Armchair Analyst: 2018 Season Recaps – The bottom eight

Some of these teams were eliminated about five minutes after the season started, but that doesn't mean the season meant nothing for them. There was experimentation, breakthroughs, disappointment and struggle.

Let's write some epitaphs.


SJ

San Jose Earthquakes (#23)

The Quakes made the playoffs in 2017. They celebrated by dismissing their coach, hiring a new one – their third in six months – signing a whole bunch of new players (but no left backs!), and then putting together the worst season in club history. A gif is worth a thousand words:

They're now on their fourth coach in the last 18 months, and it's safe to say that any sort of slow-build plan GM Jesse Fioranelli came in with has been scrapped.

San Jose didn't defend well and didn't attack well in 2018, and they didn't possess well, and goalkeeping was a season-long issue, and none of their young players reaaaaally took a step forward, and none of their signings really distinguished themselves. And there was sniping in the press, and an embarrassing sub in Montreal and... I guess there's a reason they're on their fourth coach in 18 months, isn't there?

FORMATION & TACTICS: Mikael Stahre was all over the place. He tinkered with a 4-2-2-2 at times, but couldn't get enough protection in front of the center backs to make it work. He went to a 4-2-3-1, but there wasn't enough interplay to be dangerous in possession, and not enough speed to be dangerous on the counter. At times it was a 4-1-3-2, but that tended to get ugly quick.

They really did look better in a 4-3-3 under Steve Ralston down the stretch, even if they ran into a buzzsaw of a schedule and didn't win any games under the since-departed interim. At least they were fun!

HIGHLIGHT: They had only two wins over the season's final five-and-a-half months, and both were against FC Dallas. The second of those wins – the last Quakes win of the season – was a back-and-forth, 4-3 bag of fun:

The reality, though, is that the season's only true highlight was the Matias Almeyda announcement and press conference.

LOWLIGHT: From May 16 to the end of the season the Quakes went 2-16-6, so there are lots of candidates. The toughest one was probably the opener of the Ralston era, a home game in which the Quakes took a 4-1 lead on Atlanta United before losing 4-3.

Yeah, you read that right. San Jose had were up 3-1, and Chris Wondolowski scored a goal. Then it went to VAR. Then it came all the way back, 20ish seconds, to a handball committed by Magnus Eriksson in the box that not only wiped out Wondo's goal, but gave Josef Martinez a penalty, making the score 3-2. Of course the Quakes melted down after that. 

REVELATION: No player earned that. The biggest revelation was that the team is willing to go out and spend on a coach like Almeyda, whose reputation in both Argentina and Mexico is damn near pristine. It was a genuine shock to see him come to MLS.

DISAPPOINTMENT: The winter signings? The lack of playing time and progress from the young players? Andrew Tarbell in goal? All of the above fit, but nobody was a bigger disappointment than Stahre, who seemed out of his depth. And his handling of a pair of subs in a loss at Montreal was beyond bizarre.

PLAYERS TO BUILD ON IN 2019: LB Nick Lima, CM Jackson Yueill, DM Luis Felipe, GK J.T. Marcinkowski, CB Guram Kashia

None of those first four really stood out in 2018, but all had moments where they showed real talent and potential. Yueill even seemed to realize he has to defend if he wants to play in MLS.

The defense as a whole got better for a hot minute when Kashia arrived. He looks the part of – and has the resume of – a veteran who can anchor a back four for two or three years.

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: There's quite a bit that needs doing. Just eyeballing the roster, it's clear that 1) there's a lot of overpaid, underperforming imports, and 2) San Jose are probably at a talent deficit against almost everybody. It's not pretty.

There will be personnel changes, and strategic changes, and tactical changes. The biggest change, however, has to be cultural, and it has to come down to Almeyda being able to put the past in the past and make sure this group isn't destined to relive 2018 all over again.


ORL

Orlando City SC (#22)

Their offseason was so ambitious and multi-faceted, and the roster they put together looked so good on paper that I picked them to be a playoff contender. A gif is worth a thousand words:

I have to admit that I still kind of don't get how this happened. Orlando City had, on paper, a bunch of productive, proven MLS veterans, a few exciting young players, a pair of experienced CBs with European pedigrees, a head coach who's won in this league before, and what should be one of the league's best homefield advantages.

None of it worked. At one point they were 1-19-3 over their previous 23 games – taking just 6 of 69 points on offer. It's the worst 23-game stretch in MLS history.

FORMATION & TACTICS: Jason Kreis brought his team into the season playing something of a 4-4-2 diamond, but after some early struggles went to a pretty standard 4-2-3-1. It was effective at times – they brought numbers forward and were dangerous, especially late – but also really, really didn't, as they were repeatedly exposed on the counter even in games they won.

As the losses mounted, first Kreis and then new head coach James O'Connor veered more and more defensive, and over the second half of the season the Purple Lions played a lot out of an ultra-defensive 5-4-1. Nothing either manager did made for any sort of consistent, reliable, quality soccer.

HIGHLIGHT: The six-game winning streak that bookended April had Orlando fans riding high and cursing me out on Twitter when I pointed out it was mostly smoke and mirrors. Still, late comebacks are fun. Look at this:

There were moments when it looked like this team would jell.

LOWLIGHT: Everything that happened after that six-game winning streak. I'll say it again: AT ONE POINT THEY TOOK SIX OUT OF SIXTY-NINE POINTS.

The very worst part of that stretch was June, when they lost all five games they played and were outscored 17-2 in the process. Then they lost their first game of July 4-1 for good measure.

It was prolonged agony. It was weekly torture. It was bad and no good.

REVELATION: Gonna give this to rookie winger Chris Mueller by default, because nobody else really comes close. Mueller wasn't amazing, but 3g/7a is plenty solid, and his energy was always good for a team that seemed to lack exactly that at crucial moments. 

DISAPPOINTMENT: The whole season, really. And there are a bunch of individual players who could get named here – Justin Meram, Uri Rosell, Josue Colman, etc. etc. etc.

But it's Lamine Sane. He's a 31-year-old center back with more than 200 combined starts to his name in the Bundesliga and Ligue 1, but he often looked lost and helpless in MLS. It's bizarre.

PLAYERS TO BUILD ON IN 2019: W Chris Mueller, FW Dom Dwyer, LW Josue Colman, CM Yoshi Yotun, DM Cristian Higuita

Mueller, Dwyer (13g in 2200 minutes) and Yotun (generally good two-way play) can all at least look themselves in the mirror after last season, and it's a safe bet all three will be back (I think Sacha Kljestan was mostly fine in 2018, though I wonder if he'll be back). Colman was a bust, but they invested a lot and it's a good bet they'll have to run him out there for at least 2000 minutes. They have to build on him.

As for Higuita, just about every front-office type in MLS thinks there's a good player in there somewhere. That might make him their only real trade chip, or it might make him, at 24 and with four MLS seasons under his belt, their destroyer for next season.

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: As with the Quakes it feels cultural more than anything else, and perhaps that corner will be taken with Luiz Muzzi arriving from Dallas to oversee soccer operations. Muzzi needs to be given the time to create something and let it breathe a bit, rather than the chop-and-change that's defined the Lions since 2015. He also needs to do a better job of reading the fine print on player contracts than his predecessor.

And they need to figure out that central defense. Neither Sane nor Shane O'Neill should've been as lost as they were.


COL

Colorado Rapids (#21)

The Rapids Way meant new, exciting, flowing, entertaining soccer in 2018 after a dismal 2017. Or so the press release went, anyway. A gif is worth a thousand words:

While everybody else was zigging toward Latin America to import new talent (both sideline and onfield), the Rapids braintrust zagged toward Europe – specifically the UK and Scandinavia – to fill their roster.

They ended up with two fewer points (33 in 2017, 31 in 2018), 12 more goals conceded (51 to 63) and a worse goal differential (-20 to -27). The offseason plan didn't work out so great.

FORMATION & TACTICS: I have to give Anthony Hudson for actually trying, at times, to make "The Rapids Way" an actual thing. There were stretches of multiple games during which Colorado pinged the ball around, completing a bunch of passes – many of them meaningful – and looking like a bit of fun to watch.

But that was the exception, not the rule. The rule was that Colorado came out passive and in a low block, really only created danger when they could get out on the run via long balls, and struggled to get defensive pressure to the opponent no matter what formation they were in

And it changed so often that I'm honestly not even sure what to say here.

HIGHLIGHT: Over 10 days at the start of August the Rapids were balling! They beat the Galaxy, beat the Quakes, and then tied the Galaxy while dominating the ball and where the game was played. It wasn't perfect and it wasn't irresistible, and they were beating up on teams who were something less than 2009 Barcelona, but who the hell cares? The Rapids were fun!

LOWLIGHT: They weren't a lot of fun immediately after that stretch, easing their way into an 0-7-0 death-spiral in which they were outscored 22-1. The very, very bottom, though, was this goal at Seattle. Watch how Colorado's three prize offseason signings, Jack Price (19), Tommy Smith (5) and Danny Wilson (4) all just sort of stop playing...

Those aren't rookies. I have no idea how three veterans could just give up on a play in the box like that.

REVELATION: Cole Bassett! The Homegrown central midfielder was very under-the-radar – considered a good, not great prospect – when he signed in August. By September he was getting minutes, and by October he was starting and looking like one of Colorado's better players.

It still remains to be seen whether than was an aberration, and it remains to be seen whether he's the type to work on his game and improve in the offseason. But if there was a silver lining to 2018, it's that a young, Homegrown midfielder got a few hundred minutes and made good with them. 

DISAPPOINTMENT: Every offseason signing, save for LB Edgar Castillo, underperformed (and Castillo, who was on loan, almost certainly won't be back). You can't go 0-for-the-Transfer Window and expect to have even a decent year. And so Colorado didn't.

PLAYERS TO BUILD ON IN 2019: CM Cole Bassett, CM Kellyn Acosta, CB Kortne Ford, CB Axel Sjoberg, CF Kei Kamara

Part of Colorado being fun was Acosta's arrival and semi-revitalization. He's going to get a chance to be a focal point now, and needs to 1) own it, and 2) find the damn ball more. He's as gifted a No. 8 as there is in the league, but he drifts out of games in a way that you just can't if you play that position.

Neither Ford nor Sjoberg were great last year, but they're both younger and with more upside than the more expensive veteran CBs on the roster, and Sjoberg is, at the very least, proven in this league.

So's Kamara. It says quite a bit about The Rapids Way that they're now building around and toward a mercurial, well-traveled 34-year-old center forward, but here we are.

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: Can I say "fix the culture!" again or have I gone back to that well too many times? Too many? Okay then...

How about they go out and get a killer d-mid? None of Price, Bassett or Acosta is really suited to that job, and just parking somebody in front of the central defense to win second balls and protect Zone 14 should make this team about 10 percent less bad. 


CHI

Chicago Fire (#20)

In Year 1 of the Veljko Paunovic/Nelson Rodriguez era, the Fire finished dead last. In Year 2, they finished third. In Year 3, they finished 20th. A gif is worth a thousand words:

I don't think it's overselling it to say that 2018 was a major step backward for this club, and that a lot of the hard work they did in 2017 seemed to come to naught. Most of the same faces were back, but a lot of the veterans got hurt, few of the young players progressed, and a lack of any sort of discernible style very much contributed to the one-step-forward, two-steps-back nature of both the season and the Pauno/Rodriguez era.

FORMATION & TACTICS: Paunovic did a little bit of everything, and most of it revolved around Bastian Schweinsteiger's do-it-all flexibility. Basti as a No. 10? Sure! Basti as an old-fashioned sweeper? Sure! Basti as a center back for like half the season? Okey doke!

There were also entire months during which they were a man-marking team, and other months in which they were strictly zonal. By the end of the year they'd seemed to settle into more of a straight-forward 4-2-3-1 with a very low block.

Paunovic made his bones as a tournament coach, leading Serbia to the U-20 World Cup title back in 2015. He still coaches like a tournament coach, adjusting to attempt to nullify opposition strengths week-to-week, and it's come at the expense of building any cohesion or chemistry, or creating a team that plays to its own strengths. 

HIGHLIGHT: There weren't a lot, but the late-season 3-1 win over LAFC was probably the best moment of the year for this team. They played some good soccer and showed what could happen when the fullbacks got involved, and when youngster Djordje Mihailovic was fully fit. 

LOWLIGHT: The 4-3 loss to Philly on July 11, the second in what turned out to be an eight-game losing streak. The teams went back and forth, trading goals until Schweinsteiger made it 3-3 four minutes into stoppage, and it looked like game over. Then...

You could actually hear the Fire announcers talking about Philly's lax defending, and how it was about to cost them a result. Except it didn't.

Chicago weren't going to make the playoffs anyway, but you could've talked yourself into them making a run if they'd beaten the Union on that day. Instead they turned a tailspin into a death spiral.

REVELATION: Mihailovic comes closest, as he had 1g/4a in a shade under 600 minutes once he returned from an ACL tear. He's not a classic No. 10 – he doesn't hit a ton of through-balls, and isn't supremely goal-dangerous. But he's smart both on and off the ball, has good feet and is always looking to combine around the box.

Maybe he'll never top out as more than "solid" at that spot, but that's a damn sight better than what Chicago have had there in a long time.

DISAPPOINTMENT: It turns out Brandon Vincent has had enough soccer. Vincent checked a lot of boxes as a potential long-term left back – he's a hell of a crosser, a pretty good 1v1 defender, has above-average athleticism, and could be a decent passer of the ball when Chicago were looking to do that sort of thing.

But he retired after the season at age 24. Nobody who knows him was all that shocked, but regardless it leaves a big hole on that backline.

PLAYERS TO BUILD ON IN 2019: AM Djordje Mihailovic, CM Bastian Schweinsteiger, FW Nemanja Nikolic, RW Aleksandar Katai, RB Matt Polster

Schweinsteiger's 34, but is still easily their best player and they have to give the team a chance to win in 2019 while building around him. Nikolic – who had a solid sophomore season with 15g/2a – and Katai, who was at times a match-winner, should help in that regard, as should a healthy Mihailovic.

Polster is a huge question. He's out of contract and missed basically the entire season, and his absence correlates strongly with the Fire doing the whole crash-and-burn thing – there were no other right backs on that roster that even approached "serviceable." They need to find a way to bring him back and keep him healthy.

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: Get some freaking defenders so that Schweinsteiger can play in central midfield. Put him there with Mihailovic and Dax McCarty, with Nikolic, Katai and **insert new winger here** up top, and you've got a real team that can play in a 4-3-3.

But Chicago's defense was tragic in 2018.


TOR

Toronto FC (#19)

The greatest MLS team of all time! Three trophies! A run to the Concacaf Champions League final, only to outplay Chivas but lose in heartbreaking fashion! A gif is worth a thousand words:

Toronto FC rolled back the clock and became the Toronto FC of their fans' nightmares, the group that tormented an entire region from 2007 through 2014 with their overall ineptness and special flair for losing in new and inventive ways week by week. It felt ever so much like FC Dallas' 2017 meltdown, except more prolonged and pronounced.

Things were pretty miserable in The 6.

FORMATION & TACTICS: Injuries had a lot to do with the above, as TFC had their best XI available basically never. And so Greg Vanney had to chop and change throughout the season, flipping from a 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2 diamond to a flat 4-4-2 to a 5-4-1 at times, and making stops at other alignments along the way.

Throughout, they generally had less of the ball in good spots and generated worse and fewer chances than they had in either of the previous two seasons. They didn't as readily break lines with their passing from the back, and so their fullbacks couldn't get as far forward, and so it was easier for opponents to key in on the attackers – who were generally inferior versions of themselves.

Not great.

HIGHLIGHT: It is wild to think that this is the same timeline that saw TFC out-fight a Tigres side that's the best Liga MX team I've seen in the 25 years I've watched that league, and then trounce a Club America side that just won its record 13th league title. But that's what they did.

LOWLIGHT: There are lots of them. The 4-4 home draw against D.C. in which the defense fell apart late – which was their thing – was when I thought "oh man, I guess they're really in trouble." And the 4-2 home loss to LAFC three months later was just about the final nail in 2018's coffin.

But that ain't it. Nobody would give a fig about the 2018 regular season if they'd just finished off Chivas in the CCL final.

It was very much there for the taking, but shoddy goalkeeping, a fluffed late chance from Marky Delgado and a nightmare penalty round meant the Goats hoisted the crown. So it goes.

REVELATION: Jonathan Osorio as an all-star caliber midfielder, and arguably the best player in CCL was a nice surprise. It's mostly been forgotten now because he was a beast in the 2017 MLS Cup and was so good throughout 2018, but Osorio STRUGGLED in 2017.

But he fought back, won the starting job outright, played like a man possessed, got paid, and then kept balling.

DISAPPOINTMENT: With everything that happened, and with the advancing age of Sebastian Giovinco and Michael Bradley, it's hard not to feel like this was a wasted year.

PLAYERS TO BUILD ON IN 2019: CM Jonathan Osorio, FW Sebastian Giovinco, DM Michael Bradley, CB Chris Mavinga, FW Jozy Altidore

I think TFC's gonna run it back with the same bunch one last time – they won the Canadian Championship so they've got another shot at the CCL – and I'm not against that notion because it's impossible for them to have such devastatingly bad injury luck two years in a row.

The real trick might be keeping the locker room together, as all three DPs are entering the final year of their contracts. Giovinco has made it clear he wants another huge deal, while Altidore is busy posting passive-aggressively ambiguous social media content. On paper and on raw talent, you can build around these guys. If their hearts aren't in it anymore, though...

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: Figuring out how to keep those guys happy and healthy – if they can keep them happy and healthy – is Job No. 1. Job No. 2 is getting some reinforcements at center back and fullback and maybe even goalkeeper.

Apropos of everything, Omar Gonzalez is in the last six months of his contract and TFC just traded up to No. 2 in the allocation order.


HOU

Houston Dynamo (#18)

Make the playoffs one year, win the US Open Cup the next? A gif's worth a thousand words:

Nothing went as it should, and if you just look at the regular season this was a major step backwards for the Dynamo. But their underlying numbers were good, their young attack looks like it's ready to break out, and they got themselves a damn trophy.

Progress isn't linear and trophies are forever. 

FORMATION & TACTICS: It was pretty much a 4-2-3-1 that was actually more of a 4-2-1-3 all day, everyday from Wilmer Cabrera & Co. But unlike in 2017, it wasn't purely a deep-block-and-hit-'em-on-the-counter affair. They still did that from time to time – notably on opening day against Atlanta, and in the Open Cup final against Philly – but for the most part they tried to come out and play.

At times it was very pretty as they got on the ball and strung passes together before generating chance after chance. Most other times, though, they made themselves too vulnerable by bringing too many players upfield and got beaten down for it.

HIGHLIGHT: The opening day win and the Open Cup final, which they won at home in front of a pretty full stadium:

This wasn't a fluke in any way, as the Dynamo had pounded Sporting KC in the quarterfinals and then outlasted LAFC in the semifinals. This trophy was earned.

LOWLIGHT: While they were dominating in tournament play, they were crashing hard in the regular season. From July 14 to Sept. 1 they played 10 games in the league, losing seven, drawing three and asphyxiating their own playoff chances. The final game in that stretch was a pretty humiliating 4-2 loss at FC Dallas, which gave FCD the Texas Derby crown for the first time since 2015.

REVELATION: Mauro Manotas freaking arrived. The 23-year-old Colombian No. 9 scored 25 goals across all competitions: 19 in league play and six in that run to the Cup, including a brace in the final.

He now holds the club record for goals in a season and isn't that far away from the club record for goals in a career.

Best part? He didn't do it all by just repeating the same old stuff. He actually grew his game this year, and learned how to head the ball. He just keeps improving.

DISAPPOINTMENT: The real answer is a defense that gave up 58 goals, with seemingly 30 of them coming in the last 20 minutes of games (Cabrera's sub patterns were doubleplus ungood). The more interesting answer is Alberth Elis.

Elis was, at times, electric, and 11g/10 as a 22-year-old winger is a nice return on investment. But he spent most of the second half of the season being underwhelming after looking like a Best XI candidate for the first half. The talent is there, but as with the Dynamo as a whole, his progress was non-linear in 2018.

PLAYERS TO BUILD ON IN 2019: FW Mauro Manotas, W Alberth Elis, W Romell Quioto, AM Tomas Martinez, DM Juan David Cabezas

Quioto is even more enigmatic than Elis and doesn't have the excuse of youth to use, but when he's on he's awesome. Martinez is less that guy, and more a steady and heady No. 10 happy to combine rather than try to crack defenses open single-handedly. He fits with the other three guys in one of the league's most underrated attacks.

And none of it matters if Cabezas isn't healthy, apparently. Houston were helpless without him in 2018, and they have to keep him on the field in 2019 if they're to have any chance in the CCL, or regular season, or in their return to the USOC.

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: They basically got rid of their entire backline (one or two might be back), so it's safe to say there will be incoming upgrades. Hopefully, anyway, because their hit rate on defensive signings is nowhere near as high as their hit rate on attackers.

They absolutely need to get this right, because their window's not going to stay open forever – Elis and Manotas have both attracted a certain amount of attention overseas, and a strong CCL showing will only magnify that.

Get the central defense right, and Houston's a darkhorse team for 2019.


MIN

Minnesota United (#17)

After a debut season that was simultaneously discouraging and encouraging, Minnesota came out in 2018 and did... just about the same thing as in 2017. A gif's worth a thousand words:

There's nothing encouraging about having the same number of points in your second season as in your first. There's nothing encouraging about conceding one more goal in your second year than in your first, especially when 1) the number of goals you gave up as an expansion team was a league record, and 2) you got older instead of younger, and 3) none of the young players on the team really took any kind of step forward.

Of course, they always said it's supposed to be a three-year plan. Clock's ticking.

FORMATION & TACTICS: Adrian Heath toggled between a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1 and a 3-5-2 and a 5-4-1. At times he absolutely had to go with five at the back and defend deep because they couldn't get on the ball, and because they couldn't keep it out of their own net when they were only defending with four.

They hit a million midfield passes, just as they did last season, and there were a lot of moments – especially in the month of July – when the attack looked really good.

None of it happened with any consistency, though.

HIGHLIGHT: JULY!!!! The Loons won four out of five from the first of the month through the 22nd, a stretch that concluded with a 5-1 thrashing of LAFC. MNUFC fans and coaches alike were even making noises about the playoffs.

Obviously that was 10 levels too optimistic, but it's understandable that they had at least some drip given Darwin Quintero was doing stuff like this:

For a minute there they were the greatest show on turf.

LOWLIGHT: Their four-game losing streak to end the season, presumably with jobs on the line, certainly left an impression. The worst moment out of that whole stretch was a 2-0 home loss to the Rapids, of all teams.

It wasn't just the loss, though. It was that the Rapids – the Rapids!!! – taunted the MNUFC players, coaches and fans deep into second-half stoppage, which led to some bruised egos, a couple of reds and a little homefield humiliation.

You can't get pushed around at home by one of the league's worst teams like that.

REVELATION: I'm gonna be charitable and say "Miguel Ibarra as a wingback." The veteran, who's played on the wing and at playmaker earlier in his career, ended up spending a bunch of time outside as a two-way player in 2018, and he made it sing at least a little bit with 7g/8a and lots of hard work.

DISAPPOINTMENT: The Loons used their first DP slot on Quintero, who was mostly really good as a second forward/playmaker. They used their second DP slot on center forward Angelo Rodriguez, a 29-year-old Colombian journeyman who's scored double-digit goals in a season exactly once in his career.

Rodriguez was below par for Minnesota, putting up 4g/1a in 870 minutes – worse per-minute output than the man he replaced, Christian Ramirez. More worrying, though, was that Quintero's production immediately slowed as soon as Rodriguez became the No. 9. They've got to get some chemistry, quick.

PLAYERS TO BUILD ON IN 2019: AM Darwin Quintero, FW Angelo Rodriguez, RW Miguel Ibarra, LB Francisco Calvo, LW Romario Ibarra

They're married to Quintero and Angelo, so they've got to make that work. Miguel Ibarra... I think they should keep him, but it wouldn't shock me (at all) if he was on the block. There's interest around the league, and as this front office showed last year, they are not afraid to plunge their hands into the fanbase's collective chest and rip out their still-beating heart. No cow is sacred.

Calvo was a lot better once he was shunted out to left back, and that should almost certainly be his long-term home.

As for Romario Ibarra, I don't know – I'm just kind of spitballing here. He looked pretty good in his 270-ish minutes, and it's not like there are a lot of proven quantities on this roster. Plus given their track record with young players, it'd be tough to bet on any of the kids becoming a centerpiece.

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: If they don't fix the defense it's a fair bet there will be dozens of folks, from the sideline to the front office, looking for jobs by summer.

I don't know if that means signing new players or bringing in a new assistant coach who's tasked specifically with being a defensive coordinator. Maybe it's both.


NE

New England Revolution (#16)

They brought in a new coach, talked some tough talk, blitzed teams for two months, and then faded into nothingness. A gif is worth a thousand words:

The Revs really didn't get their measurements right in 2018 as they took a collective step backwards, dropping from 7th (2017) to 8th (2018) in the standings and regressing from 45 points to 41 overall, their worst season-long haul since 2012.

They did acquire an identity along the way – they're a high-pressing team with a locker room that head coach Brad Friedel thinks is too nice to each other – which should at least provide them a north star for the winter ahead.

FORMATION & TACTICS: It was almost always a 4-2-3-1 that at times looked like a 4-4-2 with heavy, relentless, front-foot pressure. Unfortunately the midfield and backline were almost always dislocated, which meant that by May teams had figured out you could drop short passes into the pockets and let your playmaker go to work.

You could also just boot it long toward the general vicinity of the Revolution's left back du jour. That trick worked all year.

Anyway, the high press really worked well early in the season when everybody's still learning how to play together. Once teams figured that bit out, they were mostly able to just play through the Revs and punish them. A 5-3-2 start gave way to a 3-9-9 stretch that saw New England fall out of the playoffs and into the abyss. 

HIGHLIGHT: That start was pretty damn good, though, and very smart! Teams are slow and sloppy both on and off the ball to start every single season, and it was clever of Friedel to weaponize that with a relentless high press. Plan A was good.

LOWLIGHT: Plan B was non-existent and the Revs steadily lost steam and slowly lost their position near the top of the standings.

If there was one particular moment where it felt like "oh my God, the wheels have completely come off," it was this one:

That came after the Revs had come back from 2-0 down to bring the game back to 2-2. It ended in a 3-2 loss. It came in the middle of a 14-game stretch during which New England managed just one win.

REVELATION: I guess Cristian Penilla qualifies? There were only moderate expectations surrounding the twice-capped Ecuadoran international winger, but he overdelivered with a 12g/7a season. He spent a good chunk of the year being really, really good.

DISAPPOINTMENT: Penilla was the only offseason signing that was an unambiguous success – and maybe the only signing of the past two years. Gabriel Somi lost his job in 1/3 of a season; Antonio Delamea struggled; Claude Dielna was exiled; Christian Machado, who they'd pursued for half-a-year, played 119 minutes and won't be back; Wilfried Zahibo was somehow an all-star, but spent most of the second half of the season as a very expensive DNP-CD; Michael Mancienne is the league's highest-paid defender and did not look the part; Guillermo Hauche was, apparently, a professional soccer player.

Luis Caicedo was passable at d-mid, and maybe he'll improve. But it's hard to get excited about a rebuilding project when the folks in charge seem to have real issues with talent ID and development.

PLAYERS TO BUILD ON IN 2019: W Cristian Penilla, FW Diego Fagundez, DM Luis Caicedo, GK Matt Turner, DM Scott Caldwell

Fagundez had one of the most productive seasons of his career, registering 9g/10a as a second forward/playmaker, and had some chemistry with Penilla. I thought Caicedo and Caldwell worked together as well, though the results didn't often show it.

Turner was red-hot at the start of the season, and then benched throughout most of September and October. Still, he looks the part of an MLS No. 1.

Not on this list? Forward Teal Bunbury and midfielder/left back Kelyn Rowe. It seems like the Revs are shopping for a Bunbury replacement – understandable given he had one goal over the final four months of the season – and nobody was less-suited for Friedel's crash-bang approach than Rowe, who has substantial trade value despite a miserable year. 

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: They need to sign better players, but that's a process that starts with examining what sort of process they have in the first place. How have they convinced themselves to spend so much money on so many lemons over the past two years? Was the problem with their scouting? Were the players good, but the system was bad? Was the locker room just too damn welcoming for the team to develop a killer instinct, so that tested veterans would instantly become soft? Do they have professional and personal integration strategies for new arrivals? 

They need answers to the above before they go out on the market or they're gonna get fleeced again.

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