MLS 2015 Season Preview: Vancouver Whitecaps

As the 2015 season is now just a couple of days away, the excitement is building. We’ve had a new MLS 2015 Season Preview up everyday in the build up and today we take a look at what the Vancouver Whitecaps will be hoping to achieve this season…

The Vancouver Whitecaps endured a close-run 2014 season, making the playoffs by one point in the Western Conference and they are going to have to be at their best if they are to stand a chance of repeating that this campaign. Although the Whitecaps fell at the first hurdles in the playoffs to FC Dallas, they have plenty to build on and look in good shape going into 2015. Head coach Carl Robinson has a few new faces as the squad has been rejigged somewhat, but he faces a tough task in guiding Vancouver to back-to-back playoffs in what is a fiercely competitive Western Conference.

Last season’s finish: Western Conference position: 5th – P34 – W12 – D14 – L8

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What needs to change this year?

The Whitecaps managed to avoid defeat in 26 of their 34 games last year, which is strong form, but they conceded far too many goals. Ending the 2014 season with a +2 goal difference highlighted their inability to shut teams out, which is what cost them in their playoff game against Dallas. This could be a transitional season for the Whitecaps, but they have retained the services of playmaker, Pedro Morales, who enjoyed a good first season in MLS with 10 goals and 12 assists. This season Vancouver should attempt to build a squad around their top goalscorer, but need their forwards to pitch in with more strikes.

Key changes to the squad:

Ins: Diego Rodriquez – Defender, Pa Modou Kah – Defender, Ben McKendry – Midfielder, Deybi Flores – Midfielder, Marco Bustos – Midfield, Octavio Rivero – Forward

Outs: Jay DeMerit – Defender, Johnny Leveron – Defender, Andy O’Brien – Defender, Carlyle Mitchell – Defender, Bryce Alderson – Midfielder, Sebastian Fernandez – Midfielder, Mehdi Ballouchy – Midfielder, Omar Salgado – Forward, Mamadou Diouf – Forward

Key Player: Pedro Morales – Midfielder

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Pedro Morales‘ first season in MLS was impressive. He was involved in 22 goals, scoring 10 with 12 assists. He is given a similar role in the side to that of Lee Nguyen with the New England Revolution and his free role allows him to dictate play in the final third. The 30-year-old midfield ace has a wealth of experience which his teammates can learn from and he will be at the forefront of everything good for Vancouver Whitecaps in 2015.

One to watch: Octavio Rivero – Forward

The 23-year-old forward has clearly caught the eye of the Whitecaps, resulting in him joining the side as a Designated Player this offseason. The goalscorer has impressed playing for his three previous clubs, Central Espanol, Rentistas and O’Higgins. We eagerly await to see how Octavio Rivero fares in his first season.

Predicted finish: Western Conference – 7th

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It is going to be a very tough task for the Whitecaps to reach the playoffs in 2015. In an ever-improving Western Conference, the additions of the Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City only make things tougher and they are two sides who will be competing closely in the table with Vancouver. It is set to be a tough campaign and it will be a tricky for the Whitecaps to make the playoffs yet again.

What are you expecting from the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2015?

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MLS 2015 Season Preview: Toronto FC

As the 2015 season is now just a couple of days away, the excitement is building. We’ve had a new MLS 2015 Season Preview up everyday in the build up and today we take a look at what Toronto FC will be looking to achieve this season…

Last year was another disappointing season for Toronto FC. They went into the 2014 campaign full of hope as their squad had quality players in the shape of Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe, Gilberto and Julio Cesar. However, things didn’t quite work out as planned as the Reds missed out on the playoffs for the eighth successive year. They’ve still never reached the post-season but have invested heavily in the squad again this offseason with Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco both joining as Designated Players. 2015 should be a better year for Toronto and the main aim will be to make the playoffs for the first time in the clubs’ history.

Last season’s finish: Eastern Conference position: 7th – P34 – W11 – D8 – L15

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What needs to change this year?

Toronto lost 15 games in 2014, which is an immediate concern looking at how strong the team was on paper. If anything, they’ve improved this offseason and making sure they concede fewer goals will be one of the primary areas for head coach Greg Vanney to address. Only four sides conceded fewer goals than Toronto’s 54 last season and that must change. The Reds ended the season with just two wins in 13 games and so it’s vital that they start the new season in better form. A lot has changed so things can be expected to be different on the field but it’s important that the Canadian club don’t rely on Giovinco and Altidore to simply fire them to success. They need to remain solid through the core of the team. They kept just six clean-sheets in 2014. That has to increase if they are to make the playoffs.

Key changes to the squad:

Ins: Marco Delgado – Midfielder, Robbie Findley – Forward, Jozy Altidore – Forward (Designated Player), Sebastian Giovinco – Midfielder/Forward (Designated Player), Damien Perquis – Defender, Benoit Cheyrou – Midfielder.

Outs: Dwayne De Rosario – Forward, Doneil Henry – Defender, Bradley Orr – Defender, Jermain Defoe – Forward, Gilberto – Forward, Kyle Bekker – Midfielder, Dominic Oduro – Midfielder.

Key Player: Michael Bradley – Midfielder

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Michael Bradley didn’t do badly in his first season with Toronto but he is capable of better and having been made captain, he will hope to inspire his teammates to success in 2015. Injuries plagued his 2014 campaign but a fully fit Bradley is heading into the new season and he will need to be at his best in the heart of midfield if Toronto are to tick as they are meant to. The 27 year old has two quality forwards to feed the ball to in Altidore and Giovinco and as the face of the franchise, it’s time for the USMNT star to lead his side into the playoffs.

One to watch: Sebastian Giovinco – Midfielder/Forward

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Few will need to be told to watch Sebastian Giovinco this year as all eyes will be on the Italian playmaker from the word go. But his performances will be key to how Toronto fare this season and after heavy investment, the ‘Atomic Ant’ needs to deliver. At 27, Giovinco is in the prime of his career and he is one of the most exciting additions to MLS this year. If he can hit the ground running with his new team, he could be crowned MLS MVP at the end of the season. Fatigue could be an issue as he has come straight in from Juventus in the middle of their season but a lot of attention will be given to Giovinco throughout the campaign.

Predicted finish: Eastern Conference – 3rd

This will be the year Toronto FC finally make the MLS Playoffs. The signings of Giovinco and Altidore demonstrate their intentions to succeed and those two will be key along with club captain Michael Bradley. The key for Toronto will be how the other squad players perform and the likes of Damien Perquis and Benoit Cheyrou should also strengthen the side dramatically in a defensive sense. They have done relatively well in preseason, winning four of their seven games, and need to start the new campaign well, especially as their first three are away from home against tough opposition. A good start would set the tone for a good year and Toronto should do well in 2015.

What are you expecting from Toronto FC in 2015?

MLS 2015 Season Preview: Sporting Kansas City

As the 2015 season is now just four days away, the excitement is building. We’ve had a new MLS 2015 Season Preview up everyday in the build up and today we take a look at what Sporting Kansas City will be looking to achieve this season…

Sporting Kansas City endured a long and tough season last time out as they limped into the MLS Playoffs only to be knocked out by the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference playoff game. They will take part in the Western Conference in 2015 as the arrivals of New York City FC and Orlando City SC has seen Sporting KC moved back to the West for the first time since 2004, a season in which they were runners-up for the MLS Cup title but won their first-ever US Open Cup. Manager Peter Vermes has seen many changes to his squad this season and will hope a change of opposition in the West can spark a comeback challenge for the championship in 2015.

Dom Dwyer was a real spark as he netted 22 goals in 31 regular season starts and if he can build on his form then Sporting KC will be a real force. The resigning of Roger Espinoza has strengthened the squad but the loss of centre-back Aurelien Collin could affect their defensive stability.

Last season’s finish: Eastern Conference – P34 – W14 – D7 – L13

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What needs to change this year?

Consistency was a problem in 2014. Sporting Kansas City had a great run of form through the middle of the season but ended the year by losing seven of their last ten. Fitness was a key factor as Matt Besler and Graham Zusi looked exhausted after the USMNT’s World Cup campaign and could not help the side to achieve. Sporting Park needs to become a fortress once more if the club are to do well in a fiercely competitive Western Conference this year as they had the seventh-worst home record last season. Picking up more points on the road than at home is a concern and something that must change from the word go.

Key changes to the squad:

Ins: Bernardo Anor – Midfielder, Jalil Anibaba – Defender, Krisztian Nemeth – Forward, Luis Marin – Goalkeeper, Roger Espinoza – Midfielder, Servando Carrasco – Midfielder.

Outs: Antonio Dovale – Midfielder, Lawrence Olum – Midfielder, Soony Saad – Forward, Aurelien Collin – Defender, CJ Sapong – Forward, Sal Zizzo – Midfield/Forward, Claudio Bieler – Forward, Jorge Claros – Midfielder, Eric Kronberg – Goalkeeper.

Key Player: Dom Dwyer – Forward

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Dom Dwyer was incredible last year as he scored 24 goals across all competitions and led the line perfectly for Sporting Kansas City all season. He lacked support at times but the additions of Nemeth and Espinoza, as well as the return of a fully fit Zusi should only make Dwyer more dangerous. The English forward seems to improve with each game and is undoubtedly a favourite for the Golden Boot come the end of the campaign.

One to watch: Krisztian Nemeth – Forward

Krisztian Nemeth has joined the club this offseason and can play on the wing as well as the main striker. He has already netted five goals and picked up an assist this preseason and looks like he could be a real threat. His versatility will make him a real asset for Peter Vermes this season and the Hungarian is certainly someone to keep an eye on.

Predicted finish: Western Conference – 6th

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Sporting Kansas City may take time to adjust to life back in the Western Conference, especially with the quality of teams around them this year. It looks set to be another tough campaign and a lot will depend on how well the team deal with such long trips. No other clubs are closer than a seven-hour drive and that could be a factor. Still, you can expect Sporting KC to make the playoffs for the fifth straight year and from there they could be dangerous. If Zusi and Besler can get back to their best then Sporting KC could be challenging right at the top of the Western but it may take time to adjust to a new conference with so many new players.

What are you expecting from Sporting Kansas City in 2015?

MLS 2015 Season Preview: Seattle Sounders

The new season is less than a week away and in the build-up to the first game, we’ve had an MLS 2015 Season Preview up everyday. Today we take a look at what to expect from the Seattle Sounders in 2015…

The Seattle Sounders can head into the new campaign full of optimism. They topped the pile in the Western Conference last season and lifted the MLS Supporters’ Shield but they will want to push on and try and lift the MLS Cup come December this year. Their loss to eventual championship winners, LA Galaxy should help to spur them on this season and it will be an exciting battle in the Western Conference between the two clubs in 2015. Seattle also picked up the US Open Cup in 2014 and are undoubtedly one of the strongest sides in MLS.

Last season’s finish: Western Conference position: 1st – P34 – W20 – D4 – L10

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What needs to change this year?

Head coach Sigi Schmid needs to find a solution to ensure his side can make the playoff final and possibly win the MLS Cup. Losing the Western Conference semi-final against the Galaxy on the away goals rule could be seen as just bad luck, but it was almost a theme of the Sounders’ season. They conceded the tied-most goals of all the sides that made the playoffs and although their play style guarantees goals at the right end, it was their inability to shutout LA Galaxy in the first-leg which cost them so dearly. Seattle on the whole were very impressive last campaign and they aren’t far off from being a complete side. But as MLS becomes even more competitive, they will have to be at their best to ensure they can better last season.

Key changes to the squad:

Ins: Troy Perkins – Goalkeeper, Tyrone Mears – Defender, Andres Correa – Defender, Cristian Roldan – Midfielder, Victor Mansaray – Forward, Darwin Jones – Forward, Andy Craven – Forward

Outs: Marcus Hahnemann – Goalkeeper, Josh Ford – Goalkeeper, DeAndre Yedlin – Defender, Onyekachi Apam – Defender, Djimi Traore – Defender, Jalil Anibaba – Defender, Eriq Zavaleta – Defender, Sean Okoli – Forward, Cam Weaver – Forward, Tristan Bowen – Forward

Key Player: Obafemi Martins – Forward

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Obafemi Martins scored an impressive 17 goals last campaign and Seattle will need him to be in that sort of form again this season. The Nigerian forward’s finishing is a real asset to the Sounders and his partnership with Clint Dempsey worked so well for them last season. He still has a lot of football ahead of him at 30 and we are likely to see his goals ensuring Seattle progress into the latter stages of the playoffs once again in 2015.

One to watch: Andres Correa – Defender

The Colombian left-back has been quietly going about his development. At just 21 he has made 10 international appearances through the youth ranks of the Colombian national team. Andres Correa could be a long-term star for the Sounders and he will continue to learn from a squad full of talent. This will be a transitional season for him and he will want as much playing time as possible to help his growth. Expect him to be an exciting member of the side if he’s given minutes.

Predicted finish: Western Conference – 2nd

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The Seattle Sounders will once again be a real force in MLS this year but it will be tough to replicate last season’s dominance in the Western Conference. The LA Galaxy were slow starters last year but were unstoppable towards the end of 2014 and will be favourites to topple the Sounders in the Western this year. Seattle will be targeting MLS Cup success this season and there is no reason why they can’t go on and become champions with the talent they have in the side.

What are you expecting from the Seattle Sounders in 2015?

MLS 2015 Season Preview: San Jose Earthquakes

As the 2015 season is now less than a week away excitement is building. We’ve had a new MLS 2015 Season Preview up everyday in the build up and today we take a look at what the San Jose Earthquakes will be looking to do this season…

The San Jose Earthquakes are looking like a new team ahead of the 2015 season. They have a new manager as Dominic Kinnear has returned after eight seasons with the Houston Dynamo, a new Designated Player in Innocent Emeghara and most importantly a new stadium as San Jose begin life in the brand new Avaya Stadium in 2015. Last year was disappointing. There’s no hiding that as the Earthquakes won just six games (their lowest tally ever) and finished bottom of the Western Conference. Things can only improve and the club will hope a new stadium will breathe a sense of fresh belief into the players and fans alike.

Last season’s finish: Western Conference position: 9th – P34 – W6 – D12 – L16

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What needs to change this year?

Firstly, the San Jose Earthquakes need to start winning more games. They won just six last year and finished the season without a victory in 15 straight games. That is incredibly poor and needs to change immediately. The Earthquakes also need to improve away from home as they picked up just one win on the road in 2014. Defensively, they were pretty solid considering their bottom-placed finish but scoring goals was a major problem as they netted just 35 times in 34 games – the second worst record in MLS last year. A lot needs to change on the pitch but a lot has changed throughout the club, including the actual pitch they will be playing on. Dominic Kinnear will hope to bring success back to the team in his first year back in charge but that will be no easy task in a highly competitive Western Conference.

Key changes to the squad:

Ins: Leandro Barrera – Midfielder, Mark Sherrod – Forward, Marvell Wynne – Defender, Sanna Nyassi – Midfielder, Fatai Alashe – Midfield, Innocent Emeghara (Designated Player) – Forward, Paulo Renato – Defender.

Outs: Jason Hernandez – Defender, Jon Busch – Goalkeeper, Atiba Harris – Midfielder, Yannick Djalo – Midfielder, Sam Cronin – Midfielder,

Key Player: Innocent Emeghara – Forward

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Innocent Emeghara has been brought in as a Designated Player in the hope that he will score the goals to fire San Jose back into playoff contention in the Western Conference this season. The Swiss striker has bundles of pace and will inject some much needed life into an Earthquakes attack that underperformed in 2014. Chris Wondolowski will hope to form a successful partnership with Emeghara this season and make sure you keep an eye on the 25-year-old new boy because he could be dangerous.

One to watch: Fatai Alashe – Midfield

Fatai Alashe was selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft in January and could play a key part for the Quakes in his debut MLS campaign. He is not afraid of a tackle and the 21-year-old could really improve San Jose in the middle of the park if he is given minutes by Kinnear. His energetic play could turn defence into attack with the blink of an eye and make the Earthquakes one of the most dynamic teams in MLS this season. Watch Alashe as he could be set for a big year.

Predicted finish: Western Conference – 9th

Although things look set to improve for the San Jose Earthquakes in 2015, it’s difficult to see them finishing above so many quality sides in a frightening looking Western Conference. The additions of the Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City have only made the conference more difficult and although San Jose won’t finish bottom this year, they will have to accept a third straight year without postseason soccer.

What are you expecting from the San Jose Earthquakes in 2015?

MLS 2015 Season Preview: Real Salt Lake

Anticipation is now rapidly growing with the new season just six days away and in the build-up to the first game, we’ve had an MLS 2015 Season Preview up everyday. Today we take a look at what to expect from Real Salt Lake in 2015…

Real Salt Lake can be optimistic heading into the 2015 MLS season after enjoying a reasonably successful 2014 campaign in the Western Conference as they secured a third place finish. They were knocked out of the MLS Cup by LA Galaxy at the conference semi-final stage after a 5-0 defeat in the second-leg. They were unlucky to tie the first-leg 0-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium after they dominated the game but were only kept at bay thanks to heroics from the Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo. Had Penedo not been in fine form, it could’ve been a different story for Real Salt Lake. It will be RSL’s eleventh MLS season to date.

Last season’s finish: Western Conference position: 3rd – P34 – W15 – D11 – L8

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What needs to change this year?

The issues that head coach Jeff Cassar needs to address in terms of playing style and the way Real Salt Lake set-up are minimal. The fact stands that only LA Galaxy lost fewer games in 2014 and Real Salt Lake suffered just one home defeat all season giving them the second best home record in the league (P17, W11, D5). Their performances on the road is where they let themselves down. They only managed four wins out of 17 away games and that cost them dearly. Had they picked up just a few more away wins, they would have been in real contention for the Supporters’ Shield title.

Key changes to the squad:

Ins: Jamison Olave – Defender, Demar Phillips – Defender, Elias Vasquez – Defender, Wellington ‘Pecka’ Paeckart – Midfielder

Outs: Nat Borchers – Defender, Chris Wingert – Defender, Carlos Salcedo – Defender, Ned Grabavoy – Midfielder, Cole Grossman – Midfielder, Sebastian Velasquez – Midfielder, Robbie Findley – Forward

Key Player: Javier Morales – Midfielder

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Javier Morales has been an essential player at the heart of the Real Salt Lake midfield for the past seven years and 2014 saw him enjoy one of his best seasons yet as he notched nine goals and 12 assists. At 35-years-old, he’s heading towards the end of his career but he still possesses great quality and will be instrumental once again.

One to watch: Joao Plata – Forward

Joao Plata has made a real name for himself after his superb performances in 2014. The young Ecuadorian played 26 games last year, scoring 13 goals and assisting six along the way. What he lacks in height, he more than makes up for with his incredible natural talent and he will be an exciting player to watch in 2015. He will miss the start of the season through injury but expect him to make a real difference when he returns to action.

Predicted finish: Western Conference – 5th

There is no doubting the fact that Real Salt Lake are a great side and always enjoyable to watch. However, the loss of key players such as Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert and Ned Grabavoy could have a negative impact. Those three were first-team regulars in 2014 and certainly played an important role in an effective RSL team. Bringing in Jamison Olave from New York Red Bulls is an excellent acquisition, but it remains to be seen if the rest of the new recruits will prove to be sufficient replacements and that could potentially cost Real Salt Lake a few league positions. Having said that, they should have enough quality to comfortably secure a playoff spot.

What are you expecting from Real Salt Lake in 2015?

MLS 2015 Season Preview: Portland Timbers

The new season is now just one week away and in the build-up to the first game, we’ve had an MLS 2015 Season Preview up everyday. Today we take a look at what to expect from the Portland Timbers in 2015…

The Portland Timbers head into their fifth MLS season after joining in 2011. They looked set to be on course for a playoff finish in 2014 until the penultimate game of the season when a 0-0 draw at home to Real Salt Lake allowed the Vancouver Whitecaps to agonisingly nip in ahead of them by just one point, despite the final day victory over FC Dallas for the Timbers. Head coach Caleb Porter will be hoping he can inspire his side to perform to the same level as last year while tweaking some minor elements of the team to make them that little bit more effective.

Last season’s finish: Western Conference position: 6th – P34 – W12 – D13 – L9

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What needs to change this year?

Portland Timbers need to start the season better this time around. They didn’t record a victory until their ninth game of the season in 2014 and that left them playing catch up for the remainder of the campaign. The Timbers only managed 10 points from their opening 11 games and that hampered their progress massively.

Despite the slow start, they finished the season brilliantly with just one defeat in their final nine games, picking up five wins and three draws. If the Oregon side can carry that vein of form through to 2015 then they will have a good chance of having a successful year.

Turning some of the draws into wins at home is another important area that could be improved. Portland only managed five victories on home soil in 2014, while they played out nine draws.

Key changes to the squad:

Ins: Adam Kwarasey – Goalkeeper, Nat Borchers – Defender, Jeanderson Pereira – Defender, Dairon Asprilla – Midfielder

Outs: Donovan Ricketts – Goalkeeper, Michael Harrington – Defender, Pa Modou Kah – Defender, Rauwshan McKenzie – Defender, Danny O’Rourke – Defender, Steve Zakuani – Midfielder, Kalif Alhassan – Midfielder

Key Player: Diego Valeri – Midfielder

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Diego Valeri will miss the start of the 2015 campaign through injury and is hoping to return by May. The Timbers need to ensure they don’t feel the full force of his absence in the early stages of the season. The Argentinian playmaker scored 11 goals, made 14 assists and was the stand-out player for Portland in 2014.  He will be crucial for the Timbers as they look to mount a serious challenge for a top-six finish in the Western Conference and qualify for the playoffs.

One to watch: Fanendo AdiForward

Fanendo Adi notched an impressive nine goals from just 18 starts in 2014 and also made four assists. The big Nigerian forward could play an important role when he leads the line for the Timbers. At 6 feet 4 inches, he provides a different proposition for opposing teams compared to other forwards in this Portland squad. He’s only 24-years-old so he’s got a promising career ahead of him and if the Timbers are to challenge for the top spots, his excellent goals-per-game ratio could be crucial.

Predicted finish: Western Conference – 3rd

The Portland Timbers have only recorded one playoff finish since their participation in Major League Soccer began in 2011. However, they look in great shape to be one of the strongest sides in the Western Conference in what promises to be one of the most exciting MLS seasons to date.

What are you expecting from the Portland Timbers in 2015?

MLS 2015 Season Preview: Philadelphia Union

As the 2015 season draws closer, we’ll have a new MLS 2015 Season Preview up everyday. Today we take a look at what Philadelphia Union will be looking to do this season…

The Philadelphia Union endured a mixed campaign last time out as they failed to reach the MLS Playoffs but managed to get to the final of the US Open Cup where they fell 3-1 to the Seattle Sounders after extra-time. John Hackworth was removed of his duties at the midway point of the season after the Union won just three of their opening 15 fixtures. Jim Curtin was brought in and he will hope to guide the Union to the playoffs in his first full season in charge in what will be the club’s sixth season in MLS.

Last season’s finish: Eastern Conference position: 6th – P34 – W10 – D12 – L12

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What needs to change this year?

The Union need to try and close games out much more effectively in 2015. They conceded 17 goals in the final 15 minutes of games in the regular season and that is not good enough. The worst example of this came in their 3-2 loss to the Columbus Crew in October as they threw away a two-goal lead in five minutes in a defeat that confirmed their elimination from playoff contention. Whether the late lapses were because of fitness concerns or just lack of focus, Curtin needs to make sure he addresses them and improves that poor record this year. Philadelphia conceded 51 goals last year and will want to improve defensively too. The addition of Steven Vitoria on loan from Benfica could help solve that problem.

Key changes to the squad:

Ins: CJ Sapong – Forward, Dzenan Catic – Forward, Steven Vitoria – Defender, Fernando Aristeguieta – Forward

Outs: Amobi Okugo – Midfielder, Pedro Ribeiro – Forward, Zac MacMath – Goalkeeper, Carlos Valdes – Defender, Aaron Wheeler – Forward

Key Player: Maurice Edu – Midfielder

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After spending last season on loan with the Union, Maurice Edu made his permanent return to MLS this January. The midfielder started in all 31 of his appearances last season, scoring three times with two assists, and was a key man in the side. Edu led the team in tackles and made almost 3 per game. He played at centre-back at times last year but is expected to play in his more natural midfield role in 2015 alongside Vincent Nogueira.

One to watch: Fernando Aristeguieta – Forward

The Venezuelan striker has been brought in on loan from French side FC Nantes as a young Designated Player and will be expected to fire the Union to success in 2015. The 22-year-old has it all according to his new coach: “He can run, he’s big, he’s fast, he’s strong — he has all of those things. But he also has good technique too,” Curtin said. Watch out for Aristeguieta.

Predicted finish: Eastern Conference – 9th

Philadelphia Union have only made the playoffs once in their five-year history so far and that was in 2011. The wait could go on another year as it is unclear whether they have the strength in the current squad to make a splash in the Eastern Conference in 2015. It is a case of ‘what if’ as if Fernando Aristeguieta can score the goals, if Maurice Edu can control the midfield and if Steven Vitoria can shore up the defence then the Union could be a real force. But until they prove that there are too many teams that look stronger.

What are you expecting from the Philadelphia Union in 2015?

MLS 2015 Season Preview: Orlando City SC

As the 2015 season draws closer, we’ll have a new MLS 2015 Season Preview up everyday. Today we take a look at what Orlando City SC will be hoping to achieve in their first-ever season…

The arrival of Orlando City SC into Major League Soccer is fast approaching and we are excited to see what they have to offer. Expectations to perform will be high, but with Kaka leading the team they stand a strong chance of finishing at the top end of the Eastern Conference in their inaugural season. As it is their first ever campaign people will question how much they can achieve, but their introduction to MLS is exciting and we are looking forward to seeing how it all unfolds.

Last season’s finish: N/A (Inaugural Season)

Orlando City players huddle up in preseason action (Photo: http://www.orlandocitysc.com/)

Orlando City players huddle up in preseason action (Photo: http://www.orlandocitysc.com/)

What to expect this year:

Seeing as it is their initial season we obviously cannot compare previous campaigns, but with the players they have bought in there are high expectations. With big signings Orlando have to reach the playoffs and much comparison will be made between them and fellow expansion franchise, New York City FC. With Kaka at the heart of the midfield we can expect classy counter-attacking play led by a calm experienced head. Aurelien Collin will play a major part into how they perform defensively and his MLS experience is vital. Bryan Rochez has been brought in as a Designated Player up top and he will be expected to score the goals that fire Orlando to success this year.

Key changes to the squad:

As it is their first season the squad building at Orlando was vast. Their key additions are:

Ins: Kaka – Midfielder (Designated Player), Bryan Rochez – Forward (Designated Player), Aurelien Collin – Defender, Brek Shea – Midfielder, Donovan Ricketts – Goalkeeper, Amobi Okugo – Defender

Outs: N/A 

Key player: Kaka – Midfielder

Kaka Orlando City SC

There isn’t much to say about former Ballon d’Or winner that already hasn’t been said. He will play a pivotal role in Orlando’s first season and his experience in the squad is unparalleled. Playing at the top level and wrapping up European honours such as the Champions League, La Liga and Serie A mean he is the star. The 2002 World Cup winner will take the pressure for the Lions’ performances on the field and will improve the players around him. The rest of the Orlando squad can learn so much from Kaka and the number 10 will need to be at his brilliant best to set examples and keep his side composed. The 32 year old is a natural finisher and will show why he is regarded so highly by driving the side on with his midfield surges and range of passing. Kaka has always been a pleasure to watch and don’t expect that to change in MLS.

One to watch: Bryan Rochez – Forward

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The Honduran forward has an impressive goals-to-games ratio for former club Real Espana with 30 in 62 and he could be a dark horse for the Golden Boot this season. He has showed in glimpses what he is about in Orlando’s preseason campaign and will need to prove he is worthy of the DP tag Orlando have given him. The 20-year-old striker will enjoy working with Kaka and the service he should receive gives him a good chance of continuing his impressive scoring record.

Predicted finish: Eastern Conference – 2nd

Orlando should have a strong first season and we are expecting big things from them. With the squad they have we can expect them to put up a good challenge against everyone they face. The team is strong throughout with experienced defenders, and creative midfielders and Adrian Heath has one of Major League Soccer’s strongest team’s on paper. With Kaka at the heart of it all we are just counting down the days until kick off now.

How will Orlando do in their first-ever MLS season?

MLS 2015 Season Preview: New York Red Bulls

As the 2015 season draws closer, we’ll have a new MLS 2015 Season Preview up everyday. Today we take a look at what the New York Red Bulls will be looking to achieve this season…

The New York Red Bulls endured a slightly frustrating campaign last season in the Eastern Conference but their playoff form was good and they must take positives into the new season after only narrowly missing out on a place in the MLS Cup final. It would appear difficult for fans to take positives into the new season at this point however after an offseason of major changes at the club. This could be a transitional season for the Red Bulls as Mike Petke has gone, a new manager is in and several key players have departed, none more important to the side than Thierry Henry, who hung up his boots at the end of the 2014 campaign.

Last season’s finish: Eastern Conference position: 4th – P34 – W13 – D10 – L11

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What needs to change this year?

The Red Bulls need to find a killer instinct in games, something which they lacked on occasions last season and they must concede fewer goals. To have had top scorer, Bradley Wright-Phillips in their side and only end the campaign with a +5 goal difference is proof of their inability to shut teams out. The Eastern Conference was closely contested last year with just nine points separating the New York Red Bulls in 4th and DC United at the top. With such fine margins and an even more competitive conference this season, they must perform at the highest level for every game.

The Eastern Conference is going to be fiercely competitive this year, with new teams New York City FC and Orlando City looking to raise a few eyebrows, while the New England Revolution look strong candidates to push all the way as they did last campaign. So it is essential that the Red Bulls get off to a strong start this season if they are to have any chance of making the playoffs. That will give supporters confidence, something that is crucial at this stage and new head coach Jesse Marsch will need the fans on his side if his team are to be successful.

Key changes to squad

Ins: Kyle Reynish – Goalkeeper, Andrew Jean-Baptiste – Defender, Damien Perrinelle – Defender, Ronald Zubar – Defender, Sal Zizzo – Midfielder, Leo Stolz – Midfielder, Felipe Martins – Midfielder, Sacha Kljestan – Midfielder, Mike Grella – Forward.

Outs: Thierry Henry – forward,  Tim Cahill – Midfield, Ryan Meara – Goalkeeper, Kosuke Kimura – Defender, Ibrahim Sekagya – Defender, Richard Eckersley – Defender, Jamison Olave – Defender, Ambroise Oyongo – Defender, Bobby Convey – Midfielder, Eric Alexander – Midfielder, Saer Sene – Forward.

Key player: Bradley Wright-Phillips – Forward

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Wright-Phillips is undoubtedly the key man for the Red Bulls and he has even more weight on his shoulders with the key departures of Henry and Cahill. He showed last season what a brilliant goalscorer he is and how he can be the difference in the side. It will be difficult for him to match last seasons total of 27 but he will be determined to try and beat that and continue where he left off. He has signed a Designated Player contract and his performances will be essential to how the Red Bulls get on this season. Without the extra threat of Henry, teams will set up to focus more attention on BWP as they know he will be the man to stop. The Englishman will certainly fight for his team and it will be interesting to see how he gets on after such a brilliant season last time out.

One to watch: Ronald Zubar – Defender

Ronald Zubar could well make the difference at the heart of the Red Bulls defence and with his vast experience of playing in top European competitions, his teammates can learn a lot from him. Zubar has nine Champions League appearances to his name and it will be intriguing to see how his Red Bull career will unfold. At 30 he still has a few years ahead of him and could play a crucial role in helping New York steady the ship.

Predicted finish: Eastern Conference – 8th 

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The fact is that the Red Bulls look to have changed too much, too quickly. It will take time for Jesse Marsch to get his new ideas across to his players and the squad has changed dramatically too. Star striker Wright-Phillips is still there but without the support of Henry it will be a monumental challenge to build on his 27 goals in the regular season last year. A good start is crucial but it looks like the Red Bulls may have to settle for a year of transition before coming back stronger in 2016.

How do you think New York Red Bull will fare in 2015?