Finishing with only 30 points, the Chicago Fire earned less than one point per game in 2015. They were downright horrible. Huge changes have taken place since the end of the season, including the hiring of U-20 World Cup winning coach Veljko Paunovic. Over half of the roster has departed, such as left back Joevin Jones, 10-year MLS veteran Jeff "Big Red" Larentowicz, and fan favorite "Yer a Wizard" Harry Shipp.
Underrated striker Gilberto returns after arriving in Chicago in the summer due to the Fire's failure to acquire Didier Drogba. David Accam, one of the speediest players in the league, will look to shake up defenses once again after scoring 10 goals in 24 games in his first season in MLS. Matt Polster was one of the best rookies on the league last year, demonstrating excellent vision and passing from defensive midfield. Another reason for excitement in Bridgeview is the drafting of US international left back Brandon Vincent, who by all accounts looks like the real deal.
Eric Gehrig is the only returning defender, so the backline will have several new faces. The departure of Shipp leaves a hole in midfield which will be filled by Ajax academy product John Goossens, who scored a 35-yard dipping volley in preseason but most recently played in India and Romania. 19-year old homegrown US youth international Collin Fernandez will get some time at attacking mid as well. Cover and cohesion is lacking everywhere, with only 21 players on the roster and 10 of them newcomers.
Bottom Line: Fans in Chicago hope that they don't finish in last place again, but they might.
In Jim Curtin's first full year as a head coach, the Philadelphia Union stumbled to a second-to-last place finish. He stubbornly stuck to a 4-2-3-1, leaving either C.J. Sapong or Fernando Aristeguieta on the bench for a team struggling to score goals. The players never settled in their roles, unsure of whether to push forward or cover. Philadelphia finished last in the league in possession with a measly 46.3%.
In the offseason, Earnie Stewart, in the role of Sporting Director, has jettisoned half the roster. Assist generator Cristian Maidana and jack-of-all-trades Andrew Wenger were sent to Houston Dynamo. The club's first ever homegrown player, Zach Pfeffer, was traded to Colorado Rapids. Loans for foreigners Steven Vitoria and Aristeguieta were not extended.
Josh Yaro and Keegan Rosenberry were drafted from the stalwart Georgetown defense. Yaro's arrival means Maurice Edu can return to a defensive midfield role. The acquisition of attacking midfielder Roland Alberg is the beginning of Earnie Stewart's Dutch moneyball influence. Chris Pontius could provide some attacking verve if he can stay healthy. CJ Sapong is the only option at forward.
Bottom Line: The turnaround for Philly has just begun. Stewart and Curtin have trimmed the fat and brought in several young players. The playoffs are not yet a realistic target.
There was no way for an expansion team to live up to the outrageous expectations that were laid upon NYCFC. Big Apple-sized controversy plagued this team, like Sheik Mansour preventing Jason Kreis from fielding a balanced team and the Frank Lampard transfer farce. The European influence is now in full effect with the installment of Patrick Viera, who is apparently changing the team's formation to a high-pressing 4-3-3 designed to funnel the ball through Lampard and Pirlo.
The problem in the first year was the shaky defense that allowed 1.64 goals per game, tied for third worst in the league. Josh Saunders was the busiest keeper in MLS with 123 saves. Andoni Iraola arrived in the summer to shore up right back but only played 9 games due to injury. Belgian centerback Frederic Brilliant was brought in this offseason to replace Shay Facey. Diego Martinez, arriving from River Plate, and Costa Rican international Ronald Matarrita will compete for left back.
In preseason, Viera has deployed Kwadwo Poku next to Lampard, with Pirlo sitting underneath. If this trio leads to the defensive frailties that plagued them last year, expect Viera to station the pragmatic Andrew Jacobson at the base of the pivot with Lampard and Pirlo ahead of him. Mix "Nordic Messi" Diskerud and Tommy "The Mullet" McNamara are options off the bench. If anything, you can be sure NYCFC has the best hair in the league.
David Villa contributed 54% of the team's goals and will be asked to do it again. Khiry Shelton was used mostly off the bench last year, but will be the right winger in the new 4-3-3. Patrick Mullins is probably the starter at left wing.
Bottom Line: With a few backline upgrades, a full preseason for Pirlo and Lampard, and the emergence of Poku, NYCFC has a chance to make the playoffs in year two. However, foreign coaches do not typically do well in MLS and the midfield might not provide reliable defensive cover.
Orlando City SC
Orlando had an excellent expansion year, with Cyle Larin setting the record for goals as a rookie, Kaka proving he can still play at a world-class level, and an outstanding average attendance of 32,847. Unfortunately, the Lions finished just five points outside of a playoff position due to a slow start and inconsistent play all season long.
The defense was the weak link in this team, allowing 56 goals in 2015. A healthy Brek Shea and a year of experience for Rafael Ramos should lead to improvement. Aurelien Collin and Seb Hines return, providing a good mix of youth and experience. Tally Hall has been replaced with Joe Bendik.
Orlando's biggest offseason signing is Antonio Nocerino, joining former Milan teammate Kaka. He should offer defensive steel in the middle along with Darwin Ceren and Cristian Higuita. Kevin Molino, finally healthy after an ACL tear ruined a promising MLS start, and Carlos Rivas will probably start on the wings. Orlando City has a deep midfield.
Cyle Larin proved that he is a complete forward in year one and is expected to put up similar numbers again. Behind him is Bryan Rochez, who massively disappointed but has the pedigree to bounce back.
Bottom Line: Expect Orlando City to fight for a playoff spot this year and finish mid-table.
Finally making the playoff for the first time in their history, things are looking brighter in Toronto. Sebastian Giovinco took the league by storm, winning the Landon Donovan MVP Award and the Golden Boot. Jozy Altidore added 13 goals in a season where, after a brace in the first week, he never looked his best. Jonathan Osorio blossomed into an essential part of the Toronto midfield.
Their 4-4-2, with Benoit Cheyrou at the base of the diamond behind Michael Bradley, was susceptible to being overloaded by teams playing with three central midfielders. Gio and Jozy didn't provide any cover. The defense gave up 58 goals, tied for most in the league. Their playoff high was quickly dashed by Drogba and Montreal.
In the offseason, the leaky backline was completely overhauled. Reliable veteran Drew Moor was brought in as a free agent. Iranian international Steven Beitashour arrives from Vancouver. Will Johnson is back in his hometown. Clint Irwin provides an upgrade from Joe Bendik.
Bottom Line: With a refurbished defense, Toronto is primed for another playoff appearance, this time with home field advantage.