Armchair Analyst: Matt Doyle

What is your team's outlook? MLS Regular Season enters final sprint

Armchair Analyst - Season Pass - 8.28.23

The full return of my usual Sunday column will happen soon. This week I’ve put together a team-by-team look at the season thus far, the Secondary Transfer Window that just occurred, and what needs to happen down the stretch for each team to achieve a measure of success heading into the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs/offseason.

We’ll start in the West, and go in order of the standings. Let’s dive in:

Western Conference

No matter what happens from here on out, this is already a successful debut season for CITY SC, who remain atop the West standings despite Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Orlando City and, with a four-point cushion, have a really good chance at topping the West by season’s end.

It’s not just the record. It’s that they’ve done it with contributions from their high-profile signings – guys like Eduard Löwen and Roman Bürki were more than worth their salaries – and the development of lower-profile guys, with Niko Gioacchini and his 10 goals leading the way there.

Biggest move of the summer window: Saudi Arabia going from zero to a billion in the blink of an eye scuttled any chance St. Louis had of luring in Bobby Firmino, which is a bummer. So it was an understated summer, with only 24-year-old Icelandic international winger Nökkvi Thórisson likely to figure down the stretch.

What needs to happen next: Reintegration of João Klauss, who made his return after a months-long injury absence, is job No. 1 from a personnel standpoint over the next six weeks. On a macro level, it’s about securing home-field advantage throughout the West playoffs, because my god, those crowds have been amazing and that stadium is a cauldron.

I can’t say it’s entirely shocking to see LAFC have such an up-and-down year relative to their talent and expectations. Basically, nobody handles a deep CCL run well (remember what happened to the Sounders in 2022?), and add in the injuries and on-the-fly roster overhaul, and you get this kind of frustrating year.

And yet, with nine games left, they’re solidly in second place in the West. About 25 other MLS teams would consider this an excellent season thus far.

Biggest summer move: I can’t believe the answer isn’t “they sold José Cifuentes, a Best XI-caliber midfielder last year, to a Champions League team,” but the answer isn’t “they sold José Cifuentes, a Best XI-caliber midfielder last year, to a Champions League team." LAFC had already done so much work in the winter window that Cifu had basically fallen out of the rotation. It’s a crazy amount of depth.

All that said, the answer is the acquisition of Spanish center forward Mario González. They’ve needed a guy like this, and now they’ve got one. This team finally feels complete to me.

What needs to happen next: As with all busy teams, integrating the new players (González included) is a big step. But I think LAFC need a little more than that, specifically in regard to using the ball in possession. They’ve leaned so hard into the transition aspect of their approach that it’s become a little one-note, and they now struggle at times when forced to carry play.

González should help with that, especially if he frees up Carlos Vela – likely in his swan song – to be a full-time playmaking winger rather than having to do extra work as a false 9.

My official stance is the Sounders are mostly fine. This is a team full of veterans who have managed injuries all season, and with those injuries and the typical lack of urgency we see from veteran teams in MLS, mid-season swoons are common. The start of the Brian Schmetzer era was famous for them, right?

As it stands they’re still one of the ~10 most-talented teams in the league and they use the ball more than they ever have before, which allows them to control games. I think that’s a good thing and their control will start resulting in goals soon.

Biggest summer move: They stood almost entirely pat, save for bringing up utility man Paul Rothrock from Tacoma. I read that as a sign ownership wants to give the vets one last run at a trophy before the rebuild begins in earnest come January.

And yeah, Sounders fans, you should enjoy Nico, Raúl et al now, because I suspect this year’s the last they’ll be wearing Rave Green.

What needs to happen next: Two things. The big one is they need to remember where the goal is, and how to make that round thing go into it.

The other one is their young players need to develop better. Can Léo Chú be a difference-maker in the playoffs? Can Reed Baker-Whiting or Cody Baker play a role? What about Obed Vargas, who still doesn’t quite look like the same guy he was 16 months ago?

This is the difference between having a top ~10 roster that might get a couple of home games and a top ~5 roster that could conceivably win the damn thing. Seattle need more from their kids.

Pablo Mastroeni deserves a ton of credit for integrating a whole host of new faces from the winter window, developing young or previously underutilized players from front to back, and getting these guys to repeatedly empty the tanks during the dog days of summer. Or maybe, since this is RSL, they’re now officially the xDAWG days of summer.

They did all this while basically codifying a playing style – big switches into wide overloads – that had been hit-and-miss during the previous couple of years.

Biggest summer move: Breaking the club record to get a proven, elite MLS goalscorer in Chicho Arango. It’s the type of move RSL fans had been waiting for since new ownership took the reins in early 2022.

What needs to happen next: That codified style of play? It went out the window when Pablo Ruiz tore his meniscus in the Leagues Cup loss to LAFC. He’s done until 2024 and RSL, thus far, have cratered without him, conceding 10, scoring once and winning none in their past three games.

Mastroeni’s gotta do a quick patch job on both the lineup and game model because, while the Claret-and-Cobalt are currently in fourth place, the distance between their current spot and out of the postseason entirely is exactly two more very bad weeks.

I think if you had told Dynamo fans “at the start of September you will be into the US Open Cup Final, have a spot above the playoff line and will have accomplished both with an aesthetically appealing style of play and buy-in from two of your DPs,” they’d have grabbed that offer with both hands and zero hesitation.

This feels like a season of excellent groundwork that’s been done by Ben Olsen & staff. The Dynamo are nobody’s idea of a juggernaut, and it still wouldn’t be entirely shocking if they missed the playoffs, but good work has been done in 2023.

Biggest summer move: Bringing in Polish CM Sebastian Kowalczyk is a dead giveaway they think they might get a godfather offer for Coco Carrasquilla before the Euro window closes this week.

What needs to happen next: With or without Coco, they’ve got to land the plane and make it into the postseason. It’ll officially be a disappointment if they don’t do that now.

The Quakes have made what I would consider to be incremental progress thus far this year, with most of it centered around the personnel improvements at d-mid (Carlos Gruezo has been very good, though I don’t know if he’s been DP-level at that spot) and goalkeeper (Daniel has been one of the three best goalkeepers in MLS this year).

And that has been enough, despite the attack taking a step backward, for them to stay above the red line basically all year to this point.

Biggest summer move: At this point, they’ve only brought in a couple of young, distressed assets (Toronto FC’s Ayo Akinola and Middlesbrough’s Matthew Hoppe) on loan. The fact those two guys play the exact same positions as Jeremy Ebobisse and Cade Cowell, both of whom have been subject to serious European interest… well, I think it would be foolish not to read into that.

What needs to happen next: Short term, I’d like to see the Quakes get those deals done and become a develop-and-sell club akin to Philly or FC Dallas.

Longer term… look, I am more than mildly concerned that Luchi González’s San Jose side is suffering from the same attacking issues (lack of final-third kill patterns means a lack of high-quality chances) that plagued his Dallas sides. Maybe getting Niko Tsakiris more runs and flipping the triangle into a 4-2-3-1 from the 4-3-3 is a worthwhile late-season stopgap measure here.

Saturday’s huge win in Portland kept the ‘Caps above the playoff line and put them in control of the Cascadia Cup – if they win their last remaining Cascadia match, which is on October 7 in Seattle, they’ll claim that trophy for the first time since 2016. Add that to their second straight Canadian Championship and some fairly ambitious work in the transfer market over the past two windows and… yeah, solid season up to this point.

Biggest summer move: Going all-in on Canadian wingbacks Richie Laryea and Sam Adekugbe is already paying dividends as Adekugbe set up the first goal in Portland while Laryea drew the penalty for the third.

The ‘Caps aren’t super deep, but there are now no weak links in that starting lineup.

What needs to happen next: Like everyone else in this mid-table scrum, it’s about landing the plane and getting into the postseason. Unlike most teams, the ‘Caps will be doing that while juggling a new formation (it’s now a 3-5-2) and some new starters (is Pedro Vite now a super-sub? Is Ryan Gauld now a forward?).

We saw the best of Dallas in their final Leagues Cup outing – inventive, relentless, decisive, creative. They eventually choked away a well-earned 4-2 lead against the eventual champs, but for about 80 minutes that game was a great taste of what this team could be if they figured out how to open up the throttle.

It was back to ponderousness this past weekend, with a late header from Nkosi Tafari the only goal in a 1-0 win over visiting and equally ponderous Austin FC. The three points were nice, but that was disappointing.

Biggest summer move: The idea is that Asier Illarramendi, who signed on a free, will slot in at the 6 and move the game around so adroitly that Nico Estévez’s positional play system will morph from ponderous to dynamic overnight. Or at least over the course of the next few weeks and into the playoffs.

What needs to happen next: I have my doubts about the above scenario playing out as planned, and I don’t think it’s at all coincidental the one time they played Alan Velasco as a true 10 in front of a deep midfield two, Dallas were consistently free-wheeling, explosive and dangerous.

It is time to sacrifice some pitch control for attacking thrust. If they don’t, this team’s in serious danger of missing the postseason.

Rodolfo Borrell said the loud part out loud when he was hired as new GM and announced (correctly) last year was something of a mirage – overperformance based upon unsustainable finishing and the exceptional (and still underrated league-wide) shot-stopping of Brad Stuver.

Verde, this year, have regressed to the mean. American Soccer Analysis’s expected goals model has them at -2.57 on the season, while the box score has them at -4. ASA’s expected points total has them at 32.36 for the season, while the table has them at 32.

They are what their record, their underlying numbers and the eye test says they are.

Biggest summer move: Trading Diego Fagundez six months after he signed a lucrative, long-term contract is a clear indicator that there are going to be some major moves this winter.

What needs to happen next: The biggest win of this stretch run would be if Finnish CB Leo Väisänen got healthy, got a run of games and looked like a foundational piece going forward. I would argue that’s more important for this team than making the postseason.

Adrian Heath’s not going to win Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year (Bradley Carnell’s got that locked), but he’s done a pretty remarkable job during a turbulent year, one in which he had to offload his starting No. 9, saw both of his best No. 8s suffer season-ending injuries, and – the big one – had to cobble together something functional when his No. 10, Emanuel Reynoso, didn’t rejoin the team until well after the season had started.

The fact the Loons are still very much alive in the West playoff hunt is something of a minor miracle.

Biggest summer move: Teemu Pukki hasn’t exactly lit it up, but he does all the functional, fundamental things you want from a center forward in terms of moving opposing backlines around and opening space for the other attackers. It’s not a coincidence that Bongi Hlongwane’s goalscoring numbers and Reynoso’s chance creation numbers are both blowing up these days.

What needs to happen next: If Bongi keeps scoring and Pukki starts scoring, this is a team nobody will want to face in the playoffs, no matter how thin the midfield has gotten.

But, you know, they’ve got to get there first. And right now Bongi’s hurt and Pukki’s got just one goal in almost 700 minutes so, you know, not great.

The fact they had a do-or-die game this weekend and they absolutely pummeled the Quakes is a good sign for what needs to be a semi-miraculous stretch run. I think, in retrospect, it’s fair to say the injuries to Alan Pulido and Willy Agada had an outsized impact on this team to start the season, and they’ve mostly done pretty well recovering since then.

Since the start of May they are 7W-4L-5D, which is 1.625 points per game. Over the course of the season, that’d be enough for a home playoff berth most years.

Biggest summer move: They brought back old friend Felipe Gutiérrez, but the real biggest move was somehow getting everyone of note mostly healthy.

What needs to happen next: That 1.625 ppg pace they’ve been on since May would net them 13 more points from their final eight games, which almost certainly would not be enough to get them over the line.

The upcoming schedule is murder, by the way. Feels a lot like this team’s story was written in March and April.

Portland followed up a 5-0 humiliation in Houston that saw the team part ways with Gio Savarese with a catastrophic 3-2 home loss to Vancouver that not only looks like one of the final nails in this season’s coffin, but also ceded control of the Cascadia Cup race to the ‘Caps.

There has been no silver lining to this season. Even the ageless Diego Chara is starting to show some wear and tear.

Biggest summer move: They signed Peruvian international CB Miguel Araujo from Dutch side FC Emmen, and immediately slotted the 28-year-old into the XI.

They’ve conceded eight goals in his two starts so, you know, not great.

What needs to happen next: The absolute best thing that could happen for the times is if Araujo and fellow CB Zac McGraw showed chemistry of the sort that would make them a plausible, playoff-caliber pair going forward. Nothing – not even a breakout performance from one of the young or youngish attackers – would have more bearing on Portland’s chances of future success than that.

As for this year, I don’t really see a path into the playoffs. It would take a miracle.

Over the past four years, as Chicharito has gone, so have the Galaxy. It was his goals that propelled them off the bottom of the standings in 2021, and it was his goals that propelled them into the playoffs and all the way to the Western Conference semis in 2022.

So when he got hurt this year… well, in retrospect I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. I spilled a lot of ink the past two seasons explaining how his movement creates not just the attack, but the preconditions for valuable possession and adequate rest defense. There has been no replacing him.

Biggest summer move: Maya Yoshida is 35 but doesn’t look it, and was excellent in his debut Saturday night. If the Galaxy can get two solid years out of him – not just on-field stuff, but culture setting in the locker room and in training – that’d be an amazing bit of summer window work.

What needs to happen next: Show some positive play and some culture. I do think the playoffs are out of reach, even with their games in hand, but this team has talent and ideology.

And come winter, they’ll have at least two open DP slots. For the sake of Gs fans, let’s hope they finally use them as well as they should.

They’re the team with the finest margins in the league given their approach to roster building, so any bad break is a bigger deal for them than it would be for other teams.

Well, the Rapids caught all the bad breaks this year. Injuries everywhere, underperformance from reliable vets and a lack of development from young guys thrust into bigger roles. It’s been awful.

Biggest summer move: 23-year-old Brazilian center forward Rafael Navarro arrived on loan from Palmeiras last month. As per old friend Tom Bogert in The Athletic: “The deal is a 12-month loan with a purchase option. The Rapids will pay a $500,000 loan fee and have a $4.5 million purchase option. That total package of potentially $5m would far and away set a new Rapids club-record fee.”

We’ll see what happens a year from now, but the intention appears to be there.

What needs to happen next: Getting Navarro a few goals before the season ends would at least give Rapids fans something concrete to look forward to in 2024.

Eastern Conference

The Knifey Lions have led the Supporters’ Shield race from the jump and have done so based upon some stifling defense, excellent goalkeeping from Roman Celentano, and a Landon Donovan MLS MVP-caliber season from Lucho Acosta. What they have not consistently done is play the kind of energetic, all-around overwhelming soccer that became their hallmark down the stretch and into the playoffs last season.

Then they went out and curb-stomped NYCFC on Saturday night, in the process bouncing back from their midweek US Open Cup heartbreak. I don’t think it was a perfect performance from Cincy, but it’s the best they’ve looked in a long while and they’ve now got a death grip on the Shield race.

Biggest summer move: They sold Brenner for $10 million and brought in his replacement, Aaron Boupendza, for $6.5 million. Obviously the previous regime overpaid for Brenner in the beginning, but it’s hard to knock anything Chris Albright has done since taking over.

What needs to happen next: Get that Shield. This group has earned a damn trophy and deserves to be marching one in front of their fans at season’s end.

Along the way, keep working on the chemistry of that attacking trident. I want to see “crisp and relentless” not just “inventive and opportunistic” by the time the playoffs come around.

They’re on track for another year above 60 points, another year in which they’ve secured Concacaf Champions Cup qualification, and another year in which they’ve continued the development of their young and youngish players.

The Union are who they are, and it is a great compliment that you can basically set your watch by their annual excellence. Or, if not quite excellence, then at least very goodness.

Biggest summer move: They brought in 25-year-old Israeli national team striker Tai Baribo, who seems like insurance in case a late-window move is made for incumbent starter Julián Carranza (Europa League-level teams are interested, as per head coach Jim Curtin).

What needs to happen next: Always a bridesmaid, never the bride. The Union have lost 10 times in the semis or the finals of cup competitions since their inception, with the latest their embarrassing home capitulation to Inter Miami in the Leagues Cup semis.

Does this team have enough attacking-third quality to get over the hump in the biggest games? At this point I kind of doubt it, but at least they seem to be figuring out how to play the 4-4-2 diamond without 90 minutes of Ale Bedoya. That’s been a massive stumbling block over the past four seasons.

The Revs have suddenly become a team with more questions than answers, as they lost their starting RB to a season-ending injury, haven’t had their starting CB pairing together since March, saw their starting LB (who’s now starting at RB) miss the last game because of injury, haven’t settled their rotation up top, have to replace the best shot-stopper in league history, and are still in the midst of an investigation into the actions of head coach and sporting director Bruce Arena.

They’re solidly in the playoff race, but it feels like they’re just barely treading water.

Biggest summer move: They sold Djordje Petrovic, that aforementioned best shot-stopper in league history, to Chelsea for a record ~$18 million plus add-ons. Good bit of business for a guy they spent south of $1 million on 16 months ago.

What needs to happen next: Petrovic’s replacement, veteran Czech ‘keeper Tomáš Vaclík, has got to adequately fill Petro’s shoes. If he doesn’t, then this gang’s got zero MLS Cup hopes, and may not even end up getting to host a home playoff game.

The comedown from that early-season CCL Round-of-16 loss to Tigres was actually worse than the loss itself, in which Orlando stood toe-to-toe with one of the biggest clubs in North America and were vanquished only on away goals.

The following three months were grim, and there was a lot of “wear ‘em down and grind it out” stuff. But since about mid-June Orlando have been playing better and better ball, while young building blocks like Facu Torres, César Araújo and Duncan McGuire have played bigger and bigger roles.

It feels like the thing is starting to come together.

Biggest summer move: Bringing back Júnior Urso feels like an A-Tier vibes move.

What needs to happen next: Prized offseason acquisition Martín Ojeda has primarily become a late-game sub over the past two months, and not a particularly effective one at that. If they can squeeze any productivity out of him – anything at all – they’d have a game-changer of a weapon to unbalance exhausted opposing defenders.

And with that they’d become a fun darkhorse MLS Cup candidate.

Speaking of fun darkhorse MLS Cup picks, the Crew have picked up that crown and worn it proudly basically all season long. I find them to be the most fun team in the league to watch (and am not alone in that assessment) because they are, as one, so incredibly brave on the ball. Wilfried Nancy demands that courage and the team’s whole game model – in which they flagrantly invite opposing pressure as high upfield as possible – is predicated on it.

It’s led to some beautiful, intricate, attacking soccer, and Nancy being Nancy, he’s made the team younger over the course of the season as he’s thrust kids into higher-leverage roles.

Biggest summer move: They sold their No. 10, Lucas Zelarayán, and brought in attacker Diego Rossi as a replacement. It’s not a like-for-like – Zelarayán is immensely technical and capable of spectacular stuff on the ball in a way Rossi is not.

But I think Rossi is a better player. He takes fewer touches, makes better runs off the ball and has a poacher’s instincts. Plus he’s got speed to burn, which gives Columbus a threat in behind they’d mostly been lacking.

What needs to happen next: Back-to-back shutouts is exactly what the doctor ordered to start the stretch run. They need to keep tossing zeroes (the attack will take care of itself) and earn home-field for at least one round in the playoffs.

It’s going to be easier said than done, though, because the East is a knife fight.

Atlanta have been capable of the most ridiculous stuff, both to the good and to the bad, over the past few years because 1) they’ve had so much talent on the roster, and 2) so much of that talent has been mismatched. Since 2019 they have been, by any measure, less than the sum of their parts.

And after what happened in the Leagues Cup I was going to write them off, but then they went out and drilled a very good Nashville team 4-0 in the A on Saturday night. That’s Nashville’s worst loss in club history!

It turns out Thiago Almada surrounded by attackers who run off the ball well and get into the box, and midfielders who do the dirty work behind him, is a really freaking good blueprint.

Biggest summer move: With apologies to Saba Lobjanidze and Xande Silva, I think it was getting midfield terrier Tristan Muyumba. He’s the one, primarily, doing that dirty work behind Almada that made the attack so overwhelming and brought balance to a side that’s lacked it in the post-Jeff Larentowicz era.

Of course, if they sell Almada to Ajax for $25+ million sometime in the next few days, that becomes the biggest move. But my guess is they’ll hold onto him until winter.

What needs to happen next: They need to stay healthy. They’re going to make the playoffs regardless, but it’s a question of how many rounds of home-field advantage they can string together.

Right now, by the way, the answer is “none.” They need that 4-0 not to be a mirage.

They need that 4-0 not to be a mirage. Given it’s one of just two losses in club history by more than two goals, and given Gary Smith rotated a few key pieces, and given there was some understandable flatness coming after last weekend’s Leagues Cup final heartbreak, I’m going to give them a mulligan.

I think the version of the ‘Yotes we saw in the Leagues Cup is the real version. They’ve got high-end match-winners and solidity everywhere, and home or away, nobody will want to play them come playoff time.

Biggest summer move: Sam Surridge is, I think, the No. 9 they’ve been looking for. He’s not just a goalscorer – though he is that – but has shown real chemistry with Hany Mukhtar and the wingers, and a flair for linking play in transition moments.

What needs to happen next: I’d love to see Hany and Surridge get some run with Randall Leal as a facilitator (not truly a playmaker, but a guy who moves the game to good spots) behind them, either as a pinching wide midfielder in a flat 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1 since Hany’s going to be completely free) or at the point of a diamond.

The rest of the winger corps is composed of runners. Leal’s the only one who’s more of an orchestrator, but he just hasn’t been fit enough to put his stamp on this team.

They changed a lot of personnel – partially because they made bank in last winter’s transfer window – and also changed game models, going from Wilfried Nancy’s patient, possession approach to Hernán Losada’s Maximum Overdrive.

It hasn’t been smooth sailing, but it’s honestly mostly worked. Montréal are in good shape, sitting eighth in the East with five of their final nine games at home (they’re an excellent 9W-3L-0D at home this year).

I didn’t think it would work this well, but it has. Losada and sporting director Olivier Renard deserve a ton of credit.

Biggest summer move: I love the Mahala Opoku deal, in which they shipped $1.75 million GAM to LAFC for the attacker and then gave him a new, higher-paid, long-term deal. He’s the right age (just turned 22), can play all over the front line in any formation, and is the perfect fit for Losada’s two-way demands.

What needs to happen next: Someone needs to grab the reins as a go-to goalscorer. Montréal are probably going to scrape into the playoffs, but nobody goes far in the postseason without a killer.

Whether it’s Mahala, or young homegrown Jules-Anthony Vilsaint, or Sunusi Ibrahim, or Chinonso Offor, or even Mason Toye finally getting healthy and making good on his talent… someone’s got to do it.

Another season with moments of inspiration sandwiched between long stretches of haplessness, Chicago at least can point to some development this year of young players like Chris Brady, Brian Gutiérrez and Carlos Terán.

But their DPs have once again been mostly underwhelming, the remaining schedule is unkind and they’ve come out of the Leagues Cup looking like a team that’s hearing the footsteps.

Biggest summer move: D-mid Ousmane Doumbia arrived on loan from Swiss sister side Lugano. Playoffs or not, feels like a lot of big moves are coming this winter.

What needs to happen next: Given the level of investment from ownership, I don’t think just making the playoffs would be seen as a win. The fans certainly wouldn’t see it that way.

So yeah, somehow they need to find a gear that’s eluded them since 2009, and then a playoff gear that’s eluded them since… 2003, maybe?

Wayne Rooney wanted his team to play one way – intricate possession through midfield – but pretty quickly realized he didn’t have the pieces to do that and switched to Route 1 with everything aimed at Christian Benteke’s head.

It was an understandable decision and Benteke has mostly held up his end of the bargain, though the finishing issues that plagued him in the Premier League have traveled with him here to MLS. And along the way, Rooney’s mostly shelved the youth movement he started the season with.

Biggest summer move: Punting DPs Taxi Fountas and Victor Palsson cleared the decks for yet another offseason overhaul. With Rooney’s contract reportedly expiring at the end of this season, however, it’s not clear who’ll be bringing in the replacements.

What needs to happen next: A Benteke hot streak could maybe propel D.C. back above the line and into the postseason, which would be something of a win. But from a 10,000-foot view, even with an appearance in the play-in round and maybe even sneaking through that into the playoffs proper, Rooney’s time in D.C. would still end up looking much like the prior 15 years.

They faced a weary and wounded Inter Miami at home in front of a record crowd on Saturday night and had a chance to step on their throats, virtually ending Messi Mania. It was right there for them.

As has been the case all season long, the Red Bulls did not show up. The game model (they are still as pressy and direct as ever) is no longer a built-in advantage (everyone has seen this stuff for a decade now) and the lack of final-third quality is just not something this team can collectively overcome.

That finger’s got to be pointed at RB Global, by the way, as none of the four most expensive signings in club history (Kaku, Dante Vanzeir, Patryk Klimala, Luquinhas) have delivered.

Biggest summer move: They bid adieu to long-time midfield starter Cristian Cásseres Jr., who never quite made good on his potential.

What needs to happen next: They still control their own fate, but with four of their next five away (they’re 1W-6L-4D outside of Harrison thus far) and nobody able to put the ball in the net, it’d be kind of shocking if they made the postseason for a record 14th straight year.

There are two ways to look at this season:

  1. Head coaching jobs are rare and if you’re lucky enough to get one, you want to implement your ideas and do it your way. Because everyone gets fired eventually, so you might as well go out on your shield.
  2. Head coaching jobs are rare, and if you’re lucky enough to get one, you have to be realistic and put guys into spots to succeed irrespective of your deeper ideas about how the game should be played.

I think Christian Lattanzio has chosen door No. 1 this year, and has spent most of the season futilely trying to graft some City Football Group ideals onto a roster that’s mostly set up to play a basic, counterattacking 4-2-3-1 (or 4-4-1-1). And that’s at least a little bit weird, since last year, over the final 20 games, Lattanzio was much more pragmatic.

There’s been no building upon that foundation.

Biggest summer move: Canadian international midfielder Scott Arfield, who came on a free from Rangers, has moved the needle the most so far, including his late winner over LAFC this weekend.

What needs to happen next: Luck, I guess, or a hot streak? Charlotte are just three points out of ninth with a game in hand, and given the amount of six-pointers they’ve got coming up, they basically control their own destiny.

But by the numbers they’ve got the worst defense in the East, and got away with some stuff on Saturday night that they’ve been punished on all year long. Hard to see that changing even if the vibes are good today.

The vibes are bad for NYCFC today and have mostly been bad for the past 13 months. It is perhaps past time to face the fact they never adequately replaced Taty Castellanos, and the knock-on effect has compromised the greater NYCFC project – that is, the lack of a high-level No. 9 has made it more difficult to develop the other high-potential young attackers (Talles Magno in particular has suffered), while also most likely snapping the team’s seven-year playoff run.

It’s not official yet, but the Pigeons are six points back of the playoff line and virtually everyone they’re chasing has got at least one game in hand.

Biggest summer move: They sold Taty for nearly $17 million to Lazio and young winger Gabi Pereira for ~$10 million to Qatari top-flight side Al-Rayyan SC, so the outgoing business was good.

The incoming is more questionable, with City adding pieces everywhere from the front line to the backline, but nobody – save old friend Maxi Moralez, who hasn’t missed a beat – looking like a difference-maker thus far.

What needs to happen next: The best thing possible for the frayed nerves of Pigeons’ fans would be if new center forward Mounsef Bakrar banged home four or five goals over the final eight games. At least that would provide some level of confidence the No. 9-sized hole is mostly filled.

We’re witnessing what might be the most magical thing in league history:

I’m still betting against them making the playoffs. Even Messi should be no match for the deep magic of MLS After Dark.

Biggest summer move: Lmao.

What needs to happen next: A lot of what we saw against the Red Bulls, which is Miami controlling the pace and tempo of the game even with Messi, Sergio Busquets and a few other key starters resting. Those guys are going to need more rest from time to time, and are going to be on international duty for a couple of key games.

The rest of the roster needs to step up and keep the season alive. They managed it on Saturday. (For what it’s worth I’m predicting an Open Cup title to go with their Leagues Cup, but ultimately just 10th place in the East).

One of the most cursed seasons in MLS history by any team, not just by a Toronto club that spent their first half-decade majoring in cursed seasons.

Nothing has gone right. It’s cost legendary head coach Bob Bradley his job and the Italian DPs their reputations, and it’s cost the club as a whole basically two years of what could’ve been valuable rebuilding/culture-building time.

Lorenzo Insigne, for what it’s worth, is making a real push for being the worst signing in MLS history.

Biggest summer move: Trading veterans Matt Hedges, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Ayo Akinola for allocation cash is a dead giveaway that major moves are coming in January.

What needs to happen next: Who’ll be deciding what those moves are, though? Club president Bill Manning is the architect of the current mess, and newly-appointed GM Jason Hernandez is, well, new. The rest of the front office has been hollowed out in the years since Tim Bezbatchenko left for Columbus, and the guy who’s reportedly the front-runner to become the new head coach, John Herdman, has precisely zero experience running a club team.

There are, I think, good reasons to be worried if you’re a Reds fan.