Discover more from MLS Musings
One bold prediction for each MLS team in 2023
The new year will bring plenty of surprises. I'm gazing into my crystal ball and firing off the hot takes.
We’re less than a week into 2023, and it’s already off to a mental start in the US soccer sphere with the Berhalter-Reyna family drama.
With MLS preseason training starting this week, I’d like to move my focus to the new domestic season. And I’m going to fire off one hot take/bold prediction for each team this season.
Note that I’m just an idiot fan, so make of my predictions what you will.
Atlanta United: Josef Martínez is sold to SA
Do I mean South America or Saudi Arabia? …Actually, I’m not sure, I just think it’ll be one of the two.
This one isn’t exactly bold, to be fair. Josef had a pretty public flaring up with Gonzalo Pineda last season. Curiously, Atlanta then poached Seattle GM Garth Lagerwey as CEO…and Lagerwey’s Sounders gave Pineda his start in coaching. I think he will choose the coach he has history with versus the player who he doesn’t, and I don’t think they’ll sell in the league.
…And while I write this, Tommy Scoops says Miami is sniffing around. OK then.
Austin: Gyasi Zardes scores 15 MLS goals
Now we start with the real spicy ones.
Austin’s striker position has been a bit of a conundrum thus far in their MLS history. Danny Hoesen and Moussa Djitté haven’t proven to be that guy, and Maxi Urruti has done his thing where he looks unplayable for a few weeks and then goes ghost for the season.
Los Verdes then went and snagged themselves Zardes via free agency. He’s been essentially a 10-13 goal forward the last few years. His best season came in 2018 when he scored more goals than anyone not named Josef, Zlatan, or BWP. Look closer, and you’ll see that one year was also the one year he spent with current Austin boss Josh Wolff on the coaching staff.
He knows how he fits in this system, and we know how good he can be. 15 goals. Book it.
Charlotte: Zoran Krneta or Christian Lattanzio is sacked
This team has been incredibly unstable since before they’d even kicked a ball. There’s been a ton of turnover in the front office, and the team’s inaugural manager didn’t even make it to the summer.
I think that instability continues if the team struggles, given how churn there’s already been. I doubt it will be Lattanzio losing his job (he is very highly rated and rightly so), I think it will be Krneta, a sporting director who reminds me wayyy too much of the Gerard Nijkamps and Jesse Fianorellis of the world. But we can’t rule anything out.
Chicago Fire: Chris Brady gets an 8-figure move to Europe
The sheer privilege of being able to replace one young phenom keeper with another.
As Gaga Slonina heads over to Europe, the starting gloves go to a fellow teenager from Illinois in Chris Brady. Brady was excellent at last year’s CONCACAF U-20 Championships, and has shown well at club level for Forward Madison and the Fire reserves.
If he has a strong 2023, someone is going to bite, and Chicago is going to have stacks of cash to throw around.
I think he levels up and gets his move, and I would guess probably Germany, with either a loan back to the Fire for 2024 or somewhere else in Europe.
Cincinnati: Qualifies for CCL
The job that Chris Albright and Pat Noonan have done on the West End has been stupendous thus far.
I think they take it one step further this year. You have one of the most fun and talented attacking trios in the league. The midfield actually makes sense now. Matt Miazga, Roman Celentano, and Obi Nwobodo will be getting full seasons. Most of their bad contracts are off the books.
One or two depth signings and surely they can snag one of the many CCL spots at play this season. They’re already close.
Colorado Rapids: Robin Fraser departs
I’m not saying he’ll be fired, I’m saying he will leave on his own volition.
Fraser has done incredible work with a team whose ownership and front office seems to refuse to back anyone in the transfer market. He’s been able to get a lot out of not a lot, he’s been able to bring through young players, and he’s been able to play multiple different formations during his time.
I think at some point a job will open up elsewhere, and he will sprint towards it like Wilfried Nancy did this past offseason. Maybe the national team if Berhalter is gone?
Columbus Crew: They don’t actually get that much better
Let me preface this by saying that I like Wilfried Nancy a lot as a coach. I think he’ll do excellent work in Columbus.
That being said, aside from the hype for him and a full season of Cucho, I’m not sure this Crew team’s window of contention is still open. I still think they’ll be good enough to make the postseason, but I don’t think they’ll be in that upper echelon. Aside from Cucho, this team is relying a lot on guys over 30 to hold off Father Time for one more year, or for young players to take a step forward (which, to be fair, is probably part of what made Nancy so appealing).
They’ll be better. But not by much. Probably a road game in the first round of the playoffs (if MLS decides to kibosh the idiotic group stage idea).
DC United: Wayne Rooney sticks past 2023
DC is trying to short-term fix this absolute tirefire of a team, with Rooney on a short-term deal and the team bringing in a slew of veteran pieces.
I think they’ll show juuuust enough promise to keep Wazza in the District for another year. Not enough to make the playoffs, mind you, but enough to make him want to see the process out - especially because there’ll be a weird gap between the vets and the young guys and stable leadership will be important.
Dallas: Paul Arriola has a Best XI season
He was already an All-Star last season, with 10 goals and 7 assists. But now, he’s going to be extra motivated having been left off the World Cup squad, and at 27 he is right in his prime.
I would hate to be a MLS full-back going up against him this season.
Houston Dynamo: Scores the fewest goals in MLS
This is not a knock on starting forward Sebas Ferreira, who I actually quite like and who quietly had a respectable debut season when you factor in his lack of service.
It’s just…Ben Olsen’s teams are historically focused on staying organized defensively, and as it stands their midfield has about as much creativity as an Eastern Bloc architect in the 1960s.
They’ll fight. They’ll be a pain to play against. But score they will not.
Inter Miami: No big name signing
I don’t think it’s bold to say that they won’t bring in Messi. But I do think it’s bold to say they won’t bring in a big name player to replace Gonzalo Higuaín in that role. There’ll definitely be pursuits, but I think you’ll see more sensible, Chris Henderson-fingerprinted signings from Latin America and smaller European leagues than successful star chasings.
Miami already has its first team star in Leo Campana, and a very hardworking and downright likable squad with some very fun players. I don’t want them to repeat the mistakes of 2020 when they chased names.
Galaxy: Will miss playoffs, Vanney and FO cleared out
Ooooh this one’s a bit spicy. With a midseason ban on signings from abroad, their options to improve are fairly limited. I don’t think they’ve done enough this offseason to justify any sort of hype beyond “first full year of Riqui Puig.” Yeah, they’ve freed up a DP slot in dumping Kevin Cabral on the Rapids, but they’re also on the hook for a chunk of his salary, and I’m not super convinced they have enough in the defense to stay afloat as it stands.
I think they’re a fringe playoff team, and are one Riqui Puig injury away from being out of frame entirely. And if they do miss, heads are going to roll. Chris Klein has survived many bad moves, but one that got the team straight up sanctioned might be the final nail.
LAFC: Wins the Leagues Cup
Not CCL, no, I have another MLS team winning that. But LAFC absolutely seems the type of team that wants to really go hard for the Leagues Cup.
A SoCal team will absolutely milk the MLS-vs-Liga-MX rivalry, and LAFC has the first team, the depth, and the experience, both against LMX teams from their CCL run in 2020 and against MLS teams from their double last season.
Oh, and they don’t have to play the group stage, so they’ll be better rested.
Minnesota United: Sink to the bottom of the West
The Loons absolutely fell apart in the last few weeks of last season following an injury to Bakaye Dibassy, showcasing their lack of depth. Their back line is aging quickly, their attack is over-reliant on Bebelo Reynoso, and Reynoso’s legal problems in Argentina are flaring up again. On top of that, they still haven’t found a solution at center-forward, a hole that’s basically been glaring since the departure of Christian Ramirez.
The bubble bursts this year, despite the best efforts of Dayne St. Clair, who gets promoted to Canada’s #1.
Montréal: Loses both games against DC
Ever since he was sacked by DC, Hernán Losada has given off the energy of “not over it.” Multiple times, when DC was getting stomped last season, he’d post screencaps of the game on social media. El Profe has been El Petty, and his hiring as Wilfried Nancy’s successor has added a layer of spice to this season’s Impact-DC matchups.
So he’ll manage both of them like they’re a Cup final, perhaps overmanage, and lose both.
Nashville: A new signing finally gives Hany some help
Mazatlán bailed Nashville out of the disastrous Aké Loba signing, one of the worst value-for-money signings in league history and one that made Hany Mukhtar carry the offensive load even more.
The ‘Yotes will use this mulligan wisely and finally take some of the load off Mukhtar. If the rumor is true that Olivier Giroud wants to come to MLS, get the meaty French forehead into Music City now.
New England Revolution: Bruce Arena retires
I honestly think Bruce should’ve retired on top in 2021 after having that wonderful season. He came to New England when both club and manager had their stocks at an all-time low, and knocked sense into a club that had become a circus.
I think this’ll be it, especially if the Revs miss the playoffs again.
New York City: The playoff streak ends
Maxi gone. Taty gone. Heber gone. Callens rumored to be gone. Questions about Sean John and Santi.
This is way too many holes to fill at once, and also begs the question of which Nick Cushing does NYC get - the one that figured things out after Campeones Cup, or the one that was atrocious before that?
New York Red Bulls: Red Bull starts looking to sell
The recent death of Red Bull GmBH patriarch Dietrich Mateschitz has definitely added a curiosity into the future of Metro.
From all accounts, the sports teams were Mateschitz’s baby, and I frankly think that if the company is offloading some, their New York football club is one of the first off the list. It’ll be increasing in value heading into 2026, the club across the river is making a power play with a new stadium, and the locals are begging for change.
It’s time. (And whoever would buy…Metro 96. There’s your branding. Evolution of the OG instead of lazily just going back to it.)
Orlando City: Pedro Gallese wins Goalkeeper of the Year
The analytics have never really loved Gallese, but the eye test does. I think voter fatigue will catch up to Andre Blake, and with how bad I think Orlando’s defense will be this season, El Pulpo will be stealing plenty of points.
Philadelphia Union: Will win CCL
After not one but two trophies slipped from their grasp last season, I think this Union revenge tour is going to mostly apply in CCL, and the club is mostly running back the squad from last season.
They should beat Alianza, and Atlas has been flat bad since they won the Campeon de Campeones. Then in the semifinal they’ll probably play LAFC, and do you know how hungry they’ll be to make up for the MLS Cup final loss? From there, they’ll take down probably Pachuca or Tigres in the final.
Making up that final loss in the best way: conquering the continent.
Portland Timbers: Eryk Williamson stays
It’s pretty clear Williamson and Gio Savarese had some sort of beef down the stretch last season. No other reason a player of Williamson’s quality should be riding the bench in critical late season games.
My bold prediction: he and Gio talked it out in the offseason, and he plays a key role as Portland returns to the playoffs. Note that there hasn’t really been any rumors of him moving elsewhere…
Real Salt Lake: None
Because there is no such thing as a bold prediction when it comes to this team that just constantly defies logic.
I guess if pressured….they buy a DP #9, but he doesn’t perform?
St. Louis City: Roman Bürki doesn’t perform to his price tag…but the team is still very competitive
A clear, cohesive vision goes a long way, and St. Louis City’s vision is painfully obvious. They want to be Red Bull, Philadelphia, Dallas. A team that prioritizes the development of young players and, in the case of the former two, plays high-pressing football.
I think Bürki will be an albatross contract. But I think the team will overcome it and push for a playoff spot late in the season.
San Jose Earthquakes: Cade Cowell wins Young Player of the Year
I’m calling the redemption arc. Cowell has sort of stagnated over the last couple of seasons, but Luchi Gonzalez has always been pretty good at working with young players. With the dysfunction of Matias Almeyda’s last few months now gone, we’ll see Cowell have the best season of his young career and earn a move to Ligue 1.
Seattle Sounders: They buy the successor to Stefan Frei
Frei is a bona fide MLS legend between the sticks. But he’s 36, and Father Time catches up to us all.
A lot of talk has been made about Seattle needing to groom replacements for Lodeiro and Ruidíaz. But never about Frei. Perhaps people just think that highly of Stefan Cleveland, but I don’t want to bank on a decent backup who’s in his late 20s and has never started full-time at this level.
And I’m not sure Craig Waibel will, either. New keeper coming in.
Sporting KC: Alan Pulido is sold back to Mexico
Yeah, this one doesn’t need a lot of elaboration, it’s probably not even that bold. William Agada showed a ton of promise last season, and Pulido’s been injury-prone since he first got to KC.
I think at this point they just part ways and ship him to, I dunno, Tigres as a Gignac replacement?
Toronto: They still get the league’s worst goalkeeping
Last season, the Reds had two bad goalkeepers in Alex Bono and Quentin Westberg. Both are gone now.
And yet, the only move Toronto has made for a goalkeeper this offseason is the talented but unproven Tomás Romero from LAFC. I’m not sure they’ve had any links, either.
I like Romero a lot…but is this the best you can do?
Vancouver Whitecaps: Finishes top-4 in the West
This team’s roster is probably better than you think it is, and it’s got flexibility with a DP slot open.
Full seasons of Alessandro Schöpf, Julian Gressel, and Andrés Cubas will see them take steps forward, and the addition of Mathías Laborda should help stabilize the back line.
If Vanni Sartini can get some of the other youngsters to take a step up - one of the young keepers, draftee JC Ngando, homegrown Kamron Habibullah, etc - this team will be pushing into the West’s upper echelon.
And let’s be real…We all want to see Vanni Sartini happy, because he might be the most enjoyable manager in the league, personality wise.
Thanks for reading MLS Musings! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.