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MLS Eastern Conference: Team-by-team look


ATLANTA UNITED

Last year: Not applicable.

Coach: Gerardo Martino, first year.

Designated Players: Midfielders Hector Villalba and Miguel Almiron and forward Josef Martinez.

Key stat: First season in MLS.

Other players to watch: Forward Kenwyne Jones brings a wealth of experience from the Premier League, and centerhalf Michael Parkhurst, right fullback Tyrone Mears, midfielder Jeff Larentowicz and winger Jacob Peterson bring almost 900 games of MLS experience.

Outlook: Much depends upon chemistry. Though there are a few pairs of players who were teammates previously, it will take time for the players to learn to trust each other. Can they realistically make the playoffs? It’s possible, but they will need luck.

CHICAGO FIRE

Last year: 7-17-10, 10th place.

Coach: Veljko Paunovic, second season.

Designated Players: Forwards Nemanja Nikolic and David Accam.

Key stat: Their 125 shots on goal last season were the fewest in the league.

Other players to watch: Chicago acquired former Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty in a trade. He should help shore up a defense that allowed 58 goals last season. The team selected Atlanta’s Daniel Johnson in the first round of the SuperDraft.

Outlook: Though they finished last in the Eastern Conference for the second consecutive season, they are already being tabbed as a potential playoff team after the acquisition of Nikolic, who scored 41 goals in 56 matches in Poland’s first division, Juninho and McCarty.

COLUMBUS CREW

Last year: 8-14-12, ninth place.

Coach: Gregg Berhalter, fourth season.

Designated Players: Defender Jonathan Mensah and forward Federico Higuain.

Key stat: They were caught offside 104 times last season, by far the most in the league.

Other players to watch: Defender Lalas Abubakar was one of the bright spots in the January’s combine, and midfielder Ethan Finlay is pushing to be included in the U.S. men’s national-team debate. Mensah was added at centerback and Jukka Raitala at left back. Justin Meram forms a good partnership with Higuain.

Outlook: Much will depend upon playing better away from home, where the Crew won only two games last season. Abubakar could improve the defense, but his height may be a liability on set pieces. It’s hard to see them improving significantly upon last year’s 36 points if the defense remains as injury-prone and porous as last year. The offense should be very good.

D.C. UNITED

Last year: 11-10-13, fourth place.

Coach: Ben Olsen, eighth season.

Designated Players: None.

Key stat: Fourteen points in its final seven games helped the team finish fourth in the East.

Other players to watch: Luciano Acosta is an excellent playmaker. Steve Birnbaum is pushing to be considered one of the league’s best defenders and goalkeeper Bill Hamid seems always on the verge of competing to be in camp with the U.S. men’s national team. Midfielder Ian Harkes, son of U.S. standout John Harkes, may have been the best player in college last season and signed with D.C. United as a Homegrown Player. They added MLS stalwart Sebastian Le Toux, a forward with 65 goals in his career. Patrick Mullins scored 16 goals.

Outlook: If Olsen can re-create the chemistry that carried the team through the last season’s second half, United should make the playoffs.

MONTREAL IMPACT

Last year: 11-11-12, fifth place.

Coach: Mauro Biello, second season.

Designated Players: Midfielder Ignacio Piatti.

Key stat: Seventeen goals by Piatti led the team. Of those returning, Dominic Oduro was next with six goals.

Other players to watch: Atlanta native and fullback Chris Duvall was added in a trade after the expansion draft, and midfielder Shamit Shome was added in the SuperDraft. Forward Matteo Mancosu had three goals and four assists in 15 appearances last season.

Outlook: If the Falcons want to learn how to recover from a collapse, they can consider turning to Montreal, which blew a chance to make it to the MLS Cup by allowing Toronto to score twice in the first 10 minutes of extra time to secure the Eastern Conference championship. How long it takes Montreal to get over that will determine its fate this season.

NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION

Last year: 11-14-9, seventh place.

Coach: Jay Heaps, sixth season.

Designated Players: Forward Kei Kamara and midfielder Xavier Kouassi.

Key stat: Their 42 goals scored last season was second-fewest in the Eastern Conference.

Other players to watch: After a terrific 2015, midfielder Lee Nguyen played well last season just not as well as the year before, while Juan Agudelo progressed near the end of the season to the point that he was called into the U.S. camp in January. The team added Atlanta’s Cody Cropper to compete in goal.

Outlook: If Kei Kamara (seven goals in 21 games with New England) can get going early and Nguyen can find his form, the Revs should be much improved. The squad has worked to add several defenders, including Antonio Milnar Delamea and Benjamin Angoua. Seems like the goals should come, which would bring a push for the playoffs.

NEW YORK CITY FC

Last year: 15-10-9, second place.

Coach: Patrick Vieira, second season.

Designated Players: Midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Maxi Moralez, and forward David Villa.

Key stat: They scored 62 goals last season to lead the league.

Other players to watch: The club added Atlanta’s Sean Johnson at goalkeeper and traded up to pick Jonathan Lewis in the SuperDraft. The club added some fresh legs in the midfield with Finnish international Alexander Ring and Panamanian international Miguel Camargo. Frank Lampard, who finally found his form in New York after entering the debate as the worst DP ever signed, retired.

Outlook: If Pirlo and Villa continue to defy time, it’s hard to see NYCFC not challenging their cross-town rivals atop the conference. Should Pirlo (37 years old) or Villa (35) miss a significant amount of time, Vieira may have his work cut out.

NEW YORK RED BULLS

Last year: 16-9-9, first place.

Coach: Jesse Marsch, third season.

Designated Players: Midfielders Sacha Kljestan and Gonzalo Veron.

Key stat: Their 17 more goals scored than allowed was biggest difference in the league last season.

Other players to watch: Bradley Wright-Phillips led the league with 24 goals scored, Luis Robles was called up to the U.S. men’s national team in January. Aurelien Collin is steady in defense, Felipe filled up the stat sheet in midfield with five goals and seven assists in 32 appearances.

Outlook: Who will replace the steel in the midfield that was Dax McCarty? The decision to trade him apparently caused a bust-up in the front office that led to the dismissal of sporting director Ali Curtis. This after Marsch was reportedly in talks to manage a club in Austria. So, stability hasn’t been the keyword for the team. It should still be good, though.

ORLANDO CITY

Last year: 9-11-14, eighth place.

Coach: Jason Kreis, second season.

Designated Players: Midfielders Kaka and Carlos Rivas and forward Bryan Rochez.

Key stat: Its 60 goals allowed were the most in the league last season.

Other players to watch: The team added U.S. international Jonathon Spector and Brazilian left back Victor Giro to try to improve the league’s worst defense, but hasn’t done much more. Brek Shea was traded to Vancouver for Giles Barnes. The team also traded midfielder Kevin Molino, one of its best players on offense last season with 11 goals. The team also signed goalkeeper Josh Saunders, but already had Joe Bendik, one of the league’s better netminders last season. It still has forward Cyle Larin, who scored 14 goals last season and is one of the better young players in the league.

Outlook: Until the issues on defense are resolved, it’s hard to pick this team making the playoffs for the first time.

PHILADELPHIA UNION

Last year: 11-14-9, sixth place.

Coach: Jim Curtin, third season.

Designated Players: Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya and defender Maurice Edu.

Key stat: Two goals in the season’s final five months for starting striker C.J. Sapong, which shouldn’t happen again if team hopes to make playoffs.

Other players to watch: Left winger Chris Pontius was solid last season and should be helped by defensive midfielder Haris Medunjanin, who will be the key for the midfield, one of several signings that includes Oguchi Onyewu, Giliano Wijnaldum, Jay Simpson and winger Fafa Pacault. Atlanta’s Warren Creavalle can play different positions.

Outlook: This is a deep team that could challenge in the East if Sapong can re-discover his goal-scoring form and the defense can avoid injuries.

TORONTO FC

Last year: 14-9-11, third place.

Coach: Greg Vanney, third full season.

Designated Players: Forwards Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco and midfielder Michael Bradley.

Key stat: Six wins away from home, the second most in the league behind NYCFC’s seven.

Other players to watch: Clint Irwin is one of the league’s best goalkeepers, playing behind Justin Morrow, Drew Moor and Steven Beitashour who formed the core of the defense that allowed an Eastern Conference-low 39 goals.

Outlook: It’s hard to find a flaw in this team, which makes it hard to pick against them repeating as Eastern Conference champs. Giovinco and Altidore combined for 27 goals and 20 assists last season. Bradley isn’t going to do much that will show up in stats, but he will control the game from the midfield.



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