Voices: Joseph Lowery

What your MLS club needs to fix this summer


The 2024 MLS season is delicately balanced on the halfway mark.

With the Secondary Transfer Window formally opening on July 18, coaches and front office members are building out dream acquisition lists. Players are evaluating their games, sharpening as the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs push arrives. Fans are either growing impatient about results or basking in their team’s success.

Today, we’re identifying what each team in the league needs to fix heading into the summer. We’ll talk transfers. We’ll talk tactics. You name it, we’ll hit it.

The “fix-it list” for Atlanta United is simple. Now, that doesn’t mean it will be easy – it’s very much not. But it is simple. They need a new manager after parting ways with Gonzalo Pineda, they’ll likely need to find a replacement for DP striker Giorgos Giakoumakis due to his reported pending move to Cruz Azul, and they need one more attacking piece, even if Thiago Almada doesn’t move to Europe.

Buckle up, people.

According to FBref, only two teams in MLS have allowed more non-penalty xG per 90 minutes this year than Austin: the New England Revolution and CF Montréal. Austin must take the pressure off of Brad Stuver to stay above the Western Conference playoff line.

Similar to a handful of other teams from around the league, Charlotte FC’s short-term future will be defined by their summer transfer window reinforcements. Sorting Karol Swiderski’s future and, ideally, adding at least one more DP should give Dean Smith’s team much-needed attacking juice.

Frank Klopas has stumbled upon a new tactical setup, using a 3-5-2 in Chicago’s last few matches. Before the summer really gets started, the Fire need to decide whether they stick in that winger-less 3-5-2 or look for a couple of pieces to make the ol’ 4-2-3-1 sing.

It’s hard to do anything other than pick nits about what FC Cincinnati need to do better. The fact that DP striker Aaron Boupendza’s future can be considered a nit speaks volumes. Still, what to do with the Gabon international could be the defining decision of Cincy’s 2024 campaign.

Colorado Rapids logo
Colorado Rapids

Zack Steffen either needs a week off or a trip to the top of a mountain to gain some perspective, because he’s not delivered in 2024. The Rapids have to do everything they can to get Steffen out of this slump, one where he’s allowed 7.8 goals more than expected this year. That is 2.1 goals more than the next worst shot-stopper, according to FBref.

The Crew just need to take a deep breath (and maybe a couple of Imodium). They’re seventh in the East after their run to the Concacaf Champions Cup final, but have the tools to climb up the standings and into a spot that will let them host a playoff series. The trick for Columbus will be finding the right personnel balance after whatever roster moves are made in the secondary window.

FC Dallas logo
FC Dallas

Adding more talent to the middle of the backline would help things in Dallas, and so would hiring a manager who can get the most out of their squad. After Nico Estévez was dismissed over the weekend, it’s time to return to the drawing board to find FC Dallas’ identity.

D.C. United logo
D.C. United

So many of D.C. United’s issues this season have stemmed from their inability to close out games. You, uh, can’t be allowing this kind of pass out of midfield against anyone, let alone against Inter Miami:

Focus is the message in the nation’s capital right now.

Houston Dynamo FC logo
Houston Dynamo FC

Only the Columbus Crew have averaged more possession in 2024 than the Houston Dynamo. And yet? The Dynamo are just 21st in MLS in non-penalty xG per 90 minutes, according to FBref. If you’re going to fix Houston, it all starts with an attack that’s crying out for at least one more dynamic threat.

There’s not much LAFC have to worry about right now, as they sit second in the West with only one true DP in their squad. Still, I’d like to see more of Maxime Chanot in the middle of Steve Cherundolo’s backline. Chanot has been more of an every-other-game starter than an every-game guy over the last month and is so critical to LAFC’s possession play.

The obvious and predictable answer is “the defense.” If GM Will Kuntz can get a starting-caliber center back into town, then more power to him. In the meantime, I’d continue to put the pedal to the metal and refine the attacking play. Somehow, the Galaxy are just seventh in the league in non-penalty xG per 90 this year, according to FBref. Prioritizing fitness and chemistry is key in Carson.

Inter Miami CF logo
Inter Miami CF

Get Tomás Avilés into the film room and get Sergii Kryvtsov into an anti-aging chamber. The attack will take care of itself, but the defense was already thin before Nicolás Freire went down with a long-term knee injury. Now things are just plain scary in the back (we might see a CB signing).

Minnesota United FC logo
Minnesota United FC

Now that Eric Ramsay has found his chosen tactical setup (he’s using a 3-4-3 in possession that typically looks like a 3-4-3 in defense, but can shift into more of a 3-5-2 as one of the wingers drops into midfield), the front office can find a couple of reinforcements who will thrive in Minnesota’s new up-tempo approach. A central midfielder should be on the cards, at the very least.

Without much top-end quality in their squad, there will be more than a few tough losses between now and the end of the season for CF Montréal. Still, using the second half of the year as a way to instill Laurent Courtois’ possession patterns into this team will be worthwhile.

Nashville SC logo
Nashville SC

As the first team to move on from their manager in 2024, this is a time of soul-searching for Nashville SC. Their focus should be landing a new manager who will usher in even a light tactical and philosophical refresh (and maybe a few minutes for the occasional U-23 player).

Um, there’s a lot. The Revs’ squad was broken before the season started, but now is as good a time as any to find a new home for DP striker Giacomo Vrioni. This team so badly needs a reboot.

New York City FC logo
New York City FC

If I’m Nick Cushing, I’m spending a bunch of time thinking about how to best use Maxi Moralez. The 37-year-old came off the bench against San Jose in New York City’s last match and completely changed the game. Crafting a detailed minutes plan for the club legend should ensure his availability in the biggest games.

New York Red Bulls logo
New York Red Bulls

They’re fourth in the East, but the early-season glimpses of the fun, free-flowing, possession-heavy New York Red Bulls have yet to become more consistent. Lewis Morgan’s impressive form has carried their attack for much of the year, but finding more ways to create chances is essential.

Orlando City SC logo
Orlando City SC

Backed into a corner with three vastly underperforming DPs, Orlando have to find a way to squeeze blood from a turnip. Oscar Pareja has tried a 4-4-2, he’s tried a 4-2-3-1, and he’s tried a 3-5-2. Eventually, one shape has to stick and get these guys going… right?

Philadelphia Union logo
Philadelphia Union

The wins haven’t exactly flowed – Philly have picked up just one win in their last 10 matches. It’s not time to panic, though. The Union have the best xG differential in the East and they’re the best attacking set-piece team in MLS, with 10 goals according to Opta. There’s not a real urgency to fix anything, unless a key piece leaves town (maybe Julián Carranza?).

Portland Timbers logo
Portland Timbers

Right now, it’s all about sorting out the defense for Phil Neville and his coaching staff. Where the Union have scored the most set-piece goals in the league, the Timbers have conceded the most (10). They’ve tightened the ship while playing against the ball over the last few weeks, but drilling down on their mid-block and dead-ball defending is a must.

Real Salt Lake logo
Real Salt Lake

Zac MacMath has provided more questions than answers in goal for RSL this season – working with the 32-year-old to help him reduce mental errors is a crucial next step for Pablo Mastroeni and Co. There’s also room to sign another playmaker opposite Diego Luna and underneath Chicho Arango.

Only the New York Red Bulls (41.7%) are averaging less possession than the Quakes (43.9%) right now. But that should change. San Jose’s obvious strength is in their attack, where they just might have enough quality to climb up the West’s standings via barn-burning wins every other weekend. Luchi Gonzalez should consider loosening the tactical chain to free his attack.

While Luchi potentially gives his team more of a license to control the ball, Brian Schmetzer might benefit from encouraging his team to be more direct in the attack. Based on Opta’s direct speed metric, the Sounders are the 10th-most ponderous attacking team in MLS. Without a true solo chance creator and without the healthy, in-prime DPs to create those chances together, Seattle would benefit from more opportunities to attack in space.

Sporting Kansas City logo
Sporting Kansas City

They’re not quite at the FC Dallas stage of an organizational re-think, but it feels like Sporting Kansas City are teetering on the edge of something similar. Do you go out and use your open DP spot this summer? Or do you hold off, knowing this season is stumbling and the excuses of 2023 aren’t around? It’s all about the big picture right now for SKC.

It’s all about chance creation and shot location for St. Louis. No team in MLS takes lower-quality shots than the relative newcomers, who are averaging a measly 0.08 non-penalty xG per shot, according to FBref. Discipline is lacking in the St. Louis attack.

Toronto FC logo
Toronto FC

I’ve had a ton of fun watching Federico Bernardeschi single-handedly tilt Toronto’s attack toward the right side of the field. Sooner or later, though, opposing defenses are going to sell out on that side to stop Bernardeschi. To prepare, Toronto FC need more from their left side.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC logo
Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Vanni Sartini has to give his outside center backs some help. Vancouver tend to leave their wingbacks high without the ball while defending in a flat 3-4-3, rather than dropping them back a line to flank the center backs in a more traditional 5-4-1 shape. With the wingbacks so far forward, the outside center backs are left on an island.

The central defenders need cover. Like, yesterday.