MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

Sky isn't falling: 3 reasons each non-playoff team can feel hopeful 

1013 non-playoff teams_sea atl

So, you’re a fan of one of the 14 teams that missed the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs. That stinks, I’m sorry.

The year didn’t go to plan or it was the start of a rebuild. Every situation is different. But, hey, guess what? It’s not all bad, right?!

Three nice things about all non-playoff teams.

The starting XI is really strong in theory: They just never played a single game together. Deiber Caicedo got hurt. Andres Cubas, Julian Gressel and Alessandro Schopf were added midseason. They dealt with a comical amount of short/medium-term absences. Just two of their presumed Best XI started 25 games.

Vancouver (should) have roster flexibility this winter: The Whitecaps have a club option on Designated Player forward Lucas Cavallini for 2023. If they decline it, they can add another DP free of restrictions (because Cubas is under the max-TAM threshold). Ryan Gauld and Cubas are a great starting point for DPs.

Their jerseys remain fantastic: I'm a sucker for the thick blue hoop on the white shirt. It’s very nice.

Lorenzo Insigne & Federico Bernardeschi: I mean, two Italian internationals in their prime. What more can you say?

Bob Bradley: Bradley has been among the very most successful American male soccer coaches of all time. He was the coach of what I believe to be the best MLS team of recent memory (2019 LAFC). Toronto now have the attacking talent to impersonate that group again, they just need the defense to catch up this offseason.

An open DP spot and a whole lot of ambition: The team already has Insigne and Bernardeschi. They considered Andrea Belotti over the summer. I’m sure they have a ton of big-swing thoughts on where to go with this final DP spot.

“Like a new signing”: I’m sorry, I hate that phrase… but DPs Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda will be back for 2023 after both missed the entirety of the 2022 season. It’s hard to compete in MLS with injuries to two of your three DPs.

Willy Agada - goals and vibes: Sporting KC’s season can be divided into two segments: Before Willy Agada and after Willy Agada. In 12 games that featured Agada, SKC scored 23 goals. SKC scored 19 goals in the 22 games that didn't feature him. Agada himself had 8g/2a. The video of him jumping into Peter Vermes’ reluctant arms to celebrate one of those goals was one of the best moments of the season. Can’t put a number on those vibes.

Daniel Salloi is back: Salloi was out of contract at the end of 2022 and was going to be perhaps the most coveted free agent on the market. Instead, the club and Salloi agreed to a new long-term contract before the season closed.

Great kits, primary and secondary: Sure, not a huge, big-picture saving grace, but the rave green primary and Jimi Hendrix-inspired purple haze make this perhaps the best one-two punch for kits in the league.

CCL champs: More importantly, the Sounders won the Concacaf Champions League in 2022, becoming the first MLS team to do so (maybe you’ve heard?). Sure, the playoff streak was snapped. But the season ends with a trophy no other team has won. Would you rather a Round One playoff exit to preserve the streak or that? That. Definitely that.

13 years of excellence: Seattle made the playoffs for 13 straight years prior to this one. They’ve won four US Open Cups, two MLS Cups (and been to four), one Supporters' Shield and, now, the CCL. Garth Lagerwey is still running the show (though is out of contract after the year). Raul Ruidiaz, Nico Lodeiro, Cristian Roldan, Jordan Morris and Stefan Frei are still there. They’ve well-earned the benefit of the doubt.

#LuchiGang: Luchi Gonzalez takes over as head coach following the World Cup, finally moving into a new era following Matias Almeyda. Gonzalez is renowned for his player development, and with a roster full of exciting young talent, that seems like a good combo.

Jeremy Ebobisse is a legitimate No. 1 option in MLS: Ebobisse played on the wing a lot in Portland before a trade to San Jose last year. And if you haven’t being paying attention to the Quakes over the last 14 months, Ebobisse has been a consistent goal scorer. He’s a building block at center forward. No questions there.

Hope springs eternal: New head coach, new optimism. Offseason and preseason is the time for hope.

Santi Moreno took a step forward: Portland struggled to bridge the gap from one era to the next this year, but Moreno is clearly a good player in this league. 

Top-end flexibility: Portland can add one DP, but perhaps two if Jaroslaw Niezgoda departs. Maybe an attacking midfielder? Maybe another forward? We’ll see!

Gio Savarese: Savarese has done a very good job in Portland over the last half-decade and has one year left on his contract.

Carles Gil: New England have one of the league’s very best players who is still very much in his prime. As long as Carles Gil is around, things aren’t so bad.

They can’t possibly drop so many points from winning positions again next year: The Revs dropped 31 points (!) from winning positions in 2022, most in MLS. Law of averages suggests a positive regression to the mean.

They can’t possibly concede so many penalties again next year: The Revs were called for 12 penalties against in 2022, most in MLS. Law of averages suggests a positive regression to the mean.

New coaching search: Year one under Paulo Nagamura didn’t quite work out and the club is back in for another coaching search. At least it’s out of the way now and not coming 10 games into 2023.

Another year to reset previous bad decisions: Rebuilds can take time. Houston’s new front office inherited a difficult cap/contract situation. We’re one more year removed from that now.

Better use of Hector Herrera next year: Herrera’s first half-season in MLS wasn’t the stuff of dreams, but that’s data to go towards optimizing his position/role next year. Right?

The optimism of a rebuild: Hope springs eternal. The club began the rebuilding process this summer with Wayne Rooney in charge and a bunch of new players in. There’ll be plenty more change this offseason.

Christian Benteke: The Belgian international striker has the potential to be really, really good in MLS. He’ll be 32 next year, which is tail end of a player’s prime, but strikers with his pedigree have aged well in this league. Robbie Keane, Thierry Henry, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Villa and Didier Drogba come to mind. 

Homegrowns starting to break through more: D.C. United are making better use of their academy, with Kevin Paredes, Chris Durkin and Moses Nyeman each earning transfers abroad in recent years. Rooney has ramped up that trend of giving youth a chance at the end of the season here.

This coaching vacancy is the most attractive job opening in the league: See point No. 2 for further explanation, but in addition to that duo, the Crew have a new stadium, new training facility, have spent money on the first team and have numerous other MLS-proven veterans in place. 

Cucho Hernandez and Lucas Zelarayan are an elite attacking pairing in MLS: Cucho is on the fringes of the Colombian national team and is just entering his prime. Zelarayan has already won MLS Cup MVP in this league and is one of the best singular talents in MLS. Almost all other teams would be jealous of this duo.

Top-notch infrastructure: I made mention of it in the top point, but that’s not enough shine. The club opened Field and a brand new training facility in 2021. Those things matter.

Colorado have routinely found undervalued talent: The front office has done a very good job in recent years of finding undervalued talent and bringing them into Colorado. Last year didn’t yield any gems, but I’d expect them to be aggressive this offseason.

Robin Fraser is a really good coach: I’d bet on him figuring something out.

Technically could add three DPs: Okay, we know they’re not going to do that, but at least the Rapids have a bunch of flexibility at the top end of the roster with those spots plus all the allocation money received in trades of Kellyn Acosta and Mark-Anthony Kaye plus the transfer of Auston Trusty.

Open DP spot: Thanks to a restructured (and lengthened) contract for Gaston Gimenez, Chicago have an open DP spot. They have no restrictions given Jairo Torres is a Young DP. Ownership has spent big ($7.5 million for Xherdan Shaqiri, $6 million for Torres, $2.5 for a then-17-year-old Jhon Duran) when given the chance.

Youth movement: Chicago have been really good at bringing young players through the academy and into the first team in recent years. Djordje Mihailovic, Gaga Slonina and Brian Gutierrez and Mauricio Pineda come to mind. Chris Brady might be next. They’ve also done well at identifying young talent, like Duran and fellow U22 Initiative signing Fede Navarro

MLS is parity: There are actual reasons for optimism, but even just a macro-step back here… MLS is parity. To be very successful or very unsuccessful for a long time is hard. Seven teams who missed the playoffs last year made it this year. So, maybe next year!

Karol Swiderksi is legit: Swiderski was fine throughout the first half of his debut MLS season. There wasn’t a cause for concern, these things can take time and he wasn’t bad or anything. But over the last 6-8 weeks of the season, Swiderski hit another level and showed a creative dynamism previously undetected. He’s a building block.

Lattanzio helped develop numerous players: Derrick Jones and Daniel Rios went from seldom used bench players to legit starters under Christian Lattanzio. Kamil Jozwiak got better as the season went on. Adilson Malanda slotted in and impressed immediately. Lattanzio was hired in part due to his developmental prowess, which was on full display during his time as interim.

Open DP spot: The framework of a foundation showed itself towards the end of the season and Charlotte can sign another DP to add to the mix.

Thiago Almada: I mean, the most expensive player in league history (reported $16 million fee) looked really, really good towards the end of the season. He was even called into the senior Argentina national team. He’ll be in Europe one day, probably soon, but Atlanta hope to have another year. And while it’s fair to assume he was going to be good at that price, well, Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez were each league-record signings and neither worked out. 

Ambition: Whether or not the swings have worked, Atlanta have stepped up time and time again to take big swings. If they can maneuver some flexibility with high-leverage spots (DP, U22 Initiative), then that could be exciting.

Injury luck regression to the mean: They simply cannot be more injured than they were last season, right? Brad Guzan, Miles Robinson and Ozzie Alonso picked up season-ending injuries early. Brooks Lennon, Emerson Hyndman, Josef Martinez, Andrew Gutman and more were sidelined for long stretches.