Another great season of Major League Soccer has come and gone, the 20th for a league that continues to grow in support and popularity in the United States and Canada. When the final whistle blew on 2015 MLS Cup, wrapping up the season with a 2-1 victory for the Portland Timbers over the Columbus Crew, sights almost immediately began to shift towards the offseason and the impending winter transfer window. Here’s a very early look at the Eastern Conference for the 2016 season:

Note: these forecasts are completely subject to change, with offseason transactions.

Eastern Conference:

Chicago Fire – (30 pts, 10th in 2015)

Floundering to the bottom of MLS in 2015, the Fire have fallen on hard times in past years. Not only does the team struggle to draw fans, but also to attract talent and win games. However, there is talent on this team, and the right coach might be able to unlock the puzzle. With dynamic DPs David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike, along with youth in the midfield with Matt Polster and Harry Shipp, there is room to go. Chicago needs many pieces to fill out the team, and it’s looking unlikely to be done in one offseason, unless the front office decides to open up the checkbook. Look for them to take a step forward, but still remain in the basement of the East. Prediction: 9th 

Columbus Crew – (53 pts, 2nd in 2015)

It was all fun and games in Columbus this MLS season, albeit until the shocking home loss in MLS Cup. The talent will be sticking around, and one of the league’s dynamic cores will have another run at it. Look for the Crew to find some defensive help, partly with their signing of Corey Ashe from Orlando City, and perhaps some attacking midfield depth, especially if winger Justin Meram does not return. With another full season of chemistry building, Gregg Berhalter’s squad should be a formidable force once again. However, Federico Higuain will be another year older, and Kei Kamara may not score at his clip again, so the Crew must find some additional goal scoring to compensate. Look for Wil Trapp to have a season that breaks him into the US national team picture, and the Crew to keep rolling with the deep roster they’ve compiled. Prediction: 2nd

DC United – (51 pts, 4th in 2015)

The games are often not very pretty, but DC continues to get results under club legend Ben Olsen. With further investment into veterans and MLS tested players this offseason, with some infused youth, this team can once again give teams a run for their money in 2016. Perry Kitchen will be a huge loss in that midfield, but look for the front office to bring in foreign talent to the squad in hopes of finding an equivocal playmaker at a lesser cost, coupled with the acquisition of Lamar Neagle from Seattle. This also could be the year that Bill Hamid finally gets the recognition he deserves, and earns consistent USMNT call-ups. With a rebranding, featuring a sleek new logo, and buzz for the new stadium at Buzzard Point building, the DC faithful should see another playoff run at historic RFK, with a roster full of guys who know to win in this league. Prediction: 4th

Montreal Impact – (51 pts, 3rd in 2015)

The Impact started off slowly in 2015, but really came together in the stretch run of the season, fueled by the mid season signing of DP Didier Drogba. At the end of the season, they were the hottest team in the league, one that no one wanted to go up against. But, with news that Drogba may leave for a return to Chelsea in some capacity, the energy of the fanbase may fall flat, and the greener pastures that had Impact fans salivating over 2016 may vanish just like that. There is still plenty of talent on this team, including Costa Rican Johan Venegas, but without the big DP, the outcome suddenly looks bleak, and the team may be destined for a drop in the increasingly competitive East. If Drogba leaves, expect owner Joey Saputo to make a splash in the summer transfer window. Prediction: 8th

New England Revolution – (50 pts, 5th in 2015)

Taking a step back from 2014 when they went to MLS Cup, the Revolution will look at last season as a failure. The team struggled to find consistency at times, and lacked the dynamism they had with their previous iteration. Now, with Jermaine Jones leaving the club, the team lacks a fiery presence on the field and that player that can dominate a game. A couple key acquisitions to bolster the midfield and attack would be ideal, but the front office bringing in a big-spending player is not likely at this time. This team will be good next year, but nothing spectacular. Another regression may be coming, but the potential for a summer DP signing, as well as potential news on a Boston stadium site could boon the team into the playoffs, albeit with a bumpy road. Prediction: 5th

New York City FC – (37 pts, 8th in 2015)

The new kids on the block from the Bronx left much to be desired in their inaugural season. The team struggled with consistency and transparency, marred with injuries, ineffective players, and a lack of chemistry. With Patrick Vieira replacing Jason Kreis at Yankee Stadium and more changes coming to the roster, the blues look to be a different team next season. It will be interesting to see how Vieira adjusts to MLS coaching and playing styles. David Villa played admirably and Josh Saunders was heroic in net, but DPs Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard disappointed. The emergence of Kwadwo Poku will continue to be a big story, and the fan favorite may be primed for a breakout season in the light blue. Look for City to focus on its backline this offseason, as it was comically shredded by most of the league. The franchise is willing to pay, however, and talent will be infused. This new life, along with further adjustment to the league from their DPs, will allow NYCFC greater success in year two, up until the last day, but the team will fail to sneak into the playoffs. Prediction: 7th

New York Red Bulls – (60 pts, 1st in 2015)

Coming off a Supporters Shield win, the Red Bulls are riding high. Faced with plenty of scrutiny the past offseason, this one should be anything but hectic. Sure, they came up short in the playoffs, but things are looking up for a team no longer reliant on the marquee DP. The team will look to make marginal upgrades at the back, while perhaps trying to find another goal-scoring striker, a problem that bit them at the wrong time in the playoffs. Also, look for the club to find a replacement for stalwart young defender Matt Miazga, who is rumored to be heading overseas. With another offseason to build chemistry and depth, along with a full season of DP Gonzalo Veron, RBNY should be back competing for the top of the East – not to mention being set up for long-term success with a record number of Homegrown signings. Prediction: 3rd 

Orlando City SC – (44 pts, 7th in 2015)

The Lions were the other expansion team to leap into MLS in 2015, and they more than held their own. With a raucous crowd at the Citrus Bowl, the party in purple was on from matchday one. While they had their fair share of ups and downs, coupled with injuries, the team began to find its identity throughout the season, and should be a tough matchup week in and week out next season. Adrian Heath has done a tremendous job with the club to date, and another year with his young talent should push them into the playoff picture more clearly. The health and ability of Kaka will be tested, and he may regress as his age continues to climb, but look for him to provide a steadying force to mentor this young squad, with talented players such as Bryan Rochez, Carlos Rivas, and Rookie of the Year Cyle Larin. With anticipation building towards the opening of the new stadium, and more talent being brought in this offseason, Orlando will do just enough to sneak into the playoffs. Prediction: 6th

Philadelphia Union – (37 pts, 9th in 2015)

The boys in Chester, Pennsylvania have struggled over the years, and 2015 was no different. Now, with the roster being stripped down to its core and being rebuilt all in one offseason, the prospects of a successful season seem long-off. Perhaps, with the right pieces brought in this offseason, and smarter investment in foreign players, the Union can set themselves up in the right direction for a few years down the line, but 2016 should continue to feel like a rut. The team needs help all over the field, but the core that remains is promising. It will be interesting to see how US legend Earnie Stewart does in building this club. The project and futility continues. Prediction: 10th

Toronto FC – (49 pts, 6th in 2015)

2015 was supposed to be THE year. But struggles out of the gate, and incredible inconsistency throughout the season, doomed the Reds in 2015. They still managed to procure a spot in the playoffs, but the team was far too one-dimensional, relying on the magic of league MVP Sebastian Giovinco to keep them afloat. But, the energy is back at renovated BMO Field, and the offseason so far shows that TFC means business. With the acquisitions of veterans Steven Beitashour and Will Johnson, the spine of the team will be solidified next season. This, along with other anticipated moves and the return of DPs Giovinco, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore, should make fans giddy with excitement. This team is tremendously gifted with talent, and 2016 looks to be the breakout year up north. Prediction: 1st

 

Look for the Western Conference (very) early preview – coming soon!

 

Parth Shah

Spark Sports Analyst

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