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Messi and Miami are grabbing the attention in Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference

Lionel Messi Inter Miami Lionel Messi - The Canadian Press


2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 15-9-10, 4th in the East, lost in the conference semifinals to FC Cincinnati.

COACH: Jim Curtin.

KEY PLAYERS: Alejandro Bedoya, James Blake. Julian Carranza.

OUTLOOK: The Union have reached the conference semifinals in four of the last five seasons. They've made the playoffs for six straight seasons. Last year they were led by Daniel Gazdag with 14 goals 11 assists, one of just eight players with 10-plus goals and assists. Jamaican Andre Blake, a four-time All-Star, was skillful as usual in goal with a 76.8 saves percentage last season. Already solid, the Union made few moves in the offseason, but they brought back Alejandro Bedoya in both on- and off-field roles, and left back Kai Wagner, who had been getting interest from European teams. The Union are among 10 MLS teams playing in the CONCACAF Champions Cup for a shot at the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup.


2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 12-17-5, 10th in the East.

COACH: Laurent Courtois.

KEY PLAYERS: Josef Martinez, Kwadwo Opoku, Mathieu Choinière.

OUTLOOK: Montreal finished 10th in the East, just shy of a playoff berth, after advancing as the second seed in 2022. In January, Montreal hired Laurent Courtois, who led the Columbus Crew MLS Next Pro team for the past two seasons and earned that league's Coach of the Year honors in 2022. He replaces Hernan Losada, who was only with Montreal for a season. In February, the team signed free-agent striker Josef Martinez, who won MLS MVP in 2018 while with Atlanta. Martinez has 105 MLS career goals, ninth all-time.


2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 9-11-14, 11th in the East.

COACH: Nick Cushing.

KEY PLAYERS: James Sands, Talles Magno, Mounsef Bakrar.

OUTLOOK: NYCFC had just 35 total goals last season, second fewest in the conference. The team added Argentinian winger Agustin Ojeda and Serbian defender Strahinja Tanasijevic in the offseason. Brazilian Talles Magno has reportedly asked for a transfer but was still on the roster in the preseason. Mounsef Bakrar is expected to be a contributor after arriving midway through last season and only playing 10 games with the club. Brazilian Gabriel Pereira led NYCFC in goals last season but was transferred midseason to Al-Rayyan in Qatar. Santiago Rodríguez had eight assists.


2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 13-11-10, 7th in the East, fell to Orlando in the first round.

COACH: Gary Smith.

KEY PLAYERS: Hany Mukhtar, Walker Zimmerman, Sean Davis.

OUTLOOK: Hany Mukhtar won MLS MVP honors and the Golden Boot with 23 goals in 2022. He has 54 goals and three assists in three MLS seasons, and he's just the third player with as many over the span. If he has 10 goals and 10 assists this season, he'll become the first player to reach both milestones in four straight seasons. Nashville made it to the Leagues Cup final, falling on penalties to Inter Miami. The team was eliminated in the first round of the MLS playoffs by Orlando. Nashville allowed just 32 goals during the regular season, fewest in the East.


2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 13-11-10, 8th in the East, fell in the opening round to FC Cincinnati.

COACH: Sandro Schwarz.

KEY PLAYERS: Emil Forsberg, Dante Vanzeir, John Tolkin.

OUTLOOK: Sandro Schwarz was named head coach in December. The team made a big move in the offseason with the signing of Emil Forsberg, who spent nine seasons with RB Leipzig, where he scored 71 goals and had 68 assists. He's also played 86 matches for Sweden, with 21 goals. “I love the pressure," Forsberg said about playing in the New York spotlight. "I’m excited. I’m very comfortable, and I’m also convinced about the quality of the team and what I’m going to bring to the team.” The Red Bulls downed Charlotte in the wild-card match heading into the playoffs, but lost to FC Cincinnati in the first round.


2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 20-5-9, 1st in the East, fell to Columbus in the conference final.

COACH: Pat Noonan.

KEY PLAYERS: Luciano Acosta, Miles Robinson, Matt Miazga.

OUTLOOK: Luciano Acosta is the league's reigning MVP with 17 goals and 14 assists last season. "I'm looking to continue to grow and continue to be among the MVP candidates and continue to potentially win the Supporters Shield again. This time we hope to reach the MLS Cup,” he said. After reaching the playoffs for the first time in 2022, Cincinnati earned the Supporters Shield and went to the conference final in the playoffs, but lost to rival and eventual league champion Columbus. Brandon Vazquez went to Liga MX club Monterrey in the offseason. U.S. national team center back Miles Robinson was signed in the offseason in one of the league's biggest free agency moves.


2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 9-18-7, finished 14th in the East.

COACH: Tata Martino.

KEY PLAYERS: Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Jordi Alba.

OUTLOOK: Miami made a massive splash last season by acquiring eight-time Ballon d'Or winner and World Cup champion Lionel Messi in the middle of the year. While he helped lead them to the inaugural Leagues Cup title, it was not enough to push the team into the playoffs. With Messi on the roster from the start, Miami's outcome this season should be better. The team added another international star in the offseason with Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez, a friend and former teammate of Messi's at Barcelona. “I’m getting used to it, getting used to my teammates, to what a new club is, and I’m motivated by the challenge of wanting to fulfill what the club wants this year, which is to try to win in MLS,” Suarez said. Miami also added Julian Gressel from the MLS champion Crew.


2022 RECORD AND FINISH: 18-7-9, 2nd in the East, fell to Columbus in the conference semifinals.

COACH: Oscar Pareja.

KEY PLAYERS: Facundo Torres, Nicolas Lodeiro, Martin Ojeda.

OUTLOOK: The Lions set a franchise record with 18 wins, and finished with a team-best 63 points. Their second-place finish in the East was also a club best. Facundo Torres led the team with 14 goals. While Orlando lost Mauricio Pereyra, who went to play back home in Uruguay, the Lions added free agent Nicolas Lodeiro, who had played for the Seattle Sounders since 2016. He scored 41 goals in 191 games in Seattle. The team's top scorer across all competitions was Duncan McGuire, with 15. Facundo Torres had 14 goals in league play. Goalkeeper Pedro Gallese had 12 clean sheets, tied for fourth in MLS.


2022 RECORD AND FINISH: 16-9-9, 3rd in the East, MLS Cup Champions

COACH: Wilfried Nancy.

KEY PLAYERS: Cucho Hernandez, Diego Rossi, Darlington Nagbe.

OUTLOOK: The Crew won their third overall MLS Cup championship last year, downing LAFC 2-1 at home. Columbus led the East with 67 goals last season in coach Wilfried Nancy's first year with the team. “It is going to be very interesting because we won last year, but we have to start again from the bottom. Are we going to be able to do that? It’s a new season and the adversity is going to be higher," Nancy said in the preseason. Cucho Hernandez led the balanced Crew with 16 goals and seven assists. Diego Rossi, the former Golden Boot winner, came to the team in August and scored three goals. Now settled in, he'll likely have a greater impact.


2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 10-11-13, 9th in the East, fell in the wild-card game to the Red Bulls.

COACH: Dean Smith.

KEY PLAYERS: Enzo Copetti, Bill Tuiloma, Djibril Diani.

OUTLOOK: After joining MLS as the league's 29th club in 2022, Charlotte FC made it to the postseason last year. The run was short-lived with a 5-2 loss to the Red Bulls in the wild-card round. Charlotte parted ways with head coach Christian Lattanzio in the offseason and hired English coach Dean Smith, who managed Leicester City last year. Two of the team's bigger names, striker Karol Swiderski, the team's first designated player, and midfielder Kamil Jozwiak, have departed. But Charlotte added goalkeeper David Bingham and midfielder Djibril Diani and is still in the market for a pair of designated players.


2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 15-9-10, 5th in the East, fell in the first round to Philadelphia.

COACH: Caleb Porter.

KEY PLAYERS: Carles Gil, Tomás Chancalay, Bobby Wood.

OUTLOOK: Last season was chaotic for the Revs. Coach Bruce Arena, who had led the team since 2019, was placed on leave while the league investigated allegations he made insensitive and inappropriate remarks. Arena, who is in the National Soccer Hall of Fame, later stepped down. Caleb Porter, who coached both the Portland Timbers and the Columbus Crew to MLS titles, was named the team's new head coach in December. Argentine winger Tomás Chancalay had just 11 appearances with the Revs last year but scored six goals. Carles Gil led New England with 11 goals and 15 assists.


2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 13-9-12, 6th in the East, fell to Columbus in the first round.

COACH: Gonzalo Pineda.

KEY PLAYERS: Thiago Almada, Bartosz Slisz, Dax McCarty.

OUTLOOK: Atlanta returned to the playoffs last season after missing out in 2022. The team has had a busy offseason, brining in Bartosz Slisz from the top Polish league and Stian Gregersen from Bordeaux, both of whom are expected to start. But the team revolves around Thiago Almada, who was on the Argentina team that won the 2022 World Cup. Almada is getting attention from European clubs, but he's with United until the summer transfer window opens. Atlanta also added goalkeeper Josh Cohen to compete with Brad Guzan. Veteran Dax McCarty, who joined as a free agent in the offseason, should be a steadying presence.


2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 10-14-10, 13th in the East.

COACH: Frank Klopas

KEY PLAYERS: Xherdan Shaqiri, Hugo Cuypers, Kellyn Acosta

OUTLOOK: The Fire have not qualified for the postseason since 2017, the longest active postseason drought in MLS. But the team made some positive moves in the offseason that could break that streak. Most notably, Chicago added Belgian striker Hugo Cuypers for a club-record $12 million transfer fee. The team added veteran Kellyn Acosta, who spent the last two seasons with LAFC. The Fire also have a new head coach in Frank Klopas. Xherdan Shaqiri drives the team, with seven goals and 11 assists in league play last season. Chicago agreed in the offseason to part ways with Jairo Torres, opening up a designated player spot.


2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 4-20-10, last place in the East.

COACH: John Herdman.

KEY PLAYERS: Federico Bernardeschi, Jonathan Osorio, Lorenzo Insigne

OUTLOOK: Last year the Reds were the winners of the dreaded Wooden Spoon for worst team in the league. In addition to finishing in last place in the East, the Reds' four wins were the fewest in MLS last season. Toronto scored 26 goals, tied for fewest in the league with the Colorado Rapids. The team has nowhere to go except up, and took a promising step by naming John Herdman, coach of the Canadian men's national team, as its head coach in August. It's time for Insigne and Bernardeschi to step up their games to turn the team around.


2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 10-14-10, 12th in the East.

COACH: Troy Lesesne.

KEY PLAYERS: Christian Benteke, Mateusz Klich, Gabriel Pirani

OUTLOOK: D.C. United hired coach Troy Lesesne in January. Lesesne served as interim head coach of the New York Red Bulls for most of last season. He replaces Wayne Rooney, who parted ways with D.C. United at the end of last season after the team failed to make the playoffs for the second straight year. D.C. United also hired a new chief soccer officer and general manager, Ally Mackay. The team was relatively quiet in the offseason with player moves but did sign Matti Petola, a defender who plays for Finland's national team.


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