If you're like us, the offseason has flown by because you've spent every night since Nov. 5 rewatching the greatest MLS Cup in history. That was nearly four months ago now, making this one of the longest close seasons in recent memory, but that's a fair tradeoff for the show that champions LAFC and heartbroken runners-up Philadelphia Union put on that evening at the newly renamed BMO Stadium in Los Angeles.
A lot has changed in the winter months. The Black and Gold's goal-scoring hero in that final, Gareth Bale, rode off into the sunset having delivered another piece of coveted silverware to another one of his clubs. There are now 29 teams in the league, with St. Louis City SC joining MLS for 2023. There's also a whole new way to watch, with MLS and Apple embarking on their 10-year broadcast partnership.
What's new and expected at all 29 clubs in 2023? Grab yourself a beverage and a snack and settle in as Jeff Carlisle, Kyle Bonagura, Bill Connelly, Arch Bell, Ryan Rosenblatt and Jon Arnold give us the lowdown on every team in MLS ahead of the new season.
What they've been up to: Undergoing a significant overhaul, both on the field and off. Team president Darren Eales left for Newcastle United, replaced by the highly respected Garth Lagerwey. On the field, the Five Stripes said goodbye to former league MVP Josef Martinez as well as the likes of defenders George Campbell and Alan Franco, and midfielder Marcelino Moreno.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +2,000
Biggest offseason move: Not an offseason goes by without Atlanta making some kind of splash and this one was no different. This time, Celtic forward Giorgos Giakoumakis is the prize addition, arriving on a designated player contract. He'll be expected to replace Martinez both in terms of scoring and defensive work. Less flashy were the acquisitions of winger Derrick Etienne and center-back Luis Abram. The latter is a Peru international who is expected to solidify the center of defense.
2023 will be a success if ... The attacking pieces can fit together. Granted, that seems to be a question every year for Atlanta and of late, it has been answered in the negative. While Thiago Almada -- with a World Cup winner's medal now in his trophy cabinet -- performed well with six goals and 12 assists; teammate Luiz Araujo lacked consistency, scoring just four goals despite taking the sixth most shots in the league (98). With Etienne and Giakoumakis now on board, that quartet will need to gel quickly.
The attack is by no means the only area with questions. In the back, the continued recovery of Robinson from a ruptured Achilles will be something to keep an eye on, although the play of Juan Jose Purata will create competition in the back. The same is true of Guzan and Alonso.
This is a big year for manager Gonzalo Pineda as well. A glut of injuries last season made it difficult to discern just what kind of job he did. Given the new arrivals, he'll have no excuses this time around. -- Jeff Carlisle
What they've been up to: Fresh off a second-place finish in the Western Conference in 2022, hopes are high in the Texas capital that another deep postseason run is in the cards. It won't be easy, though, as four competitions loom for Los Verdes in 2023, with a first-ever CONCACAF Champions League campaign potentially complicating the season's start.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +1,200
Biggest offseason move: The big loss for Austin FC over the winter was center-back Ruben Gabrielsen. Midfielder Felipe Martins is also gone after one season, while defensive backup Jhohan Romana has been loaned out. New faces include experienced MLS forward Gyasi Zardes and Gabrielsen's replacement, Leo Vaisanen, plus depth pieces like defenders Amro Tarek and Adam Lundqvist, midfielder Sofiane Djeffal and forward Will Bruin.
If Austin FC are to make a run to MLS Cup, they must get another MVP-type season from Driussi. The former River Plate man was spectacular in 2022 with 22 goals, but more importantly he stayed healthy. All signs point toward a big season for attacker Emiliano Rigoni now that he has a full preseason under his belt. With playmakers Driussi and Rigoni, along with mainstay Diego Fagundez, the opportunities will be there for forwards Zardes and Maxi Urruti to bang in plenty of goals.
Alex Ring and Daniel Pereira will continue to bring that necessary bite in midfield, but one of the more compelling stories for Austin this season might be Owen Wolff. At just 18, the son of head coach Josh Wolff stands to get a good chunk of minutes, and he showed last season that he can make a difference at this level. This could be a breakout year for him.
The chemistry between center-backs Vaisanen and Cascante remains to be seen, while full-backs Nick Lima, Zan Kolmanic and Jon Gallagher are all tried and tested in Wolff's system. Brad Stuver in goal is as solid as they come in MLS, so from back to front, Austin FC have the pieces in place for another special season. -- Arch Bell
What they've been up to: After a funky debut season that saw them fire their first coach (Miguel Angel Ramirez) before June, then nearly make the playoffs under interim-turned-full-time replacement Christian Lattanzio, Charlotte heads into Season 2 with a vision and confidence.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +4,000
Biggest offseason move: With forward Daniel Rios off to Liga MX's Chivas, Charlotte brought in Enzo Copetti as his replacement. The 27-year-old scored 19 goals and added four assists from 49 chances created for Argentina's Racing Club in 2022. He's good in the air, he's a willing presser and he takes only high-quality shots.
2023 will be a success if ... They make the playoffs.
After a late charge, they fell six points short last season. And while 20-year-old Hamady Diop, the No. 1 pick in December's MLS SuperDraft, could force his way into the defensive rotation sooner than later, most of Charlotte's key additions in 2023 are of the veteran variety. Copetti is tough and physical up front, while defensive midfielder Ashley Westwood (32, most recently of Burnley), full-back Nathan Byrne (30, Derby County) and Bill Tuiloma (27, Portland Timbers) could all end up starters. This team doesn't lack for experience. Even with younger guys like midfielders Benjamin Bender (21) and Nuno Santos (23) involved, this is very much a veteran team.
Is it a team that can execute Lattanzio's vision? Charlotte played some of the most languid and patient possession ball in MLS last season, sometimes reaping the benefits and sometimes getting carved up by counterattacks. Westwood could be particularly useful on set pieces, but do the new veterans add the level of technical prowess required to hog the ball and make up for six lost points? -- Bill Connelly
What they've been up to: Chicago has an ambitious owner in Joe Mansueto with a vision for success, but the club has been competitively irrelevant for more than a decade. With some foundational issues the priority the past few years, the hope is that incremental on-field success follows.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +5,000
Biggest offseason move: Despite missing the playoffs, Chicago still had to say goodbye to a pair of teenage phenoms -- goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina and forward Jhon Duran -- who departed for Chelsea and Aston Villa respectively. Combined, they fetched $28 million in transfer fees with another $9 million possible in add-ons.
2023 will be a success if ... The Fire reach the playoffs. With nine teams reaching the playoffs in each conference, it's a low bar to clear, but that's the reality for a team that hasn't won a playoff game since 2009, has qualified for the postseason just once in the past decade and hasn't made any marquee signings (yet) to justify higher expectations in 2023.
The roster looks very similar to how it did in 2022, when the Fire finished 12th in the East -- in front of only Toronto and D.C. United. Without Slonina and Duran, it's hard to see how things would be much different. For Fire fans, the hope is that the club is able to sign a DP No. 9 and fill out three other roster slots with a pair of U22 initiative players alongside a proven veteran. If they hit on all four of those signings before the close of the league's primary transfer window on April 24, then they'll have something to work with. -- Kyle Bonagura
What they've been up to: These are good times for FC Cincinnati fans. A year after punching their first-ever playoff ticket, the boys from the Queen City are back and have the goods at both ends of the field to go very deep into the MLS postseason and potentially claim the Eastern Conference.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +2,000
Biggest offseason move: Most of the offseason exits were depth players, with the notable departures being defenders Ronald Matarrita and Geoff Cameron. A team that gave up a whopping 56 goals and was seemingly involved in a 4-3 game every week brought in some muscle to shore up the back: Colombian center-back Yerson Mosquera, Colombian right-back Santiago Arias and Ecuadorian defensive midfielder Marco Angulo.
2023 will be a success if ... Their new defensive additions perform and Luciano Acosta is an MVP candidate.
There is no reason to believe that the Cincinnati attacking trio of Acosta, Brenner and Brandon Vazquez can't put together another banner season together. The diminutive Acosta was spectacular in 2022, inserting himself into the MVP debate with a 10-goal, 19-assist season. Both Brenner and Vazquez enjoyed the fruits of Acosta's playmaking, with 18 goals each.
It helps too that second-year head coach Pat Noonan now has the defensive players in place who can support his players up top and not make them feel like they have to score at least three goals each game to win. Former Atletico Madrid man Arias will slot in on the right side of defense, while the physical Mosquera will add punch at center-back alongside Matt Miazga. Obinna Nwobodo was terrific at defensive midfielder for Cincy in 2022, and now he'll be joined by Angulo in the center of the park. If those defensive players get the job done and Acosta continues to wave his magic wand going forward, FC Cincinnati can be in the MLS Cup conversation. -- Arch Bell
What they've been up to: After plummeting from first to tenth in the West, Colorado has not been idle this offseason. Can a bevy of new players cure what ailed Robin Fraser's squad during a dismal summer stretch?
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +4,000
Biggest offseason move: The Rapids banked on progression to the mean by bringing Kevin Cabral to town from the LA Galaxy for $1 million in allocation money. The 23-year old former Paris Saint-Germain academy graduate scored just once on shots worth 5.4 xG in 2022 but could enjoy a breakout year if he finds his finishing form.
2023 will be a success if ... Fraser and general manager Padraig Smith know what the heck they're doing. The club sent veterans Gyasi Zardes and Mark-Anthony Kaye packing and brought in a bounty of potential new starters, not only from MLS rivals (Cabral and Cincinnati winger Calvin Harris) but also from all over Europe: England (Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder Connor Ronan), Denmark (Brondby IF defender Andreas Maxso), France (Grenoble full-back Alex Gersbach), Netherlands (midfielder Cole Bassett, back from loans at Feyenoord and Fortuna Sittard) and Belgium (goalkeeper Marko Ilic, in on loan).
The moves were necessary, especially in defense. Colorado underachieved in the finishing department -- 10th in xG created per match, but 18th in goals scored -- which makes the Cabral move both intriguing and scary, yet the defense was just b-a-d. The Rapids ranked 23rd in shots allowed per possession, 17th in xG allowed per shot and 21st in goals prevented per shot on target. Ilic, Maxso and Gersbach have to help out immediately. -- Bill Connelly
What they've been up to: A second straight season without a playoff appearance marked the end of the Caleb Porter era after four years. Now, Wilfried Nancy has been brought in to orchestrate a turnaround similar to the one he conducted in Montreal.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +3,500
Biggest offseason move: Columbus didn't just hire Nancy. It put every ounce of the club's might behind pursuing the manager and prying him away from Montreal, eventually landing the boss and three of his assistant coaches for an undisclosed fee. He's the man the Crew think is going to be able to build the next generation of Cup contenders in Ohio.
2023 will be a success if ... Lucas Zelarayán, Cucho Hernández and Darlington Nagbe stay healthy.
The addition of Christian Ramirez gives the Crew a little bit of attacking depth, but there's no doubt where the strength of this team lies. After Hernández landed in Ohio last summer, he and Zelarayán made up the most scintillating attacking duo in the league. They nearly dragged Columbus to the playoffs on their own, with Nagbe playing the role of dutiful distributor to the two yellow-clad menaces up front.
Nancy is going to bring a more possession-oriented approach to Lower.com Field, but it will take some time for the Crew to adjust to a pretty different method of play, and Columbus hasn't added a ton in the winter that will allow them to overwhelm teams with talent all over the field as Nancy's system takes hold. That means they'll need Hernández, Zelarayán and Nagbe on the pitch and at their best, helping lift the Crew until Nancy has the foundation to make the whole team click. -- Ryan Rosenblatt
What they've been up to: It has been an offseason overhaul this winter for D.C. United, to be expected after the once-proud club slumped to a last-place finish with just 27 points (San Jose's 35 was the second fewest in the league) in 2022. There are new faces at every level of the team, and some of the summer arrivals -- including manager Wayne Rooney on the bench and forward Christian Benteke -- will play their first full season in the nation's capital.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +7,500
Biggest offseason move: Of all the signings, the biggest splash is Mateusz Klich, who joins from Leeds United after helping the club earn promotion and spending two and a half seasons in the Premier League. The Poland midfielder should provide D.C. the kind of balance in midfield that was missing last season.
2023 will be a success if ... There are signs of progress.
D.C. United won the first two games of last season. It was the last time they would win consecutive matches.
Rooney doesn't have an easy job in front of him, and there are plenty of things still in flux. He's expected to name his No. 1 goalkeeper this weekend, with MLS vets Tyler Miller and Alex Bono competing for the role. He's also still hoping for more arrivals and D.C. needs them, even if this team should be improved from last season's floor.
Taxiarchis Fountas' scoring was one of few highlights in 2022, and how he works with Benteke and with a beefed up midfield behind him will be something to watch. The right side of the defense turning over, with Derrick Williams and Ruan both coming in from other teams in the league, plus how center-back Steve Birnbaum anchors the unit and whether he can turn back the clock to his best days, will determine just how far from the cellar the club can climb. -- Jon Arnold
What they've been up to: In Nico Estévez, FC Dallas trusts. After an impressive first year as FCD head coach, the former U.S. men's national team assistant will aim to avoid a sophomore slump as he looks to match or better last season's third-place finish in the Western Conference and a mark of 37 goals against that was better than any team in the league except for the Philadelphia Union.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +2,000
Biggest offseason move: Allowing center-back Matt Hedges, a club legend who had suited up only for FCD in his career, to join Toronto FC in free agency was the most significant decision of the winter. The team is hoping former LAFC center-back Sebastien Ibeagha and Brazilian right-back Geovane perform well enough that letting the 11-year veteran walk won't come back to bite it.
2023 will be a success if ... Jesus Ferreira puts in the goals again -- and gets help.
The U.S. international is still in North Texas after scoring 18 goals last season, good enough for fourth in MLS and tying the most scored in a single year for FCD. While Dallas doesn't hesitate to move players on, Ferreira is returning. Matching that output might not be easy as opposing teams focus their efforts on the 22-year-old, so FCD will need a strong sophomore season from Argentine winger Alan Velasco and contributions from Jesus Jimenez, acquired this week in a trade with Toronto FC, and Colombian prospect José Mulato when Ferreira isn't firing.
FCD also will need a step forward in the center. Neither Facundo Quignon nor Edwin Cerrillo dazzled as the defensive player in Estévez's three-man midfield last season, and without the solidity provided by Hedges, goalkeeper Maarten Paes could be busier than he was last season. Still, a playoff return is well within reach, and that has been the standard at this club for some time. -- Jon Arnold
What they've been up to: It's a new day in Space City... at least that's what the Dynamo and their fans are hoping. After the arrival of a new owner, Ted Segal, midway through a disappointing 2022 campaign, an overhaul was expected this winter. That's being led by Ben Olsen, the former D.C. United manager who returns to the bench for the first time since the 2020 season.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +6,000
Biggest offseason move: In acquiring midfielder Artur from Columbus, the Dynamo have a player with significant MLS experience who should allow Hector Herrera and Adalberto Carrasquilla to get forward and better link with the attack, and protect a center-back pairing that too often was left shrugging after conceding 56 times last season.
2023 will be a success if ... The Dynamo return to the playoffs.
Last year was the fifth consecutive season that saw Houston wrap up the year on Decision Day, and the Dynamo have been in the playoffs just twice since back-to-back runner-up seasons in 2011 and 2012. Segal's arrival might lead to dreams of bigger things, but for now simply finishing in the top half of the conference would be progress.
While the team made moves this window, Olsen will need to get the most out of a pair of 2022 arrivals: Mexico midfielder Herrera and Paraguay forward Sebastian Ferreira. Motivation wasn't a question for "HH" as the World Cup approached, but what will the veteran be playing for now? And after a 13-goal campaign that was the highlight of a bleak year in Houston, can Ferreira receive the ball in places where he can improve on the output of his debut season?
The manager is new, the seating pattern at the stadium is new (as is the name of the stadium) and some of the players are new. Now, it's up to Olsen & Co. to convince that it won't be the same old story in Houston. -- Jon Arnold
What they've been up to: Trying to build on the foundation that was laid last season, which included an unexpected trip to the postseason. With Gonzalo Higuaín retired and Alejandro Pozuelo not coming back, that's tougher than it might have been otherwise. Officially, the Herons are still weighed down by the league-levied sanctions due to Blaise Matuidi-gate, but just how much that's the case remains a closely guarded secret in South Florida.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +1,800
Biggest offseason move: Anytime you bring in a former league MVP, it's going to get some attention. Such is the case with Miami bringing in former Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez, although questions remain as to which vintage Miami is getting: the MVP or the guy who hasn't quite looked the same since tearing an ACL in 2020. For that reason, acquiring center-back Serhiy Kryvtsov from Shakhtar Donetsk could have a deeper impact for a team that conceded the fourth-most goals in MLS last season.
All of that said, the big news everyone in Miami is hoping for is that Lionel Messi will be taking his talents to South Beach. It remains to be seen if Jorge Mas & Co. can pull that off.
2023 will be a success if ... Miami signs Messi. Everything else will pale in comparison. Is his signing a tap-in? No, and regardless of whether he moves to Miami, the process of building a foundation will need to continue. Making a deeper run into the playoffs is the next logical step.
To that end, replacing the attacking output of Higuain and Pozuelo won't be easy. Signing forward Leonardo Campana to a permanent deal is a positive step, and he'll be expected to partner Martinez up top, but replacing the supply line Pozuelo provided remains an open issue.
Corentin Jean played all of 73 minutes after arriving last summer. Newcomer Nicolas Stefanelli is a possible solution as well, and what of designated player Rodolfo Pizarro? The erstwhile Mexico international scored a solitary goal in 30 league appearances while on loan with Monterrey. His one non-COVID-19-impacted campaign in Miami during the 2021 season saw him log three goals and seven assists in 27 appearances. The Herons will need more production if Pizarro is to live up to his DP billing. -- Jeff Carlisle
What they've been up to: After winning their first MLS Cup and second Supporters' Shield in Year 5, LAFC have established themselves as the premier team in MLS.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +500
Biggest offseason move: Gareth Bale's short-lived stay in Los Angeles came to a surprise end when he announced his retirement just as training camp was set to begin. And while he didn't make the prolonged impact that seemed possible when he arrived last summer, Bale's goal in MLS Cup to send the game to penalties goes down as the most important in club history.
2023 will be a success if ... LAFC add more silverware to the cabinet. With CONCACAF Champions League along with all the other competitions, there will be plenty of opportunities to build off last year's success. CCL and the expanded Leagues Cup are arguably the most important considering it would mean success against Liga MX teams. Opinions will vary on that front, but for the perception of the league to improve, MLS teams need have success against their Mexican counterparts. MLS Cup and the Supporters' Shield (and even the U.S. Open Cup) are still obviously very important pursuits, but they'll matter even more if MLS is viewed as the top league in North America.
LAFC still have a vacant DP slot to play with, and the expectation is that it will be used on a No. 9 to replace Arango. It's unclear when that signing could come, but the team has made a trio of interesting signings already: USMNT center-back Aaron Long, Croatia youth international winger Stipe Biuk and German-American midfielder Timothy Tillman. -- Kyle Bonagura
What they've been up to: Trying to figure out where it all went wrong. They returned to the playoffs in 2022 after a two-year absence but then were beaten by rivals LAFC, who went on to win MLS Cup. Club president Chris Klein was suspended by the league after it was found the club violated MLS salary cap rules and then, following a report that his contract was extended, every Galaxy supporters' group announced a blanket boycott of all games until he is removed from his job. Somewhere, beneath the mess, there is a soccer team.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +1,400
Biggest offseason move: In addition to the suspension of Klein, MLS also banned the Galaxy from signing any players outside of the U.S. and Canada in the summer transfer window, as well as levying a $1 million fine and $1 million reduction in future general allocation money. That has put huge pressure on LA to strengthen the team in the winter because it will be severely limited in its ability to add in the summer. Despite that, the Galaxy have not made any major signings yet, so all eyes are on what they do between now and the close of the primary transfer window in April.
2023 will be a success if ... They can start making up ground on their crosstown rival.
It's pretty startling how quickly the Galaxy have gone from MLS's premier team to miles off the other club in their own city, but here they stand. And that's partially why the fans are set to protest outside the stadium instead of singing inside of it.
The first job for manager Greg Vanney, if he's going to start closing the gap to LAFC, is figuring out how to make the pieces fit up front. Javier Hernandez is going to start whenever fit, and Dejan Joveljic showed last season how impactful he can be, but Vanney still hasn't figured out how to get them on the field together with regularity.
Instead, the coach has opted to lean upon wingers flanking one of his strikers. Unfortunately for the Galaxy, Kevin Cabral, Samuel Grandsir and Douglas Costa didn't get the job done out wide last season. Cabral and Grandsir are gone, but Costa is back and there doesn't appear to be much else on the wings, furthering the inelegant fits between roster and system. Vanney has to find a way to make it work, though, because the gap between them and LAFC cannot continue to grow. -- Ryan Rosenblatt
What they've been up to: The Loons spent most of the winter swapping out depth players for new depth players, only to show up for preseason to find the player at the top of their roster absent. Emanuel Reynoso still has not reported to camp as he deals with a personal matter andhas been suspended by the league without pay for his failure to report. The club has so far provided little insight as to when the star might wear a United kit again.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +3,000
Biggest offseason move: Kervin Arriaga, Luis Amarilla and Joseph Rosales all are in the process of getting their green cards, which would open up international roster slots that the Loons can use to make a big splash. Coach Adrian Heath has been very open about the fact that the club still anticipates making an impact signing or two before the transfer window closes in April, so expect the next move to be bigger than anything Minnesota has done so far.
2023 will be a success if ... The attack rounds out.
When, or even whether, Reynoso pulls on a MNUFC shirt again will obviously be the most crucial thing for the Loons going forward, but simply getting him back will not be enough for a team that struggled to create chances too often a year ago. They were entirely too reliant on Reynoso in 2022 and, while they were fortunate he was fabulous enough to carry them, the Loons need to get help from elsewhere in the final third.
Amarilla got off to a slow start in his return to Minnesota, caught fire in the summer and then didn't have a goal contribution after Aug. 27. Another of the Loons' designated players, Mender García, struggled to find his footing after signing in the summer, so MNUFC will need more consistent output from Amarilla and García to make good on the promise the club saw when it signed them.
With all of the designated player spots occupied by attackers and talk of potentially adding another talented player up front before the transfer window closes, the Loons have spent plenty of money building a well-rounded offense. Now they just need to show it on the pitch. -- Ryan Rosenblatt
What they've been up to: CF Montreal head into the 2023 season with a lot of questions about player personnel and on the touchline. Still, much of the core that spearheaded last season's second-place finish in the Eastern Conference is still intact, which suggests another postseason berth should be in the making.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +1,500
Biggest offseason move: The biggest change during the offseason was at the coaching position, as former D.C. United boss Hernan Losada took over for Wilfried Nancy, who left for the Columbus Crew job. There were also significant squad departures, namely midfielder Djordje Mihailovic, rising star Ismael Kone and defender Alistair Johnston, who all left for Europe.
2023 will be a success if ... They can fill their DP spots with a No. 9 and attacking midfielder.
If another strong finish in the conference is going to happen in Quebec in 2023, some pieces need to be added. The glaring spot on the field is in attack, where there is a noticeable lack of creativity at the moment. There needs to be more muscle up top to help Romell Quioto. The Honduras international is not a typical No. 9, so Montreal will be keen to add a striker soon. If Matko Miljevic can recover from injury (expected to miss two to three months) and take a step forward in 2023, and Mason Toye can stay healthy, that will help things in the final third, but Montreal must fill a need for a goal scorer and an attacking midfielder. The designated player spots are there to do it.
Toward the back, Montreal can take comfort knowing that veterans Victor Wanyama and Samuel Piette are back to man the midfield. Despite Johnston's departure, Aaron Herrera is good replacement at right-back and assuming he doesn't leave this summer, Kamal Miller will anchor a solid back line.
It will be interesting to see how things unfold for Losada in what will be his second spell in MLS. His exit from D.C. was not without controversy, but if he can get buy-in from the players and fill those attacking needs adequately, Montreal should be poised for another run at the top four in the East. -- Arch Bell
What they've been up to: A late unbeaten streak pushed Nashville back into the playoffs after an up-and-down 2022 campaign. With reigning league MVP Hany Mukhtar up front and new energy on the wings, it's time for a push back up the table.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +1,500
Biggest offseason move: Take your pick between two wingers. Nashville added Fafa Picault (31) from Houston and Jacob Shaffelburg (23) from Toronto; the latter will likely have the bigger short-term impact after combining seven goals with three assists from 21 chances created in 2022.
2023 will be a success if ... The boys in gold are hosting another playoff game next fall. After a rousing run to third place in the West in 2021, its first full MLS season, Nashville indeed needed a late charge, with 17 points from its final eight matches, to finish fifth in the the conference despite an incredible season from Mukhtar (23 goals, 11 assists) and the presence of U.S. national team members Walker Zimmerman and Shaq Moore (added in July) at the back.
Mukhtar didn't have enough help in the goal-scoring department -- no one else scored more than five times -- and the club is obviously hoping Picault is particularly useful in that regard. Did it add enough for a push back up the standings? Can younger additions Shaffelburg, Tyler Freeman (19) and Nebiyou Perry (23) take some minutes off the legs of veterans C.J. Sapong and Dax McCarty? Can Jack Maher form the same level of partnership with Zimmerman now that veteran Dave Romney has left for New England? -- Bill Connelly
What they've been up to: It has been a roller coaster for the Revs of late -- in their past three seasons, they've finished eighth, first and 10th in the East -- and Bruce Arena has to hope that some new high-end veterans push them back up the table.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +3,000
Biggest offseason move: After ranking 17th in goals per game and 14th in goals allowed, New England needed help at both ends and attempted to rectify that with the additions of Nashville's steady Dave Romney in defense and both midfielder Latif Blessing (LAFC) and forward Bobby Wood (Real Salt Lake) up front.
2023 will be a success if ... The roller-coaster ride takes them back to the postseason. Despite another excellent year from Carles Gil, who has averaged 23 goals and seven assists in the past three full seasons, and despite plenty of other big-name veterans on the books -- Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Lletget, Omar Gonzalez, Arena himself -- New England just didn't bring enough to the table in 2022. Opponents outpaced the Revs in terms of both shot quantity and shot quality, they lost both set pieces and transitions, and they blew too many leads (1.65 points per game in games they led, worst in MLS).
Djordje Petrovic is one of the league's best goalkeepers and should benefit significantly from Romney's presence, but New England's success will be determined by whether Gil gets more help. Blessing is a pressure machine in midfield and could aid significantly in transition, but be it Gustavo Bou, Giacomo Vrioni, Altidore or Wood, the Revs need someone to deliver more oomph up front. -- Bill Connelly
What they've been up to: More important than anything, New York City mayor Eric Adams in November announced plans for a new soccer-specific stadium in Queens, which would finally relieve the club and the league of the embarrassment that comes from having what should be one of MLS's marquee clubs playing home games in whatever baseball stadium is available.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +900
Biggest offseason move: Two mainstays are gone in Maxi Moralez (Racing Club) and Sean Johnson (Toronto FC). Their departures mean that only four starters from the MLS Cup win against Portland in 2021 are still with the team.
2023 will be a success if ... NYCFC win a trophy, any trophy. Pick one.
With the Supporters' Shield, MLS Cup, U.S. Open Cup and new, revamped Leagues Cup on the schedule, NYCFC are at the phase of their existence where competing for silverware is what matters. After winning MLS Cup in 2021, NYCFC reached the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League and MLS Cup playoffs, but fell short in both.
If we're being realistic, that made for a good season. A great one, by some standards. But after hoisting MLS Cup, it was also disappointing. Still, despite the positive recent track record, the offseason didn't provide much in the way of attacking reinforcements. As the roster is constructed, the club is asking a lot from Talles Magno up front and would still benefit from bringing in a true No. 9, which would allow Magno to move back to the wing. Either way, 2023 should be a big season for the 20-year-old Brazilian after a breakout 2022. -- Kyle Bonagura
What they've been up to: There was a lot of change at Red Bull Arena, but that's par for the course. RBNY move players out to make room for their new youngsters every winter, and this season is no exception. What is unusual is they spent big, bringing in Belgian striker Dante Vanzeir from Union Saint-Gilloise to bolster the front line.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +1,800
Biggest offseason move: Vanzeir is a massive signing for two reasons. One, the 25-year-old cost a reported $5 million transfer fee. RBNY have not paid up for talent like that in a very long time, marking a change from simply developing future stars to also signing a potential star who can make them more competitive immediately. In addition to the change in club operations, adding Vanzeir gives the Red Bulls a go-to forward they need after lagging behind their competition in attacking output a year ago.
2023 will be a success if ...: The front line delivers.
Vanzeir isn't the Red Bulls' only addition this winter. They've also signed Cory Burke, a big center-forward who can win all those long balls that RBNY love to play. Toss in Elias Manoel, whose loan the club turned into a permanent deal after a promising finish to last season, and the Red Bulls have themselves a trio of players who have the potential to strike it big.
The Red Bulls appear to be going for wins this season, in some ways at the expense of a little youth development. We haven't seen that in a long time, but now they have to make it count by piling up the points. If Burke is occupying center-backs and winning long balls, Manoel is breaking down defenses and Vanzeir is burying his opportunities, the wins will follow. -- Ryan Rosenblatt
What they've been up to: Expectations are high for Orlando City going into 2023 and with head coach Oscar Pareja in his fourth season at the helm and a squad bolstered by a slew of winter arrivals, the thinking among many is that this is the year that Orlando City join the Eastern Conference's elite.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +4,000
Biggest offseason move: Some familiar names left in the offseason. All gone are forwards Alexandre Pato and Tesho Akindele, left-sided players Joao Moutinho and Benji Michael, midfield workhorse Junior Urso, plus defender Ruan and midfielder Andres Perea. Help arrived in left-back Rafael Santos from Cruzeiro and goal scorer Ramiro Enrique from Banfield, but the centerpiece of their winter haul was Martin Ojeda, a left winger/attacking midfielder on a DP deal from Godoy Cruz.
2023 will be a success if ... Facundo Torres takes a step forward, and the defense leaks fewer than 45 goals.
It really is time for Orlando City to take that next step, and the personnel is now there at the attacking end to do it. Similar to what he did at FC Dallas with dynamic young players Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz, Pareja has assembled a young and talented group that can score a lot of goals.
A top-four finish in the East would constitute success, but it can't be done without Torres. The 22-year-old Uruguay international had a very good first season in MLS in 2022 with 10 goals and nine assists. Torres will see that he has playmakers and goal scorers around him, beginning with No. 9 Ercan Kara, who led Orlando City in scoring in 2022 with 11 goals. Ojeda no doubt adds quality either in the middle or on the wings, while another winger, Gaston Gonzalez, who is recovered from an ACL injury, gives Torres another creative outlet.
The big question mark will be how Orlando City respond from the loss of full-backs Ruan and Moutinho, plus Urso in midfield. They conceded 56 goals in 2022, so upgrades inSantos and defensive midfielder Wilder Cartagena (who joined in August) will play big roles in the back. -- Arch Bell
What they've been up to: Once the considerable sting of losing MLS Cup began to wear off -- and to be clear, that process is ongoing -- the Union went about doing Union things, namely astutely navigating the transfer market (both incomings and outgoings) in order to maintain their place as one of the best teams in MLS.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +600
Biggest offseason move: Among GM Ernst Tanner's many attributes is an impeccable sense of timing. He managed to wrangle a $4 million (plus incentives) transfer fee from Eintracht Frankfurt for 19-year-old midfielder Paxten Aaronson, and then did his usual MLS bargain hunting in acquiring midfielder Andrés Perea from Orlando, defender Damion Lowe from Miami and midfielder Joaquín Torres from Montreal.
None of the acquisitions, on the surface at least, are massive deals, but they set the Union up nicely in case the likes of midfielder Jose Martinez or defender Jakob Glesnes depart. At minimum, with the Union likely to play more than 50 competitive matches this year, they provide critical depth pieces for an already deep team.
2023 will be a success if ... They win a trophy. I mean, really, there isn't any other goal that fits after just missing out on a Supporters' Shield/MLS Cup double. Either of those, or the CONCACAF Champions League would suffice, but hey, I reckon they'll take the Leagues Cup or the U.S. Open Cup if the opportunity arises. Do I dare say, quintuple?
That's the stuff dreams are made of, but the fact remains that this is a team without any discernable weaknesses, and it has an outstanding manager in Jim Curtin. The defense looks solid with Andre Blake in goal, and with Glesnes and Jack Elliott at center-back, although it remains to be seen how long outside-backs Olivier Mbaizo and Kai Wagner stick around.
The midfield remains a strength through Martinez, Alejandro Bedoya, Jack McGlynn and Daniel Gazdag, the latter of whom produced MVP-level numbers in 2022 with 22 goals and 10 assists. Forwards Julian Carranza -- another brilliant Tanner pickup -- and Mikael Uhre combined for 27 goals.
About the only thing that can stop the Union is the aforementioned schedule. The Soccer Gods (MLS Division) do have a way of punishing teams that take part in the CCL, so despite their considerable depth, health will be key. With the talented and experienced roster the Union have, though, there's every reason to think this will be a banner season for Philadelphia. -- Jeff Carlisle
What they've been up to: The Timbers made more noise in the executive suite than in the locker room this offseason, a result of the seemingly endless stream of crises that has engulfed the organization in the past 18 months, and drew the ire of fans. This included the fallout from the Yates report that investigated misconduct on the Portland Thorns side of the organization, and was released just prior to the end of last season.
Since then, Ned Grabavoy took over as GM after president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson was fired. Heather Davis took over as CEO from Merritt Paulson (although he still owns the team), and Chief Business Officer Mike Golub departed as well.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +4,000
Biggest offseason move: Grabavoy did find time to complete one transaction and it was a whopper, acquiring attacking midfielder Evander from Danish side FC Midtjylland for a reported $10 million transfer fee. This should allow players like Dairon Asprilla (even though he's out four to six weeks after knee surgery), Yimmi Chara, Sebastian Moreno and Sebastian Blanco -- who has plenty of miles on his legs -- to shoulder less of the attacking load.
2023 will be a success if ... Manager Giovanni Savarese can get the pieces to fit -- and stay -- together. The final weeks of the 2022 regular season saw the Timbers' season fall apart after a four-game winning streak put them in control of their playoff destiny. Savarese benched midfielder Eryk Williamson for the crunch regular-season finale against RSL, which Diego Chara missed because of illness. Without those two, the team imploded.
Williamson is one of Portland's most important players given his contributions on both sides of the ball, and player and coach will need to be on the same page. Evander's addition should get the remaining attacking pieces to take on roles more in line with their capabilities, although the No. 9 position remains a revolving door with Jaroslaw Niezgoda, Nathan Fogaa and Felipe Mora (who is injured at the moment) set to duke it out.
On the defensive side of the ball, goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic turned out to be a revelation, but there are still questions about a defense that conceded 53 goals. Can Diego Chara continue to be the same midfield destroyer he has been for the past 12 seasons? And can Savarese find some consistency at center-back among the trio of Larrys Mabiala, Zac McGraw and Dario Zuparic?
All told, plenty of on-field aspects will have to line up for Portland to get back to the playoffs. -- Jeff Carlisle
What they've been up to: RSL have had a long offseason to think about what might have been had they been able to protect a 2-0 lead in the club's first-round playoff game against Austin FC last season thanks to a pair of early goals from Sergio Córdova. They eventually fell in a penalty shootout after Austin rallied for a 2-2 draw. Córdova is off to Canada, as is defender Aaron Herrera, but RSL also made a few moves looking to leave much less to chance this campaign.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +3,000
Biggest offseason move: Andres Gómez is a speedy 20-year-old winger from Colombia whom RSL signed from Millonarios this winter. The club certainly sees him as the future, spending a club-record transfer fee and inking Gómez to a deal that will keep him under team control through 2027.
2023 will be a success if ... There is more decisiveness.
After starting 2022 on a four-match unbeaten run, RSL fell into a pattern of inconsistency, raising their level just enough in August to survive a September swoon and make the playoffs.
The biggest issue was the lack of a punch up top. RSL scored 43 goals last season, the fewest of any playoff team and better than just four teams across MLS. With a healthy Damir Kreilach, who had back surgery and was shut down last season, and a full season of Venezuelan winger Jefferson Savarino and ex-LAFC attacker Daniel Musovski, coach Pablo Mastroeni will expect to get much more from his team up front.
Yet losing Herrera will mean RSL need a lot from Andrew Brody and new signing Brayan Vera as the outside-backs in a system that asks for a lot from them. And they will need another strong season from goalkeeper Zac MacMath. If the pieces fall into place, RSL are a team that can consistently get results and stake a more emphatic claim to a playoff place. If not, the only through line might be unpredictability. -- Jon Arnold
What they've been up to: The Matias Almeyda era came to a merciful end early last season. Since then, the Quakes have hired a new manager in Luchi Gonzalez and have gone about revamping their defense.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +7,000
Biggest offseason move: Preventing goals has been the Quakes' biggest problem in the past four seasons. So even before the end of 2022, GM Chris Leitch went about bolstering the back line, bringing in outside-backs Carlos Akapo and Peru international Miguel Trauco, as well as center-back Rodrigues. That trend continued this offseason with the acquisition of center-back Jonathan Mensah from Columbus, a move necessitated by the season-ending injury to Nathan. But the biggest acquisition was that of holding midfielder Carlos Gruezo from Bundesliga side Augsburg.
Not only does Gruezo fill a position of need, but he has a prior history -- albeit a brief one -- with Gonzalez when the two were in Dallas.
2023 will be a success if ... The Quakes can make the playoffs, something they've managed only twice since the Supporters' Shield-winning season in 2012.
An 0-4-3 start last season doomed San Jose's campaign before it had really begun, and it resulted in the team parting ways with Almeyda. Interim manager Alex Covelo coaxed an 8-11-8 record out of the group the rest of the way, but even that results in a points-per-game of 1.19, well below what's needed to make the playoffs.
The Quakes' aforementioned defense was the primary reason for their last-place finish in the Western Conference, conceding 69 goals, with only D.C. United allowing more. While the goalkeeping wasn't great, San Jose's xGA was 61.43, nowhere near good enough, hence the defensive rebuild.
So now the onus in terms of defensive improvement is on the new arrivals, which includes former Internacional keeper Daniel. And San Jose figures to be much improved, if only because Gruezo and Mensah are proven MLS performers, with the latter three years removed from being named to the MLS Best XI. Akapo and Trauco are relative unknowns in terms of MLS, but if they, along with Mensah, can find some chemistry alongside Rodrigues, that could free up the rest of the lineup to commit more to the attack, assuming Gruezo reprises his role as a midfield destroyer.
The offense for sure has some intriguing pieces. Jamiro Monteiro brings quality to the midfield, as does Cristian Espinoza. Jeremy Ebobisse scored 17 goals last season, just two of which were from the penalty spot. In Cade Cowell, the Quakes have a budding star, although he needs to start delivering on his immense promise.
Niko Tsakiris is a homegrown talent who could step into a bigger role this season. Throw in the likes of Jackson Yueill and Benjamin Kikanovic, and San Jose has some depth to trouble teams. Will it? It's certainly possible, but it will require health and the new arrivals gelling quickly. -- Jeff Carlisle
What they've been up to: The Sounders were the first MLS team to appear in the Club World Cup earlier this month, where they lost 1-0 to Egyptian side Al Ahly. A win in the Morocco-based tournament would have set up a match with Real Madrid, but instead the Sounders were eliminated after just one game.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +1,400
Biggest offseason move: In comes Brazilian forward Heber from NYCFC, who scored 24 goals in 70 matches over four seasons in the Big Apple. His arrival represents important depth after a season in which the team had its least potent attack in more than five years.
2023 will be a success if ... The Sounders return to form as one of the best teams in the Western Conference.
Last season is an interesting one to evaluate. On one hand, winning the CONCACAF Champions League was a massive accomplishment and one that will be remembered for a long time. On the other, the Sounders missed the playoffs for the first time since entering the league in 2009. The sense here is that the CCL glory outweighs the end of the playoff streak, but it was a badge of honor the club had carried for more than a decade.
After a season in which injuries played a major role, a primary concern is whether the team can stay healthy. If it can, there isn't any reason to believe it won't vault right back up the standings to where it's accustomed to being. That's a big if. And until there is a prolonged period of good health, it will remain part of the Sounders conversation. -- Kyle Bonagura
What they've been up to: Besides somehow being in the mix to sign Cristiano Ronaldo, you mean? Sporting have spent much of the offseason watching their medical staff report on Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda after the two designated players missed all of 2022 through injury.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +4,000
Biggest offseason move: Nemanja Radoja was one of the wisest signings any team made in the winter. There is so much value in a true defensive midfielder who can shield the back line and quickly push the ball into the feet of the more creative players up front, which is exactly what Radoja has been doing for years in LaLiga. That role is especially vital at SKC, where the center of defense is still soft, but could be teeming with attacking verve if fitness allows.
2023 will be a success if ... They leave their injury woes in 2022.
Most any team would be destroyed if two designated players like Pulido and Kinda were ruled out for the season before it even started, but Sporting's first half of the 2022 campaign was abysmal even accounting for their misfortune.
The second half of the season was a revelation, though. Willy Agada was one of the most valuable players in the entire league after signing in June. He didn't just score eight goals and add two assists in less than 1,000 minutes, he made everyone around him better as his movement created havoc for opposing defenses that SKC teammates could exploit.
Erik Thommy was another shrewd summer signing who was a jolt to the midfield as Sporting put forth an encouraging back half of the campaign. If Pulido and Kinda can return and find even a fraction of the quality they've shown before, and Thommy and Radoja play a full season, then not only could Agada lead a resurgence in Kansas City, but the Nigerian could make a run at the Golden Boot. -- Ryan Rosenblatt
What they've been up to: The brass in St. Louis has been building a team. Expansion teams are hardly new in MLS, and with each new club, the next in line can watch and learn to see what works. Former globetrotting goalkeeper Lutz Pfannenstiel is putting down roots as St. Louis' sporting director, bringing in experience in ex-Borussia Dortmund shot-stopper Roman Burki and MLS veterans like Tim Parker and Jake Nerwinski.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +10,000
Biggest offseason move: Burki is a known quantity and Parker will be key to building a defensive core, but Brazilian forward Klauss' success in MLS might go farthest to determine exactly how far St. Louis can go in its debut season. He brought in big goal hauls with HJK in Finland in 2018 and LASK in Austria in 2019-20, but as the club's first designated player, he will be expected to deliver double-digit goals.
2023 will be a success if ... Everyone is having fun.
The roster seems like it still has a way to go before it's competitive in MLS. Rather than opt for a big-name DP like LAFC did with Carlos Vela or find an up-and-comer like Atlanta United did with Miguel Almiron, St. Louis' strategy appears to be much more about development.
The biggest star is a goalkeeper, and the DPs are Klauss, who was last in the Belgian league, and Eduard Lowen, who never found his footing at Hertha Berlin and ended up with two goals and two assists in the Bundesliga while on loan at VfL Bochum last season. They could come from off the radar to surprise the league, but at the moment it's tough to see them stacking up to the quality of MLS's other top players.
Maybe simply existing is enough -- it has been for other expansion teams in the past -- and longtime New York Red Bulls assistant Bradley Carnell should at least put an interesting style of play on the field, imitating the Red Bull system's famous high press that might be better than the sum of its parts. It might need to be until a few more signings arrive. -- Jon Arnold
What they've been up to: It seems like only a matter of time before Toronto returns to the elite of MLS. With an ownership group willing to shell out big money, TFC won't stay down for long.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +3,000
Biggest offseason move: Signing free agent goalkeeper Sean Johnson, one of the best in the league, is an immediate upgrade and a needed one, after Toronto allowed 66 goals in 34 matches last season (third worst in the league).
2023 will be a success if ... They move into the top half of the Eastern Conference. Considering the talent on the roster, it's completely reasonable to want more from Toronto, but the reality here is this team was dreadful last season, finishing with just 34 points -- the second-worst total in the league. While it's true that a lot of that losing took place before Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi joined, Toronto still managed only 15 points in 13 games after the duo arrived.
Having that duo on opposite wings should be the most dangerous attacking combination in the league -- and one of the best in MLS history -- but it will also be interesting to see how striker Adama Diomande looks upon his return to the league. He was a force, at times, for coach Bob Bradley in Los Angeles (and for Bradley at Stabaek in Norway before that), but four disappointing stints have come since then over just two years. -- Kyle Bonagura
What they've been up to: After missing out on the postseason last year, things are looking up for a Vancouver team that enjoyed a strong finish to the 2022 season with three wins in its final four games. With that in mind, all eyes are on head coach Vanni Sartini, who is starting his third season in charge and needs a good start to avoid any talk of a pink slip.
Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +6,500
Biggest offseason move: Gone are several key pieces, like striker Lucas Cavallini and defenders Marcus Godinho and Jake Nerwinski, but the back line has been bolstered by the addition of Mathias Laborda, a 23-year-old who hails from Uruguayan giants Nacional and can play either center-back or right-back.
2023 will be a success if ... They can find a goal-scoring No. 9 for their open DP slot.
The good news for Sartini is that he has a good midfield setup with Adrian Cubas and Pedro Vite. There is a good chance Julian Gressel will see time in some sort of midfield capacity, even though any fan from Atlanta to Washington, D.C., will tell you that his strength is more on the wing.
The area that Sartini and management will have to shore up this season is up top. The Whitecaps were very poor in front of goal last season, registering just 40 goals, and with Cavallini now gone, there is a major need to find some scoring at striker. Brian White, Ryan Gauld and Vite offer up a decent attacking trio, but if this team wants to consider 2023 a success with a playoff berth, a player who can compete with White will be required.
Perhaps it could come from forward Deiber Caicedo, who returns from his knee injury, or Cristian Dajome, who was played out of position last season at wing-back and might flourish in a return to forward. There is also a DP spot dangling out there just waiting to be filled. Either way, Vancouver needs to find some goals sooner rather than later. -- Arch Bell