The Western Conference has a new face in Nashville SC as part of realignment with expansion side Charlotte FC joining the fray. Most teams will probably wish that Nashville didn’t join the West as they’ll be a tough addition. The Sounders got stronger, Douglas Costa has joined the Galaxy and the Rapids will need magic to remain atop the conference. But how will everyone do this year? We already have you, so let’s check in on the West (order based on last season’s finish):
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Key Additions: Max Alves, Aboubacar Keita, Bryan Acosta
Key Departures: Kellyn Acosta, Dominique Badji, Cole Bassett,
What to Expect: The Rapids had everything in their favor to build on a year that saw them come out of nowhere and win the Western Conference. Instead, they lost their most talented midfielders and may have downgraded with their replacements. Bryan Acosta may be a useful addition but he’s not going to adequately fill the void from Kellyn Acosta or Cole Bassett. Getting to see the Rapids on the field twice already in Concacaf Champions League has reinforced that they need finishers.
They lost on penalties to a 10-man Comunicaciones side starting close to a full-strength lineup. Up a man for 74 minutes, they couldn’t get the job done despite a strong defensive performance. In a Western Conference loaded with top-tier attackers, the Rapids will struggle to keep up.
Key Additions: Albert Rusnak, Obed Vargas
Key Departures: Shane O’Neill, Brad Smith
What to Expect: They continue to show why they have one of the best front offices in MLS. As if a front line of Jordan Morris, Raul Ruidiaz and Nicolas Lodeiro wasn’t good enough, they’ve gone and added the top free agent on the market in Albert Rusnak. Sporting a cool 41 goals and 39 assists over 140 regular season games for Real Salt Lake, he’s shown that he can be nightmare for opponents.
Support that with Joao Polo, new homegrown signing Obed Vargas and Christian Roldan and it doesn’t matter what the defense looks like. But if you’re curious, Seattle only allowed 33 goals last season — one of the best figures in MLS. This team is primed to win the West and anything short of it will be a disappointment. If there’s one concern for Seattle it’s depth in defense as Shane O’Neill and Brad Smith could provide good cover if there are injuries but score enough goals and it won’t matter.
Key Additions: Ben Sweat, Robert Voloder, Marinos Tzionis, Nikola Vujnovic
Key Departures: None
What to Expect: They have a really good roster which features two of the best wingers in MLS, Johnny Russell and Daniel Salloi. The two combined for 31 goals and 14 assists which is quite an impressive number. But likely losing Alan Pulido for the season to a knee injury is a massive blow to an attack that could be a three headed monster especially when their next best forward last year was Khiry Shelton. Along with Nikola Vujnovic and Marinos Tzionis, someone will need to step up to be the third key cog in that attack.
The midfield behind them is solid and Peter Vermes always has the team ready to play, and just when we finally thought we wouldn’t have to ask the question of where Sporting’s goals would come from, here we are again. At some point, I wouldn’t be shocked by a Dom Dwyer reunion.
Key Additions: David Bingham, David Ayala
Key Departures: Diego Valeri, Steve Clark
What to Expect: The Timbers lost one of the best keepers in MLS and a franchise legend. In an effort to fill that void, the organization subsequently has a dark cloud hanging over them as they’re under fire for their handling of Andy Polo’s domestic violence allegations. Tough waters to navigate while also attempting to improve a team that feels like its window is closing. The Chara brothers aren’t getting any younger and the defense wasn’t particularly good last season. Credit must go to Gio Savarese for sorting things out in playoffs last year, but if Sebastian Blanco misses significant time, the Timbers could be in for quite a slide.
David Bingham is a fine keeper who can be erratic at times while Steve Clark was as steady as they come even though he’s had some high-profile mistakes. Lots of pressure will be on Felipe Mora and Darion Asprilla to continue putting the ball in the back of the net as they are set to be a wild ride of 5-4 wins or losses.
Key Additions: Sean Davis, Teal Bunbury
Key Departures: Alistair Johnston
What to Expect: Moving to a new conference may be a blessing in disguise for Nashville. One of the best defensive teams in the East last season, this is a team that embraces its identity and Gary Smith is one of the best coaches in the league. Having an MVP candidate who was responsible for 26 goals last season in Hany Mukhtar doesn’t hurt either. Randall Leal, CJ Sapong and Teal Bunbury provide just enough in attack to give Mukhtar the space he needs to operate while the defense and midfield grinds teams to a pulp which is how they drew 18 games last year.
Sean Davis is a coup of a signing which will prevent any drop-off as Dax McCarty gets a year older. Johnson heading to Montreal hurts their depth a bit, but given how they have made stars out of bargain buys, I’m not concerned about how they’ll replace him. This is a playoff team and a title contender.
Key Additions: Bongokuhle Hlongwane, Abu Danladi, Oneil Fisher, Kervin Arriaga, Luis Amarilla
Key Departures: Ethan Finlay, Osvaldo Alonso, Jan Gregus
What to Expect: The Argentine duo of Emanuel Reynoso and Franco Fragapane are not only two of the best names in MLS but they’re two of the most talented players in the league as well. That being said, Reynoso may have his time cut short as his arrest for assault in December is still being reviewed. At the moment, he’s allowed to play but that could change at a moment’s notice. Also changing Minnesota’s outlook is the departure of Ethan Finlay who provided wing depth for the Loons. The defense has taken a hit with Osvaldo Alonso not on the squad and it already wasn’t particularly good with him.
Kervin Arriaga, Wil Trapp and Hassani Dotson have the makings of a good midfield, but Tyler Miller needs to be ready to make saves. My biggest gripe with this team is coaching because Adrian Heath hasn’t been able to push a talented roster as far as he should be.
Key Additions: Tristan Blackmon
Key Departures: Maxime Crepeau
What to Expect: Losing one of the best keepers in MLS and adding a solid-but-not-great defender and not really doing much else isn’t what the doctor ordered for the Whitecaps. Brian White and Cristian Dajome made up one of the best counterattacks in the league as changing their coach to Vanni Sartini was the shot in the arm that the team needed. But the newness has worn off and with other teams in the West — specifically those in California — getting better, I’m expecting quite a slide from the Whitecaps.
They’ll hopefully make more additions before the transfer window closes in May but this is a middle-of-the-road team at best right now.
Real Salt Lake
Key Additions: Scott Caldwell, Sergio Cordova, Johan Kappelhof
Key Departures: Albert Rusnak
What to Expect: Losing Albert Rusnak’s output is quite a blow for RSL, especially as he goes to an already stacked Western Conference team. While they were mostly fine in the playoffs without him, Damir Kreilach will be the most important man in MLS as he’ll likely be responsible for close to 50 percent of the team’s goals. Justin Ream and Rubio Rubin will make up a fine attack while Sergio Cordova and Bobby Wood will fight for playing time.
Chief MLS troublemaker David Ochoa will keep getting in attacker’s heads while putting up good goalkeeping performances — all while being protected by Justen Glad. This team eked into the playoffs last season and is likely looking at a bottom-half finish this year.
Key Additions: Kelvin Leerdam, Raheem Edwards, Mark Delgado, Douglas Costa
Key Departures: Oniel Fisher, Daniel Steres, Ethan Zubak, Sebastian Lletget, Jonathan dos Santos
What to Expect: Flashy but not always effective is the Galaxy way. I’m not sold on the addition of Costa from a Gremio side that was relegated in Brazil while he was involved in five goals across 20 starts. In fact, Costa hasn’t been involved in more than five goals since the 2017-18 season where he made 31 appearances for Juventus before his European tumble began. This is a boom-or-bust move that’ll show if he still has anything left in the tank as Greg Vanney will give him every chance to succeed in an attack that wants to push the pace.
Chicharito leaves a good bit of room for error with the 20-goal potential at his feet and Kevin Cabral will make a solid third option in the attack. Vanney grabbing his old boys Raheem Edwards and Mark Delgado will raise the team’s levels a lot while Kelvin Leerdam also brings a solid attacking option from the defense. It’s sad that the Lletget era is over in L.A., but adding Delgado there will ensure that they doesn’t miss a beat as they’ll try to make their return to the playoffs.
Key Additions: Maxime Crepeau, Ryan Hollingshead, Doneil Henry, Ilie Sanchez, Kellyn Acosta, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Franco Escobar
Key Departures: Raheem Edwards, Jordan Harvey, Eduard Atuesta, Tristan Blackmon, Bryce Duke
What to Expect: New coach Steve Cherundolo will have quite the roster to work with, but questions over Carlos Vela’s future will hang over their heads this season. Vela’s contract is up in June and he has played coy on what he will do. Considering how much time he missed with injuries, the front office is also waiting to see if they’d like to extend him but it’s a tenuous situation for the club captain. The defense let LAFC down last year and they’ve improved it in a massive way with Crepeau and Hollingshead. They’ve also filled their midfield voids with Kellyn Acosta and Ilie Sanchez.
This team is an MLS Cup contender and a big reason behind that is Cristian Arango who scored 14 goals in 17 games last year. He won’t keep that pace up but that won’t keep them from being a top-tier attack in the league. Getting guys with MLS experience instead of expensive imports will also help Cherundolo’s transition to MLS too. Rounding things out with Latif Blessing makes this is a well-rounded squad on paper if they can play to their potential.
San Jose Earthquakes
Key Additions: Jan Gregus, Francisco Calvo, Jamiro Monteiro
Key Departures: Chris Wondolowski
What to Expect: “I have 10 months before I’m free … I can’t avoid that there are people that try to sign us as a coaching staff. I was very clear at the end of last season with both the owner and GM, and I was very clear with them at the beginning of this season,” said head coach Matias Almeyda during media availability the week of the season starting. That is a head scratcher to say the least. This team is in for a wild ride (as per usual) with the coach hanging them out to dry. If Almeyda isn’t lying, he should be let go now so a committed coach can make decisions that impact the team in the long term.
Outside of Cade Cowell and Jackson Yueill, there isn’t a lot to get excited about for a team that will figure out a way to play six midfielders at some point this season with the addition of Jan Gregus. Jamiro Monteiro is a solid add from Philly and Roger Espinoza is talented, but the Quakes run a bad system and seem to be sticking with a coach who is too busy picking out his next job.
Key Additions: Nanu, Paul Arriola, Alan Velasco, Maro Farfan
Key Departures: Ricardo Pepi, Justin Che, Ryan Hollingshead
What to Expect: Dallas is spending that Ricardo Pepi cash in a big way. While they lost a lot between Pepi and Justin Che’s ability to carry the ball out of defense, it’s hard to not be excited about the direction this Dallas squad is going in. Jesus Ferreira will get help on both wings in Alan Velesco and Paul Arriola, the defense gets legit dribbles at fullback with Marco Farfan and Nanu. And, oh yeah, Paxton Pomykal is still there.
If everyone is healthy, Dallas might struggle to make the playoffs due to growing pains, but this is a team that got a lot better in the offseason and is finally showing that it can spend cash.
Key Additions: Ethan Finlay, Maxi Urruti, Jhojan Valencia, Ruben Gabrielsen, Damian Las
Key Departures: Tomas Pochettino, Matt Besler
What to Expect: Even without Pochettino — who wasn’t very good during his time in Austin — this is a fun attack. Diego Fagundez, Sebastian Driussi and Cecilio Dominguez know how to operate in space and cause issues for opponents. The problem is that after that, there isn’t much to like about this squad. Ethan Finlay adds good depth but the loss of Matt Besler is a big one and Alexander Ring can’t defend everything.
This team likely will come in at the bottom of the conference unless Jhojan Valencia and Ruben Gabielsen turn out to be world beaters in defense.
Key Additions: Zeca, Daniel Steres, Steve Clark, Sebastian Ferreira
Key Departures: Maxi Urruti, Boniek Garcia
What to Expect: Houston got better in defense with the Steve Clark addition and they’ve also dipped into the international market with club record signing Sebastian Ferreira. The Paraguayan forward has a great scoring record (27 goals, seven assists) over the past two years at Libertad. At only 24, there’s plenty of room for him to grow as well. The Dynamo are also courting Hector Herrera which would be a big addition in the summer both on and off the field for them.
But outside of Ferreira, the attack is OK and the defense still leaves much to be desired even with the addition of Zeca. Much more work needs to be done for this Texas club to get out of the bottom spots in the West.