The 2018 MLS regular season will come to a close next Sunday; after which, a dozen teams will go on to the playoffs while the other eleven teams will try to rebuild for 2019. There are, however, a handful of teams that deserve to be singled out for their successes and failures. Some have exceeded expectations, while others have disappointed. Let’s take a closer look at these teams:
Winner-DC United: While waiting for Audi Field to be completed in July, DCU won two matches and found themselves mired in last place. Having finished in last place and tied with the LA Galaxy for the worst MLS record in 2017, most expected United would miss the playoffs for a second straight season. In July, however, the addition of EPL legend Wayne Rooney seemed to transform the play of the entire squad. Along with the return of goalkeeper Bill Hamid, on loan from Danish Superliga club FC Midtjylland, DCU has done a complete turnaround and are likely to occupy the final playoff spot after next weekend.
Loser-Orlando SC: After finishing just above DC United in the final standings last season, Orlando saw their star player Kaka retire while obtaining U.S. international Sacha Kljestan from the N.Y Red Bulls to fill his spot in the midfield. Along with existing striker Dom Dwyer, it was hoped that Orlando’s offense would improve and take them into the playoffs in 2018. After 32 matches, however, they’ve scored just 41 goals, 3rd worst in the MLS. But it’s their defense that has proven to be biggest disappointment, haven ceded 72 goals with two games left to play. Not only is that a league-worst in 2018, but Orlando has already broken the MLS record for goals given up in a season, and the season hasn’t even ended yet. With two games remaining on their schedule, one would think a win would be their goal, since Orlando hasn’t won a match since July 15.
Winner-Seattle Sounders FC: Once again, the Sounders have parlayed a slow start into playoff contention. With two games remaining, they have moved up into fourth place in the Western Conference. While a playoff spot is not assured, they seem to have the momentum for playing beyond their 34-game regular schedule. After winning the MLS cup in 2016 and getting to the finals in 2017 before losing to Toronto FC 2-0, the Sounders have the experience necessary to go deep into the playoffs. In fact, Seattle has qualified for MLS playoff competition ever since their entry into MLS ten years ago. With a strong front office and the rabid support of their fans, no one would be surprised if the Sounders advance to the MLS finals for the third straight year.
Loser-Toronto FC: After taking the top spot in the Eastern Conference and then winning the MLS Cup last season, a lot was expected from TFC in 2018. Representing the MLS in regional competitions this year, Toronto was beaten on penalty kicks in the CONCACAF Champions League by Chivas in April, then lost to Mexico side Tigres 3-1 in the inaugural Campeones Cup last month. Toronto has not fared much better in MLS play in 2018, and currently find themselves in 9th place in their conference and eliminated from playoff competition. With the same manager and little change to their starting eleven this season, the Reds have clearly underperformed overall. Midfielder Michael Bradley appears to have lost some pace, and injuries seem to have taken their toll on forward Jozy Altidore, who has seen a decline in his offensive production. With an MLS league-high guaranteed payroll of almost $26.2 million in 2018, expect manager Greg Vanney and the rest of Toronto management to make some tough decisions before the 2019 campaign begins.
Honorable Mention-Columbus Crew SC: Currently all but assured of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, management and players alike have had to contend with owner Anthony Precourt’s thinly-veiled plans to move the team to Austin Texas at the end of this season. Despite all the distractions surrounding their impending departure, the team continued to compete on the field and the fans continued to support them. While Mr. Precourt will have an MLS franchise playing in Austin by 2021, Columbus will continue to have an MLS team as well. Thanks to the perseverance by fan-based Save the Crew, an ownership group, led by the Haslem family (NFL’s Cleveland Browns), has stepped forward to ensure an MLS legacy team remains in Columbus.