tendency is to foul that up.

FC Cincinnati

The acquisition of Kenny Saief should work (relative) wonders, but this team probably needs a couple more worked in attack. When fit, the defense should be solid. There's plenty of able gate-keepers around and I think Allan Cruz will be a star in Cincy before long. However, there will be no Atlanta/LAFC freshman sensation repeat this year.





- Greg Seltzer

1 comment:

Air said...

Just a casual observer, but I really think that Frank de Boer is not going to succeed in MLS. His abysmal record in the PL is only being replicated so far. I am not sure how he did so well at Ajax, but as a manager he just doesn't seem to have that motivational touch, especially for a team where a lot of the major talent is South American.