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Eastern Conference Preview: 5-1

What can we expect in 2016 from the teams that finished at the top of the Eastern Conference in 2016?

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

New England Revolution

The 2015 season was a roller coaster ride for the Revs. First they started poorly, and then they had a 9-game unbeaten streak, then a streak of twelve games with only 1 win, then a run of 6 wins, followed by a slump to end the season and an early playoff exit. The funny part was that this should've been a stable team after their 2014 MLS Cup appearance and minimal roster turnover. The rest of the East simply got better and passed them by.

A healthy, in-form Jermaine Jones was needed to unlock the most from the attacking players. His acrimonious departure would've been devastating if not for the emergence of Scott Caldwell and the signing of Gershon Koffie. Caldwell, the third-year homegrown who appeared in all 34 regular season games, was named team MVP by the fans and his teammates. Koffie is a sneaky-good box-to-box midfielder who is underrated due to being eclipsed by his former midfield partner Matias Laba.

New England has a number of young players who can provide a big impact, including Juan Agudelo, Kelyn Rowe, Andrew Farrell, and Diego Fagundez. Charlie Davies is back to scoring goals, but hit a streaky patch and was benched in favor of Agudelo. Lee Nguyen regressed to the mean last year, but was still one of the top attacking midfielders in the league, providing 7 goals and 10 assists.

Bottom Line: New England should be a playoff team, but needs to avoid the up-and-down runs of form that threw last year off the rails.

D.C. United

Few pundits expected D.C. to contend for a title, with their budget-conscious collection of veterans. But United surprised everyone, spending the longest amount of time at the top of the table despite never quite playing eye-catching soccer. Ben Olsen's side spent the season grinding out results, including a bizarre victory in Montreal in which they only took one shot.

Chris Rolfe provided what little imagination there was on the squad, leading the team in goals. Fabian Espindola was the other attacking threat up top. Perry Kitchen added bite in defensive midfield, but unfortunately has spurned offers from D.C. this offseason to try his luck in Europe. Taylor Kemp and Sean Franklin ran the flanks and contributed dangerous crosses.

Unfortunately for fans in the nation's capital, D.C.'s pragmatic approach was not enough to down the high-flying New York Red Bulls in the Playoffs. United didn't possess much creativity, and faltered down the stretch, slipping down the table.

Luciano Acosta is the most exciting signing of the off-season. He arrives on a season-long loan from Boca Juniors and could be the playmaker D.C. United has been lacking. Another economic veteran comes to D.C. in the form of Marcelo Sarvas. Patrick Nyarko will provide pace to stretch defenses from the wing. Lamar Neagle replaces Chris Pontius. With Perry Kitchen's defensive cover missing this season, Kemp and Franklin might not be able to be as unleashed. Bill Hamid is going to be out for the first two months of the season, so don't expect D.C. United to get out to the same high-flying start.

Bottom Line: Can D.C. United grind out results down the stretch? Whatever happens, it probably won't be pretty.

Montreal Impact

Every MLS fan's favorite CONCACAF Champions League team last year, Montreal were in last place in the MLS table at the same time they were competing in the CCL final. Cameron Porter's dramatic stoppage-time winner against Pachuca in the quarterfinals sparked the epic "Marquons L'Histoire" campaign.

Montreal's MLS season didn't take off until the summer arrival of the incomparable Didier Drogba. Summer signings rarely work in MLS, but Drogba is of course an exception. Drogba scored 11 goals in 11 appearances, pulling Montreal up the table. Laurent Ciman, the adventurous center back, earned MLS Defender of the Year honors. Donny Toia stood out, locking down the left flank.

After a scare that Drogba was departing the team, in the offseason, Impact fans took a sigh of relief when he decided to remain. There is no replacement for Drogba. Harry Shipp will provide attacking unpredictability from the midfield. Many of Montreal's key players are over 30, like Drogba, Ciman, Ignacio Piatti, Marco Donadel, and Nigel Reo-Coker.

Bottom Line: The MLS season is a long haul; can Montreal's aging players stay healthy and consistent? With Drogba scoring a goal a game, Montreal will always have a chance.

Columbus Crew

A strong season that included knocking out the playoff's hottest team, Drogba's Montreal Impact, and then the Supporters' Shield winner New York Red Bulls ended in heartbreaking fashion with two quick goals conceded off of mistakes in MLS Cup. What was the secret to Columbus' deep playoff run? Before the 2015 season kicked off, the Crew acquired proven striker Kei Kamara, who racked up 22 goals, 8 assists, and an MLS MVP finalist nomination.

Columbus began the season with some bumps, especially on defense. In the summer, the Crew picked up right back Harrison Afful and center back Gaston Sauro, who shored up the defense before the playoffs. Adding these key players to a core featuring Michael Parkhurst, Wil Trapp, Tony Tchani, Ethan Finlay, and Federico Higuain proved to be the difference between a mid-table team and an MLS Cup contender.

The biggest offseason departure for the Crew was backup forward Jack McInerney, who has been replaced with the thuggish Conor Casey and a Norwegian with a promising last name, Ola Kamara.

Bottom Line: Big changes were not needed for a team expected to challenge for the top of the Eastern Conference again.

New York Red Bulls

Red Bull fans began the 2015 season by protesting the abrupt dismissal of Mike Petke. They lampooned Sporting Director Ali Curtis' 300 page plan, saying, "He's not cut out to run the New York Red Bulls." Without Thierry Henry, how could the team compete in the crowded Eastern Conference?

Ali Curtis and coach Jesse Marsch brought in several important players before the year began. They traded with Marsch's old team, Montreal, to get Felipe. As part of the same trade, they went to the top of the allocation table to acquire Sacha Kljestan. They strengthened the defense by signing Damien Perrinelle, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, and Ronald Zubar after the departure of Jamison Olave. Mike "Grelladinho" Grella came back from England and was signed after a successful trial.

The 2015 season turned into an incredible success for RBNY. They flew out of the gate with a 7-game unbeaten run. Homegrown Matt Miazga grew into a star defender. Grella and Lloyd Sam had career years at winger. Bradley Wright-Phillips, who many expected to drop off completely after the departure of Thierry Henry, scored 17 goals which was good enough for fifth in the league. Dax McCarty ran the midfield, completing a high volume of passes each game with accuracy. Luis Robles was named Goalkeeper of the Year and was called into the USMNT at year's end. The Red Bulls scored more goals than anyone else and led the league in goal differential, winning the Supporters' Shield.

With Matt Miazga leaving for London and Damien Perrinelle injured to start the season, the biggest question mark for the Red Bulls is at central defense. They brought in Ghanaian international Gideon Baah and still have Zubar, who have been playing together in preseason. Everyone else is returning.

Bottom Line: The New York Red Bulls should once again be fast, strong, and dangerous.