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2019 MLS Eastern Conference Preview

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Red Bulls, Atlanta, and everyone else?

In any other league, you’d take a peek at how 2018 went and expect much of the same; Throw some league legends leaving the East — David Villa and Sebastian Giovinco — and you’d consider whether some records might be broken by the returning Top Two.

But this is Major League Soccer, where no power is permanent. Here’s a quick way to keep you up to speed, in reverse order of 2018 finish.


FC Cincinnati — Manager Alan Koch brings a deep midfield and defense into MLS, hoping that Emmanuel Ledesma and Fanendo Adi can combine to get enough goals to surprise the league.

Star player: Ledesma. Yes, that Ledesma. He’s a wizard, but moving from USL to MLS will take some acclimation.

Realistic expectation: Miss the playoffs but use a rowdy stadium and signs of progress to scare plenty of people along the way.


Orlando City SC — This team is going to look massively different, as former Burnley player James O’Connor gets a full season to do what worked for him as a USL manager at Louisville City.

Star player: Nani. It’s difficult to imagine him not having an incredible amount of success in attack.

Realistic expectation: Find consistency and chemistry, challenge for a playoff spot.


Bastian Schweinsteiger  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Chicago Fire — Possibly adding Nicolas Gaitan to a crew of creators which includes Djordje Mihailovic should give Veljko Paunovic a chance to succeed, but can the Fire defend their own area?

Star player: Bastian Schweinsteiger. Whenever he plays, Chicago is simply the best version of itself.

Realistic expectation: Compete for a playoff spot, but likely fall just short.


Toronto FC — An absolute mess made more remarkable by the fact that arguably the same unit destroyed MLS in 2017. A healthy Jozy Altidore may be more important than many thought, but he’s not quite healthy now, is he?

Star player: Jonathan Osorio. Yes, really. Until we know that Jonathan Pozuelo is coming through the door or that Altidore’s fit enough to dominate, count on the hometown midfielder to continue as a leader after a 10-goal season.

Realistic expectation: Altidore stays healthy, Terrence Boyd feasts off his rebounds, and Toronto gets back into the Top Six.


New England Revolution — The are a lot of ifs for Brad Friedel‘s men, who have to hope that Edgar Castillo’s resurgent 2018 was not a one-off, and that Carles Gil is ready to bring consistent performances from Spain.

Star player: Gil. It’s going to have to be.

Realistic expectation: The opposite of last season; A slow start will eventually turn into some young pieces finding positive roles.


Montreal Impact — Remi Garde turned the Quebecois side into a good group of competitors down the stretch, and will hope either Orji Okwonkwo or Maxi Urruti finds the form to feast on the wizardry of Saphir Taider and Ignacio Piatti.

Star player: Piatti. He’s among the most overlooked superstars in MLS history.

Realistic expectation: A playoff spot and hopes for lightning in a MLS Cup Playoffs bottle.


Philadelphia Union — This is by far Philly’s best chance to make a run in its history, from Andre Blake at the back to new playmaker Marco Fabian.

Star player: Fabian. Will he be patient enough with the Union to allow them to gel? Because he’s got the gifts to dominate the East.

Realistic expectation: A home first round playoff game.


Caleb Porter (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Columbus Crew SC — Caleb Porter’s back in Ohio, hoping to burnish his reputation by producing more consistent success than the brutal highs and lows of his tenure in Portland. Remember: Gregg Berhalter consistently out-performed the club’s budget.

Star player: Gyasi Zardes. Forget your USMNT impression of him; In MLS, he just scores goals.

Realistic expectation: A fight for the final playoff spot.


DC United — Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta get a full season together, and DC fans will rightly be dreaming of the postseason.

Star player: Acosta. Rooney’s a star and an engine, but Acosta’s the one who nearly had Paris Saint-Germain on his shirt this winter.

Realistic expectation: Multiple home playoff games.


New York City FC — Dome Torrent has not yet replicated Patrick Vieira’s success and lost David Villa to Vissel Kobe; Will an offseason of preparation and Alexandru Mitrita and Keaton Parks be the right additions to keep up playoff spirit?

Star player: Maxi Moralez. At his best, he’s MVP caliber good.

Realistic expectation: A home playoff game.


Atlanta United — There are questions here; Miguel Almiron is already showing the Premier League how fortunate Atlanta was to have a player of his elite quality, and Frank De Boer is implementing a season quite different than Tata Martino. But Atlanta won it all in Year Two, and has a gifted squad.

Star player: Josef Martinez. It’s reasonable to think the answer will be Pity Martinez by the end of the season, but you’re not the star player when the MLS single season goal record holder is returning for another season and committed to Georgia.

Realistic expectation: Compete for the Supporters’ Shield, MLS Cup, and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.


New York Red Bulls — The only question here is not how good Tyler Adams was, rather how difficult it will be to find someone to do what he did so well at a functional level. RBNY should again be one of the best teams in the league.

Star player: Kaku. A playmaker of the highest order.

Realistic expectation: Compete for every bit of hardware they want while blooding the next wave of Red Bulls through their prolific set-up.

Alejandro Romero Gamarra … Kaku! (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Altidore extends Toronto stay through 2022

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USMNT striker Jozy Altidore has committed his future to Toronto FC, where he’ll remain a designated player.

[ MORE: Ranieri fired ]

Altidore missed all but 13 matches last season and is still dealing with injury problems to start this one, but scored seven times in 877 league minutes.

The 29-year-old striker has been given a huge vote of confidence from new TFC general manager Ali Curtis:

“Jozy has been a big part of the organization and the new contract ensures that he will remain with the club for years to come. While it is important to make changes to your roster in different moments, continuity is also a critical component to successful organizations,” said Toronto FC General Manager Ali Curtis. “Jozy is an excellent player and he is capable of playing an enormous role in leading our club to success. On a professional level, I am looking forward to working with Jozy, but on personal level, I’m looking forward to getting to know him for the person that he has developed into.”

Altidore won the 2018 MLS Cup with TFC, and has 60 goals in 114 appearances with the Reds.

He also has 41 USMNT goals in 110 caps, both Top Ten figures for the national team. Altidore is 16 goals behind the program record shared by Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey.

CCL: Toronto FC embarrassed in 4-0 defeat in Panama

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As far as Toronto FC are concerned, 2018 never actually ended and appears set to continue for the rest of eternity.

[ MORE: Jurgen Klinsmann received $3.35M settlement from U.S. Soccer ]

After losing the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League final to Chivas de Guadalajara on penalty kicks, the then-defending MLS Cup champions proceeded to ninth in the Eastern Conference and miss the playoffs by 14 — fourteen — points.

Fear not, though, for the most recent offseason would be a time for rebuilding to make one final push for trophies during the Sebastian Giovinco/Michael Bradley/Jozy Altidore era. Except, the exact opposite of that occurred: Giovinco left for Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilali; Victor Vazquez departed for Kuwaiti side Al-Arabi; Laurent Ciman and Terrence Boyd were the big arrivals this winter. A net-negative, to state the painfully obvious.

[ MORE: Liverpool draw Bayern Munich | Barcelona held by Lyon ]

Then, on Tuesday, things got worse — so, so much worse. Playing away to Panamanian side Independiente in the CCL round of 16, Greg Vanney’s side conceded four (quite spectacularly) poorly defended goals en route to a 4-0 defeat that has them all but eliminated before even stepping foot on their home field next Tuesday.

If you’re into watching that sort of thing, have a quick look below…

Boyd sent a penalty kick into orbit, just before halftime when the score was still just 1-0, thus setting in motion the Reds’ total collapse over the final 45 minutes.

There have been some embarrassing showings by MLS sides in CCL over the years, but what TFC did on Tuesday ranks right down near the bottom of anything we’ve ever seen.

CONCACAF Champions League returns with TFC, Houston

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The CONCACAF Champions League returns Tuesday night with a pair of Major League Soccer sides seeking a positive start to their seasons after substandard 2018s.

[ FA CUP: Man Utd bounces Chelsea ]

In the case of Toronto FC, their season went downhill in a big way after CCL success driven largely by Sebastian Giovinco. He’s gone now, as is Victor Vazquez, and TFC opens its bid to return to the final with a visit to Panama’s Independiente for the front end of a two-legged tie.

The Reds are almost even money to win, according to most oddsmakers, but anything can happen on a CONCACAF pitch in February.

Having helped the USMNT start life under Gregg Berhalter following its World Cup collapse, TFC captain Michael Bradley is prepared to engineer another turnaround following his club’s playoff-free 2018. From TorontoFC.ca:

“Nobody is sitting around worried about last year anymore,” added the TFC captain. “For me, that’s been the best part of this last week or so: coming into camp, looking around and feeling right away that there was an excitement and a real motivation of the guys to get going; to work and make sure that we use every day in the right way to push ourselves forward.”

Jozy Altidore is still out for Toronto, which should give new import Terrence Boyd the chance to star in Panama.

That match kicks off at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday, two hours before Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup champs Houston Dynamo enter the CCL with a visit to 5,000-capacity Estadio David Cordon Hichos in Guatemala.

That’s where they’ll meet Guastatoya. We don’t know a ton about the Guatemalan side, other than they won both the Clausura and the Apertura last season.

Familiar faces return for the Dynamo in the form of Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis, but there will be new talent on show. Defender Kiki Struna arrives from Palermo, while Marlon Hairston joins the Dynamo from Colorado, and could end up being a very productive player in Wilmer Cabrera’s system. Tommy McNamara also gets a new lease on life in Texas.

Toronto FC sign USMNT forward Terrence Boyd

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Following the departure of Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC have more than a few goals to replace just weeks before the 2019 season kicks off.

[ MORE: Stock up/stock down: USMNT’s January friendlies ]

With that in mind, TFC announced on Tuesday the signing of once-upon-a-time U.S. men’s national team forward Terrence Boyd. The 27-year-old will likely begin his time in MLS as a backup option, given the numerous long-term injuries he’s battled over the last five years, to starter Jozy Altidore.

The serious injuries began with a torn ACL shortly after Boyd, who’s no 27, moved to RB Leipzig in the summer of 2014. From there, Boyd wouldn’t make another appearance for Leipzig before moving to second-division side Darmstadt. He made 44 appearances for Darmstadt across one full season and two half-seasons, but scored just five goals. Boyd’s last appearance for the USMNT came in an Oct. 2016 friendly against New Zealand; before that, he hadn’t featured for the Yanks since prior to the 2014 World Cup.

[ MORE: USMNT takes down Costa Rica (video) ]

In Giovinco’s absence, Altidore — assuming he remains at the club for another season, following reports of discord between the sides — will certainly be leaned upon more heavily, but he’s dealt with a handful of short- and medium-term injuries himself. If the Reds find themselves in a position where they’re counting on too many minutes and too many goals from Boyd, that’ll be a surefire season of another season gone wrong.