It's time for part 2 of our 2016 report cards. If you missed part 1, you can read it here. We're still near the bottom of the table so the grades are going to be on the lower side, but alas! have hope! We should start to see a upswing in our next installment!
Orlando City SC
by Ian L.
Can we call this a season of transition? I suppose so. Orlando City SC failed to make the playoffs and finished with a -5 goal differential. At times during the season Orlando showed amazing resilience to battle for late results and occasionally Kaka, Cyle Larin, and Kevin Molino provided a brilliant attacking spark for the Lions. Antonio Nocerino, the subject of offseason controversy over discovery rights, was a tremendous disappointment overall, but Julio Baptista was occasionally a joy to watch and provided a few memorable moments in his brief tenure. Orlando City terminated Adrian Heath in favor for Jason Kreis but the results didn’t improve significantly. Overall, there is room for nothing but improvement and this season has to be considered a disappointment.
Joe Bendik. The Orlando keeper was immense throughout the season. Orlando City conceded a ton of goals but it could have been a historically bad amount of goals were it not for the frequent heroics of one Joseph Bendik. The ones that got past him seem to have disqualified him from Goalkeeper of the Year talk, but make no mistake the man faced a barrage of shots (highest in MLS) and saved more than anybody. Furthermore, the analytics-minded of you out there will appreciate the fact that nobody in the league had a better save percentage on shots from inside the area.
I’m going to count Kevin Molino here because the newcomer situation is pretty bleak otherwise. Molino returned to action following a torn ACL last season and delivered for the Florida club with 11 goals and 8 assists, proving to be the team’s most consistent offensive threat.
April 3rd : 4-1 win over Portland. A brilliant Sunday night in Orlando was a great national television showcase as the Lions completely battered the recently crowned MLS Champions. Kaka was a delight to watch, Brek Shea scored one of the best goals of the season and Kevin Molino got to open his MLS account.
July 4th: 4-0 loss to FC Dallas. Facing FC Dallas was hardly an enviable task in 2016, but even considering the strength of opposition, Orlando City’s defense was ripped to shreds repeatedly by eventual SS champions. Dallas ONLY scored four, which isn’t saying much, but worth nothing if for no other reason than to highlight how Bendik’s six saves kept a bad situation from becoming completely humiliating. Orlando could barely keep a foot on the ball in a match which devolved into the hosts more or less toying with their opponents. It was the last gasp for Adrian Heath who was dismissed later that week.
Get better! Please someone give Joe Bendik a hand. Orlando City could do with defensive reinforcements and the rumored signing of Gregory Sertic shows intent to do just that. It’s hard to take over a team in the middle of failing campaign, so Jason Kreis getting an opportunity to go shopping and a full preseason to instill philosophy should lead to improved performances in the coming year. Nocerino is showing flashes of improvement, but will need to be a much bigger contributor to justify his inclusion on an unbalanced roster. Cyle Larin and Kevin Molino offer a very bright prognosis for the future, and Kaka is still Kaka. A postseason berth would be a good result for an organization still in its MLS infancy.
Goal of the Year
Portland Timbers FC
By Ian L.
I know that seems a bit harsh since I’ve given teams with worse records higher grades, but there is no way that even the most optimistic supporter of the 2015 MLS Cup winners could look at 2016 as anything other than a complete failure. The loss of Nat Borchers, a considerable presence in their historic 2015 run was a huge blow to an already injury ravaged backline that was less than rock solid on its best day. Portland tried to address this situation with the acquisitions of Vytas and Steven Taylor, but ultimately neither signing was enough to stop the bleeding. Portland were an absolutely baffling team vacillating between looking like champions and a team that had won a competition to participate in a real live Major League Soccer game. Much was made of their abysmal performances on the road, and certainly not managing to get a single win in half of your fixtures is going to make a postseason berth a long shot at best. The Timbers swung above and below the red line in a piled up Western Conference throughout most of season, but ultimately they failed to get the results they needed on far too many occasions and wound up with the less than proud distinction of going from champions to one of the teams watching the postseason from home.
Diego Valeri. It’s always Diego Valeri forever and ever and probably always will be. The Argentine talisman had another wonderful season in 2016. The midfielder tallied 14 goals and 7 assists pitching in on 21 of his club’s 48 goals. While there are many Portland players that can claim a share of the blame, Valeri is certainly not one of them.
I’m going to break some rules here in order to heap some praise on Jake Gleeson. He’s been with the club since 2011, but only made 4 appearances during that time. After an injury to Adam Kwarasey, Gleeson came on to deputize and made the starting job his very own. Gleeson had probably the best GK performance of the season against Toronto FC and was honored by MLS with a rare Player of the Week award for a GK. I’d be remiss not to mention that his outlook for 2017 is still a little unclear due to legal complications, but Portland will be glad to have him back between the sticks going forward.
If there is one fixture that the Timbers reliably show up for, it’s a home match against the Seattle Sounders. It’s hard to pick which of the two that occurred this year was the best, outclassing them 3-1 in July and then a 4-2 win just over a month later. The latter featuring a 4 goal first half and the only team to really put a beating on Seattle during the Brian Schmetzer era.
Decision Day: 4-1 loss to Vancouver. While a playoff spot was unlikely, three points were necessary to even give themselves a chance. Naturally being a road match, Portland found themselves down two goals in 32 minutes and Adi’s penalty conversion in the 37th was merely a consolation as Vancouver netted twice after the halftime whistle. Portland’s playoff hopes evaporated, as did the bragging rights that would have come with a Cascadia Cup win. It was a fitting end to an underwhelming season.
I don’t expect the Timbers to miss out on the playoffs again next season. Figuring what, if anything, to do with players like Lucas Melano will be an interesting problem to puzzle over for the Timbers front office. Vytas, acquired midseason, seems like he might shine given time, and Stephen Taylor leaving gives them more roster flexibility to address the defense. The signing of David Guzman offers some promise, and what that means for the Portland MF positional shuffle is certainly intriguing. I would expect some additional moves to be made before first kick and a much better showing in 2017.
Goal of the Year:
By Jimmy Mack
By most measures Montreal had their most successful MLS season of their first five years of existence. Despite finishing in 5th place in the East, (tied for their 2nd highest finish ever) they had made their deepest playoff run in their short history, reaching the Eastern Conference Final against Canadian rival Toronto FC, losing a heartbreaker that went to extra time in the second leg. The season wasn’t without turbulence, though. At one point there looked like a mutiny was brewing when Didier Drogba refused to play after being benched by coach Mauro Biello.
Ignacio Nacho Piatti, hands down. He scored a team high 17 goals to go along with a team high six assists while playing a team high 2818 minutes in a team high 32 games. Need I say more?
Matteo Mancosu joined Montreal on loan in July from Italian side Bologna. His time with Montreal may have been short, but in the 15 regular season games he played he tallied three goals and four assists. He added another four goals and two assists in the playoffs, and was hands-down the MOTM in the knockout round against D.C. United. Rumor is that the Impact are trying to bring back Mancosu for 2017, which would be huge if they can pull it off.
July 23 when Montreal beat then 2nd place Philadelphia Union 5-1. Not only was it their largest margin of victory for the season, but Didier Drogba scored a hat-trick in front of the home crowd at Stade Saputo. Team MVP Ignacio Piatti added another goal to go along with two assists, and the newly signed Mancosu scored his first MLS goal in stoppage time to cap off the win.
August 20. There’s simply no other option. A 3-0 loss to last place Chicago Fire is bad enough. But it was tied for their worst goal differential in a loss all season. And it was at home. And it was the Fire’s first road win since July 12, 2014. That’s 770 days between road wins. For reference, the now defunct Chivas USA won a road match more recently than the Fire before this game.
Drogba is gone, but I’m not sure that will affect the Impact too much. Dominic Oduro and Piatti are pretty great attacking duo. (Add in Mancosu and it’s even better.) If Montreal can shore up their defense a bit, especially their set piece defense, they should make the conference semi-finals and have a decent shot to get back to the conference finals. Could they make it to MLS Cup? Well, anything can happen in this league. But, with Eastern Conference champs Toronto FC retaining most of their 2016 roster, NYRB and NYCFC likely to continue their success and newcomer Atlanta United building what may be one of the best rosters in MLS on paper, an MLS Cup run may be a bit out of reach for the Impact.
Goal of the Year:
New England Revolution
by Anders Aarhus
Margins are thin in pro sports. The Philadelphia Union gets a B- because it made the playoffs on 42 points. New England gets a D because it missed the playoffs on 42 points. Hey, it’s a results-based business. This grade is also reflective of New England’s journey backwards over the past few seasons. Boosted by the midseason arrival of Jermaine Jones, the Revs were a surprise MLS Cup runner-up in 2014, but it’s been downhill from there culminating in missing the playoffs this year for the first time since 2012. The Revs struggled out of the gate with just two wins in the first 12 games and never recovered. Key performers from the past several years (looking at you, Jose Goncalves) didn’t play to the same standard leaving coach Jay Heaps on the hot seat.
Lee Nguyen was definitely not one of those aforementioned underperforming stars. He’ll probably never again come close to his 18-goal season in 2014, but Nguyen’s made the type of season he had in 2016 the norm. Nguyen tallied six goals and 10 assists as the focal point of the Revs’ attack and, at 30, he’s still in his prime.
Gershon Koffie did a nice job partnering promising homegrown Scott Caldwell in midfield after he was acquired in an offseason trade with the Vancouver Whitecaps. Koffie had some hiccups with red and yellow card suspensions, but he notched four assists in 19 starts and provided the bite in midfield the Revs lost when Jermaine Jones went to Colorado. Koffie and Scott Caldwell give New England an exciting midfield pair to build around in 2017 and beyond.
The 1-0 win vs. New York Red Bulls on April 1. New England only got two wins in its first 12 games of 2016 and this was one of them. Beating a full-strength RBNY team is no easy feat, as the end of the season standings show. Unfortunately for the Revs, they were unable to turn the victory into any kind of momentum.
The 2-1 loss vs. Chicago Fire on October 16. This one hurts considering the Revs missed the playoffs only on goal differential. This mess of a game against bottom-of-the-table Chicago included red cards for both teams and a late goal allowed by New England. Just a draw in this one would’ve been enough to send the Revs to the playoffs.
The big question is what happens with Jay Heaps? There’s no denying he’s on the hot seat going into 2017 and it’s doubtful he survives another slow start. New England isn’t known as a premier destination for big-name Designated Players so it’s doubtful significant help is incoming over the winter. Fortunately, there’s enough talent already on the roster to challenge in the East. Best case scenario for the Revs in 2017 is Kei Kamara (that this is the first time we’ve mentioned him tells you everything you need to know about his impact following the trade) settles in with a full offseason, Lee Nguyen continues to play at an all-star level and Diego Fagundez takes the next step in his development. That’s a trio good enough to carry this team back into the playoffs.
Goal of the Year:
By Anders Aarhus
It was finally a season of progress for the Union. The team went out and made a big signing in Alejandro Bedoya that actually made sense, a stark contrast from some of the other “big” signings *cough* Rais M’Bolhi *cough* in the past few years. Philadelphia also took a step forward by making the playoffs for the first time since 2011. The team was knocked out in the first round, but that’s really nothing to be ashamed of considering it was on the road against eventual Eastern Conference champion Toronto FC. Only a disappointing run of seven games without a win heading into the playoffs marred the successes. All in all, an encouraging season and a solid foundation to build on heading into 2017.
It has to be Andre Blake. It took a few years (and a few other goalkeepers), but Blake has blossomed into the elite ‘keeper so many thought he could be. The Jamaican made 99 saves in his first full season as the starter and kept the Union in games despite a shaky defense in front of him. Without Blake’s heroics, Philadelphia doesn’t make the playoffs.
Keegan Rosenberry. The rookie right back from Georgetown exceeded all expectations this year. Rosenberry played every minute of all 34 games which is a testament to his durability, talent, and trust the coaching staff has in him. Additionally, in all of those minutes, the rookie only conceded 13 fouls and never received a single booking. Some thought it was a reach when the Union grabbed Rosenberry at No. 3 in the draft, but he’s clearly repaid that faith and now Philly has a solid, young piece to build its defense around for years to come.
The 2-0 win vs. Sporting Kansas City on August 27, is really the only good game Philadelphia played down the stretch of the season. The Union frustrated SKC, holding Peter Vermes’ team to just two shots on target and drawing red cards from Jimmy Medranda and Roger Espinoza. Roland Alberg had a goal and an assist in the win.
The 3-0 loss vs. Chicago Fire on September 3rd. The flop in the season finale at home against RBNY wasn’t great, but dropping points to one of the worst teams in the league is worse. Philly was sitting third in the East, just three points off the top spot, at the time. Yes, the Union were missing Alejandro Bedoya to international duty, but that doesn’t excuse getting blown out. Even worse, the Union missed out on hosting a playoff game by three points at the end of the season.
Philly’s in an interesting spot heading into 2017. The club seems well-positioned to take the proverbial “next step” and challenge for a top three spot in the East, but there are unique barriers. On one hand, the team gets a full season of Bedoya, CJ Sapong remains one of the most underrated forwards in the league and a few other key pieces will be back. On the other, the Union’s long saga of goalkeeper woes might have another chapter with European suitors calling about Andre Blake. There are other spots that need upgrading as well, but the club hasn’t shown a willingness to spend big in the past. There’s a lot to like about the Union going forward, but without some spending the ceiling might be capped.
Goal of the Year: