By Mike Rice.
Of the 28 teams in Major League Soccer, 14 qualify for the playoffs. Those who missed out have had a long wait for the end of February to come around this year and get back to competitive soccer.
It’s been a long time since the last regular season game on October 9th last year and many teams have been through considerable roster turnover in preparation for 2023.
The new season kicks off on February 25, and preseason has been in full swing for a while.
In MLS those at the bottom don’t have relegation to worry about. Love it or hate it that’s how it is, and those at the bottom of the table will have the chance to compete for the playoffs again in 2023.
The four teams who finished in those bottom places have had a full off-season to prepare themselves for the new season. Moving on unwanted players, bringing in new signings, while some of them replaced their head coaches.
Wayne Rooney arrived in 2022 to the side with whom he was once a Designated Player, but he couldn’t do anything to stop them from ending up rock bottom of MLS in 2022.
They managed 27 points across their 34 games, seven points adrift, and had the unwanted records of fewest goals scored and most conceded in MLS.
Positives: Christian Benteke will have more service this season. Left-back Mohanad Jeahze is a strong attacking fullback who will deliver a lot of crosses, Ruan upgrades right-back with a lot of pace, and Mateusz Klich could improve the centre of midfield.
Negatives: The defence is still very questionable. Derrick Williams has been brought in to improve and lead the defence but was not at all convincing at LA Galaxy last season.
Their fullbacks are better going forward than out-of-possession and they need Tyler Miller to really step up quickly in goal after a year on the bench in Minnesota
2023 Improvement? I can’t see it. Rooney struggled with what he had last season, and they are relying on Benteke to hit 15-20 goals which he has only done twice in his career. Another season as a wooden spoon contender is on the cards.
The Italian revolution in Toronto came too late in the season to have a big enough effect to get them higher up the table.
Defensively they were a nightmare at times and have moved on a lot of players. They have brought in experienced talent in MLS and their young players got a lot of opportunities last season to be prepared for 2023.
Positives: Sean Johnson and Matt Hedges have been brought in and will provide quality and experience at the back. There was too much chaos in defence last season, and while Hedges is having to settle into a new system for the first time since being drafted by FC Dallas in 2011, they look to be in a better place to compete.
Negatives: Central midfield depth. With Jonathon Osorio, Michael Bradley, and Mark Anthony Kaye as a trio they have a playoff-level midfield. If someone is injured, suspended or in need of some rotation, the level really drops off.
2023 Improvement? 100%. They should be looking to compete for a playoff spot this season. Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernadeschi are two of the best wingers in the league and have settled in after arriving mid-season last year and they have a far better defence.
San Jose Earthquakes
Luchi Gonzalez finally takes over. The Mathias Almeyda experience ended, and the club waited out the year to get the head coach they wanted when he finished his time with the United States men’s team.
Their attack has been quality, but their defence has been the issue, and while they’ve been quiet in the transfer window, they have added quality in areas of need.
Positives: Johnathon Mensah and Carlos Gruezo improve the defensive spine of the team in centre-back and central midfield.
Negatives: Depth in some areas, like left-back and centre-forward. Young players will get the chance from an academy system that’s been incredibly impressive.
2023 Improvement? It certainly looks like it. With a change in system for the Almeyda years, they look more settled and ready to challenge for the playoffs in the West. Not a guarantee by any means, but the gap will be a lot closer if they miss out again in 2023.
BREAKING: The San Jose Earthquakes have agreed a deal for defender Jonathan Mensah in a trade with the Columbus Crew, per sources.
Mensah, 32, made 159 apps with the Crew, winning 2020 MLS Cup. Mensah in last year of his contract, SJ would cover total salary. pic.twitter.com/Wv3UkMguir
— Tom Bogert (@tombogert) February 10, 2023
Dynamo fans saw Paulo Nagamura fired before completing his first full season as an MLS head coach and now have Ben Olson leading the team. Pat Onstad chose Olsen, with whom he previously worked at DC United.
Bad contracts have limited the types of signings they could make but a lot of changes behind the scenes have been made with an eye on long-term stability and improvements.
Positives: Added some depth in key areas with Artur coming in from Columbus Crew and Ivan Franco on loan from Libertad in Paraguay.
Negatives: Still a low-quality MLS roster. There is not a central midfielder who can link the midfield and attack, they have three banks of positions that aren’t connected on the field.
2023 Improvements? Doubtful to no chance. It’s going to take a lot for Olson to improve this side and having lost Tim Parker, their depth at centre-back is worryingly thin. Hector Herrera needs to play a heck of a lot better this season, but can he be the link into the forward line?