Now that the 2016 MLS season is well and truly over, and we've got a couple of hours before teams get back in preseason mode, we wanted to take some time and reflect on how each team performed this season. We'll start with the teams at the bottom of the table and work our way up throughout the week.
by Cory Jensen
“F” stands for “finally,” as in the Fire have cemented themselves to the basement of Major League Soccer. That great gust of wind blowing eastward on a Bridgeview-Chicago axis around October 16 wasn’t winter arriving, but was more so exasperation and pent-up frustration leaving Toyota Park in the same manner it has for the past four seasons. Ironically, the Fire’s own year-by-year records page stops keeping count in 2013.
What do you do with trash? You pile it up. You burn it. You burn it with fire. What happens when the trash to burn is the Fire? You burn it with more fire, or so the saying goes. What from 2016 can we possibly heave into the tire fire in the middle of the industrial wasteland that is Toyota Park?
They had three 5+ game winless streaks in 2016, a league best.
They terminated the contract of their highest-paid target man midseason, and then…
They offloaded their second highest-paid target man to DC and still took the $800k cap hit to simply not have him around
They had their second-worst season in club history, totaling 31 points.
They managed to increase their point total from 2015 by one solitary point.
They won one road match (at least they weren’t former MLS champions Portland, who didn’t manage a road win)
They lost a league-best 14 matches on the road
They had the worst goal differential in the league (-16)
They became the first MLS club to ever finish dead last in the league over consecutive seasons
They offloaded the most creative player on their roster, Harry Shipp, weeks before the beginning of the 2016 campaign
We’ll stop there. Pouring more salt on the wound at this point would wasting sodium, and sodium is essential to life.
David Accam. Known as “King David,” mostly because he is credited with writing most of the book of Psalms and other biblical poetry, David managed to net nine goals in 2016. He was always the largest threat the Fire offered...anyone...in MLS, and will probably be the Fire’s largest asset in 2017, unless you are counting the large amounts of TAM hidden in a small wooden box behind Andrew Hauptman’s office portrait.
Newcomer of the Year:
How many newcomers is too many newcomers? But the answer to this question would be Michael de Leeuw. He tallied seven goals and three assists in just over 1400 minutes, signing in May, but not starting until July. It was a good pickup for the Fire in a season marred with roster turnover.
3-0, at Montreal. The Fire battered the soon-to-be MLS Eastern Conference finalists in a rare display of technical prowess, and moreover, defensive prowess against the likes of Dominic Oduro, Didier Drogba, and Nacho Piatti.
Our cup runneth over. Is it possible to choose between the 4-1 drubbing at NYCFC, or the 3-0 drubbing at arch-enemies Columbus, or the 6-2 goal extravaganza (and loss) at DC? The answer is easily a resounding “No.” If someone compiled a montage titled “Reasons to Relocate the Chicago Fire to Albuquerque,” these matches would be far from the cutting room floor. A personal response to this question is: the 0-0 draw and home opener between the Fire and Crew was the worst professional soccer game this writer has seen in his lifetime, and I brought along my soccer-loving father (in town from Denver) like a witness to a crime.
If you loved the Fire’s roster turnover in 2016 you’re in some luck - there will be more in 2017! Ten old faces have already left Toyota Park, and it’s not even Christmas. Keeping that spirit, Nemanja Nikolic (a man who played in the Euros and scored 28 goals in the Polish first division last season) is already on board, and being paid some handsome DP money at that rate. Additionally, the Fire will absolutely need depth on the wings, as David Accam and John Goosens are the only viable options out wide at the moment. Furthermore, a consistent partner for Matt Polster at CM or CDM would at least promote some stability and free up Polster from his plugging-all-leaks-across-the-entire-midfield role.
Defensively, the trio of Campbell, Kappelhoff, and Meira served decently in the center, and Brandon Vincent was certainly competent at left back. The Fire desperately need a serviceable right back, as a result, given the fact that they have offloaded Rodrigo Ramos already. Finally, replacing Sean Johnson is a top priority, and could potentially happen with the arrival of Brad Guzan back on American shores. But that is too speculative at this point.
What the Fire really lack is what Harry Shipp was: a creator. Arturo Alvarez, at times the Fire’s most consistent contributor in 2016, isn’t the number 10 that will unzip tightly-woven defenses throughout the league. Neither is Bastian Schweinsteiger, who the Fire have already been linked with since November. It’s a move that smacks of desperation, and it doesn’t really solve the creative void in Paunovic’s starting XI.
Goal of the Year:
by Ian L
Expectations weren’t exactly sky high for the Canadian club, but they still somehow managed to disappoint. A season ending injury to Kekuta Manneh was a setback the club wouldn’t recover from. There was a joyless quality to the Whitecaps in 2016. Amongst the league leaders in fouls committed, and running away with a league high EIGHT red cards, discipline was a serious problem. While their record was by no means the worst we’ve seen, you’d expect a lot better from a club as ambitious and well supported as the Caps.
There really isn't a lot of good to choose from here, I'm going to give the nod to Bolaños though.
Bolaños for sure. The Costa Rican was one of very few bright spots this for Vancouver this campaign. He notched 5 goals and 7 assists and was generally the most exciting player for the Canadian side.
4-1 win over Portland. Well where did THAT come from? THAT’s the Vancouver we need to see more often. Giles Barnes netted his first two goals for the club and Vancouver gave their fans a memorable performance on decision day against a Cascadia rival that desperately needed all three points.
4-2 loss to Portland. The two goals Vancouver scored put an undeserved shine on this woeful defeat to their Cascadia rivals. Kah gave up two terrible penalties and Kendall Waston put a real exclamation point on the day by managing to be red carded AFTER the final whistle blew for a dangerous tackle from behind on Asprilla. It wasn’t their worst loss by the numbers, but the lack or organization and discipline that harangued them all year was never clearer than on this day.
Remember Camilo? That guy was good. They need to find another guy like that. Weren't they gonna sign Robbie Keane or something? Did that not happen? Anyhow, the back line isn't the worst when they're healthy and not suspended, but the attack needs to be retooled entirely (except for Manneh and Bolaños. they can stay). Replacing Pedro Morales is a very high priority as well. The fans will still show up and sing next year but the organization as a whole owes them a lot better than this year's bleak campaign.
Goal of the Year:
San Jose Earthquakes
by Mark Kastner
The San Jose Earthquakes’ season was disappointing for a myriad of reasons. One of their two DPs only played 115 minutes. Their defense was a carousel due to injuries. They failed to qualify for the playoffs for the 3rd straight year, managing only 3 wins in their final 18 games, despite a weakened bottom half of the Western Conference this past season. They had the worst offense in the league, but in typical Dom Kinnear fashion, they managed to have a pretty decent defense. But, it’s hard to look at the 2016 season for the Quakes and not see it as a huge let down. I’d give them a worse grade, but it’s hard to argue that injuries didn’t play a huge factor into their disappointment. Grade: D
Wondo. This kind of comes by the process of elimination, doesn’t it? Wondo scored or assisted on nearly half of San Jose’s goals. Simon Dawkins had a few great moments, but failed to produce the numbers.
Can I pick no one? I want to pick no one. But I'll pick Simon Dawkins.
With few bright spots to pick from, and with a grain of salt, San Jose’s best performance came in their win against Toronto FC on July 16th in their 2-1 win. Despite going up a goal early on, Toronto equalized just before half time after Anibal Godoy got sent off with a straight red. Not only that, but just after half time, the Quakes had ANOTHER player receive a red card, this time it was Alberto Quintero. Despite all of the above, in typical fashion, the Quakes managed to get a goal in the 70th minute and went on to win the game. So, um, go Quakes ! (space intended)
Take your pick! 1 win in their last 11, while being in the playoff picture, is just awful. But, it has to be their home loss to the Houston Dynamo.
Next Season Best Case:
A competent GM will do this team wonders. Wondo isn’t getting any younger, Quincy will be out for some time, and there’s a lot of question marks across the backline. They’re a team who can’t spend the big bucks like some team in the league, so a GM who knows how and where to find value will be key for their success. Dom Kinnear is a wizard, and can work magic, but he needs to the right pieces in place.
Goal of the Year:
by Anders Aarhus
12 out of 22 teams make the playoffs in MLS so it’s hard to get a passing grade when you’re one of the 10 that miss out. Expectations were sky high for Columbus coming off a great 2015 run that culminated in hosting the MLS Cup final. The debate for 2016 revolved around whether the Crew could contend for the Supporters Shield, not whether they’d manage to avoid finishing dead last.
Nothing went right from the start. Columbus opened with a five-game winless run that included, what’s in retrospect, an atrocious, scoreless draw against the Chicago Fire. Everything finally reached a boiling point nine games in when the Crew blew a three-goal lead to Montreal. 2015 leading scorer Kei Kamara clashed with star playmaker Federico Higuaín over a penalty kick during the match and then doubled down with some choice words postgame. Kamara was dealt to New England less than a week later leaving Columbus kicking around the redline for the rest of the season while never really threatening for the sixth spot.
MVP: Justin Meram
Meram set career highs in games played, games started, assists and shots while chipping in five goals as well. The 28-year-old Michigan native has flourished under Gregg Berhalter and he’s just now entering the prime of his career. Meram’s continued improvement gives Berhalter a nice piece to rebuild his attack around and represents a bright spot for the Crew going forward.
The Norwegian started the season known as the “other Kamara,” but he quickly shed that moniker after Kei Kamara was traded. Ola burst onto the scene with a hat-trick in a 4-3 win over RSL, touching off a run of 10 goals in nine games. He went on to finish the season with 16 goals in 25 games (20 starts) despite playing a total of just 50 minutes before for the Kei Kamara trade. Among players with at least 10 goals in 2016, Ola’s .77 g/90 ranked third behind only Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips and Frank Lampard.
2-0 win vs. New England, August 20, 2016
There weren’t many good games to choose from, but Columbus did get three points against a conference rival and revenge against Kei Kamara. This was the first meeting of the teams after Kei was dealt to New England and some tidy counter-attacking combined with a solid defense (a rarity for Columbus in 2016) made this a complete win.
4-4 Draw vs. Montreal Impact
It wasn’t a loss, but it sure felt like one. Columbus finally seemed to be finding its stride. They’d taken six points from the last three games and jumped all over Montreal to the tune of a 4-1 lead 53 minutes in. Then, everything fell apart. Kei Kamara and Higuain fought over who should take the 53rd minute PK and, even after Higuain eventually scored from the spot, the team dynamic was clearly off. Proving they were on the trend before it was cool, Columbus blew the three goal lead after Dominic Oduro’s stoppage-time equalizer. Kei melted down postgame and was out the door just six days later.
Priority one for Columbus is fixing the defense. The Crew shipped 58 goals last season (only Orlando City SC allowed more) and finished with a -8 goal differential. 2017 isn’t off to a good start either, with Gaston Sauro reportedly set to miss the entire season. As Massive Report points out, Sauro’s sizeable cap hit will make replacing him difficult as well. Stalwart defender Michael Parkhurst is gone as well in a trade to Atlanta. Those losses leaves Columbus with just five healthy defenders and three healthy center backs. One of those CBs is homegrown Alex Crognale who was just signed in early December and probably can’t be counted on as more than depth this year. Berhalter certainly has his work cut out for him over the winter break.
Depth behind Ola Kamara. Kamara was excellent in 2016, but 20 starts isn’t a huge sample size. Even assuming he can replicate his performance, Columbus needs more behind him. Case in point: Kei Kamara finished the season tied for the Crew’s third leading scorer despite only playing nine games.
Keep developing the kids. Wil Trapp is a national team caliber player when healthy. Hopefully he can avoid concussion issues that plagued him in 2016 and play close to a 34 game season in 2017. Ethan Finlay took a step back in 2016, starting only 27 games, scoring six goals and tallying nine assists compared to 34 GS, 12 goals and 13 assists in 2015. Getting the best out of both these guys will go long way to getting Columbus back in the playoffs.
Goal of the Year:
by Dustyn Richardson
The Houston Dynamo went through 2 head coaches and a number of disappointing losses during the 2016 season. With a bright outlook coming in to the season, finishing last in the Western Conference was a failure on all levels for the Dynamo. There were a few bright spots, which I’ll hit on, that kept this grade from an F. But only because I’m a nice instructor that would rather not fail anyone.
Alex. The Brazilian born midfielder was a revelation for the Dynamo in 2016. He made 30 appearances, with 29 starts, scoring 5 goals and chipping in 2 assists. In a season that saw a number of lineup changes and players shuffled in and out of the eleven, Alex was the one constant in the Houston midfield.
Colombian forward Mauro Manotas burst on to the scene towards the end of the 2016 season, once he was finally given a chance to play. The 21 year old scored a hat trick against then defending MLS Cup champions Portland and was easily the best player for Houston the last 6 weeks of the year.
This is a no brainer. The 5-0 win over Dallas in just the second week of the season was shocking on so many levels. Owen Coyle beat the eventual coach of the year and Shield winners 5-0. Let that sink in. It was truly a dominating performance by Houston, something their fans wouldn’t see much of for the remainder of 2016.
A 1-0 loss to the Chicago Fire ended Owen Coyle’s time in Houston. For most Dynamo fans, this may have been a good result long term.
Wilmer Cabrera has taken over as head coach and the Dynamo have already begun reshaping their team. The additions of Alberth Elis and Adolfo Machado, with more moves on the horizon, show that the Dynamo are not content being a bottom feeder in MLS. The Western Conference is tough but the Dynamo could challenge for a playoff spot if the stars align.
Goal Of The Year
We'll be back tomorrow with the next five teams!