MLS regular season resumes: A team-by-team look at how all 26 clubs are shaping up

It's a fresh start for all 26 clubs as the regular season resumes in home markets beginning on August 12.

We learned plenty about each team after the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando. Add in the matches we previously witnessed back in March and there's a clear picture we can paint for each side heading into the 18 matches that will decide the field for the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs.


ATL

Atlanta United

After a stunningly poor MLS is Back Tournament showing with three losses and not a single goal scored, Atlanta United will hit the restart button on their season with a new coach at the helm. Interim Stephen Glass, who coached Atlanta United 2, takes charge of the first team after the departure of Frank de Boer.

Where things stand: Despite their poor showing in Orlando, Atlanta are currently in a playoff position. It'll be a shorter 2020 season, but they have enough games to get things right and make a move up the Eastern Conference.

Biggest question: Atlanta's season essentially boils down to who's scoring the goals. With Josef Martinez going on the season-ending injury list, this duty falls on a forward corps comprised of Adam Jahn, JJ Williams and new arrival Erick "Cubo" Torres, who has shown in the past he can play the role of goal poacher if provided service.  

Most important player: It's a given that Atlanta need their big-money players – Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez – to produce big numbers and take over matches. And it will be intriguing to see if they come to life now that De Boer is out of the mix. But make no doubt about it: Cubo Torres is the vital piece. If the team can get back to playing some good soccer and creating chances, Torres has to be counted on to finish them. And he's already proven he can do it in MLS.

Projected XI (4-2-3-1, left to right): Guzan – Bello, Meza, Robinson, Escobar – Hyndman, Remedi – Barco, Pity Martinez, Damm – Torres; Head Coach: Stephen Glass

Playoff prospects: If their star players stay healthy and they can score goals, they should be a cinch to make the playoffs.


CHI

Chicago Fire FC

This Chicago Fire FC team isn’t a flash in the pan. After a promising start in Seattle and New England back in March, the Fire left a generally favorable impression at the MLS is Back Tournament despite not making it out of the group stage.

Where things stand: They're just outside a playoff spot, but there's definitely hope. New manager Raphael Wicky used the tournament to continue to integrate some of the club’s newer faces from defender Boris Sekulic, to holding mid Gaston Gimenez and left back Miguel Navarro, who looks to be a real find. The players are clearly still adjusting to one another, but the quality is evident and there’s an overall positive vibe surrounding the club fostered by Wicky.

Biggest question: The team should be able to overcome long-term knee injuries to starting ‘keeper Kenneth Kronholm and Luka Stojanovic. The issue that Wicky & Co. will need to address is the series of defensive lapses that have already cost the team on more than one occasion.

Most important player: The team enjoyed its most impressive spell in Orlando when an inspired Alvaro Medran was pulling the strings. There is no doubt that forwards Robert Beric and CJ Sapong can score goals, but they need their playmaker to be at his best to unlock the true potential of the team’s attack.

Projected XI (3-5-2, right to left): Shuttleworth – Sekulic, Pineda, Calvo – Frankowski, Herbers, Gimenez, Medran, Navarro – Sapong, Beric; Head Coach: Raphael Wicky

Playoff prospects: The Fire should have enough talent to be in the mix for the bottom half of the playoff places in the East. If Medran shines and the defensive errors can be kept to a minimum, they can grow into the season and potentially be a threat in the postseason.


CIN

FC Cincinnati

Jaap Stam and FC Cincinnati were one of the teams that benefited most from the MLS is Back Tournament. After a disastrous 4-0 opening loss to the rivals Crew that could have derailed the club, they instead came together under Stam who overcame an early first test at the helm.

Where things stand: The formula for their turnaround success in Orlando was a shift to a bunker-and-counter style which has a history of working for teams in a tournament setting. That strategy earned them results that lifted them to 8th place at 2W-3L-0D. It remains to be seen whether Stam decides to translate that formula to regular season play.

Biggest question: If striker Jurgen Locadia can get healthy, stay healthy and put his chances away with an efficiency expected of a Designated Player, they can be dangerous enough in attack to cause problems for any opponent.

Most important player: It’s Locadia, but if the Dutchman is going to produce, the cast around him will be decisive in getting him his chances: Yuya Kubo came to life at MLS is Back, Siem de Jong is pure class, Adrien Regattin is a gamer and Frankie Amaya is growing. And that’s without mentioning last year’s team MVP Allan Cruz, who’s been on the bench so far for Stam.

Projected XI (5-3-2, right to left): Tyton – Gyau, Deplagne, Waston, Pettersson, Gutman – Stanko, Medunjanin, Amaya – Kubo, Locadia; Head Coach: Jaap Stam

Playoff prospects: In a tough Eastern Conference, they’re going to need some of the Orlando magic that made them one of the darlings of the tournament. But whether they make the playoffs or not, the most important measure of success for Stam and FC Cincy this year is real progress on the field ahead of next year’s stadium opening.


COL

Colorado Rapids

Expect the Colorado Rapids to be raring to go when the season resumes following the mixed results obtained in Orlando, where they seemed to lose a bit of the momentum they were building under new head coach Robin Fraser.

Where things stand: Whether it was the lineup and formation tweaks that threw them off, or perhaps they were simply out of sorts in Orlando, the Rapids just didn’t look like the sparkling, goal-scoring side we saw since Fraser took over. The good news is that their strong March start means they're in 7th place in the West and the squad is still intact. If anything, they’ve recently added a player they hope can become a difference maker in Braian Galvan.

Biggest question: What kind of player will Younes Namli be in MLS? We were treated to a memorable goal in his second MLS appearance, but he largely went unnoticed in Orlando. If they’re going to make a leap in 2020, a star turn by their Designated Player would help.

Most important player: It’s obvious that Kei Kamara has an outsize influence on this team’s ability to score goals. But they hit their groove when Jack Price is dictating the game from midfield. When Price is on, the Rapids raise their play to another level.

Projected XI (4-2-3-1, right to left): Yarbrough – Rosenberry, Abubakar, Moor, Vines – Acosta, Price – Lewis, Namli, Benezet – Kamara; Head Coach: Robin Fraser

Playoff prospects: It’s a testament to Fraser’s work that there’s an expectation that this team is a playoff contender in 2020. As competitive as the West might be, anything less than a postseason berth would be considered a disappointment.


CLB

Columbus Crew SC

The Crew not only showcased some of the best soccer at the MLS is Back Tournament, but they were also rewarded with results as they waltzed through the group stage with three wins and not a single goal conceded. Those performances give them the best record in the league (4W-0L-1D) as the season restarts.

Where things stand: Although they're on top of the league, Caleb Porter’s men's last match at the tournament was a downer after a penalty-kick shootout loss to Minnesota in the Round of 16 brought their run to an abrupt halt. All eyes will be on the Crew and whether they can quickly bounce back and show the rest of the league that their hot start to 2020 is no fluke.

Biggest question: Now that the narrative has changed around the Crew, how do they handle their newfound status as contenders? How do they react to adversity? Whether it’s a bad stretch of results or a single frustrating match, their resilience and response in these moments will go a long way toward determining what might occur come the playoff pressure.

Most important player: Darlington Nagbe may be the most influential player on this team – and he was on pace for a tournament MVP showing before Minnesota in the Round of 16 -- but it’s Lucas Zelarayan who has to take the team on his shoulders and make the special play when the team needs it the most. His talent should be the key to breaking down the most stubborn of opponents.

Projected XI (4-2-3-1, left to right): Room – Afful, Mensah, Keita, Valenzuela – Nagbe, Artur – Diaz, Zelarayan, Santos – Zardes; Head Coach: Caleb Porter

Playoff prospects: The Crew showed at MLS is Back that there’s no reason they can’t aim to win MLS Cup this year, especially if they can solve teams that park the bus against them. A deep playoff run is the minimum expectation and it would only add to the buzz ahead of next year’s move to their new stadium.


DAL

FC Dallas

FC Dallas endured one of the more frustrating MLS is Back experiences, suffering a COVID-19 outbreak upon arrival in Orlando that forced a quarantine and eventual withdrawal. They’ll make up for those lost games with three matches vs Nashville SC, who are in the same boat, as they resume a season that began with legitimate trophy ambitions driven by an up-tempo style executed by a talented young core and some battle-tested veterans.

Where things stand: Dallas currently sit in eighth place in the West, due mostly to having played just twice thus far. They’re undefeated, though, having beaten Philadelphia on opening day before staging a two-goal comeback to draw Montreal 2-2 in Week 2.

Biggest question: There’s an old soccer saying that you’ll never win anything with kids; FCD’s Homegrowns need to disprove that one, ideally with some leadership and productivity from older heads like Zdenek Ondrasek and Reto Ziegler.  

Most important player: Jimmy Maurer is the new No. 1 in goal for Dallas with the release of Jesse Gonzalez, and it’s key that he be dependable and assertive to provide a solid foundation in the back.

Projected XI (4-3-3, left to right): Maurer — Hollingshead, Ziegler, Hedges, Cannon — Tessmann, Thiago Santos, Pomykal — Picault, Ferreira, Barrios; Head Coach: Luchi Gonzalez

Playoff prospects: Qualification is a basic and expected goal for a group that gave last year’s champions the Seattle Sounders their toughest test in the 2019 postseason. A deep run is what they’re surely aiming for.


DC

D.C. United

The Black-and-Red were tough to beat in Florida, twice storming back to earn gutsy draws in their first two games at MLS is Back, before their limitations were exposed in a disastrous loss to Montreal in their group-stage finale that ejected them from the tournament. Ben Olsen’s men are anchored by one of the stingiest back lines in MLS yet questions linger about their front line since the departure of Wayne Rooney. Can Edison Flores, Julian Gressel & Co. find their rhythm?

Where things stand: With a 1-2-2 record D.C. are averaging just one point per game and that puts them in tenth place in the East, well below their expectations for this season.

Biggest question: Who’s going to score the goals? Ola Kamara has a solid track record as a finisher and there’s plenty of quality around him. They just have yet to put together an extended run of coherent attacking play.  

Most important player: Edison Flores. United’s club-record signing is an established Peruvian international who can play multiple roles across the attacking band of three; with a few injury issues and the usual adaptation process, he’s yet to show his true quality in MLS and his club needs him to do so if they are to contend for hardware..

Projected XI (4-2-3-1, left to right): Hamid — Mora, Birnbaum, Brillant, Canouse — Felipe, Moreno — Asad, Flores, Gressel — Kamara; Head Coach: Ben Olsen

Playoff prospects: The capital club have consistently shown their ability to reach the postseason in recent years, so that’s job one. Getting over the hump and winning some games once they get there has been trickier.


HOU

Houston Dynamo

The Dynamo are in the first season of a new era under Tab Ramos, and they’ve shown promise in his first five games in charge despite failing to bag a victory yet. A Homegrown movement is underway, though Ramos has to work with his incumbent pieces in the short term. Energetic pressing and pacey transitions are the main principles shown to date, and they’ve been decent in possession at times.

Where things stand: H-town sit second from bottom in the Western Conference table with three points from their first five games of 2020.

Biggest question: Who can the Dynamo depend on to step up and assume leadership and accountability in testing moments? They’ve got some talent and experience but the personality of Ramos’ side still seems to be taking shape.  

Most important player: Darwin Quintero was Houston’s showcase offseason acquisition and the mercurial Colombian, now 32, is expected to be productive as well as inspiring to teammates and fans alike.

Projected XI (4-3-3, left to right): Maric — Lundkvist, Figueroa, Struna, Valentin — Rodriguez, Vera, Garcia — Quintero, Manotas, ElisHead Coach: Tab Ramos

Playoff prospects: The West is a tough place to compete while rebuilding and that’s the balancing act for Houston. Though they historically enjoy one of MLS’s bigger home-field advantages, they’ve got precious little time to figure things out in the compressed stretch run ahead. Qualification is a reasonable but testing target.


LAFC

LAFC

The ambitions remain astronomical for the Black & Gold. The reigning Supporters’ Shield winners will aim to defend that title while also reaching the MLS Cup mountaintop, and given their dashing and devastating displays for most of their existence, anything short of a championship will be disappointing. LAFC were undone by surprise package Orlando City in the MLS is Back quarterfinals and Bob Bradley may use that to fuel his team’s fire in the days ahead. They continue the season without forward Adama Diomande after club and player mutually agreed to terminate his contract. 

Where things stand: At 2-0-3, LAFC occupy fourth place in the West and sit four points back of leaders Columbus in the Shield race.

Biggest question: We’ll cheat a bit with a two-parter; is Carlos Vela – who sat out MLS is Back – ready to return and resume his imperious demolition of MLS defenses, and will an occasionally error-prone back line firm things up so he and his front line mates can attack with their preferred abandon?  

Most important player: Vela, of course. Though they’ve shown they’re not nearly as dependent on their star man as Atlanta, to cite one example, LAFC are a much more daunting proposition with their Mexican MVP fit and firing.

Projected XI (4-2-3-1, left to right):  Vermeer — Palacios, Segura, Jakovic, Blackmon — Kaye, Blessing, Atuesta — Rossi, Wright-Phillips, Vela; Head Coach: Bob Bradley

Playoff prospects: This is the bare minimum for Los Angeles’ younger half. An MLS Cup hoist is the real measuring stick.


LA

LA Galaxy

Even with Chicharito and Cristian Pavon in the fold, all is not well in Carson. The Galaxy remain winless in 2020 and have been a labored, misfiring outfit for most of their first five matches, trying out multiple formations and combinations and generally looking like less than the sum of their parts. Expectations remain lofty for the five-time champs and the next month or so could be pivotal for them.

Where things stand: Now that Nashville have been moved to the East for the rest of 2020, the Galaxy sit dead last in the Western Conference standings with just two points.

Biggest question: Is Guillermo Barros Schelotto the one to get the best out of this team? The Argentine has cut a downcast figure on the sidelines and admitted that his players mailed it in during the latter stages of that stinging 6-2 rout at the hands of rivals LAFC.  

Most important player:  Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez is now the brightest star in the Galaxy firmament and all eyes are watching to see whether he can find his feet in MLS – which is not entirely fair given his dependence on intelligent service from his teammates, but such is the life of an icon.

Projected XI (4-2-2-2 box midfield, left to right): Bingham — Insua, Gonzalez, Steres, Feltscher — Corona, dos Santos — Lletget, Kljestan — Chicharito, Pavon; Head Coach: Guillermo Barros Schelotto

Playoff prospects: Postseason participation is generally the baseline for LA, though this proud club must right the ship quickly if they are to ensure that they’re invited to the party this year.


MIA

Inter Miami CF

Still searching for their first MLS win and first MLS point, Inter Miami’s 0-5-0 record belies the quality in their squad. With a shortened season, though, urgency is high to pick up points as they chase the playoffs. 

Where things stand: Sitting at the bottom of the league, Miami have reinforcements on the way. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez was signed and is awaiting his club debut while he'll be joined by World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi, too.

Biggest question: With their defensive pieces and structure, the club’s biggest concern is the attack and forging cohesiveness between the new players under Diego Alonso’s scheme. Will Julian Carranza or Robbie Robinson get hot? Can Rodolfo Pizarro jump to another level? How will Matuidi elevate those around him if he joins?

Most important player: It’s Pizarro. The players around him are solid and strong, he was brought in to be the game-changer. Their elite attacker as youngsters Carranza, Robinson and Matias Pellegrini go through their ups and downs.

Projected XI (3-4-2-1, left to right): Robles — Gonzalez Pirez, Figal, Reyes — Sweat, Matuidi, Trapp, Morgan — Pizarro, Pellegrini — Robinson; Head Coach: Diego Alonso

Playoff prospects: While it’s not a great start, Miami are far from out of the playoff race. They’re just two wins away from seventh place. A quick hot streak over two weeks changes everything.


MIN

Minnesota United FC

Even without Ike Opara for the entire MLS is Back Tournament, even without Kevin Molino for a few games, even without Romain Metanire for a few games, the fightin’ Loons made it to the semifinals of the tournament. Now, they resume the season with a ton of momentum.

Where things stand: With the reigning MLS Defender of the Year still to be added to the tournament squad that impressed so heavily, as well as more links with Boca Juniors’ attacking midfielder Emanuel Reynoso, Minnesota are looking to ensconce themselves near the top of the Western Conference.

Biggest question: The defensive core is solid, aided further by the addition of Bakaye Dibassy. They have three solid options at center forward and the attacking midfielders have been more than adequate. There aren’t really many holes, but are looking to add another big piece in Reynoso. So, that potential deal is the biggest question at this time. 

Most important player: A month ago, it would have been Opara. But they got by in Orlando without him. It still might be Opara over the long-term, but we’ll go with midfield maestro and set piece assassin Jan Gregus.

Projected XI (4-2-3-1, left to right): Miller — Gasper, Boxall, Opara, Metanire — Alonso, Gregus — Lod, Molino, Finlay — Amarilla; Head Coach: Adrian Heath

Playoff prospects: Minnesota are worried much more about the Supporters’ Shield chase than the playoff line. Barring a huge collapse, they won’t have to worry about a fight to make the playoffs.


MTL

Montreal Impact

Finding their form under new head coach Thierry Henry, it’s been an encouraging first run of games in the Concacaf Champions League, MLS regular season and MLS is Back Tournament with hugely difficult circumstances.

Where things stand: The Impact picked up three points in the group stage at the tournament — three valuable regular season points — and advanced to the Knockout Stage. Henry continues to tinker with his players to figure out the right combination.

Biggest question: What is the best way to set up Montreal’s group? Henry tried four at the back systems in preseason, swapped to five at the back and has tried a handful of different combinations, both by way of personnel and formations, since February.

Most important player: When Saphir Taider is in form, he’s one of the most underrated midfielders in MLS. He can impact the game both attacking and in defense, a key piece in the Impact’s ambitions for success.

Projected XI (4-3-3, left to right): Diop — Raitala, Fanni, Binks, Brault-Guilard — Piette, Wanyama, Taider — Lappalainen, Urruti, Okwonkwo; Head Coach: Thierry Henry

Playoff prospects: It won’t be easy for Montreal, but they’re in the thick of the race with seven points after five regular season games.


NSH

Nashville SC

With huge excitement in their expansion season, Nashville SC had to wait five months between games number two and three. A long wait, but they’re ready to get back in action against FC Dallas.

Where things stand: Way back in early March, Nashville lost their first two games but showed encouraging signs. The next goal is to turn performances into their first MLS points.

Biggest question: With a strong defensive foundation anchored by Walker Zimmerman, Nashville’s attack is still yet to click under Gary Smith. Hany Mukhtar and Randall Leal have shown promising moments, but the new group of players didn't quite find their rhythm over their first two games together. 

Most important player: The club’s first Designated Player, Mukhtar is their creative outlet. If he finds his top form then questions about the attack will subside.

Projected XI (4-2-3-1, left to right): Willis — Lovitz, Romney, Zimmerman, Miller — McCarty, Godoy — Accam, Mukhtar, Leal – Rios; Head Coach: Gary Smith

Playoff prospects: With the shortened season, anything can happen. Though they have no points just yet, they also have three games in hand on the rest of the league (all to be played against Dallas). It's very early for Nashville.


NE

New England Revolution

After a mixed showing for the New England Revolution in Orlando, Bruce Arena’s side will be looking to truly kickstart their season with the restart in home markets. Unfortunately for the Revs, they will have to do so without their inspirational playmaker Carles Gil, who will miss between three and five months after undergoing surgery on his left Achilles tendon. 

Where things stand: New England have lost just once in regular-season play in 2020, back on the opening day of the season to the Montreal Impact. But they have also won just once — curiously against the same opponents at the MLS is Back Tournament — leaving them in ninth place in the East. 

Biggest question: Can the Revs find a way to prosper without their creative linchpin, Gil? That will surely be the question that is occupying Arena’s mind as he prepares for the season restart. Will he look to replace that creativity through an emphasis on wingers or could there be a replacement sought from the outside? 

Most important player: With Gil out, responsibility will fall even greater on the shoulders of Gustavo Bou to both find the net and help supply fellow-DP Adam Buksa. Bou has certainly shown that he can be a difference-maker for New England, netting nine times in just 14 appearances in 2019 after arriving from Club Tijuana last July. But the Revs will need him to be more efficient in front of goal than he was at the MLS is Back Tournament.

Projected XI (4-2-3-1, left to right): Turner – Buttner, Farrell, Delamea, Bye – Rowe, Caldwell – Bunbury, Bou, Penilla – Buksa; Head Coach: Bruce Arena

Playoff prospects: Even without Gil, the Revs should have enough quality and enough nous on the sidelines to secure a playoff berth.


NYC

New York City FC

Four consecutive defeats in MLS was hardly what new coach Ronny Deila would have envisioned to start life at NYCFC, but a Round of 16 win over Toronto FC at the MLS is Back Tournament raised morale levels considerably. And there remains little doubt that last season’s top dogs in the East have one of the most talented rosters in the league.

Where things stand: Those four defeats to start 2020 left the Cityzens playing catchup, but a first win over Inter Miami to close out the MLS is Back group stage provided some welcome first points and a move up 12th spot in the Eastern Conference.

Biggest question:  Is Jesus Medina now ready to become the player NYCFC thought they were getting when they made him a Designated Player two years ago? There were encouraging signs in Orlando, when the young Paraguayan scored a couple of goals including a superb strike against Orlando. If he can continue in that vein then it would help ease some of the creative burden on Maxi Moralez, whose absence was keenly felt whenever he was off the field at MLS is Back.

Most important player: The MLS is Back Tournament only reinforced just how critical Maxi Moralez is to this team. Although his assist numbers — an astonishing 36 over the past two seasons — grab the headlines, the whole team simply functions at a much higher level when he's on the field.

Projected XI (4-2-3-1, left to right): Johnson — Matarrita, Callens, Chanot, Tinnerholm — Ring, Sands — Mitrita, Moralez, Tajouri-Shradi — Heber; Head Coach: Ronny Deila

Playoff prospects: While they will struggle to repeat last year’s first place in the East, NYCFC still have more than enough quality to make the Playoffs.


RBNY

New York Red Bulls

An opening MLS is Back Tournament win over 2018 MLS Cup champions Atlanta United promised much but back-to-back 2-0 losses to FC Cincinnati and Columbus Crew SC saw the Red Bulls exit Orlando with a whimper. After an offseason reset, head coach Chris Armas will be eager to show that 2020 will be more than a painful transition year. 

Where things stand: With a 2-2-1 record to start the 2020 season, the Red Bulls go into the season restart in sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings but looking to bounce back after back-to-back losses.

Biggest question: Just five goals scored in their opening five games tells its own story about the main area of concern for the Red Bulls. And watching former striker Bradley Wright-Phillips continue to display lethal instincts in front of goal for LAFC at MLS is Back will not have made the situation any easier for the club’s supporters. There will be much scrutiny then on whether new loan signing Samuel Tetteh can add a cutting edge up front.

Most important player: In a team that largely relies on energy and pressing to best opponents, Kaku is the player who brings the creative skills to slice open defenses. His performances remain key to the Red Bulls' hopes.

Projected XI (4-4-2, left to right): Jensen — Pendant, Tarek, Long, Duncan — Kaku, Casseres Jr., Davis, Valot — White, Tetteh; Head Coach: Chris Armas

Playoff prospects: While there have been some early season stutters, it would be brave to bet against the Red Bulls ending a run of 10 consecutive trips to the postseason.


ORL

Orlando City SC

They may have fallen agonizingly short of a first major trophy with defeat in the final to the Portland Timbers, but Orlando can still take huge momentum from the MLS is Back Tournament and a string of superb team performances just months into Oscar Pareja’s time as head coach. 

Where things stand: Just two teams stand above the Lions in the East after taking eight points and tasting defeat just once through their first five regular-season games.

Biggest question: Can Orlando continue to be as impressive outside of the bubble and the condensed format of a tournament? A big factor in determining the answer to that question will be whether Nani continues to deliver inspirational performances and moments of game-winning brilliance. But, with Dom Dwyer likely sidelined for the rest of 2020, Orlando will also have to show that they can prosper for a full season without a prolific striker.  

Most important player: Nani's selection here is an obvious one. The former Manchester United star showed his world-class ability to lead Orlando through to the final of MLS is Back. But in terms of the way the team functions under Pareja, there is an argument that Mauricio Pereyra is the key piece. The Uruguayan was consistently excellent throughout the tournament and warrants consideration among the elite No. 10's in MLS.

Projected XI (4-2-3-1, left to right): Gallese — Moutinho, Antonio Carlos, Jansson, Ruan — Mendez, Rosell — Nani, Pereyra, Mueller — Akindele; Head Coach: Oscar Pareja

Playoff prospects: Pareja has shown more than enough in his MLS coaching career to suggest that Orlando’s performances at MLS is Back were no one-off. A first-ever playoff berth for the 2015 expansion club now beckons..


PHI

Philadelphia Union

The Philadelphia Union cemented their credentials as contenders in the MLS is Back Tournament, putting together a run that saw them fall just short in the semifinals against the eventual champions.

Where things stand: With eight points through their five regular-season games, the Union stand firmly in contention for a playoff spot in the East, and that is clearly the expectation given all they’ve accomplished so far.

Biggest question: The run at MLS is Back — not to mention a few finely crafted goals — often served to mask the fact that the Union were not as good as we’ve seen them be, even this year (thinking back to their 3-3 barnburner against LAFC in March). They were able to rely on Andre Blake to bail them out when not at their best in Orlando, but is it sustainable for the rest of the season?

Most important player: Blake was probably the Union’s most important player at MLS is Back, but do-everything midfielder Jamiro Monteiro will be the key to better play and sustained success for the rest of 2020.

Projected XI (4-1-2-1-2, left to right): Blake — Wagner, McKenzie, Elliott, Gaddis — Martinez — Monteiro, Bedoya — Aaronson — Przybylko, Santos

Playoff prospects: They made last year’s playoffs and a deep run at MLS is Back, and have left little reason to think they aren’t capable of the same if they keep up this level of performance. The question marks come if rumored European targets Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie depart during the summer transfer window.


POR

Portland Timbers

They’re the MLS is Back Tournament champions, they’ve got a CCL spot and a bit of extra cash, but they’re not about to stop yet. While the soccer wasn’t always sexy, it was indisputably effective, and Giovanni Savarese’s men have now laid down a marker for the rest of MLS in 2020.

Where things stand: The Timbers are pushing for the top spot in the West after collecting seven points in the MLS is Back group stage.

Biggest question: Savarese and the Timbers staff have put together a team that has depth on pretty much every level, so the biggest question here might well be how to get everyone on the field. Up top is probably the most intriguing situation, as Jeremy Ebobisse has fought tooth and nail to hold onto his place under a challenge from talented (and expensive) offseason arrivals Jaroslaw Niezgoda and Felipe Mora.

Most important player: The signs were there before, but it became clear at the MLS is Back Tournament that this is Sebastian Blanco’s team now. That’s not to say Diego Valeri isn’t still capable of great things, or won’t have a big role to play down the stretch, but both the numbers and the eye test show the clever Blanco as Portland’s most consistently productive attacking player.

Projected XI (4-2-3-1, left to right): Clark — Villafaña, Zuparic, Mabiala, Duvall — Williamson, D. Chara — Blanco, Valeri, Y. Chara — Ebobisse

Playoff prospects: Very, very good. It would be a shock not to see them in the postseason.


RSL

Real Salt Lake

A promising start at MLS is Back gave way to a rather disappointing finale, as Real Salt Lake struggled to get much going in attack and were overwhelmed defensively in a hard-fought knockout battle against San Jose. There’s some work to do on the Wasatch Front, but also plenty of room for a young team to grow.

Where things stand: The Claret-and-Cobalt actually only have one regular-season loss to their name, though three of the remaining four results are draws, leaving them with six points in the West. No one’s mistaking them for Shield contenders, but if they continue to improve, and make a key signing or two (more on that in a second), they could certainly find themselves in the postseason.

Biggest question: Who scores the goals? Midfielder Damir Kreilach may well be the most consistent threat on the team. It is reasonable to expect some improvement and some more goals to come from their younger attackers, but a top-class No. 9 could really help this team. The solution might be internal — Douglas Martinez showed some good flashes, and a fine finish vs. San Jose — but it would not be surprising to see them spend here in the summer window.

Most important player: Albert Rusnak. Delaying the Euros to 2021 may have also prolonged his stay in Salt Lake City, and should he indeed stick around for the remainder of the season, his offensive output will have a big say in RSL’s destiny (and could be significantly helped by the addition of the aforementioned No. 9).

Projected XI (4-2-3-1, left to right): MacMath — Toia, Silva, Glad, Herrera — Everton Luiz, Beckerman — Baird, Kreilach, Rusnak — Martinez

Playoff prospects: RSL look to be right on the edge. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them go on a good run and get in, but by the same token it’s not hard to picture them just missing out. An expanded playoff field should help them here.


SJ

San Jose Earthquakes

The San Jose Earthquakes were one of the pleasant surprises of MLS is Back, capturing the attention with their swashbuckling style and that dramatic comeback against Vancouver. They were ultimately undone by a superior Minnesota side, but that hasn’t put a damper on the positivity coming out of the South Bay heading into the remainder of the regular season.

Where things stand: They have eight points through five games, putting them comfortably in a playoff spot and just behind the reigning champion Seattle Sounders on goal differential.

Biggest question: Setting aside the popular discussion topic of the long-term viability of head coach Matias Almeyda’s man-marking system, the performances of goalkeeper Daniel Vega in Orlando will certainly come under scrutiny when looking back at several of the goals San Jose conceded. Vega very much seems to be one of Almeyda’s guys (he was one of the few new signings under the new coach and they have a history together at River Plate), but one of the biggest needs for the Quakes to become a true playoff-caliber team is quite clearly in goal.

Most important player: We saw in 2019 that Cristian Espinoza was a fine chance creator, and the MLS is Back Tournament showed that yes, he does have the goalscoring touch as well. If he keeps up the kind of production he showed over those few weeks in July, that will go a long way for the Quakes’ 2020 chances.

Projected XI (4-2-3-1, left to right): Vega — Lima, Alanis, Kashia, Thompson — Yueill, Judson — Vako, Eriksson, Espinoza — Rios

Playoff prospects: Looking pretty good right now. This team is hard to predict, but with the right signing or two and at least one strong run of form like they showed last summer, they should make it to the playoffs comfortably in a shorter-than-normal season.


SEA

Seattle Sounders

The reigning champs bowed out of MLS is Back with a shellacking at the hands of LAFC, as the Black & Gold got some revenge from last year’s playoffs. But there’s little doubt that the Sounders still remain one of the standard bearers of MLS.

Where things stand: After four points in Orlando, the Sounders have collected eight in five games — placing them fifth in the Western Conference.

Biggest question: Central defense. After the departures of Chad Marshall, Roman Torres and Kim Kee-hee over the past year, the Sounders have invested big money in a pair of center back. But Xavier Arreaga has not lived up to his price tag so far and Yeimar Gomez Andrade went down with an injury in Orlando.

Most important player: Nicolas Lodeiro is one of the top players in the league and while he didn’t show his best at MLS is Back, the Uruguayan international is capable of controlling an entire game in the midfield.

Projected XI (4-2-3-1, left to right): Frei — Nouhou, Arreaga, Gomez Andrade, Leerdam — Svensson, Joao Paulo — Morris, Lodeiro, C. Roldan — Ruidiaz; Head Coach: Brian Schmetzer

Playoff prospects: Barring a major injury or a complete meltdown at the back, Seattle should have no trouble reaching the playoffs yet again.


SKC

Sporting Kansas City

Tipped as one of the dark horses to make a run in Orlando, Sporting won their difficult group and were set up for a run in the Knockout Stage. But the Philadelphia Union put a halt to those plans in the quarterfinals, exploiting a backline that showed some of their 2019 form.

Where things stand: Despite a somewhat disappointing ending to MLS is Back, Sporting sit atop the Western Conference after four wins in their first five regular season matches.

Biggest question: A strong defense was once the hallmark of a Peter Vermes team. But over the past two years, that has gone away. Matt Besler was benched towards the end of the tournament, while Roberto Puncec remains unproven in MLS.

Most important player: Alan Pulido has been everything SKC could have asked for to start his MLS career. He has four goals and four assists in his first seven matches and will be looking to be a top MVP candidate when the season comes to a close.

Projected XI (4-2-3-1, left to right): Melia — Martins, Puncec, Smith, Zusi — Kinda, Ilie, Espinoza — Shelton, Pulido, RussellHead Coach: Peter Vermes

Playoff prospects: With the start they managed to get off to, it would be a shock to see them falter to an extent that would leave them below the playoff line.


TOR

Toronto FC

We still don’t know who or when they will be playing as MLS returns, but TFC will most likely be favored in any match that does get scheduled. Though they were upset in the in the Round of 16, Greg Vanney’s team showed they are still one of the teams to beat.

Where things stand: Five points in Orlando has TFC sitting in second place in the East, as they have yet to lose in five MLS matches.

Biggest question: Can Jozy Altidore and Ayo Akinola play together? Altidore would usually be the first or second player you would put on the teamsheet, but with his fitness still lacking in Orlando, Akinola took full advantage — scoring five goals in three matches. Vanney has not started two strikers together since the departure of Sebastian Giovinco, but that could change once play restarts.

Most important player: Pozuelo has been a worthy successor to Giovinco, starting with a Best XI season in 2019 and continuing with his performances in Orlando. The Spaniard had five assists, providing incisive passes and leading the Reds attack.

Projected XI (4-2-3-1, left to right): Westberg — Morrow, Mavinga, Gonzalez, Laryea — Bradley, Delgado — Osorio, Pozuelo, Piatti — AltidoreHead Coach: Greg Vanney

Playoff prospects: Perennial MLS Cup contenders, TFC have done nothing in 2020 so far to quell optimism.


VAN

Vancouver Whitecaps

One of the best stories of the MLS is Back Tournament, Vancouver managed to get through the group stage and almost spring a Round of 16 upset despite missing over a third of their team — including multiple starters. They will be hoping to carry that momentum into the regular season once it restarts.

Where things stand: With six points in five games, Vancouver sit right in the middle of the Western Conference standings.

Biggest question: Marc Dos Santos played a style in Vancouver’s last two matches that produced results, but is it repeatable? Also, will he be willing to play such a defensive style with the return of star striker Lucas Cavallini?

Most important player: Cavallini opted out of the tournament, but will likely return for the rest of the regular season. He will be looking to prove that he’s worth his price tag and that he should be in Canada’s starting XI once World Cup qualifying starts.

Projected XI (4-2-3-1, left to right): Hasal — Adnan, Cornelius, Veselinovic, Godoy, Nerwinski — Teibert, Owusu, Bikel — Reyna, Cavallini Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos

Playoff prospects: Vancouver is a team that is still looking for their identity. If they can find it quick, and see that it produces results, there’s no reason that they can’t finish above the playoff line.

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