We've gotten to the end of our series taking a look back at the 2016 and arbitrarily assigning grades to all of the teams. The grades are on the higher side for most of these teams, but despite on field success, some of these teams failed to live up to expectations.
The 2016 season ended in a cloud of disappointment, but it was quite a ride for FC Dallas to get there. The club won its first trophy in 19 years when it hoisted the U.S. Open Cup in a shower of confetti on the pitch at Toyota Stadium, and then just over a month later the club got its hands on its first Supporters Shield. But it all came crashing down in a hurry. Mauro Diaz went down with a season-ending injury which signaled the dominoes to fall. The Seattle Sounders ousted the club in the first round of the playoffs, ending the dreams of a treble. But when it was all said and done, two trophies is nothing to be meek about, and is very worthy of an A-.
Mauro Diaz. The aforementioned Argentine designated player proved he really is the puppet master of the FC Dallas attack. He appeared in 27 matches for The Hoops in 2016 and didn’t record either a goal or an assist in just 13 of those matches, finishing with five goals and 13 assists in 2016. The Achilles tear he suffered in a 2-1 win over Seattle Sounders FC was just too much for FC Dallas to overcome in the playoffs. He’s valuable, and FC Dallas are now forced to find a way to fill the hole his absence in the upcoming season will leave.
Newcomer of the Year:
Carlos Gruezo. His stats were not eye-popping, and they never will be. He started 26 of his 27 appearances after moving to Texas from VfB Stuttgart, and held down a vital defensive role in the FC Dallas midfield while notching two assists. He picked up only nine yellow cards and committed only 12.4 percent of FC Dallas’ fouls while being a key link between defense and attack. Gruezo was a workhorse for both club and country. He appeared in the Copa America for Ecuador and established himself as a key cog for FC Dallas moving forward. Gruezo put his name down as one of the best young players in the league while sporting bags of experience.
U.S. Open Cup Semi-finals, August 10th FC Dallas 2-1 LA Galaxy. To lift a trophy for the first time in a long time it always feels like you need a gritty win. After the USOC campaign got off to a shaky start, seeing FC Dallas down the Oklahoma City Energy in penalties, FC Dallas’ gritty win came in extra time and from behind against the LA Galaxy in the semi-finals of the USOC. It was bonkers, and a perfect representation of the club. It was a 0-0 slug-fest until extra time when Mike Magee opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the 101st minute. Dallas shook off the mistake and the fun began. Dallas equalized in the 116th minute through the captain Matt Hedges, assisted by Diaz. Penalties were looming until a Diaz corner kick was nodded into the net by homegrown Victor Ulloa in the 120th minute plus one. As the ball crossed the line it meant Dallas would host a cup final, and lift a trophy in front of its home fans. Pandemonium.
March 12th, Houston Dynamo 5-0 FC Dallas. Losing 5-0 is bad. Really bad. Losing 5-0 in the Texas Derby? It does not get much worse. The Dynamo dropped four on FC Dallas in a 21 minute span in the first half, one of which was an own goal from Hedges. It could not have went much worse for FC Dallas on the day, and it was the first showing against the Dynamo in 2016. Talk about hearing it from the fans down South.
There’s a big unknown for FC Dallas in the build-up to 2017 - how will it cope without Diaz for an entire season? Add in the first full season without Fabian Castillo and it is tough to predict where FC Dallas will end up. With the signings of Belgian international winger Roland Lamah, Costa Rican international defender Jose Salvatierra and 20-year old Ecuadorian defender Anibal Chala, FC Dallas looks primed to compete for the top of the league again.
But still without an out-and-out striker and the creativity and balance that Diaz brings it seems FC Dallas will be without an X-Factor that will be necessary for a MLS Cup run.
Goal of the Year:
There were plenty of great goals to choose from including Maxi Urruti’s bicycle kick against San Jose and Hedges’ header to put FCD up 2-1 in the USOC final, but how could you not give it to this screamer from the homegrown.
Look at how he gathers himself, settles the ball, shifts his weight and drives his foot through the ball to find the upper-right corner just like every coach would teach you. He did it with precision to make it 1-1. Howard had no chance even if he had the stretchy arms Michael Jordan had in Space Jam. Lovely goal from a man who does not score many.
Sporting Kansas City
Inconsistent is the only way to describe 2016 for Sporting KC. After a solid 4-1 start to the season where they only let up two goals, Sporting followed up with one win in their next eleven matches where they were outscored a combined total of 15-7. The rest of the year was built off short streaks of brilliance followed by disaster games. Once again, the injury bug hit SKC hard. SKC hobbled across the regular season finish line to squeak their way into the playoffs for the sixth straight season, an impressive accomplishment on its own. But for the third straight year, they were eliminated in the knockout. Ultimately, the lack of an attacking option outside of Dom Dwyer and an aging core of players proved costly for Sporting KC. For a team that came into the year thinking they had a chance to defend their U.S. Open Cup and make a run at MLS Cup, the season can hardly be considered a success.
Roger Espinoza. When talking of impact players on Sporting KC, most people immediately think of Dom Dwyer or Benny Feilhaber, and rightly so. These two are the best attacking options for Sporting KC and accounted for more than half of the team’s total goals. But the MVP has to be midfielder and captain Roger Espinoza. Supporters of other teams look at Espinoza as a dirty player (not entirely undeserved, to be honest), but he’s clearly the emotional leader of this team. His years of experience and leadership skills were crucial. He took hold of the role of captain midseason when SKC’s regular skipper Matt Besler went on national team duty with the USMNT and held on to it for the remainder of the season. His stat line may not be the most impressive (one goal and five assists on the season), but he was by far the hardest working player for the team all year, flying all over the pitch, making key defensive stops and helping the younger players grow.
Newcomer of the Year:
No one. And that’s the biggest problem for Sporting KC. The offseason sale of 2015 newcomer Krisztián Németh proved more detrimental than anyone could’ve imagined. Neither Brad Davis nor Justin Mapp combined came anywhere close to Németh’s ten goals and six assists from 2015. In fact, Justin Mapp, the first free agent signed in MLS history, played a grand total of 43 minutes all season. Brad Davis has had a long and storied career in MLS, but his age showed in 2016, causing a lack of fitness and nagging injuries that ultimately leading to his retirement. Defender Nuno Andre Coelho looked like he had a shot at MLS Defender of the Year after the first month of the season, but injury forced him out of the lineup and he never regained form or fitness and became just another body on the bench.
July 24. Honestly, this one isn’t even close. Sporting KC defeated eventual MLS champions Seattle Sounders 3-0 at Sporting Park, which sounds great on its own. But what was truly impressive about this game was the absolutely dominating defensive performance by SKC. Sporting nearly became the first team in MLS history to not allow a single shot in an entire game before Joevin Jones finally got one off in the 88th minute for the Sounders. Granted, this is the pre-Lodeiro Sounders, but that’s still an impressive defensive feat. On the offensive end, SKC took 19 shots, six of which were on target. Dom Dwyer scored his 9th and 10th goals of the year while Jacob Peterson netted his 2nd. This was by far Sporting KC’s most complete performance of 2016.
August 7. A week after defeating the defending MLS champions 1-0 in Kansas City, SKC lost 3-0 to the Portland Timbers at Providence Park, extending their road winless streak at the time to ten matches. SKC looked to have an advantage early on when Diego Chara was shown a red card in the 12th minute for hitting Benny Feilhaber in the face, but the advantage went away when Soni Mustivar was sent off in the 39th minute after a hard tackle on Diego Valeri. Portland opened the scoring in the 65th minute and packed it in after that, fighting off a total of 11 shots from SKC in the match, only three of which were on target. (Story of SKC’s season.) Darlington Nagbe and Fanendo Adi added the 2nd and 3rd goals respectively in the 87th and 90+2 minutes to seal the 3-0 victory for the Timbers.
Honestly, who knows? There’s so much work to be done with this roster that it’s next to impossible to make a prediction about 2017 for Sporting KC. An attacking threat to take the pressure of Dom Dwyer is a must. A creative winger to play opposite Zusi (and maybe even a second to replace Zusi if need be) would go a long way to solving some of Sporting’s offensive woes from 2016. The recently announced re-acquisition of Igor Juliao, who played the 2014 season with SKC on loan from Fluminense in Brazil, will help shore up the defense and give Vermes an experienced RB who can provide an offensive spark when needed. The resigning of 31-year-old Benny Feilhaber was important, but if we’ve learned anything from the past three seasons, it’s that the core of players who helped SKC win the 2013 MLS Cup just simply can’t do it anymore. Some new blood is definitely needed if Sporting has any hope of extending their playoff streak to a seventh season and making it past the knockout round.
Goal of the Year:
It came in just the 5th minute of the 2nd game of the year, but Dom Dwyer’s first goal of 2016 turned out to be his best. This rocket from five yards outside the box is unreal. Ousted never had a chance.
New York Red Bulls
Yes, a C+ does seem a bit harsh for a team that went unbeaten for their last sixteen regular season games, finishing on top of the East and only three points from picking up their third Supporters shield in four years, and advancing in the CONCACAF Champions League; however, expectations for the Red Bulls to perform in the playoffs were high, only for the team to crash out in their first round, losing both matches to 5th seed Montreal. Additionally, the complete absence of offense in the first third of the season (the Red Bulls only grabbed three points in their first seven matches) left a major hole that required virtually perfect play for the rest of the season.
Deciding between Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan is like deciding which spread is more important in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Once the scoring drought ended, the two created a monsoon of goals between the two of them, combining for 30 goals and 25 assists (only nine of which were scored by one and assisted by the other). The two started nearly every match (BWP with 32 and Sacha with 30), and both only conceded three yellow cards respectively.
Small nod to Dax McCarty as well for putting in the work in the “intangibles” department, the effort on the pitch that is more difficult to quantify.
The Red Bulls roster stayed relatively intact between 2015 and 2016 that new acquisitions rarely saw time on the pitch. Alex Muyl, the homegrown product and rookie from Georgetown, fit right into the first team thanks to two years in the Red Bull academy system before moving to college. Muyl saw playing time in 27 matches, scoring two goals and assisting in six.
Scoring seven goals and claiming a clean sheet in the same game has to come with a certain level of satisfaction of a job well done. Doing so against a cross-town rival and in their home has to feel euphoric! Josh Saunders and company saw no answer to the onslaught of goals from five different Red Bulls that match...a match in which every single substitution scored.
Possibly the worst time to have a bad game, the Red Bulls had two of them in the playoffs against the Montreal Impact. The midfield were pressed constantly, the offense were shut out for long stretches of time, and the defense allowed three goals in only five shots on target during the entire 180 minute affair.
Not much is expected to change, aside from a few depth pieces. The Red Bulls have a solid core of players at relatively low cost to their competitors, and are widely ranged in terms of age (Robles, the oldest player on the team, is only 32). Given the rise of production in their academy system, signing some high dollar foreign DP (like in the past) would possibly disrupt their current momentum and team cohesion; do not expect any big splash in cash. Barring any sort of untimely slump in performance, this club has the potential to lift another Supporters Shield and make an MLS Cup final.
Goal of the Year:
Talk about a tale of two seasons. In 2015 Colorado was dead last in the Western Conference and had the second worst point total in MLS at 37 points. Fast forward to 2016 and Colorado was fighting for the Supporters’ Shield and finished with the second highest point total in the league only behind Shield winners FC Dallas. The Rapids made it to the Western Conference finals but lost Tim Howard due to an injury sustained in a USMNT match and eventually fell to would-be MLS Champions Seattle Sounders 3-1 on aggregate goals. Even though they didn’t win any trophies, there’s simply no way to classify this season other than a huge success for the Rapids. Grade: A-
Shkëlzen Gashi. This one was difficult because the Rapids are such a balanced team. But when you look at the turnaround for the Rapids from 2015 to 2016 it’s clear that Gashi integral to their success. The Swiss international signed with the Rapids as a designated player in early February and mostly lived up to the hype. Gashi was the Rapids’ leading scorer with nine goals on the year while adding an additional four assists. His creativity in the midfield is something the Rapids are fortunate to have. It would be fantastic to see him paired with a serious goal-scoring threat in 2017.
Tim Howard. Could it be anyone else? Okay, it could have been team MVP Gashi, but the long-awaited return to MLS for the USMNT legend couldn’t have gone much better. Howard came over from EPL side Everton on for a nominal fee of $600,000 and stepped into a team that was squarely in the hunt for a Supporters’ Shield. He put up an impressive 1.12 goals against average, right in the midst of the top keepers in MLS. Were it not for his injury sustained with the USMNT, there’s a real possibility the Rapids could have beaten the Sounders and advanced to MLS Cup.
August 6. A week after their 15-game unbeaten streak was snapped by NYCFC (more on that in a moment), Colorado got back to their winning ways with a dominant 2-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps. While a 2-0 score line isn’t especially impressive on its own, it was the way the Rapids won after such a terrible loss that makes this their best performance of the year. Colorado outshot Vancouver 23-7 throughout the game and earned zero yellow cards to Vancouver’s three. Marlon Hairston scored his third goal in four games just before halftime to give Colorado the lead, and Dominique Badji added an extra insurance goal in the 60’ to seal off the game
July 30. Coming into the match on a 15-game unbeaten streak, the Rapids were feeling good and looking like the team to beat in MLS. However, weather delays and Frank Lampard had other ideas as New York City FC beat Colorady 5-1. Lampard opened the scoring in the 28th minute, his first goal of his eventual hat trick. Michael Ariza was shown a second yellow a short while later in the 37th minute, and it was all downhill from there. NYCFC would add two more goals in the first half, and Lampard would score two goals in the 81’ and 84’ respectively to add insult to injury.
The loss of Jermaine Jones to the LA Galaxy isn’t ideal, but despite his great play throughout the year he was well past his prime. The core of the 2016 squad is coming back. Assuming Tim Howard has a full recovery from his injury, they’ll be set in goal. The biggest missing piece for the Rapids is a consistent goal-scoring threat. Gashi had some stunners in 2016, but the team needs a double-digit goal scorer. If the Rapids can bring in a top scorer with their available DP spot, the sky is the roof for this team in 2017. They should make the playoffs and have a chance to go deep if things go right.
Goal of the Year:
Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake limped to the finish line in 2016, finishing 6th in the Western Conference. They were then dumped from the playoffs by LA Galaxy leaving a shroud of uncertainty heading to 2017. Being a playoff team in the West is something to be proud of but it felt like there was so much more for this RSL team in 2016 that was left on the table.
Joao Plata. Plata scored 9 goals, tying him for the team lead with Yura Movsisyan, and added 9 assists to take home the team’s Golden Boot. The diminutive striker was healthy in 2016 and it showed on the field with a stellar season. He was the only RSL player to score in MLS, US Open Cup, CONCACAF Champions League, and MLS Cup Playoffs during 2016.
Yura Movsisyan left Real Salt Lake on New Year’s Day 2010 after winning MLS Cup in 2009 and spent time at Randers, Krasnodar, and Spartak Moscow before eventually returning to MLS in 2016 on loan (which later turned in to a permanent transfer). The 29 year old Armenian scored 9 goals in 27 matches and his leadership and experience are a huge boost to RSL.
2-1 win over Colorado Rapids on August 26. RSL won the Rocky Mountain Cup by beating their rivals Colorado in August, after splitting the first two meetings in 2016. After falling behind early, Yura Movsisyan scored twice while Nick Rimando made 6 saves to give the Claret and Cobalt the rivalry cup (despite missing two penalty kicks).
RSL missed a home playoff game by 2 points in the standings and their 1-0 loss in Houston on May 14 can be looked back on as vital points dropped. The game was delayed a day after storms in south Texas and RSL came out flat and looked lifeless in a loss to the team who finished last place in the West.
Jeff Cassar is back as RSL head coach but he’ll have a new cast to work with. Burrito Martinez is gone but there is still some firepower in Utah. Plata, Movsisyan, and MLS stalwarts Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando are a foundation to build on. Jordan Allen and Aaron Maund are good young players who could blossom in 2017. If the rumors of Landon Donovan signing with RSL are true, this could be a very fun team to watch. Another playoff appearance is definitely doable with a run to the Western Conference championship as a best case scenario in my opinion.
Goal of the Year:
Toronto FC’s 10th season in MLS will go down as one to remember for the players, management and most importantly, their long suffering fans. It seemed rocky at times with injuries and international duty plaguing the lineup for long stretches, but Coach Vanney managed to squeeze just enough potential out of the youth in the ranks to stay in not only the playoff mix but also the Supporters’ Shield. Another MVP calibre season from Seba Giovinco in addition to incredible playoff performances from Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley led the Reds to their first ever MLS Cup appearance. With cap room to move and the core of the team essentially completely in tact, 2017 may hold yet another special season, hopefully filled with many more playoff victories in store. Grade: A
MVP: It’s got to be Sebastian Giovinco and it’s shocking he didn’t win back-to-back league MVP as well. Even having been out for a significant period of time this season, the Atomic Ant still managed to put up 17 goals and 15 assists, adding 4 goals and 4 assists in the playoffs. But you’ve got to give Jozy some credit too. Having been held off the score sheet for half the season, Altidore’s numbers coming off his latest hamstring injury were immense. His 10 goals and 5 assists in the regular season were impressive, but it’s his 5 goals and 4 assists in 6 playoff games that spoke even louder. His critics owe him an apology.
Newcomer: Considering the only real ‘newcomer’ was Panamanian midfielder Armando Cooper, I guess he wins it by default. However, his Central American flare to the game and creativity were an added spice to TFCs already potent attack. Armando’s biggest contribution came in the playoffs as he fired in his first goal as a Red against hated rivals Montreal Impact and helped shift momentum to the homeside. After having his loan picked up, it’s obvious that much more will be expected of him in 2017.
Best Performance: Was it the 8 game slump-busting hat trick performance by Sebastian Giovinco in a 4-1 victory vs. DC United in July, or was it the 5-0 savage beating laid on NYCFC at Yankee Stadium in the playoff? You could also make the argument that it was the 5-2 victory over the Montreal Impact to send the Red to the MLS Cup Final as well. To be honest, any of the above are good choices.
Worst Performance: It has to be the 2-1 defeat against a 9 man San Jose Quakes. A woeful performance that stung long after the final whistle. It’s not often that a team plays worse while up a man, let alone up 2 men. It’s quite the skill, really.
Next Season Best Case: There’s no denying that Toronto FC is primed for another run at MLS Cup. In addition to keeping the group together, the team has a new sense of chemistry and fight in them. They played for the fans, for the city and for each other. Since losing Will Johnson and likely re-signing Benoit Cheyrou to a significantly smaller cap hit, the cap room gives GM Tim Bezbatchenko the ability to add more key pieces. If all goes according to plan and the Reds can avoid a MLS Cup hangover like the one Columbus experienced in 2016, the fans of TFC are in for another treat of a season in 2017.
GOTY: Toronto fans were treated to an abundance of riches in terms of Goal of the Year contenders. In all honesty, nearly every Giovinco goal should be in the conversation. By the narrowest of margins though, it was Jozy Altidore’s cannon of a volley against NYCFC at Yankee Stadium in the playoffs that deserves the honour. Shoutout to Jonathan Osorio’s dangles against Chicago and Will Johnson literally breaking his leg to give TFC the Voyageurs Cup victory in Vancouver.