Season Preview - Part 2

The time of the year has come where all MLS fans look upon the new season with hope and intrigue. Could this be the year for your favorite team? Who knows. Our staff breaks down each team in MLS in our five part preview. Each preview has four parts: Offseason Grade, Key Player, Best Case Scenario, and Bold Prediction. 

NYCFC

Offseason Grade: B+

NYCFC’s woes since entering the league have all come down to their complete inability to stop teams from scoring. The 57 goals they allowed last year was the most in the league, but they still managed to climb all the way to second in the east and 4th overall in the SS standings. Obviously priority one in the offseason was addressing their flimsy defense. Gone are Josh Saunders, and Jason Hernandez and arriving are Sean Johnson and Alexander Callens. Was this a net gain? On paper it certainly seems so. The Frank Lampard came and went without much to speak of in the end, The former Chelsea midfielder called time on his career, and NYCFC went out and bought Maxi Moralez to replace him. Moralez has a good pedigree and his diminutive stature has already drawn extremely premature comparisons to Sebastian Giovinco. He joins Alexander Ring, Yangel Herrera, and Rodney Wallace in a new and younger midfield squad that will be competing hard for starting spots, and should give Vieira a lot of tactical flexibility.

NYCFC did very well this offseason. They held on to their best assets, and look to have (at least on paper) improved some of the weak links in the squad.

Key Player: Sean Johnson

Saunders did ok statistically, and probably did a better job than most people gave him credit for, but that shaky presence behind the defense could never be far from his back 4’s mind. Sean Johnson had a bright start to his MLS Career and although the brakes have been pumped a good bit on the Milkman’s hype train, there’s a real opportunity here for him to prove that he belongs in the upper echelon of MLS Goalkeepers.  Also, you know, David Villa will probably score a lot of goals.

Best Case Scenario:

I know it’s early years for the Citizens, but there’s a lot of money being thrown at this project and I think they’re going to be a team that contends for an Eastern cup final and a playoff run. This is one of those teams that anything less than a SS or a MLS Cup should be considered a failure.

Bold Prediction:

I know this seems crazy, but it is my belief that at the end of this season NYCFC will not have conceded the most goals in the league. I think the backline appears to be in better shape. This isn’t necessarily a wild prediction but I think Pirlo probably loses his starting job at some point this year as well.

- Ian L. 

Colorado Rapids

Maybe it’s the overtaxed and legal weed, or maybe it’s the altitude, but the strange consensus in Denver is that the Rapids have reason to be optimistic in 2017. Really, the mission is to prove that 2016 wasn’t just a flash-in-the-pan, one-off, one-night-stand, once-in-a-blue-moon, it’s-the-last-day-of-band-camp-and-I’ll-never-see-you-again type of season. In fact, little has changed in Colorado.

Seriously. The feeling is that the squad that essentially carried the Rapids to the seconds-best record in MLS a season ago can reach those heights in 2017 and remain virtually unchanged in doing so.

Offseason grade: B-

Colorado hasn't made an actual transaction since the end of January. This is middle of the road. Nothing spectacular. They've done the basics, and done them well, but haven't gone above and beyond. Let's explain: Jermaine Jones and Sebastian Le Toux were the two largest losses for Mastroeni. Nana Boateng, a young, Manchester City-produced, box-to-box center midfielder will join the rotation with Michael Azira and Sam Cronin. Don't forget the fact that Azira and Cronin were arguably the best CDM pairing in MLS last year, with an oft-injured Jermaine Jones making cameo appearances in between. However, Pablo managed to work without Jones by mid season last year, and they will get on fine without him. So, Boateng will add depth, at least for now. Plus, there is the American Highlander that is Alan Gordon. He is goals off the bench incarnate, and should be expected to fill that role superbly in Commerce City.

Key Player: Shkelzen Gashi

At nine goals and four assists he was the most productive attacker on a team that was tied the second worst goals scored in the league just a season ago. Plus, he was involved in exactly 33% of Colorado’s goals.

Best Case Scenario: Rapids win the West and accomplish what they could not last season

They are banking heavily upon the squad and chemistry remaining after a very successful year. Ultimately, they still face stiff competition in Dallas and Seattle, two teams that heavily bolstered their squads in the offseason.

Bold Prediction: Colorado will go unbeaten at home in 2017

They've already done it once, and have the deepest back line in MLS. Also, Pablo will enter a dark phase in his life which will begin with an overgrown beard, Bea Arthur neck tattoo, and copious mason jars full of craft gin on the sideline, endearing himself to hipsters in Colorado and Portland simultaneously.

- Cory Jensen

Columbus Crew SC

Offseason Grade: B

Defensive depth was a huge issue going into the postseason for the Columbus Crew, but head coach Gregg Berhalter and his team were able to secure a few new players into the fold. However, the Crew is a very young team, and lack of experience from the new signings may cause some growing pains as the 2017 season progresses. If they had picked up an additional veteran player to help mentor the younger players, the offseason may have received a higher grade.

 Key Player: Zack Steffen

Last year, goalkeeper Steve Clark played all but two games for the Columbus Crew, but left for the Danish Superliga in the offseason. Zack Steffen was signed by the Crew in the middle of the 2016 season, but never saw the field for MLS play. He has started two of the three preseason games this year, and must mature quickly to fill in the gap Clark left in order for the Crew to have a successful year.

Best Case Scenario:

The Crew had a rough go at it last year and did not qualify for the playoffs, but the team had hosted the MLS Cup final the season prior. A realistic best case scenario would be going beyond the first round of the playoffs. Hopefully Crew head coach, Gregg Berhalter, can help steer his young team in the right direction and add a little more stability to this franchise to get back to the playoffs.

 Bold Prediction:

With all the new faces and young talent in this team, I’m predicting at least 3 players with double digit scoring totals this year. Last year, Ola Kamara ended the season with 16 goals, but the next closest goal scorer was Ethan Finlay with 6 goals. If this young team can learn to work together and learn from the veterans on the squad, it would be reasonable to believe that they can spread the wealth and score more goals overall.

- Britt Jo

San Jose Earthquakes

Offseason Grade: B

The Earthquakes fired their GM John Doyle back in lateAugust and hired former AS Roma executive Jesse Fioranelli in early January. Fioranelli wasted little time after seeing the big gap at the striker position. With Quincy Amarikwa’s unfortunate injury last season, the Quakes could only look to Chris Wondolowski to take on all of the scoring responsibilities. However the U.S. international couldn’t be expected to do it all on his own so the new GM brought in strikers Danny Hoesen from the Netherlands and Marco Urena from Costa Rica. It has yet to be seen how these two new strikers will fit in MLS and even more so how they will fit in Dom Kinnear’s system, but it must be a huge relief to have some depth behind Wondolowski. The Quakes did pick up former Real Salt Lake player Olmes Garcia in the Re-Entry Draft, but with the two new striker signings, it seemed highly unlikely that the team needed Garcia’s services anymore and they released him.

With the offense taking shape, Fioranelli’s next quest was signing right midfielder Jahmir Hyka. The Albanian attacker scored in preseason, but don't get too excited, it's been mentioned that his transition to the starting lineup will be slow but eventual.

The Quakes also managed to lockdown Panamanian centerback Harold Cummings with a multi-year contract. They also brought in German player and former Darmstadt of the Bundesliga player Florian Jungwirth. Jungwirth is an interesting signing since it's been said he can play any of the defensive positions including left back and right back. This should give Dom Kinnear some much needed flexibility along his backline.

Lastly, Fioranelli brought in rookies Jackson Yueill and Lindo Mfeka from the Superdraft. Jackson Yueill who was the #6 overall pick will probably see a bit more playing time than the #28 overall pick Mfeka, but both should be excellent options for Kinnear in the midfield.

Key Player: Simon Dawkins

Depending on the formation that Dom Kinnear intends to play, Simon Dawkins could play a major role in San Jose’s success this season. Last year a major problem was getting the ball to Wondolowski. It seemed like they just bombed the ball into the box and hoped for the best. This year with new attacking pieces in place, it should give Dawkins the chance to combine with his teammates and get them into good positions. However, I will say that if rookie Jackson Yueill finds a starting spot, that he could be even more impactful than Dawkins. He's looked dangerous in preseason and had a filthy assist in his first appearance of preseason giving us a glimpse of what he has to offer. Since we don't know how Kinnear intends to use him, Dawkins has to be my choice for key player.

Best Case Scenario: Sneaking into the Playoffs

The usually very strong Western Conference is very different this year. We have an LA Galaxy without Bruce Arena. We have an FC Dallas without Mauro Diaz that also has its eyes set on Concacaf Champions league. There is expansion team Minnesota United that many expect to perform poorly. We can't also forget about the aging Real Salt Lake and well...the Vancouver Whitecaps in general aren't expected to do well. No one knows how the season will pan out, but there is a chance that San Jose could sneak in.

Bold Prediction: Jackson Yueill Wins Rookie of the Year

If you couldn't tell by now, I'm very high on Yueill’s potential. After watching him get a hat trick of assists in just 32 seconds while playing against college powerhouse Akron, I've been nothing short of impressed. He has also been known to play some wicked “no look” passes, and he can tear defenses apart with his dribbling. He’s a very good passer of the ball and he also has the ability to score. I could even see him on set piece duty for the Quakes. I'm very excited to see how he does in the big leagues, and I see Kinnear eventually having no choice but to play him. If you think I'm crazy, take one look at this video of his insane performance against Akron. Make sure to see his 4th assist and then tell me you aren't impressed.

 

- Anne Marie