Season Previews

2019 Eastern Conference Preview

Photo: Earl Gardner

Editor’s note: This piece is part of our week-long series previewing the 2019 Philadelphia Union season. For the full series, click here.

Contrary to what you may know from this website, there are 11 — yes, 11 with FC Cincinnati joining the fray — other teams in the Eastern Conference. Some are good! Really good! Some are New England.

While the Eastern Conference lost some big-time players in the offseason with the departures of Miguel Almiron, Tyler Adams, and Sebastian Giovinco, most pundits agree that many teams not named Red Bull or Atlanta United also improved vastly in the offseason.

So expect the conference to not be as top-heavy this year, with a lot more jostling for position for playoff spots three through seven. Ah, which brings me to my next point. MLS changed the playoff structure this year and there will now be seven teams that make the stage for an MLS Cup run. The first place team will now have a first round bye, while all games will now be single-elimination to give a stronger emphasis to the regular season.

Got it? Now, onto the rundown.

New York Red Bulls

2018 points: 71 (MLS record!)

How are they better in 2019? They have like five new 18-year-old prospects ready to go to the Bundesliga in two years. Red Bulls also signed centerback duo Tim Parker and Aaron Long to nice new contracts. And then brought in 18-year-old striker Mathias Jorgenson from Denmark.

How are they worse?  They lost Tyler Adams to RB Leipzig (where he is killing it, of course). But they brought up a whole new slew of players to fill his absence. Kaku maybe almost went to Liga MX, but then didn’t — and is he okay with that?

X factor: Who is going to score the goals beside Bradley Wright-Phillips? The ace striker is getting older and the Red Bulls system is not kind to veteran knees. If new signing Jorgenson can add 5-10 goals, the Bulls will be fine.

Super sage prediction: Red Bulls hold their spot at top of the conference and maybe even win another Supporter’s Shield.

Atlanta United

2018 points: 69

How are they better in 2019? Pity freaking Martinez. He is going to eat defenders alive.

How are they worse? They lost personal favorite Miguel Almiron to Newcastle and left back Greg Garza to FC Cincinnati. Plus talisman manager Tata Martino. But they supplanted them both seamlessly with as-good-as, if not better, replacements.

X factor: Will Frank de Boer’s crazy 3-4-3 work in MLS’ up-and-down paced games?

Super sage prediction: Another second place finish behind Red Bulls, but make another deep run in the playoffs.

New York City FC

2018 points: 56

How are they better in 2019? Um. Dom Torrent has had a preseason to think about his ridiculous game plans?? New signing from Romania Alexander Mitritu looks really, really good. And he better because they dropped a lot of cash on the attacker.

How are they worse? David Villa is gone. Dom Torrent is still head coach. They don’t have a real striker.

X factor: Will Torrent get out of his own way enough to let this talented squad play up to their potential?

Super sage prediction: Sixth place. Honestly, I’d pick NYC to be 9th if it wasn’t for the ridiculously silly home field advantage that comes with playing on a baseball diamond.

D.C. United

2018 points: 51

How are they better in 2019? I am legit scared of D.C. United this year. They firmed up their backline with Leo Jara from Boca Juniors and added another South American attacker in Lucas Rodriguez, who will likely become the third head of the Wayne Rooney-Lucho Acosta monster.

How are they worse? Rooney is older. Will Acosta be motivated or bummed out by his missed transfer to PSG?

X factor: Can Ben Olsen actually put out a fun, attacking side and not hamstring them with Benny Ball?

Super sage prediction: Third place. I want to pick them for a deep playoff run, but I’m not sure Wayne Rooney can take a full MLS season in the Beltway heat.

Columbus Crew

2018 points: 51

How are they better in 2019? 

How are they worse? Caleb Porter won MLS Cup with Portland not too long ago, but he’s not the master tactician former Crew skipper and current USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter is. Can he get as much out of this group?

X factor: If Justin Meram returns to his 2017 form, watch out.

Super sage prediction: Eighth place. #SaveDtheCrew and all, but I think the club takes a step back under Porter this year.

Montreal Impact

2018 points:46

How are they better in 2019? They boosted their defense big time and added some talent on the other wing and sometimes-very-effective striker Maxi Urutti. Plus, um, did you see the goal and assist that homegrown Mathieu Choinière put together the other day. DEAR LORD.

How are they worse? Nacho Piatti is a year older, does he have another year of magic in those boots?

X factor: If Piatti can get some help and the defense gels, watch out. This team finished stronger than any other club not named Atlanta United last year.

Super sage prediction: Fifth place, but I foresee a deep playoff run. I don’t know, I just think this team could make good.

New England

2018 points: 46

How are they better in 2019? They signed a bunch of guys who have never put up big numbers in any league to some pretty dang big contracts. It didn’t work last year with their expensive backline shipping a whole lot of goals and points, and I’m not sure it’s going to work in the attack.

How are they worse? Brad Friedel’s bubbly personality has pushed out national team-caliber creative midfielders Lee Nguyen and Kellyn Rowe in consecutive seasons.

X factor: They’re going to score some goals, probably. But their defense could be a tire fire yet again. I’ll also add this: I hate watching Friedel’s team play. He turns the game into a giant mess. So the x factor for me is if I am going to ever want to watch a Revs game.

Super sage prediction: Last place in the conference (WOOT-WOOT!)

Toronto FC

2018 points:36

How are they better in 2019? They were hit with a mess of injuries in 2018. If they can avoid the bug, they might just be okay.

How are they worse? Sebastian Giovinco, Savior of the North, is gone. That won’t be easy to replace. Jozy Altidore is still recovering from injury. They added little attacking and no defensive help. And I say this with no exaggeration: Their backline is in shambles. (Not to judge too much from CCL, but YIKES.)

X factor: TFC are hoping brand new signing Alejandro Pozuelo will fill that literally tiny, but figuratively very large Giovinco-sized hole.

Super sage prediction: Ninth place. Altidore and Pozuelo offer too little too late for the massive crater the defense digs for the team in the first half of the season.

Chicago Fire

2018 points: 32

How are they better in 2019? Dude, I have no idea what to make of the Fire. Their roster is just all over the place. But Djordje Mihailovic looks fun to watch!

How are they worse? I am worried about the Chicago Fire as an organization. As an OG MLS squad, their management has not had a good look for the last few seasons.

X factor: Whoever is playing defense. Not even sure manager Veljko Paunovic knows.

Super sage prediction: Eleventh place.

Orlando City

2018 points: 28

How are they better in 2019? Well, they can’t be worse. I have no idea what happened to this club in 2018. They had so much talent on the field, but it just went down the drain in a stunning disaster. So they can only go up. They basically have a totally new backline and, taking a hint from their Georgian rivals, added some young South American talent to the attack.

How are they worse? They shed a lot of fat, but may not have added enough pieces to an attack that was way too heavily dependent on Dom Dwyer last year. Also, can James O’Connor coach? We’ll find out now that he’s no longer putting out Jason Kreis’ messes.

X factor: If Sacha Klejstan can find his form and the defense gels by summer, Orlando will be the team nobody wants to play

Super sage prediction: Seventh place. Good enough for the last playoff spot in the East. I could see Orlando stumbling out of the blocks or having the biggest turnaround out of any team this season.

FC Cincinnati

2018 points: NEW KIDZ ON THE BLOCK

Could they be good? They learned from Minnesota United’s terrible expansion season and went hard on central midfield and defense. Maybe too hard, in fact. But that core is strong and full of MLS veterans, which even Atlanta United showed was essential to success.

Could they be bad? See above. They invested so heavily in their defense and central midfield, no one really knows where the goals are going to come from.

X factor: If just one or two of their USL players can make the leap to MLS, they’ll be okay.

Super sage prediction: 10th place. Not the worst!

For those of you paying attention at home, here’s how I see the conference panning out this year:

  1. New York Red Bulls
  2. Atlanta United
  3. D.C. United
  4. Philadelphia Union
  5. Montreal Impact
  6. New York City FC
  7. Orlando City
  8. Columbus Crew
  9. Toronto FC
  10. FC Cincinnatti
  11. Chicago Fire
  12. New England Revolution

And just for fun, let’s take a stab at the Western Conference:

  1. Sporting Kansas City
  2. Los Angeles FC
  3. Real Salt Lake
  4. Colorado Rapids (yes, you read that right)
  5. LA Galaxy
  6. Seattle Sounders
  7. Minnesota United
  8. FC Dallas
  9. Houston Dynamo
  10. Portland Timbers
  11. Vancouver Whitecaps
  12. San Jose Earthquakes

What do you think? Any dark horse contenders in the mix or will it be the Red Bull and Five Stripe show yet again?


  1. if all goes right with the season, i could see us competing for 4th. with greater potential for parity outside the top 2 spots, 4th could also be 7th if the misses pile up. i’m expecting a similar amount of points from last year, just not earned the same way.

    • If everything goes right we are competing for 1st. If things go about as expected, some good and some bad we are probably in the 3-6 range.

  2. OneManWolfpack says:

    HELL… I’ll take 4th!!

  3. el Pachyderm says:

    I see only two outcomes. Either they hit the ground running and competing immediately thereby settling in for a solid season or they sputter and the manager gets canned… at which point who knows how it ends up this season.

  4. I feel like we’ve made some great strides forward this off-season in terms of upgrading talent and pivoting so that the organizational philosophy is in line with Ernst. This should translate to slightly better long-term results, which in a year or two might mean we can start expecting to make the playoffs regularly, see fan engagement and satisfaction tick back upwards, get a little more respect from around the league, and maybe a couple of years after that a deeper playoff run. But in the short term…meaning this season…I think we might end up battling for that 7th spot. It could look a whole lot like last year in terms of results. Tough start while the team struggles to match personnel with style, and then an almost sudden improvement as things level out.

    OR…more succinctly…same old, same old for 1 more year.

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