2022 MLS Eastern Conference outlook: Can New England Revolution remain successful with Lletget and Altidore?

Nashville SC are gone from the Eastern Conference and Charlotte FC have been welcomed to the league, but one conference go deeper this offseason. With both the reigning supporter’s shield and MLS Cup winners in the East, it’ll be tough for everyone else to unseat them. Exciting signings such as Xhereden Shaqiri (Chicago Fire), Thiago Almada (Atlanta United) and Lorenzo Insigne (Toronto FC) will do their best to dethrone NYCFC and topple the New England Revolution. 

We’re looking at a deep conference where almost every team made offseason upgrades. With the new season set to begin on Saturday, let’s check in on each team and their outlook for 2022.

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The order below is based on how they finished last season:  

New England Revolution

Key Additions: Sebastian Lletget, Omar Gonzalez, Jozy Altidore

Key Departures: Tajon Buchanan, Teal Bunbury

What to expect: Following a season during which the Revs won the Supporters’ Shield while breaking the all-time points record, they head into this season with one of the most stable squads. There will be movement as Matt Turner will head to Arsenal when the summer transfer window opens. Grabbing Jozy Altidore may have given Toronto FC some salary relief. Keeping Adam Buska, Gustavo Bou and reigning league MVP Carles Gil will help Bruce Arena keep a potent attack, but they’ll need to play differently with Sebastian Lletget replacing Tajon Buchanan on the roster.

The sparkplug of the roster, Buchanan scored nine goals and dished out five assists. And while Lleget is a different type of player, that’s a lot of production to lose and subsequently replace. Arena is getting the band back together but this doesn’t feel like a club that can hit the highs of last season. 

Philadelphia Union 

Key Additions: Julian Carranza, Mikael Uhre

Key Departures: Alavas Powell, Kacper Przybylko, Jamiro Montiero

What to expect: I’ll give you two guesses to see what position the Union wanted to improve most over the offseason. The team was a middle-of-the-road scoring side in MLS and Przybylko struggled as a lone striker. So adding Mikael Uhre from Brondby and taking a flier on a loan for Julian Carranza will revamp the forward corps as Jim Curtin brings back almost his entire squad that made the Eastern Conference finals.

Losing Jamiero Montiero to San Jose for a meager return seems like a large loss, but with the 4-4-2 diamond formation staying for another season, he wouldn’t have a guaranteed starting spot with Jose Martinez, Leon Flach, Daniel Gazdag and Alejandro Bedoya locked into the starting lineup. It’s a testament to the depth on the team that a Designated Player can be traded with the expectation that youth players can fill in their minutes, but that’s thanks to the depth of the Union academy.

Sprinkle youngsters such as Jack McGlynn and Paxten Aaronson along with one of the best defenses in the league due to Andre Blake between the sticks, this is a Union team poised to compete for a title. 

New York City FC

Key Additions: Thiago Martins

Key Departures: James Sands, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi

What to Expect: This is a tough team to assess. Golden boot winner Valentine Castellanos returns after bids from River Plate and Palmeiras were rejected, but they could return in the summer leaving a large hole in the New York attack. One of the most consistent teams in the league, it’s safe to expect that NYCFC will make the playoffs, but how much upside they have will depend on how young guys such as Tayvon Gray and Talles Mango perform.

Thiago Martins is an interesting addition and I’m curious if Ronny Diela will roll out a three-in-the-back occasionally to cope with the loss of Sands. This season could also be quite an opportunity for Keaton Parks to step up. While he was good on the attacking side, improvement in the defensive side of the game will round Parks into a complete midfielder, possibly filling the void that Alex Ring left a few years ago.

Atlanta United

Key Additions: Andrew Gutman, Osvaldo Alonso, Ronald Hernandez, Thiago Almada

Key Departures: Anton Walkes, Ezequiel Barco, George Bello, Franco Escobar

What to Expect: As always, this is one of the most talented squads in MLS. But can they pull the talent together on the field soon enough and avoid digging themselves into a hole in the East? Thiago Almada, 20, is an extremely talented addition to the roster, joining from Velez after scoring seven goals and assisting six more last season. Partnering with Josef Martinez could form one of the most potent attacks in the league. 

But most of my concerns rest on the defensive side, with numerous departures from the backline during the offseason. They were smart loaning Andrew Gutman to New York to get his feet wet in MLS again, but with how good George Bello was on both sides of the pitch, it’ll be interesting to see if he can adequately fill that void. Walkes and Escobar provided great depth as well so they may struggle if they get hit with significant injuries.

Orlando City

Key Additions: Cesar Araujo, Facundo Torres, Ercan Kara

Key Departures: Nani, Chris Mueller, Daryl Dike

What to Expect: They are replacing a ton of attacking talent, and with chemistry being so important in a front three, you almost have to judge the Lions based on what they’ve done before and after the summer. Kara has already picked up an ankle sprain during preseason so he’ll be eased into things. He is too important to risk a chance of a major injury, especially since there is an adequate backup for a few games in Pato. Kara scored for fun with Rapid Wien, so Oscar Pareja will hope that he can fill the Dike void while also turning Orlando into a more flexible attacking unit.

With a talented midfield supporting this attack and a good defense anchored by Pedro Gallese, there is room for error if things don’t click early on. Orlando could finish anywhere from top three in the East to missing the playoffs, depending on how things pan out. Pareja is a great coach who isn’t afraid to mix things up though so I’d bet on them finishing higher in the table.

New York Red Bulls 

Key Additions: Caden Clark lol, Carlos Coronel, Lewis Morgan, Luquinhas, Tom Edwards

Key Departures: Andrew Gutman, Sean Davis, Daniel Royer, Kyle Duncan

What to Expect: You know what you’re going to get from the Red Bulls, which is a compliment in a league as unpredictable as MLS. They’re relentless on the press, leading to great defensive numbers, but they level a lot to be desired defensively scoring only 39 goals last season, which was fourth-worst in the Eastern Conference. The hope is that Luquinhas will fill the creative void vacated by Kaku going off the rails after the 2019 season. Luquinhas is a good-not-great creative force joining from Legia Warsaw. He is a progressive passer that can help move turnovers created pressing into dangerous attacks.

New York will be another team looking to salvage another Inter Miami player in Lewis Morgan, who will look to create chances while also shooting when he gets into space, hopefully replacing Daniel Royer’s production. But in the most MLS transaction of the season, New York had to trade allocation money to bring Caden Clark back on loan from RB Leipzig, which has hurt their ability to get more attackers in. This means that Patryk Klimala will start the season as the point forward despite only scoring eight goals last season. If a 15-goal scorer emerges on this team, look out.

D.C. United

Key Additions: Brad Smith, Haden Sargis, Michael Estrada, Taxiarchis Fountas

Key Departures: Paul Arriola, Kevin Paredes

What to Expect: This feels like a year of disappointment for D.C. United. After spending all offseason dangling Ola Kamara, they’re set to open with him leading the line for another year. The concerns with his playing style not being team-oriented enough for Hernan Losada’s are fair, but it’s always weird to start a season with someone who you openly didn’t want on the roster. Arriola will be a great example of D.C. not knowing what they had until it’s gone. His leadership and versatility will be just as hard to replace as his six goals and four assists. Brad Smith can do a lot of good things, but he’s not as good on the dribble as Paredes was to make something out of nothing.

Sargis is a talented young defender making the jump from the USL Championship and will push for first-team minutes as well. Like Toronto, D.C. has the issue where their most talented signing won’t be joining until later in the season. Taxiarchis Fountas has been signed to a pre-contract agreement from Rapid Vienna but he isn’t guaranteed to join until the summer, bringing a major goal threat to the lineup. If he and Estrada hit the ground running and the midfield of Russel Canouse and Moyses Nyeman can handle the minutes they’ll be required to play, this is a team that could be solid but they’ll be happy to make the playoffs.

Columbus Crew

Key Additions: Erik Hurtado, Milos Digenek, Yaw Yeboah

Key Departures: Milton Valenzuela, Harrison Afful

What to Expect: The Crew had a lot of outgoings, but most won’t move the needle on their expectations this season. Caleb Porter will expect to play a 4-2-3-1 where Darlington Nagbe and Gyasi Zardes are again key players around Lucas Zelarayan. A true MVP candidate, Zelerayan will be instrumental to everything that they do. He upped his production with 12 goals and four assists and will hope that the addition of Yeboah will take some pressure off of him on the scoring front.

Yaw Yeboah is an intriguing addition coming from Wisla Krakow. The young Ghanaian scored 10 goals and assisted five more in 50 appearances for them but will need to up his goal output if the Crew will rebound from missing the playoffs. While Milton Valenzuela didn’t want to be with the team, his loss will still be felt in a big way this season. 

CF Montreal 

Key Additions: Alistair Johnson, Kei Kamara

Key Departures: None

What to Expect: Wilfred Nancy has something special brewing in Montreal. A possession-based team with a stout defense will usually do well in MLS and you can just look at the Union or Nashville as examples. Getting Alistair Johnson for operating between a back-three and a back-four will add flexibility to the team, especially if Djordje Mihailovic can replicate last season which saw him grab four goals and 13 assists. He’s showing that he can be a top-tier creator in this league.

Scoring is the issue here for Montreal. Romell Quioto and Mason Toye knocked in more than seven goals in 2021, but no one else broke four goals. The hope is that Kei Kamara will be able to steady the scoring, but this is a team that is a designated player at striker away from running the Eastern Conference for years to come.

Inter Miami

Key Additions: Mo Adams, Jean Mota, Bryce Duke, Christopher McVey, Damion Lowe, Emerson Rodriguez, Leonardo Campana, DeAndre Yedlin, CJ dos Santos

Key Departures: Julian Carranza, Kelvin Leerdam, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Ryan Shawcross, Fredrico Higuian, John McCarthy

What to Expect: We did a bit of a deep dive on Miami and anything could happen this season as they look to rebound from sanctions from the league and rebuild. A lot of pressure will be on Damion Lowe and DeAndre Yedlin as the internationals look to improve the defense, but this year is all about Phil Neville setting the foundation for a new culture at the club. As David Beckham is committed to Neville in charge, this is a team that will live and die by his decisions.

Campana will have big shoes to fill replacing the goal output from Lewis Morgan while also helping take pressure off of Gonzalo Higuain, but with all the turnover, this is a team that should be judged on moments of looking like a competent unit instead of wins and losses.

Chicago Fire

Key Additions: Rafael Czichos, Kacper Przybylko, Xherden Shaqiri, Jairo Torres

Key Departures: Robert Beric, Francisco Calvo, Ignacio Aliseda

What to Expect: When one of the most exciting members of the team to watch this year is the talented keeper Gabriel Slonina, that tells you everything that you need to know about the Fire. They’ve revamped the entire attack with Shaqiri and Przybylko, so they should be able to score a few goals. Issues will arise when it comes to preventing them. Young designated player Jairo Torres is a fun addition from Atlas in Liga MX, but I’m hesitant to put too much pressure on young players coming into areas that need as much change as Chicago.

Shaqiri will get his goals, but again, he won’t improve the defense. Rafael Czichos looks like a steady addition but he’s also likely not a major upgrade from Francisco Calvo who left and joined San Jose. Things may be looking up, but they’re in for a tough season. At least they have a good logo and jersey to look at.

Toronto FC

Key Additions: Shane O’Neill, Lorenzo Insigne (joining in the summer), Lukas MacNaughton, Carlos Salcedo, Jesus Jimenez

Key Departures: Justin Morrow, Mark Delgado, Yeferson Soteldo, Jozy Altidore, Auro, Richie Lareya, Omar Gonzalez, Nick DeLeon

What to Expect: Bob Bradley brought the wrecking ball to this roster after taking over. But did Toronto shed too much talent too quickly? Yeferson Soteldo had to leave to make room for other additions, and at least brought a recognized defender in Carlos Salcedo to a team that needed it. But losing Mark Delgado, Richie Lareya, Auro and even Altidore won’t be easy. If Kemar Lawrence isn’t retained, it leaves Toronto wildly short on the defensive end.

The attacking talent on the roster will be off the charts with Ayo Akinola leading the line, but almost everything else is a question mark. By the time that Insigne joins this summer, I’d expect Toronto to be too far behind to make a serious playoff run.

FC Cincinnati

Key Additions: Alec Kann, Alavas Powell, Ray Gaddis, Dominique Badji

Key Departures: None of their offseason departures were of note.

What to Expect: The little Union are coming. With Chris Albright taking over as general manager and Pat Noonan joining as their head coach, it seems like Cincinnati will take up the 4-4-2 diamond and become a pressing team. On paper, this is good but as the Union learned more than three years ago, Haris Medunjanin is a great passer but a major defensive liability. They’ll score some goals and Kann will be an upgrade in net, but transitioning into this style takes two or three years to stick.

It’ll be a season with good and bad moments. Expect occasional breakdowns, as someone forgets their pressing assignment will happen a lot, but the left side of Ronald Mararrita, Kubo and Brenner could be legitimately fun to watch this season. At least that’s something to look forward to. A lot will be asked of Lucho Acosta, but if he doesn’t show what’s needed, there’s plenty of money in the bank for a new 10.

Charlotte FC

Key Additions: Karol Swiderski, Anton Walkes, Daniel Rios

Key Departures: Riley McGee

What to Expect: When the key soundbite to emerge from preseason is your coach saying his squad is “screwed,” that says all that you need to know about what kind of season looms. They were “screwed” from the start since Riley McGree had no intentions on coming to MLS after interest was shown by European sides. As early days have shown with Middlesbrough, he would’ve been a nice addition to the roster. Charlotte also saw a deal for Darwin Machis collapse, leaving Swiderski as their only designated player to start the season.

Walkes will be a good addition to the defense, but he can’t do it all on his own. Charlotte will need to do their best to not get demoralized by the lumps that they’ll take opening the season. They did make an intriguing add at the last second acquiring Rios from Nashville. A depth player for Nashville, Rios scored five goals last season and can bring more options to a light attack while also getting a chance to be a full-time starter for them.

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