2022 MLS team previews: What has your club been up to? What would be a successful season?

Friday, February 25, 2022

It has been just 77 days since New York City FC lifted the MLS Cup in Portland, but the 2022 Major League Soccer season begins this weekend.

Much has changed in this short offseason. Some big names have left, some bigger names are en route, there's a new team, and an old team has a new look.

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Sit down, grab a drink, get comfortable. With the help of Jeff Carlisle, Kyle Bonagura, Caitlin Murray, Dan Hajducky, James Tyler, Danny Guerra and Austin Lindberg, we're going to break down where each of the league's now-28 clubs stands on the eve of the new season, and what it will take for any of them to celebrate with a parade of their own come November.

Eastern Conference: ATL | CHI | CIN | CLB | CLT | DC | MIA | MTL | NE | NY | NYC | ORL | PHI | TOR

Western Conference: ATX | COL | DAL | HOU | LA | LAFC | MIN | NSH | POR | RSL | SJ | SEA | SKC | VAN

Atlanta United

What they've been up to: The Five Stripes have basically been trying to remake the team in the image of Gonzalo Pineda, who will begin his first full season as Atlanta manager after taking over midway through the previous campaign. And they've been doing it in a way that again sets the bar for the rest of the league.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +2,000

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: 5%

Biggest offseason move: Atlanta has made a few moves but none were bigger than the acquisition of attacking midfielder Thiago Almada from Argentine side Velez Sarsfield for a league-record fee of $16 million. Almost as important is who is going out the door, with Ezequiel Barco -- who never lived up to his own $15M price tag -- headed to River Plate.

2022 will be a success if ...: Atlanta returns to the league's elite.

Let's face it, the Five Stripes have struggled ever since Tata Martino left to take over the Mexico national team. The Frank de Boer era was wracked with dysfunction. The brief tenure of Gabriel Heinze was orders of magnitude worse.

Pineda is expected to fix all of that. The good news is Atlanta is still willing to spend for top talent, but the Barco and Pity Martinez experiences show that spending isn't a guarantee of anything. Free-agent signing Ozzie Alonso could be an under-the-radar acquisition that provides some glue to Pineda's side. Andrew Gutman will need to step in at left-back for departed George Bello.

More than anything, though, Pineda will need to make sure that: (1) Almada jells with the team's other attacking stars in Luiz Araujo and Josef Martinez, and (2) then ensuring that the balance in midfield is right to cover for the attacking quartet. If he can, the remaining pieces are in place with Brad Guzan in goal and Miles Robinson anchoring the back line. -- Jeff Carlisle

Austin FC

What they've been up to: Last year's expansion team (welcome, Charlotte!) has spent its first offseason adding some key pieces to a squad that will likely improve from a second-to-last place finish in the West to possible playoff contenders.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +10,000

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: <1%

Biggest offseason move: Colombian defensive midfielder Jhojan Valencia promises to stifle opponents' attacking build-ups, which should allow players like captain Alex Ring to get more involved in the attack. Valencia can also provide cover for a defensive line that is a weak spot.

2022 will be a success if ...: They solve their goal-scoring woes and push for postseason.

Ahead of the inaugural season, there was talk that Austin's well-constructed roster and the hype around town would spur the team to the playoffs. An early season-ending injury to forward Danny Hoesen left Austin in a scoring bind for the first part of the campaign. The midseason signings of Sebastian Driussi and Moussa Djitte boosted the team's form, but in the end, Austin faded to a disappointing finish and last in the league in goals scored (35).

Whether its Djitte or new signing Maximiliano Urruti up top, coach Josh Wolff will want his side to control the ball and possession and rely on the team's deep stable of midfielders (Ring, Diego Facundez and Cecilio Dominguez) to create more chances. Wolff will also need for that midfield to minimize opponents from exploiting a young but unproven back line that lost veteran MLS center-back Matt Besler to retirement.

If the goals come and Brad Stuver has another great season in the net, then it's safe to say Austin can rebound in its sophomore season. -- Danny Guerra

Charlotte FC

What they've been up to: Charlotte is officially the 28th team in MLS and has spent the past few months building a roster that is still a work in progress. The club's arrival, like any new team, carries plenty of intrigue despite the absence of many recognizable faces.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +6,600

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: <1%

Biggest offseason move: As the lone designated player on the roster, Poland striker Karol Swiderski is the default selection here. After spending a reported $5 million transfer fee to sign the 25-year-old PAOK in Greece, CLT FC has a lot riding on him.

2022 will be a success if ...: The club can capture -- and retain -- the attention of potential fans in the market. More than initial moderate success in the standings, this is what can set up a club for long-term success in MLS.

The on-field expectations were relatively low even before coach Miguel Angel Ramirez said, "Right now, we're screwed," when assessing the roster two weeks ago. With that quip firmly setting the tone, it seems foolish to expect Charlotte to seriously contend for a playoff spot, which for most teams is a low bar to clear.

As Ramirez also advised, however, the prudent approach is probably to wait until the roster is fully constructed before setting worthwhile expectations. Until there are real games to evaluate, it's unfair to make any firm conclusions just yet. -- Kyle Bonagura

Chicago Fire

What they've been up to: Firmly entrenched in a rebuild. Chicago has made the MLS Cup playoffs twice since 2010 and went all-in on attack this offseason -- about the only move there is to make for a side who tied for the second-fewest goals scored in 2021. But when you're the same side who was tied for the third-most goals allowed in the Eastern Conference, balance is vital.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +10,000

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: 2%

Biggest offseason move: "In Shaq we trust," the Chicago Fire tweeted into the ether on Tuesday. For its social-media-upending fanfare, the $7.5M, club-record move for Xherdan Shaqiri, still 30, is sensible. The Switzerland captain has two UEFA Champions League titles, a slew of domestic trophies, and the last time an atomic ant left Europe to tear up MLS, it went swimmingly for Toronto. If Shaqiri can emulate Sebastian Giovinco, $7.5M is a steal.

2022 will be a success if ...: The new faces adjust, and fast.

A lot rides on Shaqiri panning out, but there's an investment in former Philadelphia Union man Kacper Przybylko, too. Jairo Torres, 21, will join the club in early May and 18-year-old Colombian Jhon Duran comes highly rated. The offense will improve, if only because it can't get much worse: Chicago was held scoreless in 14 of 34 league matches. Former FC Cologne mainstay Rafael Czichos should shore up that leaky defense; do young Miguel Navarro and Carlos Teran play up to his Bundesliga pedigree?

Once-Sounders, Galaxy and Crew assistant Ezra Hendrickson -- who won MLS Cups with three different franchises as a player -- is a first-time head coach in the league. It'd be nice to see his much-hyped tutelage yield instant rewards.

Expectations aren't high for the Fire, which could allow them to thrive. Just likely not this year. -- Dan Hajducky

FC Cincinnati

What they've been up to: Rebuilding. Chris Albright was named GM in October (the third hire for the position in the club's three-year MLS existence), and he hired Pat Noonan as manager two months later (the fourth permanent coach in the same time frame).

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +10,000

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: <1%

Biggest offseason move: President Jeff Berding being promoted to co-CEO, which will see him focus more on the club's business dealings. Last fall, multiple sources told ESPN's Jeff Carlisle that Berding had an unhealthy influence on the technical side of the organization, a claim Berding denies. How this team comes together under Albright will reveal much about the missteps of the past and the potential of the future.

2022 will be a success if ...: Cincy doesn't finish dead last for a fourth straight season.

It's a low bar, but any sort of growth on the club's sporting side would be an improvement over the curious, disjointed rosters built in the first three years of FCC's existence. So far, though, recruitment under Albright doesn't provide much in the way of optimism.

Two of his most inspired additions come in the form of Alvas Powell and Ray Gaddis, who followed Albright from Philadelphia. They'll know what Noonan asks of his players, having served under Jim Curtin's former assistant, potentially smoothing the transition of the new manager's instructions.

Based on the team as it stands, climbing out of the basement will come down to the incremental improvements Noonan finds within it. -- Austin Lindberg

Colorado Rapids

What they've been up to: After finishing atop the Western Conference in 2021, the Rapids will have a different flavor having traded Kellyn Acosta to LAFC, loaned Cole Bassett to Feyenoord and declined the contract of Younes Namli. Notably, they did not bring in a proven No. 9 to shore up the obvious goal-scoring void.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +1,800

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: 3%

Biggest offseason move: Bassett's move is notable because it's more proof the academy (following Sam Vines' move to Royal Antwerp) can develop local players and shepherd them to Europe, but the Acosta trade to LAFC has more of an immediate impact. It's premature to fully evaluate the Acosta trade until it's clear what Colorado does with the possible $1.5M in GAM coming its direction, but losing him to a team in the same conference hurts doubly for the time being

2022 will be a success if ...: The Rapids win a playoff game.

Too simple? Maybe, but despite the brilliant regular season in 2021, the early playoff exit made it feel like it was all for naught. That's not entirely true because it earned the Rapids a berth in this year's CONCACAF Champions League, which they were subsequently knocked out of by Guatemalan side Comunicaciones.

The next step for Colorado is to make some postseason noise. Since winning MLS Cup in 2010, the club has just two playoff wins. If that doesn't change, it will be hard to be too impressed with anything else the Rapids accomplish. -- Kyle Bonagura

Columbus Crew

What they've been up to: The 2020 MLS Cup champions have been quietly recuperating following an injury-riddled 2021 season that saw them miss the playoffs, adding some squad depth and parting ways with some older players.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +3,300

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: 3%

Biggest offseason move: The Crew got younger by not re-signing a cluster of veterans, including Harrison Afful, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Vito Wormgoor. Milos Degenek, who joins from Red Star Belgrade, is an intriguing addition -- the Australia center-back will contend for a starting job alongside Jonathan Mensah from the get-go.

2022 will be a success if ...: Caleb Porter's team stays healthy and challenges for MLS Cup.

The Crew have the experience and the talent to make a deep postseason run, but now they must avoid the injury bug. Lucas Zelarayan, Darlington Nagbe and utility man Pedro Santos were reliable as ever, but Gyasi Zardes had a string of minor knocks, Artur missed (and will miss) time with a hip injury, and promising youngster Aidan Morris was sidelined by an ACL tear suffered in CONCACAF Champions League play.

The departures of Afful and Milton Valenzuela leave the team thin at the full-back positions so there will need to be some answers at those spots.

Despite missing out on postseason play, the Crew can bounce back to find their form from 2020 that saw them lift the title. Miguel Berry was a surprise revelation at striker and winger Yaw Yeboah was another key offseason add, so Porter has the pieces to make another run. -- Danny Guerra

D.C. United

What they've been up to: About as busy of an offseason as you can get. They sent Paul Arriola to Dallas for a league record $2 million in General Allocation Money, replacing his DP spot with winger Taxiarchis Fountas from Rapid Vienna. Kevin Paredes is now in the Bundesliga at VfL Wolfsburg after a $7.35 million deal, a DCU transfer record. And they brought in Ecuador playmaker Michael Estrada from Liga MX's Toluca on loan.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +3,300

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: 2%

Biggest offseason move: Any of those aforementioned moves easily fit, but trading for a dependable left-back in Brad Smith from Seattle is an under-the-radar move. Smith is a proven winner (2019 MLS Cup), and the Australian attack-minded defender should fit in second-year coach Hernan Losada's pressing, aggressive side that covers a lot of ground.

2022 will be a success if ...: Edison Flores plays a full season and leads D.C. to the playoffs.

Losada's style breathed new life into veterans such as Ola Kamara, who finished as runner-up in the Golden Boot race, and Andy Najar, who found a unique role of creating chances from a center-back position. But it remains to be seen if Kamara is in this season's plans, and with Fountas probably not joining until June, someone else will need to step up replace Arriola's work rate on the wings.

That's where Flores comes in, as he enters his third year with DCU. In two seasons he has just two goals, so it's time to step up to his DP playmaker billing. Until Losada can get all his players into the mix, it could be on Flores and Estrada to lead a side that finished fifth in goals.

Julian Gressel is the team's most reliable player and midfielder Moses Nyeman could follow Paredes in the breakout/big-move mold, so it's time for DCU to get over the hump. -- Danny Guerra

FC Dallas

What they've been up to: Spending all that Ricardo Pepi money. They paid an MLS-record $2 million in allocation money to lure Paul Arriola from D.C. United, then a reported club-record $7M transfer fee for Argentinian winger Alan Velasco. A bunch more players have come in and out.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +6,600

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: 3%

Biggest offseason move: Adios, Ricardo Pepi. When FC Augsburg offers you a $20 million transfer fee for a 19-year-old you developed in your academy, you've got to take it. It's unclear if Dallas actually wanted to let him go this soon, but this was bound to happen eventually.

2022 will be a success if ...: They spent their influx of cash wisely.

With Arriola on one wing, Velasco on the other and Jesus Ferreira the withdrawn striker in the center of it all, FC Dallas' attack could be spectacular -- as long as these players live up to their hype and mesh well together. Dallas already has attacking midfielder Paxton Pomykal, whose upside is huge.

An attack that clicks could overcome any potential problems along the back. If the new arrivals on the back line, including full-backs Marco Farfan and Nanu, and goalkeeper Maarten Paes, work out, then Dallas won't even need to worry about that. -- Caitlin Murray

Houston Dynamo

What they've been up to: Year 2 under owner Ted Segal is underway, and the biggest overhaul for Houston this winter was in the front office. Club hero Pat Onstad is back in Houston as the team's general manager, and he quickly replaced Tab Ramos as coach with Paulo Nagamura from Sporting Kansas City's reserve side.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +10,000

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: <1%

Biggest offseason move: Paraguayan forward Sebastian Ferreira joins as Houston's new DP from Libertad, and is a welcome addition to a side that finished last in the Western Conference standings and scored a second-worst 36 goals. A type of player profile and signing that shows the front office's promise of a revival.

2022 will be a success if ...: It's not another last-place finish in the West.

Dynamo fans should be excited about a new era but shouldn't hold out hope for much else. Fafa Picault is a key return and Ferreira's signing is a good add, but Nagamura, as a first-year MLS coach, will have several questions to figure out. Will Darwin Quintero be a starter after beginning off 2021 in a questionable role as a super-sub? Will DP defender Teenage Hadebe bounce back from injury?

Houston has finished the past two seasons in last place of the conference, partly due to a 16-game winless streak last year. Only in-state rivals Austin had fewer goals, so la Naranja will need to squeeze some offensive juice and have Tim Parker and Hadebe work on their defensive partnership to avoid an ignominious three-peat. -- Danny Guerra

Inter Miami CF

What they've been up to: Miami has gone about overhauling its roster, albeit while hamstrung by last year's Blaise Matuidi-gate punishments that amounted to $2.27 million in allocation money spread out over two years.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +3,300

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: <1%

Biggest offseason move: In terms of recognizable names stateside, U.S. international DeAndre Yedlin was the biggest get for sporting director Chris Henderson during the offseason. But Jean Mota, a mainstay with Brazilian side Santos, will likely have the biggest impact. His reputation is one of being able to play anywhere in midfield. Regardless of where he plays, he'll be expected to team up with Gregore to give Miami a solid spine in the middle of the park.

2022 will be a success if ...: Miami makes the postseason.

Yes, technically, the Herons made it their first year, but that was only because the league generously expended the field to 10 teams in the Eastern Conference during the pandemic-affected 2020 season. Last year was better in terms of points per game (1.21 vs. 1.04), but that was only good for 11th place in the East.

Can Miami get there? It's possible, but the penalties mean that Henderson has almost no wiggle room in terms of making mistakes.

Whether it's Mota, winger Emerson Rodriguez, forward Leonardo Campana or defenders Christopher McVey and Damion Lowe, they will need to come through. Of course, the same is true for the players already there. Word on the street is that Gonzalo Higuain showed up fitter than a year ago, although the early weeks will reveal by exactly how much, and Gregore has impressed since arriving in the middle of last season and will be relied upon as much for his leadership as his individual play.

The dog days of summer, combined with a compressed schedule for the World Cup, will do Miami no favors, though. The team's depth will be tested, and will need to come through to have a shot at the postseason. -- Jeff Carlisle


What they've been up to: Does a fresh start count? Welcome to the reset season, as 2022 sees significant changes in personnel and philosophy after star power and big names failed to get this team to MLS Cup. Bob Bradley, the club's first (and only) coach, is gone. So is Eduard Atuesta, its midfield anchor and one of the few core players from that 2019 Supporters' Shield-winning season. In comes Steve Cherundolo as manager, plus a slew of MLS veterans acquired via trade (Kellyn Acosta, Maxime Crepeau, Ryan Hollingshead), to take this team in a new direction.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +900

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: 11%

Biggest offseason move: We'd be lying if we didn't say Bradley, the flint-faced tactician whose magic appeared to have run its course in California, but I think Maxime Crepeau fits the bill. This is the "new direction" bit for a team built on glitz: an impressive, reliable presence between the posts acquired via trade with Vancouver, and immediately addressing LAFC's comic rearguard. In addition, Acosta and Hollingshead will be tasked with improving a defense that has traditionally been all-vibes, no-order since day one.

2022 will be a success if ...:The retooled defense around goalie Crepeau, left-back Hollingshead and metronome midfielder Acosta jells enough to put this team back on top in the West. It's the rare case of a team identifying three big weaknesses and fixing them all with smart moves.

That and Carlos Vela rediscovers his scoring form: with rumors swirling that this will be his final season in LAFC kit, coming anywhere close to his 2019 MVP form (34 goals, 15 assists) after nine goals combined in 2020 and 2021 would put this team on a better path. -- James Tyler

LA Galaxy

What they've been up to: Trying to remember what it feels like to play past Decision Day. The last time the Galaxy took part in the MLS Cup playoffs, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was leading the line, which admittedly was only two years ago, but that's a lifetime for this club.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +1,600

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: 3%

Biggest offseason move: Gone is Sebastian Lletget, the USMNT regular who called Los Angeles home for seven seasons, and in has come Southern California native Marky Delgado in his place. Delgado is just three years Lletget's junior, and lacks his predecessor's pedigree, so maybe this was about affording Douglas Costa or Delgado's familiarity with coach Greg Vanney from their time together in Toronto. But it's hard not to feel that the Galaxy's midfield has taken a step backward in 2022.

2022 will be a success if ...: Costa and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez click.

Chicharito scored 17 goals last season, just two off winning the league's Golden Boot award, yet the Galaxy finished tied for 11th in goals scored. Then-21-year-old attackers Kevin Cabral and Dejan Joveljic were brought to Los Angeles for not-insubstantial transfer fees, tasked with supporting the Mexican striker, but combined to contribute seven goals and six assists in 2,715 minutes played.

It's fair to note the pair's inexperience and the adjustment period required in MLS, but the reality is that for a team with aspirations as lofty as the Galaxy's, that sort of production won't cut it.

That's where Costa comes in, at least on paper. He's played for both Juventus and Bayern Munich in the past 18 months, and at 31, he should have enough gas left in the tank. But he was largely ineffective during his loan stint at Gremio, unable to save his boyhood club from relegation, and hasn't had a double-digit G+A season since 2017-18.

Chicharito needs help, and the Galaxy are wagering Costa can provide it. Whether that's a smart bet remains to be seen. -- Austin Lindberg

Minnesota United

What they've been up to: Stacking up forwards. Minnesota signed forward Adrien Hunou to a DP deal last summer, and followed that up by bringing Luis Amarilla (also on a DP deal) and Abu Danladi back to the club, as well as recruiting Bongokuhle Hlongwane via the U22 initiative. They may have the flexibility to play elsewhere in the attack, but they're all center-forwards.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +3,300

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: 4%

Biggest offseason move: Bringing in Honduras midfielder Kervin Arriaga. The departures of Ozzie Alonso and Jan Gregus leave Minnesota a little light in the center of the park, so Arriaga will have the opportunity to win a starting place from the get-go.

2022 will be a success if ...: The midfield and defense hold up.

The Loons had the fourth-stingiest defense in the Western Conference in 2021, but the average age of their back line is 30.5. At 33, Michael Boxall's mobility is growing more concerning, despite his above-average positional awareness and physicality. Romain Metanire gets up and down the flank with the best full-backs in MLS, but he's suffered two serious hamstring injuries in the past two seasons.

Behind its first-choice defensive quartet, Minnesota doesn't boast much in the way of depth. Decline from any of its over-30s, or a bite from the injury bug, could quickly bring United back to 2017 and 2018, when they were among the most porous teams in the league.

In the midfield, Alonso's departure should create a more mobile engine room, but that's hardly the strength of staple Wil Trapp, and Hassani Dotson has demonstrated little growth since bursting onto the scene as an unheralded second-round SuperDraft pick in 2019. Minnesota will need Arriaga to play well enough to supplant one of them unless manager Adrian Heath is willing to sacrifice the attack (where there's an embarrassment of riches) and shift from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3 to bolster the midfield. -- Austin Lindberg

CF Montreal

What they've been up to: For a team that finished 10th in the Eastern Conference, you might've expected a bit more roster turnover, but nope -- Montreal does not fall into the category of big spenders in MLS and its 2022 roster reflects that. It added 22-year-old Italian defender Gabriele Corbo on loan and 23-year-old Canadian Alistair Johnston in a deal with Nashville, but mostly, it appears Montreal hopes last year's moves will blossom into something even better, including the affordable additions of Mason Toye, Djordje Mihailovic and Kamal Miller.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +5,000

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: 1%

Biggest offseason move: After a season abroad, Kei Kamara is back in MLS, his home away from home. No player has been on the roster for more MLS clubs -- Montreal becomes Kamara's seventh throughout his career. It's an open question as to how much the 37-year-old will help, but he's an intriguing addition nonetheless.

2022 will be a success if ...: Everyone returning from last year's roster takes a step forward this year.

Montreal, despite underwhelming results, is not going through a rebuild. Rather, it seems the front office is hoping manager Wilfried Nancy can make the collective roster more than the sum of its parts.

Montreal spent much of last year as a counterattacking team, finding the most attacking success in transition, while simultaneously being poor defensively when its defense was not set. If Nancy can get Montreal playing more purposeful possession soccer, a project that he started last season with mixed results, then maybe there is hope for the team to punch above its weight.

Montreal doesn't seem to have the roster for the highest ambitions in MLS, but if it can return to the playoffs -- an achievable goal -- it could view 2022 as a moderate success. -- Caitlin Murray

Nashville SC

What they've been up to: Silently strengthening. Sean Davis and Teal Bunbury bring a wealth of experience to the squad that finished third in the Eastern Conference last season and earned coach Gary Smith yet more plaudits. However, the arrival of Charlotte means Nashville are jumping over to the Western Conference, which means a lot more games against powerhouses like Seattle, Portland, LA Galaxy and more. Will it be business as usual?

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +1,600

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: 4%

Biggest offseason move: Does Davis count? His remarkable longevity -- he played every minute of the 2021 campaign for his previous club, New York Red Bulls -- and savvy midfield play can only help Nashville be an even more frustrating opponent every single week. It's the kind of signing that rarely powers a billboard, but can quietly power a franchise. The two-time Supporters' Shield winner also has a cadre of former RBNY teammates to work with in Dax McCarty and Alex Muyl. Home sweet home, then?

2022 will be a success if ...:They can build on the breakthroughs of 2020. It's always hard to envision a "smaller market team" making a splash without significant spending, but savvy has always been the buzzword in Music City.

Anchored by Walker Zimmerman, the defense was the stingiest in MLS last season (33 goals conceded in 34 games) and set the platform for robust play, going the full campaign without losing at home and taking just four losses all season. That said, there's more floor than ceiling for them in 2022 -- defense is good, but you also need goals, and this team better hope that Hany Mukhtar gets help at the business end. -- James Tyler

New England Revolution

What they've been up to: After engineering one of the most impressive franchise turnarounds in MLS history, coach Bruce Arena's task is now one of sustainment -- an enviable position after setting the league points record in 2021. The Revolution should remain one of the best -- if not the best -- team in the league and will be on a trophy-seeking mission.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +650

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: 9%

Biggest offseason move: Following seven years in Toronto, striker Jozy Altidore needed a change of scenery, and his arrival in New England -- where he won't need to be the guy -- is a good fit on the surface. The key factor for his success remains his ability to stay healthy.

2022 will be a success if ...: The club's elusive first MLS Cup should be the primary target, but it's unfair to set that as the only bar to define success. Both the New York Red Bulls and LAFC set the points record in recent years only to suffer from major regression almost immediately. Simply avoiding a similar fate isn't something to be proud of, either, but it's worth recognizing how difficult it is to build on that level of success.

This is a team that should be in the mix for every trophy it is playing for, but there is added pressure to perform well in the early-season CONCACAF Champions League considering goalkeeper Matt Turner's looming summer departure for Arsenal (and the possibility Adam Buksa could also return to Europe). If the Revs make deep runs in both CCL and the MLS Cup playoffs but don't win either competition, it would make for a good season -- even if that does include disappointment. -- Kyle Bonagura

New York City FC

What they've been up to: As you might expect from a team that just won MLS Cup, there hasn't been a ton of turnover. Two wingers did depart: go-to starter Jesus Medina and backup-starter Ismael Tajouri-Shradi. But NYCFC already have Thiago Andrade and Talles Magno, two players who should be able to take on bigger roles this season.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +900

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: 15%

Biggest offseason move: The biggest offseason departure for NYCFC led to the biggest acquisition. Center-back James Sands went abroad to Rangers on an 18-month loan, leaving some big shoes to fill. NYCFC opted to use a designated player slot to address it, signing 26-year-old Brazilian Thiago Martins. This takes care of pretty much the only hole NYCFC had on their roster.

2022 will be a success if ...: Maxi Moralez, who turns 35 next week, can keep Father Time at bay just a bit longer. Moralez has easily been one of NYCFC's most important players in the club's short existence for his playmaking, and he's been one of the best midfielders in all of MLS. In five seasons, he has 24 goals and a team-record 60 assists.

Beyond that, if the offers are too tempting and Valentin Castellanos moves in the summer, they'll need a really solid replacement lined up for the only player on NYCFC's roster who can finish with true consistency. Castellanos was reportedly courting handsome offers from South America in this offseason, but ultimately decided to stay in NYC, which boosts their chances for a repeat of last season -- but only if nothing changes in the summer transfer window.

Look, NYCFC already won an MLS Cup with mostly this exact roster. They ought to at least compete for the Supporters' Shield and the MLS Cup this season, unless the players regress. -- Caitlin Murray

New York Red Bulls

What they've been up to: The Red Bulls felt they were just a piece or two away from competing in 2021 -- at least evidenced by their offseason moves -- but New York scored their fewest goals, with the exception of COVID-abridged 2020, since the league went to 34-game seasons in 2011. They were once perennial playoff locks, now they're eking in.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +1,600

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: 5%

Biggest offseason move: If we're going addition, it's DP midfielder signing Luquinhas from Legia Warsaw in Poland. Luquinhas is dynamic, dangerous and was the best midfielder in Poland's top division last season. He's a steal and could change the Red Bulls' fortunes. But in the departure lane, the loss of criminally underrated Kyle Duncan will be felt.

2022 will be a success if ...: They find the long-awaited heir to Bradley Wright-Phillips.

There are numerous ways for the Red Bulls to see noticeable improvement this season: Stalwart center-back Aaron Long staying healthy, Polish DP and former Celtic man Patryk Klimala making a leap forward befitting the nearly $5M shelled out for his signature. Maybe Luquinhas is as good as expected, Caden Clark sparkles in his sojourn home and Lewis Morgan creates the way he did in Miami in 2020. Perhaps goalkeeping revelation Carlos Coronel builds on his MLS-high 13 clean sheets and second-best 7.78 goals prevented.

If all those maybes go their way, maybe things can get back on track in Harrison -- but only if the Red Bulls find their bona-fide finisher up front. The last team-leading goal scorer not named Wright-Phillips to score 15 times in a season was Kenny Cooper in 2012.

From 2010 to 2018, New York made at least the quarterfinals of the MLS Cup playoffs every season. It hasn't made it past the first round since. It's been a mixed bag since New York paid Championship side Barnsley for the rights to head coach Gerhard Struber, but the Red Bulls aren't panicking just yet. -- Dan Hajducky

Orlando City

What they've been up to: Reimagining the attack. Last year's front three of Nani, Daryl Dike and Chis Mueller is no more, after their moves to Venezia, West Brom and Hibernian, respectively, giving new owners, the Wilf family, the opportunity to flex their financial muscle.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +3,300

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: 3%

Biggest offseason move: The club-record signing of 21-year-old winger Facundo Torres from Penarol. Orlando GM Luiz Muzzi called the Uruguay international one of the three most exciting young players in all of South America, on par with Julian Alvarez, the 22-year-old River Plate striker who just signed for Manchester City.

2022 will be a success if ...: Torres and Ercan Kara pick up the slack left by Nani, Dike and Mueller.

Beyond the trio of changes at the top of the formation, the Lions will return much of the same squad from 2021, a campaign that showed much promise at one point before fizzling to a sixth-place finish in the Eastern Conference. Pedro Gallese is a top-third-level goalkeeper in MLS, playing behind a solidly midtable back line.

Upon that solidity is a midfield with some intrigue, highlighted by Andres Perea and Mauricio Pereyra. The addition of Cesar Araujo, a U22 initiative signing from Uruguay, promises some improvement in the middle of the park.

But it's Torres and Kara who will be getting most of the limelight. Both arrive on DP deals, and while the latter has a proven Europa League pedigree and some appearances in Champions League qualifying, the former has the sort of talent and potential to find himself in European cup competition in the near future. -- Austin Lindberg

Philadelphia Union

What they've been up to: Trying to rebuild and reinvent again, while plumbing the impressive depth of their youth academy. Out go Jamiro Monteiro and top scorer Kacper Przybylko to Chicago (a fairly amicable split as the Union weren't interested in a long-term contract). In come new record signing Mikael Uhre and Inter Miami CF's underperforming DP Julian Carranza. The question: how many key players can you replace before the inevitable dip?

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +1,000

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: 4%

Biggest offseason move: Any time you break your own record signing, it's got to be considered the biggest move. Uhre has reportedly been on Philly's radar for some time and is, at first glance, just what the Union need: a gangly (6-foot-2), energetic annoyance up front who can be the conduit for playmakers and scoring opportunities in the same way Sebastian Le Toux (another tall Philly CF) was from 2013 to '16.

Uhre won't play immediately for a variety of reasons -- he only just received his visa, isn't in Philly just yet, hasn't played since December -- but will be a huge add if he can assimilate quickly. Considering his upward trajectory at his previous club, Brondby -- 34 goals in the past two seasons, after 14 in the two seasons before that -- it's fair to say he's at least hitting stride at the right time for the Union.

2022 will be a success if ...: The new signings adapt and Philly can reclaim its place atop the Eastern Conference. "Regression" or "flame-out" is a familiar concept when it comes to Philly sports, such is the frequency with which brilliant talents come agonizingly close to victory only to never get there again.

A trip to MLS Cup has to be the goal considering the agonizing way they lost the conference finals in 2021 to eventual champs, NYCFC. Nobody wants that to be the peak for the Union, especially given how 11 first-team players couldn't compete due to positive COVID-19 tests. -- James Tyler

Portland Timbers

What they've been up to: The offseason in Portland has largely been spent dealing with back-to-back crises -- sexual abuse allegations against a former Portland Thorns coach, and then domestic violence allegations against Timbers midfielder Andy Polo that it turns out the Timbers front office had known about since last year. But the Timbers did get a new contract done with Sebastian Blanco and they signed Argentinian midfielder David Ayala as club legend Diego Valeri departed for his boyhood club, Lanus.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +1,400

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: 3%

Biggest offseason move: After reaching MLS Cup last season, the Timbers have opted to mostly stand pat. As such, keeping Blanco after he threatened to go elsewhere is the marquee offseason signing. Last term, the Timbers had a 14-6-4 record with him (1.9 points per game), and a 3-7-0 record (0.9 points per game) without him.

2022 will be a success if ...: Their defense steps up, especially their goalkeepers. The Timbers have said goodbye to both Steve Clark and Jeff Attinella, the two keepers who had battled for the starting spot in recent years. They've brought in David Bingham, whom the LA Galaxy let go for a reason, and their other goalkeepers are relatively inexperienced.

Add in an aging center-back (Larrys Mabiala), an error-prone left-back (Claudio Bravo) and a lack of convincing depth on the back line, and it's easy to see how the defense could unravel. Diego Chara, even at age 35, has been vital at putting out fires throughout the midfield, but if he slows down, that'll put even more pressure on the back line and goalkeepers.

But if their defense stays solid, the Timbers should have the players to score goals thanks to players like Felipe Mora, Yimmi Chara, Jaroslaw Niezgoda, Blanco and a healthy Eryk Williamson. -- Caitlin Murray

Real Salt Lake

What they've been up to: Being just about the strangest MLS success story in recent memory. No one laid it out better than my colleague Caitlin Murray in December: without a permanent manager (Freddy Juarez abandoned his head coaching duties for an assistant gig with Seattle in August) and no owner (Dell Loy Hansen put the club up for sale in 2020 over allegations of racism and a toxic workplace), Real Salt Lake came within inches of winning the whole shebang in 2021.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +2,500

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: <1%

Biggest offseason move: They might not be on-field ones: the new ownership and removing the interim tag from manager Pablo Mastroeni's title. Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith and David Blitzer -- who owns stakes in Crystal Palace and FC Augsburg, not to mention the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers and NHL's New Jersey Devils -- teamed up to rescue RSL. (NBA legend Dwyane Wade is now a minority owner, too.) Mastroeni, a consummate players' coach, gets to start anew in 2022 -- and no one's forgotten what he almost pulled off just months ago. It's hard to underestimate what a fresh start away from the acrid stench of scandal can do.

2022 will be a success if ...: Real Salt Lake keep the us-against-the-world underdog mentality that fueled them shockingly recently.

Longtime DP Albert Rusnak had his best all-around season (11 goals, 11 assists) in 2021 and vamoosed to Seattle on a free transfer, but Croatian motor Damir Kreilach -- who tied Columbus' Hany Mukhtar with 16 goals, most among midfielders -- is still around. Does Bobby Wood rediscover his once-scintillating form? Is the former Independiente man Jonathan Menendez more consistent in 2022? Can now-Mexico international David Ochoa, newly 21, take a step forward? (Ochoa was one of three MLS goalkeepers to allow 40-plus goals and have negative goals prevented in 2021.)

There's a lot up in the air for Real Salt Lake, but that didn't stop them from damn near stealing the hardware last year. -- Dan Hajducky

San Jose Earthquakes

What they've been up to: The Quakes have largely been doing their best Colorado Rapids impression, that being looking around the league and acquiring established-but-undervalued players.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +6,600

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: 1%

Biggest offseason move: Most of the acquisitions made by GM Chris Leitch have been for familiar names, like defender Francisco Calvo and midfielder Jan Gregus, but the biggest of all was the capture of now-former Philadelphia Union attacker Jamiro Monteiro. He could occupy the wing opposite from Cristian Espinoza, or link with Javier Lopez more centrally.

2022 will be a success if ...: The Quakes can break through their eighth-place ceiling.

The fourth year of the Matias Almeyda era is here, and no matter how appealing San Jose's chaotic style has been at times, it hasn't translated into winning soccer, with the Quakes finishing eighth, eighth and 10th in the past three seasons. So now Leitch is attempting to retool via players with significant MLS experience.

It could work. The talent level seems higher now. The idea of San Jose reaching the postseason requires less squinting than it did a year ago, but the same is true of every other team in the West. For San Jose, how will the pieces fit? Cade Cowell is a budding talent, and recently signed a new long-term deal, but what is he in the Almeyda-verse? A forward? An outside midfielder? Heaven forbid, a wing-back? (Yes, he's seen time there in preseason.) San Jose's attack does have some interesting pieces with Monteiro joining Espinoza and Lopez, who had some bright moments as well last year, although he also encountered some steep valleys. Striker Jeremy Ebobisse will also need to stay healthy.

However, the Quakes will need to defend better than they ever have under Almeyda to reach the postseason. Over three campaigns, San Jose has have never ranked higher than tied for 13th in terms of goals against. Overall in that span, only FC Cincinnati has conceded more goals. Almeyda has been experimenting with a three-back system, which includes Jackson Yueill as a deep-lying distributor. At this point, Almeyda needs to try something. -- Jeff Carlisle

Seattle Sounders

What they've been up to: Recovering from their earliest postseason exit in team history. Strange, but such is the structure of the single-elimination MLS Cup playoffs. Losing to Real Salt Lake on PKs had to shock Sounders assistant Freddy Juarez, who'd begun 2021 as Real's head coach and famously left of his own accord. Other than that, it's business as usual in Seattle.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +700

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: 9%

Biggest offseason move: Nabbing Rusnak as a free-agent DP signing is huge; he scored 41 goals and dished 39 assists in 140 games with Real Salt Lake. But arguably just as vital is how badly players want to stay in Seattle: Alex Roldan, Will Bruin, Kellyn Rowe, Raul Ruidiaz and Joao Paolo return. Along with Cristian Roldan, Nicolas Lodeiro, Stefan Frei and a healthy Jordan Morris, that's quite a core. It's a marvel what Brian Schmetzer -- who also had opportunities to go elsewhere in his time as a Sounders assistant under the late Sigi Schmid -- has built and cultivated in the Emerald City.

2022 will be a success if ...: There isn't much of an "if" at play.

Seattle -- one of the most consistent MLS clubs of all time -- continuing its dominance is as safe a bet as bets come. The Sounders have never had a losing record, a negative goal differential or finished lower than fourth in the West. They have made four of the past six MLS Cups, and won two of them. They're one of the best teams MLS has to offer, on and off the pitch, and the good money's on that holding up. -- Dan Hajducky

Sporting Kansas City

What they've been up to: There were the normal comings and goings during the offseason, but SKC won't look markedly different than the team that finished in third place in the Western Conference last year. While they won't enter the season as favorites in the conference, expectations remain where they usually are at Children's Percy Park: firmly in the playoff picture.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +1,000

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: 3%

Biggest offseason move: Ilie Sanchez's departure as a free agent to LAFC marks the end of long, successful tenure in Kansas City, but the arrival of Nikola Vujnovic is the move that will likely have the most impact on this year's team. A striker on loan from Serbia, the Montenegro international was brought in as SKC prepare for the likelihood that Alan Pulido will be out for the season with a knee injury.

2022 will be a success if ...: Daniel Salloi's emergence as an MVP-caliber player in 2021 was one of the league's most hard-to-see-coming developments of the season. If he's able to approach that level in 2022, it would be an excellent starting place for SKC to remain among the best teams in the conference.

If the Pulido-size hole at striker proves too big to plug, though, it raises questions about how teams can shift attention to worry more about Salloi and Johnny Russell on the other wing than in 2021. Ultimately, Peter Vermes has shown the ability to find solutions in MLS approaching a decade and a half now, so if anyone has earned the benefit of the doubt, it's him. -- Kyle Bonagura

Toronto FC

What they've been up to: Much of this roster has been gutted, with a new manager in Bob Bradley coming in and laying down the law.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +2,500

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: 1%

Biggest offseason move: Lorenzo Insigne and his reported $15mMsalary certainly counts as a massive move, but with the Italy international not arriving until summer, getting Bradley on board as manager will likely have a bigger impact. He'll give the Reds organization and structure that was lacking in 2021.

2022 will be a success if ...: Toronto gets back to the postseason.

Granted, for a team that was second in the Supporters' Shield race in 2020, that goal will seem extremely modest, but TFC fell into a chasm in 2021, so getting back to their once-lofty heights may take some time, especially given the number of changes to the roster.

In terms of the additions, defender Carlos Salcedo is expected to contribute right away, as is forward Jesus Jimenez. There are some talented, experienced holdovers as well, with Chris Mavinga, Michael Bradley and Jonathan Osorio. Alejandro Pozuelo remains one of the most impactful playmakers in MLS and Ayo Akinola had some bright moments before injuring his knee last August. While the spine of the team looks solid to start the season, the wing positions, especially outside-back, need quite a bit of work. Not only was Richie Laryea transferred, but Auro Jr. was sent out on loan and Kemar Lawrence could be joining him, as he was left off the team's preseason roster.

This team remains a work in progress. -- Jeff Carlisle

Vancouver Whitecaps

What they've been up to: Trying to consolidate after their brilliant run to the playoffs in the second half of 2021. The only significant exit is goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, but that shouldn't hurt too much with Thomas Hasal on the books and ready to take the mantle. The only significant addition was LAFC defender Tristan Blackmon, acquired via the expansion draft and a money-trade with Charlotte to clear the decks. A full preseason under breakout manager Vanni Sartini should mean this team comes back better than it left us in 2021, flaming out early in the playoffs to Sporting KC.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +5,000

FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: 2%

Biggest offseason move: Does Crepeau count? The Whitecaps like to be under the radar and their offseason reflects that, with shrewd adjustments rather than wholesale changes. Must be nice!

2022 will be a success if ...: Their 2021 midseason signings, Ryan Gauld and Brian White, hit the ground running and take this team higher in the West. Right now, they have midtable talent, but a work ethic that's tough to crack. Is that enough? -- James Tyler

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