MLS kick off the 2022 season this weekend.
With 29 teams now, the league is competitive and deep. After an active and eventful offseason, the top teams have solidified themselves, and it seems unlikely that we’ll see a repeat of last season’s runaway Supporters’ Shield winners, the New England Revolution. The race should be close.
Let’s take a look at the top five contenders.
5. Nashville SC
Nashville is a good bet to stay stable and stick around in the upper tier of the standings. (They’re in the Western Conference now after the arrival of Charlotte FC, which will make travel harder.) They’ve retained the talent that made them one of the league’s best defensive teams, with veteran midfielders Dax McCarty and Anibal Godoy sitting in front of one of the league’s best center backs in Walker Zimmerman.
The concern is whether they can get the goal-scoring that they’ll need. Hany Moukhtar was an MVP candidate last year, and he needs some help. Their X-factor is DP No. 9 Ake Loba, who played 19 games last year and scored just one goal. If Loba becomes a productive attacker and Moukhtar keeps up his 2021 level, Nashville will be a very good team.
4. Philadelphia Union
Philly isn’t going away. That team has upped its level every year while staying on its toes in the market, promoting young players and signing new starting-level players. This year, the focus is on the two new DP forwards that they brought in: Mikael Uhre, a 27-year-old who spent the past few years at Brondby in Denmark, and Julian Carranza, a 21-year-old Argentine on loan from Inter Miami.
They are betting on their eye for talent, and on Carranza’s potential. They’re still waiting for Daniel Gazdag to break out — the Hungarian international has room to improve in year two — but they have 18-year-old Paxten Aaronson (brother of Brenden) waiting in the wings. The rest of the core, including Andre Blake, Alejandro Bedoya, and Leon Flach, remains.
3. New England Revolution
They put up 73 points last season and are mostly running it back this year.
They brought in Sebastian Lletget, a very good MLS midfielder who fits in any system and is familiar with Bruce Arena. Newly-arrived Jozy Altidore, when healthy, is an excellent striker who can provide a boost off the bench (he’s still just 32!). Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou are still here.
They did, however, lose Tajon Buchanan in the winter transfer window, and will lose star goalkeeper Matt Turner to Arsenal in the summer. There are rumors about striker Adam Buksa, too. Their depth will be tested.
The reigning MLS Cup winners should be just as good as they were last season. They’re a speedy attacking team led by Taty Castellanos, Talles Magno, and Maxi Moralez. They lost defensive midfielder James Sands this offseason to Rangers, but Keaton Parks looks ready to step into that slot, with Alfredo Morales starting next to him.
The defense remains solid, with young Tayvon Gray filling in admirably for the injured Anton Tinnerholm. The longtime center back pairing of Alexander Callens and Maxime Chanot isn’t going away. Two concerns come to mind about this team: the age of Moralez (he turns 35 in two days) and the possibility of Castellanos leaving in the summer. They might struggle to finish chances without him.
1. Seattle Sounders
This team does not have very many flaws. They were very good despite injuries last year, and now Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris are fully healthy and ready to go. They brought in creative attacker Albert Rusnak, a scary thought given how effective Rusnak was for a mostly-mediocre Real Salt Lake team over the years. Defenses won’t be keying in on him anymore.
They have top-tier players all over the field: Stefan Frei in goal, Yeimar Gomez Andrade at center back, Joao Paulo and Cristian Roldan in midfield, and Raul Ruidiaz up top. Left back Nouhou Tolo showed how good he is at the African Cup of Nations with Cameroon. The Sounders look like the best team in the league.