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FourFourTwo's MLS 2015 season preview: Eastern Conference team by team

Chicago Fire

CHICAGO FIRE

Nickname The Fire

MLS since 1997

Stadium Toyota Park (20,000)

Coach Frank Yallop

2014 East: 9th, Overall: 15th

So, what's the story?

One-time MLS champs Chicago have never managed to reclaim that glory. Stuck as a middling club through the last half-decade, the Fire are looking in 2015 for simple relevancy. 

 

What happened last season? 

Draws. The Fire were the MLS’s titans of ties in 2014, setting a league record by collecting a whopping 18 stalemates from 34 matches. 

 

Expectations this time

Head coach Frank Yallop, a veteran of three MLS teams, has a mandate to rebuild but lacks a big budget. The Fire might expect to make the play-offs, but no one will be surprised if they don’t. 

 

Star man

Mike Magee. The 2013 MLS MVP nearly pushed the Fire into the play-offs that season after moving over from the LA Galaxy partway through the campaign. He was injured most of last year, so the club will need a big season from their best goalscorer.

Recent East champs

2014 DC United

2013 New York Red Bulls

2012 Sporting Kansas City

2011 Sporting Kansas City

2010 New York Red Bulls

2009 Columbus Crew

2008 Columbus Crew

2007 DC United

2006 DC United

2005 New England Revolution

New kid on the block
There are a host of new faces in Chicago, but the biggest name to sign up this winter is former Wigan man and Scotland international Shaun Maloney. 

Did you know? 

The Fire are the only expansion team to win a championship in their first year of existence (Houston don’t count).

Columbus Crew SC

COLUMBUS CREW

Nickname The Black & Gold

MLS since 1996

Stadium Mapfre Stadium (19,968)

Coach Gregg Berhalter

2014 East: 3rd, Overall: 7th, Play-offs: Conference semis

So, what's the story?
Having rebranded in the off-season from plain old 'Columbus Crew' to 'Columbus Crew SC', Major League Soccer’s lone Ohio representatives are a league original who usually manage to punch above their relative weight. 

What happened last season? 

The Crew bowed out of the play-offs in the Eastern Conference semi-final round to eventual MLS Cup finalists New England. On the whole, they impressed and were one of the surprises of the season.

 

Expectations this time

Very high. Columbus seem poised to take the next step, especially with head coach Gregg Berhalter in his second season and a number of important reinforcements to the roster. 

 

Star man

Federico Higuain. Gonzalo’s brother is the star creator in the centre of the pitch for Columbus, a massive figure who literally made the team go last year. Always good for a handful of stunning goals – he likes a good chip.

New kid on the block
Forward Kei Kamara. Technically a returning player (he suited up for Columbus from 2006-2007), Kamara might be the lead striker Columbus need to put them over the top: the position was a major weakness last season.

Did you know? 

When it opened in 1999 as the Crew Stadium (it’s now the MAPFRE Stadium for sponsorship reasons), Columbus’s home ground was the first soccer-specific stadium in Major League Soccer. 

D.C. United

D.C. UNITED

Nickname Black-and-Red

MLS since 1996

Stadium RFK Stadium (45,596)

Coach Ben Olsen

2014 East: 1st, Overall: 3rd, Play-offs: Conference semis

So, what's the story? 
With four MLS Cup titles, D.C. United are one of the league’s most successful teams. Sadly for the capital club, their last championship came in 2003, and while they still pop up to compete for silverware on occasion, United has struggled to keep up with a changing MLS.

What happened last season? 

Shockingly, United followed a historically bad 2013 season by finishing first in the Eastern Conference in 2014. Sadly, first place didn’t buy them much come play-off time: they immediately lost to the hated Red Bulls in the conference semis. 

 

Expectations this time

It’s difficult to imagine United replicating their 2014 season, but anything short of a play-off spot would be a disappointment. The target is a top-three finish. 

 

Star man

While there are several above-average players in the squad, none particularly stand out. Keep an eye on Argentine forward Fabian Espindola, however – before injury limited him last season, he was the focal point of the United attack.

New kid on the block

Of the new arrivals, Michael Farfan is interesting: after a stint in Philadelphia and Mexico, the technically-gifted but maddeningly inconsistent midfielder could be poised for a breakout.

 

Did you know? 

United’s majority owner, Indonesian media mogul Erick Thohir, also owns a controlling stake in Italian giants Inter. 

Montreal Impact

MONTREAL IMPACT

Nickname L’Impact

MLS since 2012

Stadium Saputo Stadium (20,521)

Coach Frank Klopas

2014 East: 10th, Overall: 19th

So, what's the story? 

Simply put, the Impact occupy a vibrant, soccer-mad city but are too often undone by organisational incompetence. Through three seasons since joining MLS in 2012, Montreal have made the play-offs just once. 

 

What happened last season? 

In 2014, L’Impact finished last in the Eastern Conference and dead last in the league’s combined table. After yet another coaching change and questions over the direction of the team, owner Joey Saputo also shook up the club leadership.

 

Expectations this time

Something better than last place. This being MLS, the play-offs would be nice.

 

Star man

Argentine Ignacio Piatti joined late in 2014 and didn’t get much of a chance to help the Impact. Heading into his first full season in MLS, he’s now the key to Montreal’s attack. In addition to pulling the strings, Piatti needs to score a few goals with Marco Di Vaio gone.

Eastern Table, 2014

1 DC United 59 

2 New England Revolution 55 

3 Columbus Crew 52 

4 New York Red Bulls 50 

5 Sporting Kansas City 49 

6 Philadelphia Union 42 

7 Toronto FC 41 

8 Houston Dynamo 39 

9 Chicago Fire 36 

10 Montreal Impact 28

New kid on the block

Marco Donadel joins after a long career in Italy to bolster the Impact midfield with a wealth of experience. A defensive midfielder by trade, Donadel will help protect an Impact backline remodelled after it failed to impress in 2014.

 

Did you know? 

Club owner Saputo founded the first version of the Impact in 1993.

New England Revolution

NEW ENGLAND

Nickname Revs

MLS since 1996

Stadium Gillette Stadium (20,000)

Coach Jay Heaps

2014 East: 2nd, Overall:5th, Play-offs: Runners-up

So, what's the story? 
The Revolution are Major League Soccer’s current 'It' team. An impressive young coach leads impressive young talent, playing an impressive, attractive style. New England hopes being 'It' will finally bring them a title: the Revolution are zero for five in MLS Cup finals.

What happened last season? 

A loss in an MLS Cup final. A second-place finish led to New England blitzing Columbus and squeaking past the Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference play-offs before landing in LA to face the Galaxy, who triumphed through Robbie Keane’s extra-time winner.

 

Expectations this time

Sky-high, up to and including the club’s first championship. Not only have they kept every key piece of their 2014 team, but they’ve added some firepower that could help push them over the top. 

 

Star man

Midfielder Lee Nguyen deserves ample credit for the season New England put together in 2014, which not only earned him MVP finalist consideration, but put him back on the USMNT map.

 

New kid on the block
The Revolution’s most important new player just so happens to be a former Revolution player. Striker Juan Agudelo, who left New England and MLS at the end of 2013 to try his luck in Europe, returns to the fold for 2015. 

Did you know? 

The Revolution are the only original MLS team to use the same logo as they did in 1996. 

New York City FC

NEW YORK CITY

Nickname

MLS since 2015

Stadium Yankee Stadium (27,528)

Coach Jason Kreis

2014 -

So, what's the story? 

One of two new entries for 2015, New York City FC is City Football Group’s foray into the American soccer market. The club boasts American legend Claudio Reyna as technical director, rising coaching star Jason Kreis on the sidelines, and enough money to bring in big-name talent.

 

What happened last season? 

Nothing: they’re new. Kreis spent last year preparing for 2015 by spending ample time in Manchester learning from City’s coaching staff. 

 

Expectations this time

Expansion teams aren’t supposed to succeed out of the gates, but NYCFC has enough talent that they could buck conventional wisdom. Considering the handicaps of throwing together a new squad, a play-off berth would be a significant achievement. 

 

FEATURE New York nixed: how the Big Apple got bruised

Star man

David Villa will play the full season for NYCFC, so the Spanish striker gets the nod over Frank Lampard. Lampard will arrive eventually, probably when Manchester City’s season is over, at which point NYCFC will have a one-two punch of star power. 

 

New kid on the block

Every single player. 

 

Did you know? 

For the privilege of placing a team in New York, City Football Group paid a record expansion fee of $100 million. 

New York Red Bulls

NEW YORK RED BULLS

Nickname Metros

MLS since 1996

Stadium Red Bull Arena (25,000)

Coach Jesse Marsch

2014 East: 4th, Overall: 8th, Play-offs: Conference final

So, what's the story? 

Since their days as the Metrostars, the Red Bulls have always managed to come up short of expectations, either through folly or inopportune mediocrity. The club is entering a new era after four years of the Thierry Henry experience, and doing it with new head coach Jesse Marsch.

 

What happened last season? 

Following their first-ever major trophy, the 2013 Supporters Shield for topping the regular-season league table, the Red Bulls hit the play-offs again in 2014 as the Eastern Conference’s fourth-placed team. After exorcising their play-off demons against D.C. United, they came up a goal short of beating the Revolution in the conference finals.

 

Expectations this time

Pulling back from their big-spending ways (Tim Cahill followed Henry out the door), the Red Bulls are in a transitional period. They look like a play-off team, but some turmoil in the off-season brought on by the firing of the much-loved head coach Mike Petke means this year is something of crapshoot.

Star man
No Henry and no Cahill makes Bradley Wright-Phillips the Red Bulls’ biggest star – interesting mostly because he made his name in MLS rather than abroad. Last time out, in his first Stateside season, BWP scored 27 league goals – not just the top scorer, but equalling the MLS record. 

New kid on the block

Midfielder Sacha Kljestan, who will slot in alongside Dax McCarty in the centre of the Red Bulls line-up. Kljestan left MLS (for five years with Anderlecht) as a creator, but returns as more of a box-to-box player.

 

Did you know? 

Henry was known to ride the commuter train from Manhattan to Red Bull Arena. 

Orlando City

ORLANDO CITY

Nickname

MLS since 2015

Stadium Citrus Bowl (61,348)

Manager Adrian Heath

2014 -

So, what's the story? 

Orlando City is the other new expansion team for 2015, jumping into the Eastern Conference along with NYCFC. Club chairman Phil Rawlins built Orlando City into an MLS expansion team after three years playing in the lower-tier USL.

 

FEATUREWhat Kaka and the MLS can expect from Orlando City

 

What happened last season? 

In 2014, Orlando City was a USLPRO side drawing a few thousand fans a game while finishing first in the regular season of what is nominally America’s third division. Mostly, they were preparing for their first MLS campaign.

 

Expectations this time

Like NYCFC, Orlando City have an eye on flipping the usual expectations for an MLS expansion team. They’ve built a solid squad in Central Florida and could hover around the play-off places for much of the season. 

Star man

There is only one, and his name is Kaka. The former World Player of the Year looks thrilled to be in Florida, where he’ll not only receive a nice pay-packet, but can visit Disney World with his family whenever he pleases. 

 

New kid on the block

All of them. Hi! 

 

Did you know? 

Orlando City president Phil Rawlins also sits on the board of Stoke City.

Philadelphia Union 

PHILADELPHIA UNION

Nickname Zolos

MLS since 2010

Stadium PPL Park (18,500)

Coach Jim Curtin

2014 East: 6th, Overall: 12th

So, what's the story? 

In 2011, the Union joined the league to much fanfare, much of it resting on the back of their supporters group, the Sons of Ben. Since, they have fumbled their way to a reputation for underachieving and an inability to identify a quality coach who can take them forward.

 

What happened last season? 

A host of new additions failed to bring Philadelphia their second play-off appearance. In August, head coach John Hackworth was replaced by local soccer product Jim Curtin; Philly finished in sixth place, seven points off the play-off places.

 

Expectations this time

The addition of another play-off spot and the arrival of two expansion teams should mean an established team like the Union can get themselves back into the post-season… but expectations are low.

 

 

Star man

The Union’s top player remains Sebastien Le Toux. Now well into his second spell at the club, the French forward is loved in Philadelphia for his hustle and enthusiasm, which perhaps makes him the perfect 'star' player for the blue-collar city.

 

New kid on the block

Former Rookie of the Year CJ Sapong joins Le Toux in the forward corps after moving over from Sporting Kansas City this winter. Sapong will have pressure to help with the scoring load, though the jury’s out on whether he can handle it.

 

Did you know? 

Philadelphia’s official motto is “jungite aut perite”: “join or die” in Latin.

Toronto FC

TORONTO FC

Nickname Reds

MLS since 2007

Stadium BMO Field (21,556)

Coach Greg Vanney

2014 East: 7th, Overall: 12th

So, what's the story? 

Try as they might, Toronto FC just can’t ever seem to get themselves into the play-offs. Nothing has worked, including hiring well-regarded coaches with continental ideas, hiring less-regarded coaches with simple ideas, and spending lots of money. 

 

What happened last season? 

Another season without a play-off berth, despite the club dropping millions to bring in Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley. Defoe got injured, while Bradley went away to the World Cup and probably played hurt for most of the year. 

 

Expectations this time

Challenge for, and hopefully make, the play-offs. Yet more money has been spent, with Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco now expected to push the Reds into the post-season.

Star man

Whatever contributions Altidore and Giovinco make, TFC’s chances this year will probably hinge on the effectiveness of Bradley, a player who carries immense responsibility from the centre of the pitch.

 

New kid on the block

The focus is on Giovinco, a tiny Italian forward of small stature who found himself unneeded in Turin and decided to take a chance on Toronto. While getting paid handsomely, of course. 

 

Did you know? 

Toronto average more than a coach a year, with nine men having held the job in eight MLS seasons.

 

MLS Western Conference: team by team