2019 Orlando City Preview: How do the Lions stack up against the rest of the East?

MLS: Columbus at Orlando

October 21, 2018; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando City during a soccer match at Orlando City Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters – Orlando Soccer Journal

This week at the Orlando Soccer Journal, we’ve been looking at all aspects of Orlando City as we get set to head into the 2019 Major League Soccer season this weekend, and after taking a deeper dive into the Lions’ schedule on Tuesday, we take a look at the teams themselves that Orlando will be matching up against and how they stack up against the rest of the Eastern Conference this season.

Much debate this week has been centered around this Orlando City team is good enough to make the playoffs this

The Top Tier Teams

New York Red Bulls: Last season’s Supporters’ Shield winners are poised to take the next step this season and finally bring an MLS Cup back to Red Bull Arena, and they’ll be attempting to do so this season with a roster just as strong as the one that fell to Atlanta United in the conference finals in 2018.

The Red Bulls lost Tyler Adams to their sister club in Germany, but they brought back Aaron Long and Tim Parker on new contracts. They still have, however, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Kaku and they’re still widely considered one of the favorites to win the East again this season.

Atlanta United: A lot has been made of the defending MLS Cup champions’ offseason. Tata Martino is gone, Frank de Boer is in as new head coach. Miguel Almiron is gone to Newcastle, but in comes 2018 South American Footballer of the Year Gonzalo Pity Martinez from River Plate. The squad is still just as good and as deep as it was when they lifted the trophy, and there aren’t any reasons to believe right now that they won’t be one of the last few teams standing at the end of 2019, too.

The Good But Not Great Teams

D.C. United: No more Yamil Asad, but Wayne Rooney and Lucho Acosta return in their quest to take D.C. back to glory. This is still a very talented team under head coach Ben Olsen, but there are plenty of questions surrounding its two big stars, specifically whether Rooney can handle a full season of MLS and the rigorous travel that comes along with it at this stage in his career, and what will happen with Acosta after his near move to PSG? Will be be able to shake it off and return to form?

Columbus Crew: Caleb Porter replaces Greg Berhalter at the helm, in addition to a brand new Sporting Director and ownership group. Porter finds himself in a great spot, similar to what de Boer is walking into in Atlanta in that he already has a good foundation that’ll need a bit of tweaking, but all in all it’ll be about making sure the transition between runs smoothly. Wil Trapp, Artur and Federico Higuain give the midfield some strong pieces in addition to a Gyasi Zardes up top, making the Crew another quality squad to watch for. Pundits are all over the place with this team, however, having them as high as top three in the East, with some believing they may even miss the playoffs this season.

New York City FC: This is probably one of the few teams that could go either way, in my opinion. The Pigeons won just three of their last 13 games to end the 2018 regular season under Domenec Torrent, who replaced Patrick Vieira. Out goes David Villa, one of the most impact players in club history, and in comes… Alexandru Mitrita? Yes, the Romanian midfielder is tasked with being the man this season, in addition to American international Keaton Parks. NYCFC have some talent, but there are plenty of question marks at the top. Will they even make the playoffs this season? I know I put them in the “good but not great” category, but it’s tough to say at this point which direction things will go in.

Philadelphia Union: The Union brought in arguably the biggest player in franchise history this offseason in Marco Fabian, but traded away both Keegan Rosenberry and CJ Sapong. But still, they have a roster full of young prospects that could help build a strong foundations for years to come, it’s just a matter of those things coming together. They’re changing things up when it comes to the way they play, which could lead to some early struggles, but long-term success.

The “It Could Go Either Way” Group

Toronto FC: The Reds looked flat out terrible in both legs of their Concacaf Champions League match up, and it’s tough to overlook how bad they were defensively. The big name out this offseason was Sebastian Giovinco, who might just be the best Designated Player in league history. His shoes will be tough to fill, and Toronto is hoping that Jozy Altidore can come back to be the productive goal-scorer he was a couple of years ago, in addition to a couple more yet-to-be added pieces. Toronto has the money to spend, but can they use it properly to fix the many issues they have defensively? I don’t know, but it could be another long season in the Six.

Montreal Impact: Ignacio Piatti is one of the most impact players in the league, yet the problem is he plays for Montreal and most people don’t get to see him all too often. Lucky for Montreal though, they have him for at least one more season, and with the addition of Maxi Urruti this offseason they have a decent shot at the playoffs in 2019. They’re bringing back a bulk of the roster that led them to a strong finish down the stretch last season, and even added some midfield and defensive help this offseason. I like Montreal on paper, but can they put it all together again in a new campaign?

Chicago Fire: The Fire could be a really good team and even a fun team to watch this season… they could also be in for another tough season. It you look in the attacking half of the field, how can you not like what the Fire have on the roster? Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty sitting behind Aleksandar Katai, Djordje Mihailovic, Przemyslaw Frankowski and Nemanja Nikolic, the Fire might score a very high amount of goals this season. On the flip side of that, however, they were not very good defensively last season and it could very easily be that way again in 2019. Not matter how many goals they’re capable of scoring, it does no good if they’re letting in just as many, if not more.

Orlando City: This is also where I would put the Lions entering the campaign. Nani is a great addition, but there are still way too many questions being asked about the back line, we don’t know if Sacha Kljestan is going to be able to return to the player he was in New York, what kind of player Nani is going to be, etc. I think if enough goes right, the Lions can contend for a playoff spot, but too many things have to go right for me to be holding my breath on their playoff chances, at least right now.

The Hold On To Your Butts Group

New England Revolution: It might just be a very long season for the folks up in New England. They have a lot of trouble defending for much of last season, a problem that the preseason hasn’t show any signs of it being fixed. They brought in Carles Gil, who they’re hoping can be a playmaker in the midfield, but I don’t know that it’s going to be enough for them to accomplish what they set out to do in 2019.

FC Cincinnati: Atlanta and LAFC have changed the expected trajectory of expansion teams over the last couple of season, but I have a feeling we’re going to be see a lot more Minnesota United-esque and a lot less Atlanta-like when it comes from Cincy this season. They brought over a lot of USL players from their 2018 squad and mixed in a handful of strong MLS veterans such as Greg Garza, Fanendo Adi, and Kendall Waston. I feel bad, because the support out of the gate is probably going to be fantastic in Cincy, while the performances on the field might not be.

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