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Bite-sized previews, for a full-sized 2022 season

Seattle is targeting four trophies. Who stands in their way?

Celebration for NYCFC winning the 2021 MLS Cup on City Hall...
Who will get the moment that NYCFC had in 2021?
Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Within MLS there are a few tiers of quality. Some teams are competing for trophies, others just hoping to get into the playoffs. That’s the angle for this quick preview of Major League Soccer’s 26th season — who is competing for hardware, who will have a decent year, who misses the second season, and who fails hard.

This season there’s more crossover between the conferences than we’ve seen since the Before Times. For the Sounders, that means seeing some of the Eastern Conference sides that have struggled the most. Also, Nashville SC is now in the West and coming to Seattle for the home opener Sunday (5:00 PM PT, FOX 13+/Prime Video/ESPN+).

The tl;dr — Competing with Seattle for trophies will be Colorado, KC, Nashville, New England, NYCFC, and Philly.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Austin FC (Verdes)

Reason they’ll trophy: “We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down, and worry about our place in the dirt.”
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: With a nearly reinvented backline and a new partner for Alex Ring maybe they won’t have the worst defense in the West and just maybe the attack can be mediocre.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: They’re better. They’re just not better than all of Texas and all of California and at least two other teams.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: They’re in the running as one of the worst expansion teams of all time, in a conference stacked with powerhouses.

2021 points and trophies: 31, none
Other 2022 competitions: Third Round US Open Cup

Colorado Rapids

Reason they’ll trophy: They added Bryan Acosta and U22 Max Alves, plus a few others. Of the good teams in the league only Seattle added more.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: Last year’s West winners could fade back to reality.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: Reality can suck.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: The plague gophers come back.

2021 points and trophies: 61, Western Conference title
Other 2022 competitions: Concacaf Champions League, Round of 32 US Open Cup

FC Dallas (Toros)

Reason they’ll trophy: Dallas won the “make money from selling teenagers trophy.”
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: FCD spent that money on decent players. They could double their win total, sure.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: They could double their win total and still miss the playoffs.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: From 2018 to 2021 they’ve finished 6th overall, 13th, 11th, and then 23rd — that’s an awful trend.

2021 points and trophies: 33, none
Other 2022 competitions: Third Round US Open Cup

Houston Dynamo

Reason they’ll trophy: They’ve got room to add a lot of talent.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: Tyler Pasher was a formidfender in the USL who could be great in MLS; he and their Paraguayan DP could make for an interesting attack.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: New coach Paolo Nagamura may be better than the coach they fired, but he’s still a guy with under 1.00 PPM in the USL.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: No bad team did less to improve their chances.

2021 points and trophies: 30, none
Other 2022 competitions: Third Round US Open Cup

LA Galaxy

Reason they’ll trophy: Greg Vanney turned Toronto from the worst team in the world into two of the greatest years of MLS play the league has seen.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: Chicharito seems to be back to the form that earned him recognition as North America’s most famous soccer player.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: They use the old guys more than the young talent that’s actually good.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: Douglas Costa is the Rick Mirer of Brazilian forwards.

2021 points and trophies: 48, none
Other 2022 competitions: Third Round US Open Cup

Los Angeles FC (LAFC)

Reason they’ll trophy: Did you know that Carlos Vela is still in Black & Gold? He may just remind the world.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: Steve Cherundolo’s defensive rebuild works out.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: Cherundolo is still the poor coach he was with Vegas.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: It’s hard to think they’d be this bad, then again ‘dolo’s Vegas time was wooden spoon level.

2021 points and trophies: 45, none
Other 2022 competitions: Third Round US Open Cup

Minnesota United (Loons)

Reason they’ll trophy: Emanuel Reynoso wins MVP and carries the team to greatness.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: Really decent roster with a good attack.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: Adrian Heath gets in the way.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: They’re 2 or 3 injuries from being very, very bad.

2021 points and trophies: 49, none
Other 2022 competitions: Third Round US Open Cup

Nashville SC

Reason they’ll trophy: Their strong defense got better by adding DM Sean Davis.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: Gary Smith despises giving up goals.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: Promotion to the tougher league that’s also known as the Western Conference could cause problems.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: At some point they may forget how to score and/or lose Hany Mukhtar.

2021 points and trophies: 54, none
Other 2022 competitions: Third Round US Open Cup

Portland Timbers

Reason they’ll trophy: The last time Portland didn’t have Diego Valeri they earned 1.00 ppm. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: If the defense improves through experience and Josecarlos Van Rankin they could be good.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: A team that is typically porous defensively signed three goalkeepers, none of them obviously better than the guy that took them to MLS Cup.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: They’ve got much bigger things to worry about than soccer.

2021 points and trophies: 55, none
Other 2022 competitions: Round of 32 US Open Cup, probably Leagues Cup

Real Salt Lake

Reason they’ll trophy: Damir Kreilach and let loose the dogs of war.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: New ownership, new belief — RSL may be on the rise from marginal playoff side to decent playoff side.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: They lost a GM, coach, and best player to Seattle. At some point that breaks you.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: Maybe they start selling off youth talent.

2021 points and trophies: 48, none
Other 2022 competitions: Third Round US Open Cup

San Jose Earthquakes

Reason they’ll trophy: Cade Cowell goes Super Saiyan.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: Roster of proven MLS guys.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: A lot of those guys aren’t very good.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: Cowell leaves in the summer and they don’t invest well.

2021 points and trophies: 41, none
Other 2022 competitions: Third Round US Open Cup

Seattle Sounders FC

Reason they’ll trophy: A fully functional front four would outscore some baseball teams.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: Depth on the backline falters.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: More injuries than 2021.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: There’s an Apocalypse in Puget Sound and only Puget Sound.

2021 points and trophies: 60, none
Other 2022 competitions: 2022 Concacaf Champions League, Round of 32 US Open Cup

Sporting KC

Reason they’ll trophy: Peter Vermes’ magic happens more often than not.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: Second deepest team in the west.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: Some sort of points deduction happens?
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: A tear in the space time continuum.

2021 points and trophies: 58, none
Other 2022 competitions: Round of 32 US Open Cup, probably Leagues Cup

Vancouver Whitecaps

Reason they’ll trophy: Believe. Vanni Sartini went from Academy coach to archmage of enchantment in half a season. If he continues to grow Vancouver could shock the league.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: Their biggest loss might be Andy Rose (hey coach!).
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: Magic is ephemeral.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: So is talent punching above their weight.

2021 points and trophies: 49, none
Other 2022 competitions: Canadian Championship

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlanta United (Five Stripes)

Reason they’ll trophy: Ozzie plays like it’s 2015 again.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: Gonzalo Pineda is a good coach with a talented team that he can deploy well.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: Spending a lot of money on DPs who don’t perform doesn’t seem wise.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: An injury onslaught.

2021 points and trophies: 51, none
Other 2022 competitions: Third Round US Open Cup, probably Leagues Cup

Plays Seattle

CF Montréal (Impact)

Reason they’ll trophy: They added one of the greatest scorers in league history and two Serie A players while playing at home. It may only be the Canadian Championship, but they should get a trophy.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: At home in Montréal for the full season, there should be strong belief that Nancy can take this squad back to the playoffs.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: The Serie A guys are spare parts from Bologna and Kamara’s old.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: In no reasonable 2022 would they earn the spoon — but we haven’t had reasonable years for a while.

2021 points and trophies: 46, Canadian Championship
Other 2022 competitions: Concacaf Champions League, Canadian Championship

Plays Seattle

Charlotte FC

Reason they’ll trophy: Come on now
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: If everything goes right.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: They’re leaning heavily on international talent that’s never played together before.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: If things go as coach Miguel Ángel Ramírez said — “Right now, we are screwed.”

2021 points and trophies: Did Not Play
Other 2022 competitions: Third Round US Open Cup

Plays Seattle

Chicago Fire

Reason they’ll trophy: New logos only go so far.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: If Xherdan Shaqiri is Albanian for Cuauhtémoc Blanco.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: If two of their DPs don’t perform as top 10 players at their positions.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: They have ten HGPs, but their best in history is a ‘keeper and their second best now plays for Sporting KC II on his 7th lower division team.

2021 points and trophies: 34, none
Other 2022 competitions: Third Round US Open Cup

Plays Seattle

Columbus Crew SC

Reason they’ll trophy: Gyasi Zardes performs in World Cup years. His best two seasons were 2014 and 2018 (oh, no).
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: Caleb Porter doesn’t have back-to-back poor seasons.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: They may have given up on veteran talent a year early.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: A team that is built to ignore width that loses key players along the spine could really suffer, especially if Yaw Yeboah isn’t good.

2021 points and trophies: 47, none
Other 2022 competitions: Third Round US Open Cup

D.C. United

Reason they’ll trophy: Estrada, Gressel, Perez, Flores, Fountas, Najar could mesh into the best attack in the east.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: They’ll have to have a great attack, because the defense isn’t good.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: Andy Najar can’t defend and attack as an RCB in a 3-4-2-1, especially when both wingbacks aren’t defenders.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: Fountas is coming to the squad late, maybe too late if the team doesn’t mesh fast.

2021 points and trophies: 47, none
Other 2022 competitions: Third Round US Open Cup

FC Cincinnati (Lions)

Reason they’ll trophy: None.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: This is a best case scenario, and involves every single one of their ‘good’ signings playing great (they won’t).
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: The Lions (orange not purple) can have the biggest improvement in MLS history and still miss the playoffs.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: There’s talk about renaming the wooden spoon the chili spoon since Cinci’s had it on lock for so long.

2021 points and trophies: 20, Wooden Spoon
Other 2022 competitions: Third Round US Open Cup

Plays Seattle

Inter Miami CF (Flamingoes)

Reason they’ll trophy: Crockett and Tubbs aren’t walking into Fort Lauderdale to save Inter Miami.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: Year two of the expansion reboot could mean they have a new culture lead by Sounder DeAndre Yedlin.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: A two million dollar fine and a GAM reduction of $2,271,250 spread out over the 2022 and 2023 seasons for trying to hide DPs from the league that controls the contracts.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: Phil Neville.

2021 points and trophies: 41, none
Other 2022 competitions: Third Round US Open Cup

Plays Seattle

New England Revolution

Reason they’ll trophy: If they get 2017 or younger Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez they’ll dominate, again.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: This should be their expectation.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: They could sell a DP or two.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: They’re losing Matt Turner, at least, and got much older when adding players from the league.

2021 points and trophies: 73, Supporters Shield
Other 2022 competitions: Concacaf Champions League, Round of 32 US Open Cup

New York City FC (Pigeons)

Reason they’ll trophy: They’re better at penalties than most teams.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: They do it quietly, kind of anti-New York, but are consistently in the second season.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: A third of their home games are on the road.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: They could sell their best goal scorer without a plan to replace the Golden Boot winner.

2021 points and trophies: 51, MLS Cup
Other 2022 competitions: Concacaf Champions League, Round of 32 US Open Cup

New York Red Bulls

Reason they’ll trophy: They’re still the Metros.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: There are two truisms in life — Sounders make the playoffs; Red Bulls make the playoffs.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: Come on now, they’re either in or have completely fallen apart.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: Their average roster age makes Tacoma Defiance roster seem like elder statemen.

2021 points and trophies: 48, none
Other 2022 competitions: Third Round US Open Cup

Orlando City SC (Lions)

Reason they’ll trophy: In the land of Disney World and Universal Studios any dream is possible.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: A completely revamped offense, now built around young international talent.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: Two new DPs may take time to adjust to the league.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: Twelve! Internationals on the senior roster doesn’t have a long history of success (they’ll be fine, Charlotte and Cinci still exist).

2021 points and trophies: 51, none
Other 2022 competitions: Third Round US Open Cup

Plays Seattle

Philadelphia Union

Reason they’ll trophy: A hot streak in the playoffs fueled by young players who don’t know they aren’t supposed to win.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: Paxten Aaronson may be better than his brother
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: Ridding themselves of several veterans, that youth movement will be tested.
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: They could sell off those kids too!

2021 points and trophies: 54, none
Other 2022 competitions: Round of 32 US Open Cup, probably Leagues Cup

Toronto FC (Reds)

Reason they’ll trophy: A half season of Lorenzo Insigne could be the next full season of Giovinco.
Reason they’ll make the playoffs: Bob Bradley.
Reason they’ll miss the playoffs: When was the last time a full DP centerback made the playoffs?
Reason they’ll wooden spoon: Inigne is a Bloody Big Deal

2021 points and trophies: 28, none
Other 2022 competitions: Canadian Championship

Plays Seattle