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A guide to MLS’s eastern conference teams ahead of 2021 season

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The MLS Season kicks off this coming Friday! To prepare for the season we at Philly Sports Network have you covered with different previews all week! We have researched all 27 teams to give some insight on how they look and have prepared for the 2021 season. It’ll be broken down into two separate previews! Here is part one of that preview: A guide to MLS’s eastern conference teams.

MLS's eastern conference teams
Mandatory Credit: Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire

MLS’s eastern conference teams

The eastern conference is stacked with talented teams. With only seven playoff spots available this season for the 14 teams in the east., there’s going to be some really good teams left on the outside looking in come playoff time. Here’s a look at how MLS’s eastern conference teams have prepared for the 2021 season!

Can Atlanta make it back to the playoffs?

Josef Martinez is back from his ACL injury. How will he look though? Will he put the team on his back like in years past? They’ve added young Argentinian players with a lot of promise to go along with a great attacking core. The main question mark remains their defense. Apart from Miles Robinson and George Bello there aren’t many familiar names in defense. All of Atlanta’s key departures have been on the defensive side. New acquisition Alan Franco has been brought in to sure up that defense, but will he adjust before the start of the season? 

Atlanta could be back into the playoff picture if everything clicks. However, if it doesn’t, they could be crashing out fast as they did in 2020. 

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (3): Brad Guzan, Alec Kann, Ben Lundgaard
  • Defenders (10): Mikey Ambrose, George Bello, George Campbell, Alex De John, Alan Franco, Ronald Hernandez, Brooks Lennon, Efran Morales, Miles Robinson, Anton Walkes
  • Midfielders (10): Mo Adams, Ezequiel Barco, Machop Chol, Jurgen Damm, Emerson Hydnmann, Franco Ibarra, Marcelino Moreno, Jake Mulraney, Matheus Rossetto, Santiago Sosa, Tyler Wolff
  • Forwards (5): Jackson Conway, Erik Lopez, Lisandro Lopez, Josef Martinez, Erick Torres

Can Chicago compete?

The Fire went through a whole rebrand ahead of 2020 just for a pandemic to hit. Once they came back to play they had their moments of looking like a good team, but the results didn’t come with the play. In 2021, the team will truly realize its rebrand. They’ll be in Soldier Field, and they’ll rely on some creative play through the midfield. Gaston Gimenez is the playmaker and Robert Beric is the goal scorer. This is a team that is dependent on these two players to stay competitive but can they take the league by storm?

Chicago Fire has hopes to make the playoffs in 2021, but should Gimenez not be able to create and Beric not have chances to score this team could be much lower in the standings.

Roster

  • Goalkeeper (4): Chris Brady, Kenneth Kronholm, Bobby Shuttleworth, Gabriel Slonina
  • Defenders (11): Jonathan Bornstein, Francisco Calvo, Jhon Espinoza, Johan Kappelhof, Miguel Angel Navarro, Wyatt Omsberg, Mauricio Pineda, Andre Reynolds II, Boris Sekulic, Nicholas Slonina, Carlos Teran
  • Midfielders (10): Ignacio Aliseda, Javier Cases Jr., Przemyslaw Frankowski, Gaston Gimenez, Brian Gutierrez, Fabian Herbers, Alvaro Medran, Alex Monis, Allan Rodriguez, Luka Stojanovic
  • Forwards (3): Robert Beric, Elliot Collier, Chinonso Offor

Will Cincinnati finish above last place?

FC Cincinnati has been the worst team in MLS the last two seasons. Cincy has had trouble scoring goals and defending, and has not really done much to fix either of those major flaws before 2021. This offseason, Cincinnati has been very active. They brought in young goal scorer Brenner and creative midfielder Luciano Acosta. They also traded for ex-NYCFC outside back Ronald Matarrita. Will this solve all of their problems though?

FC Cincinnati has a track record of spending money in transfer windows, but that doesn’t mean that they will be successful on the field. If the pieces they have added click, then this team could finally finish above last place.

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (4): Cody Cropper, Ben Lundt, Beckham Sunderland, Przemyslaw Tyton
  • Defenders (6): Saad Abdul-Salaam, Zico Bailey, Nick Hagglund, Ronald Matarrita, Tom Pettersson, Maikel van der Werff
  • Midfielders (9): Luciano Acosta, Alvaro Barreal, Allan Cruz, Joe Gyau, Yuya Kubo, Haris Medunjanin, Ben Mines, Kamohelo Mokotjo, Caleb Stanko
  • Forwards (6): Isaac Atanga, Brenner, Calvin Harris, Jurgen Locadia, Franko Kovacevic, Brandon Vazquez

Can Columbus win back-to-back MLS Cups?

Columbus Crew is the reigning MLS Cup champions and they got even better this offseason. The Crew kept the majority of their Cup-winning side, and added some great players to their roster ahead of the 2021 season. They have a set style and depth in all positions. This team could be very scary this year. Columbus doesn’t really have a weakness as of yet. If they are bitten by the injury bug, then their depth will be tested but right now Columbus looks like the frontrunners in the eastern conference.

Could another trophy be in the cards for the Crew this season? If they play to the potential they have on paper, it is hard to argue that this team won’t be in contention for at least one trophy.

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (4): Evan Bush, Eric Dick, Matt Lampson
  • Defenders (9): Harrison Afful, Waylon Francis, Marlon Hairston, Aboubacar Keita, Grant Lillard, Jonathan Mensah, Milton Valenzuela, Josh Williams, Vito Wormgoor
  • Midfielders (11): Artur, Luis Diaz, Derrick Etienne Jr., Perry Kitchen, Alexandru Matan, Kevin Molino, Aidan Morris, Darlington Nagbe, Isaiah Parente, Pedro Santos, Lucas Zelarayan
  • Forwards (3): Miguel Berry, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Gyasi Zardes

What will DC even look like?

DC United has been on a major downturn over the last few seasons. Even when they were a playoff team and had star players, they still didn’t put much fear into their opponents. This culminated last season as DC came in second-to-last place. Ahead of 2021, it is hard to say if this team is any better or worse. They have a new head coach, Hernan Losada. Can he bring DC United back to a place of prominence? DC hasn’t made a huge splash this offseason but didn’t lose any key players either. Will their unchanged core of players be able to change the outcome of where they’ll finish?

A quick answer to that question ahead of the 2021 season can be seen in their coaches’ philosophy of wanting to win a game 4-3 rather than 1-0. That doesn’t usually spell success in MLS.

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (3): Bill Hamid, Jon Kempin, Chris Seitz
  • Defenders (8): Steven Birnbaum, Frederic Brillant, Michael DeShields, Jacob Greene, Brendan Hines-Ike, Joseph Mora, Chris Odoi-Atsem, Donovan Pines
  • Midfielders (10): Paul Arriola, Yamil Asad, Russell Canouse, Edison Flores, Julian Gressel, Felipe Martins, Junior Moreno, Moses Nyeman, Kevin Paredes, Griffin Yow
  • Forwards (7): Jovanny Bolivar, Ola Kamara, Adrien Perez, Yordy Reyna, Nigel Robertha, Kimarni Smith, Erik Sorga

Can Miami get rid of their bad luck?

Inter Miami made the playoffs in their first season thanks to MLS allowing 10 teams from the eastern conference in the tournament. For all of the flair that David Beckham brought to this club, coupled with the hype of some big-name European stars coming in making this team the talk of MLS in 2020. However, they weren’t really that good and currently have rotten luck. Miami is failing to be the talk of the town going up against the Miami Heat for prime time coverage for their first game in 2021. Also, they have four DP players after Matias Pellegrini failed to be categorized in the new designation for players under 22. Will Miami be able to get out of their own way and play well on the field?

Miami has the star power to compete, but with a new coach, they will have some bumps in the road early on. Can this team make the playoffs in 2021 with three fewer playoff spots up for grabs?

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (3): Drake Callender, Dylan Castanheira, John McCarthy
  • Defenders (11): Nicolas Figal, Ian Fray, Kieran Gibbs, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Kelvin Leerdam, Christian Makoun, Dylan Nealis, Jairo Quinteros, Patrick Seagrist, Ryan Shawcross, Brek Shea
  • Midfielders (13): George Acosta, Edison Azcona, Jay Chapman, Gregore, Federico Higuain, Joevin Jones, Blaise Matuidi, Lewis Morgan, Matias Pellegrini, Josh Penn, Rodolfo Pizarro, Victor Ulloa, Felipe Valencia
  • Forwards (3): Julian Carranza, Gonzalo Higuain, Robbie Robinson

Will Montreal’s rebrand bring success?

Montreal has ditched their traditional name of Montreal Impact, much to the displeasure of their fans. Will thighs rebrand bring with it success in 2021? They will have a new head coach trying to pull all the strings, as Thiery Henry departed the club. Wilfried Nancy now heads up the club in a season that will be full of change. Can he get the most from his players to make this rebrand a success? Montreal did add young rising star Djordje Mihailovic to their roster. He couples nicely with Romell Quioto and new striker Bjorn Johnsen to create a three-headed attack. But can they secure a playoff spot?

Montreal has some major questions to answer about how they are going to play, and until they show they can adapt to their new coach and new brand, they won’t be seen as much of a threat.

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (3): Clement Diop, James Pantemis, Jonathan Sirois
  • Defenders (10): Zorhan Bassong, Luis Binks, Zachary Brault-Guillard, Rudy Camacho, Keesean Ferdinand, Mustafa Kizza, Kamal Miller, Kiki Struna, Joel Waterman, Karifa Yao
  • Midfielders (15): Jean-Aniel Assi, Clement Bahiya, Mathieu Choiniere, Tomas Giraldo, Ahmed Hamdi, Lassi Lappalainen, Emanuel Maciel, Djordje Mihailovic, Samuel Piette, Sean Rea, Nathan-Dylan Sailba, Amar Sejdic, Ballou Tabla, Joaquin Torres, Victor Wanyama, Ride Zouhir
  • Forwards (5): Erik Hurtado, Sunusi Ibrahim, Bjorn Johnsen, Romell Quioto, Mason Toye

Can Nashville make the playoffs again in year two?

Nashville is coming into 2021 with high hopes that they can make it back to the MLS Cup playoffs a second year in a row. The second-year MLS Cup side has its core from a year ago intact. This includes a stout defensive unit that looks to pick up where they left off in 2020. Nashville will be in the eastern conference for the entirety of the season as opposed to last year where they switched around from west to east. Their defense is the main strength of this side, but can their attack put up the goals they may need to push for the playoffs?

Nashville will likely be a fringe playoff team that hangs around the lower playoff spots at times. If the offense can click and the defense stays strong, they could easily finish in one of those seven playoff spots.

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (3): Bryan Meredith, Elliot Panicco, Joe Willis
  • Defenders (9): Jalil Anibaba, Robert Castellanos, Nick Hinds, Alistair Johnston, Daniel Lovitz, Jack Maher, Eric Miller, Dave Romney, Walker Zimmerman
  • Midfielders (10): Tah Brian Anunga, Handwalla Bwana, Anibal Godoy, Luke Haakenson, Matt LaGrassa, Randall Leal, Dax McCarty, Hany Mukhtar, Alex Muyl, Taylor Washington
  • Forwards (6): Dominique Badji, Jhonder Cadiz, Abu Danladi, Rodrigo Pineda, Daniel Rios, CJ Sapong

Will New England take a huge step up in 2021?

The Revolution had an amazing 2020 season. They made the playoffs and could have finished in a higher position if their playmaker Carlos Gil was healthy the entire season. Their 2020 playoff run and great offseason make them a team to watch coming into 2021. The real question surrounding this team is if they are for real or not. The Revs are well-coached and have the players needed to not just make the playoffs but make a run into MLS Cup. Whether or not they do that is still yet to be seen.

As it did last year, how far the Revs go will be dictated by the health of Carlos Gil and the organization of their defense. If Gil stays healthy and the backline is stout, then we could see New England as a high seed in the playoffs.

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (3): Earl Edwards Jr., Brad Knighton, Matt Turner
  • Defenders (8): Jon Bell, Brandon Bye, A.J. DeLaGarza, Andrew Farrell, DeJuan Jones, Henry Kessler, Christian Mafla, Colin Verfurth
  • Midfielder (10): Emmanuel Boateng, Luis Caicedo, Scott Caldwell, Carles Gil, Wildrid Kaptoum, Maciel, Tommy McNamara, Matt Polster, Danian Rivera, Arnon Ingvi Trastason
  • Forwards (6): Gustavo Bou, Tajon Buchanan, Adam Buksa, Teal Bunbury, Edward Kizza, Justin Rennicks

Can NYCFC get back to the top of the east?

NYCFC is a side that is very perplexing heading into 2021. They have the majority of the core players that they have had over the last few years, but that doesn’t make them see any better than they have been. While all of their contributing players are in their primes, there should be worry about those behind those contributing players. New York City is very thin in the attack and in central defense. One injury in those places and NYCFC drop from a contender to a low playoff seeded team. Will this team be able to stay healthy and return to their form from a few years ago?

NYCFC coach Ronny Delia will have to get the most from his side if they want to compete for a top-four finish. Anything less than that will be a failure for the club, but it seems they are one or two injuries away from that failure at all times.

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (3): Luis Barraza, Sean Johnson, Cody Mizell
  • Defenders (8): Malte Amundsen, Alex Callens, Maxime Chanot, Chris Gloster, Tayvon Gray, Sebastien Ibeagha, Gumundur Thorarinsson, Anton Tinnerholm
  • Midfielders (8): Nicolas Acevedo, Justin Haak, Maxi Moralez, Keaton Parks, Tony Rocha, James Sands, Juan Pablo Torres, Gedion Zelalem
  • Forwards (5): Valentin Castellanos, Heber, Andres Jasson, Jesus Medina, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi

Will Red Bulls return to the top of the east?

New York Red Bulls were once a team that was always at the top of the eastern conference. Much like their I-95 rivals DC United, they have fallen off from that standing in the last few years. The old supporters shield winning players are all gone. A new coach, Gerhard Struber, is in. Will he get his players to play at a level that could get Red Bull back to the top of the east? The Red Bull’s come into 2021 as an unknown quantity. Could they put the pieces together and be a top team in the east? Sure. Will there be growing pains? Yes. This team will look very different, but that. Oils help them get a leg up on the rest of the east.

The problem with unknowns is that they could either be good or bad. For Red Bull, this is true ahead of 2021. The talent is there to make the playoffs, but they could also fall apart quickly and miss out on their return to greatness in 2021.

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (4): Carlos Coronel, David Jensen, Luca Lewis, Ryan Meara
  • Defenders (10): Kyle Duncan, Tom Edwards, Mandela Egbo, Andrew Gutman, Aaron Long, Sean Nealis, Jason Pendant, Andres Reyes, Amro Tarek, John Tolkin
  • Midfielders (12): Frankie Amaya, Wikelman Carmona, Cristian Casseres Jr., Caden Clark, Sean Davis, Youba Diarra, Bento Estrela, Omir Fernandez, Cameron Harper, Daniel Royer, Florian Valot, Dru Yearwood
  • Forwards (3): Tom Barlow, Fabio, Brian White

Is it Orlando’s time to reign?

Those that follow MLS have waited a good while for Orlando City to break out and be a really good team. In 2020 they finally did just that. Can they follow up their amazing season a year ago and be even better in 2021? Orlando is a deep team at the start of the 2021 season. They have great central midfield players and a plethora of wingers who can start and rotate to keep the attack fresh. Couple that with a strong defense, and a great goalkeeper, and we could be looking at the top team in the east right here. The question is, can they actually play to that potential?

Orlando has the talent to make a playoff run but is a bit thin at the striker position. It doesn’t look like star youngster Daryl Dike will return to Orlando, so they will need to rely on others to score their goals. If no one steps up then Orlando might be a middle-of-the-pack playoff team rather than a top-four contender.

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (3): Brandon Austin, Pedro Gallese, Mason Stajduhar
  • Defenders (7): Antonio Carlos, Michael Halliday, Robin Jasson, Joao Moutinho, Ruan, Rodrigo Schlegel, Kyle Smith
  • Midfielders (11): Jordan Bender, Joey DeZart, David Lorea, Sebastian Mendez, Benji Michael, Chris Mueller, Andres Perea, Nani, Mauricio Pereyra, Oriol Rosell, Junior Urso
  • Forwards (6): Alexander Alvarado, Tesho Akindele, Matheus Aias, Alexandre Pato, Wilfred Rivera, Silvester van der Water

Can Philly keep pace with top teams?

The Union is coming off their best season in franchise history. The supporters’ shield winners now possess a clear style and club cutler that had been lacking in years past. Not only that but their play the kids’ foundation paid dividends as they sold two homegrown a for $15 million. The Union has yet to splash that cash ahead of 2021. They’re still going to rely on their core from 2020, and new young and hungry players to keep them competitive with the rest of the east. The question is will this be enough, or will they falter without a star player?

The Union has shown time and time again that the star is the team and the way they play rather than a few individuals. With that being said, Philly is a bit short-handed on the attacking side of the ball right now. If the team can’t contribute and score the goals needed to win, then Philly will likely be a lower-seeded playoff side instead of a top team in the east in 2021.

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (4): Joe Bendik, Andre Blake, Matt Freese, Greg Ranjitsingh
  • Defenders (8): Aurelien Collin, Jack Elliott, Stuart Findlay, Jakob Glesnes, Nathan Harriel, Olivier Mbazio, Matt Real, Kai Wagner
  • Midfielders (13): Paxten Aaronson, Alejandro Bedoya, Brandan Craig, Jack de Vries, Leon Flach, Anthony Fontana, Ilsinho, Jose Martinez, Jack McGlynn, Jamiro Monteiro, Matej Oravec, Quinn Sullivan, Cole Turner

Forwards (3): Cory Burke, Kacper Przybylko, Sergio Santos

Will Toronto’s aging stars keep them in contention?

Toronto has been at or near the top of the east for the past five seasons. They missed out on winning the supporters’ shield by a mere few points in 2020. Will they be able to keep that form up in 2021? The answer to that question is maybe right now. All of Toronto’s core players are still there, but they are all aging. If injuries happen it could spell doom for this team. Couple that with the departure of ex-head coach Greg Vanny and then things could get very interesting. This could be the first year of a Toronto downturn if their starters can’t carry the load. 

Will Chris Armas be able to come in and motivate these players the way Vanny could? We saw that he struggled to do that replacing Jesse March at New York Red Bulls a few years ago. Toronto could be at the top of the east because of their talent, but could also fall off due to lack of depth and age/injury concerns.

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (3): Alex Bono, Kevin Silva, Quentin Westburg
  • Defenders (8): Auro Jr., Julian Dunn, Omar Gonzalez, Richie Laryea, Chris Mavinga, Justin Morrow, Rocco Romero, Eriq Zavaleta
  • Midfielders (13): Michael Bradley, Nick DeLeon, Mark Delgado, Griffin Dorsey, Tsubasa Endoh, Liam Fraser, Erickson Gallardo, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Noble Okello, Jonathan Osorio, Alejandro Pozuelo, Ralph Priso, Jacob Shaffelburg
  • Forwards (6): Ifunanyachi Achara, Ayo Akinola, Jozy Altidore, Patrick Mullins, Jayden Nelson, Jordan Perruzza

Final Thoughts

The eastern conference is going to be tight all season. It’s likely that some good teams fall out of playoff contention due to injuries. This conference has shown that is not second-tier like it was in the past. Each team could give their compelling arguments as to why they should be playoff teams this year. It’ll be a long rollercoaster ride and we at Philly Sports Network are happy to be on that ride following all the action!

We’ll be back tomorrow with part two of this MLS preview as we take a look at the 13 teams from the western conference!

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Mandatory Credit: Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire

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Philadelphia Union Editor of Soccer Content

A passion for the beautiful game drives me.

Twitter: @Tim_Lovenguth

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