Voices: Joseph Lowery

Why your MLS team will (or won’t) win it all in 2024


If you’re looking for equal parts rampant optimism and rampant pessimism, you’ve come to the right place.

With the 2024 regular season upon us, I’m here to set the stage for all 29 teams in MLS. Here’s why your team will (or won’t) win it all this year.

Why they will: What’s not to like?

You have a legit MVP candidate in Thiago Almada, you have the dollar store Erling Haaland in Giorgos Giakoumakis, you replaced Miles Robinson, you upgraded on Brad Guzan, and you have an actual midfield now. This team has absolutely all of the tools to be a trophy favorite.

Why they won’t: The summer transfer window will derail them

I’d bet any amount of money Atlanta United’s front office has a list of candidates to replace Almada on a whiteboard somewhere. Still, it might not matter how prepared they are to replace the Argentine this summer. Why? Well, because Almada's skill set is borderline irreplaceable (unless they somehow clone him).

Why they will: Rodolfo Borrell can rebuild the plane while he’s flying it

Sure, there were some hiccups in terms of Austin FC’s ability to sign players this offseason (in that they, uh, just weren’t doing it). But Borrell has worked next to Pep Guardiola and has spent time at some of the biggest and most successful clubs on the planet. The guy knows what he’s doing and still has time to re-tool this team for a run in the Western Conference.

Why they won’t: Rodolfo Borrell can’t rebuild the plane while he’s flying it

That’s the whole thing, right? If Borrell can find some pieces to elevate the squad outside of Diego Rubio and Jáder Obrian, Austin will be a threat in a wide-open West. If he can’t, they’ll struggle.

Why they will: They’re keeping things simple

With Karol Swiderski gone, Charlotte FC’s attacking gameplan will be much more straightforward this year than it was last year. Enzo Copetti will be the No. 9, plain and simple. Plus, new manager Dean Smith isn’t going to over-complicate the rest of the tactical approach like Christian Lattanzio did last year.

Why they won’t: Copetti isn’t a top-tier striker

When you look at Copetti’s box-score stats and his underlying numbers across his time in Argentina and his first season in MLS, nothing screams “Ooo, this guy is a match-winner!”. That’s a gigantic problem for Charlotte.

Why they will: The collective will become the playmaker

Between Xherdan Shaqiri, who’s been a better creator than many give him credit for in MLS, and Brian Gutiérrez, who now has over 50 MLS starts under his belt, the Fire will squeeze enough chance creation to feed new club-record striker signing Hugo Cuypers. Plus, Jairo Torres is gone – so a Young DP winger should arrive in the summer (or sooner) to make Chicago even more dangerous in attack.

Why they won’t: The foundation isn’t elite

The Fire’s foundation just isn’t convincing. Is a Rafael Czichos and Tobias Salquist center-back pairing really one that can take you to a trophy? They’re likely to have three new starters in Frank Klopas’ back four this year, which could make chemistry hard to come by.

Why they will: Aaron Boupendza is a star

We’ve already seen elite seasons from Luciano Acosta, Obinna Nwobodo, Miles Robinson and Matt Miazga in MLS. Now we’re going to get a full season of the creative, forceful attacking play that we saw Boupendza add to Pat Noonan’s frontline last year. He’s a dark-horse MVP candidate.

Why they won’t: They leave it too close

No team in MLS won more one-goal games than FC Cincinnati last year (14). Sure, winning ugly can be a sign of a truly great team. But you know what else is a sign of a truly great team? Stomping their opponents by multiple goals. Cincy might not have that next gear in them, and they're trying to replace Brandon Vazquez and Álvaro Barreal.

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Colorado Rapids

Why they will: Getting a top-tier playmaker is the fastest way to compete in MLS

That’s exactly what the Rapids did over the offseason by signing former CF Montréal star Djordje Mihailovic. The 25-year-old American didn’t stick in the Eredivisie, but finished in the 95th percentile for non-penalty expected goals (xG) plus expected assisted goals (xAG) per 90 among his positional peers in his last season in MLS. Colorado, say hello to the postseason where anything is possible.

Why they won’t: The other two DPs are no good

Last year, Rafael Navarro and Kévin Cabral combined for three goals in 2,000 total MLS minutes. That’s it. You can’t thrive in MLS when two of your DPs are putting up below-league-average numbers.

Why they will: They did it last year

Wilfried Nancy gets to work with all 11 starters from last year’s MLS Cup-winning team again in 2024. The Crew were absolutely electric in their first year under Nancy and there’s no reason for them to be anything other than a trophy favorite this season.

Why they won’t: There’s no more element of surprise

By April of last year, everyone around MLS knew what Nancy’s team was going to throw at them. And yet, opponents still looked shell-shocked against the Crew. It’s all well and good to know what Columbus can do with their possession-heavy style. It’s another matter entirely to experience it. Now their Eastern Conference foes have, which means the element of surprise is gone.

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FC Dallas

Why they will: The attack should match the level of the defense

According to FBref, Dallas had the sixth-best defensive record in the league last year based on non-penalty xG allowed. Then they went out and forked over a club-record fee to acquire striker Petar Musa from Portuguese giants Benfica. Between Musa, Jesús Ferreira and a couple of dangerous wingers, the attack now has the pieces to match the defense’s level.

Why they won’t: Central midfield could be a problem

What do Asier Illarramendi and Paxton Pomykal have in common? First, they’re both excellent soccer players. Illarramendi shined after arriving from LaLiga midway through last season and Pomykal is a high-level MLS starting No. 8. What else do they have in common? They’re both extremely injury-prone. Illarramendi missed a slew of games during his last few seasons with Real Sociedad and Pomykal's potential has been slowed by knocks.

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D.C. United

Why they will: The pieces fit together

Christian Benteke will give you goals, the attacking midfield line has a good mixture of comfort in tight spots and 1-v-1 ability, the central midfield group can create and destroy, and the backline got stronger in the offseason. Balance combined with a couple of reliable DPs can propel this team.

Why they won’t: There’s not enough top-end talent in any line of the field

D.C. United simply don’t have the top-end talent outside of Benteke to feel confident about making any sort of a run in 2024. With a new head coach (Troy Lesesne) and a new CSO (Ally Mackay), this project is building towards next year, not this one.

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Houston Dynamo FC

Why they will: They’ll be even more organized

In the past, the word “organized” would be translated as “defensive” for a Ben Olsen team. With the Dynamo, though, that’s not the case. Sure, compact blocks play a role for Houston. But Olsen used a fluid 3-4-3 shape in possession last year and this group should be even more comfortable in it in 2024, creating and denying chances with precision.

Why they won’t: There’s not enough depth

This team simply isn’t built to be able to survive injuries to one or two key players. Unfortunately for Houston, they’ve already suffered a couple of those injuries – midfielder star Héctor Herrera is dealing with a knock, left winger Nelson Quiñones is out for the season and striker Sebastián Ferreira got hurt in their Concacaf Champions Cup opener. That doesn’t set a positive tone for a team that doesn’t have the depth to make it through a flurry of injuries.

Why they will: They’re going to be more flexible

The front office has two DP spots left to support last year’s Golden Boot winner Dénis Bouanga in the attack. But even outside of the stars, LAFC added more tactical flexibility over the offseason by bringing Eduard Atuesta back from Brazil. Atuesta is best as a No. 6 and manager Steve Cherundolo now has the opportunity to play him next to Ilie Sánchez in a 4-2-3-1. That’ll be a new look in LA.

Why they won’t: There’s too much turnover

LAFC are marching into 2024 without five starters from last year’s MLS Cup, and that's including club legend Carlos Vela (for now, at least). That’s a lot of turnover for any one team to successfully navigate in a single offseason. So much change could spell trouble – and a drop-off – for LAFC.

Why they will: The attack is good enough that we can ignore the defense

Instead of an injured Chicharito and an underwhelming Douglas Costa surrounding superstar Riqui Puig, the Galaxy have two new DP wingers (Gabriel Pec, Joseph Paintsil) and striker Dejan Joveljic ahead of the former Barcelona midfielder. That attack could hit 70 goals in 2024, carrying an underwhelming defense to a trophy.

Why they won’t: The defense is bad enough that we’ll have to ignore the attack

If you can’t tell, it’s hard to say which way the balance will tip for the LA Galaxy in 2024. Only two teams in MLS gave up more non-penalty xG than the Galaxy last year, according to FBref. They were atrocious against the ball and might be again this year, to the point where their defensive flaws could render the attack moot.

Inter Miami CF logo
Inter Miami CF

Why they will: The GOAT

There’s this guy named Lionel Messi who has a left foot made of gold. Once upon a time, a few of his friends followed him to Miami, along with some of the best young playe— You know what, never mind. You get the idea. Inter Miami are stacked.

Why they won’t: There’s no speed

Both the defense and the attack will be impacted by Inter Miami’s lack of top-line athleticism. Most of the backline will be over 30 this year, the Barcelona boys have lost a few steps, and with Facundo Farías injured, Robert Taylor is the only real vertical threat in the attacking group. Things could stagnate down in Florida.

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Minnesota United FC

Why they will: A full season of Emanuel Reynoso and Teemu Pukki will wreck opposing defenses

Reynoso didn’t step on the field for Minnesota until June of last year. Pukki didn’t arrive until the summer transfer window. With both of those two elite attackers in from the jump this year, an already strong attack is about to become elite.

Why they won’t: The tactical rumblings don’t make sense

There have been some rumblings out of Minnesota that new chief soccer officer Khaled El-Ahmad wants to implement a pressing approach with the Loons this season. Regardless of the coach, can you press with Reynoso and Pukki up top? I’m skeptical.

Why they will: NancyBall worked well last time

CF Montréal finished second in the Eastern Conference in their last season playing a possession-heavy style – that was under Wilfried Nancy back in 2022. With Laurent Courtois now in town from Columbus as Montréal’s new manager, the team should have more tactical cohesion than they did under Hernán Losada last year.

Why they won’t: Their offseason upgrades weren't enough

The front office made a few useful additions over the offseason, but none that make Montréal look like a contender. The two big(?) foreign attacking signings don’t have impressive pedigrees. Attacking midfielder Dominic Iankov hasn’t played outside of Bulgaria and striker Matías Cóccaro hasn't scored more than 0.22 goals per 90 in either of his last two years in Argentina.

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Nashville SC

Why they will: Because we saw what Sam Surridge and Hany Mukhtar can do together

Remember that magical Leagues Cup run Nashville SC made last year? That run was powered by chemistry between Surridge, who joined midseason from England, and Mukhtar. Those two cooled as the season wore on, but the magic is there. We’ve seen it.

Why they won’t: Gary Smith might not be able to change

Now and then, the topic of Nashville evolving their tactical approach to become slightly more imposing in possession pops up. It certainly did during this offseason. But can manager Gary Smith change? We have no reason to think Nashville will pose a consistent threat against low-block opposition this year.

Why they will: The center is strong

Carles Gil is an MVP candidate, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Matt Polster, and Noel Buck make up a strong midfield corps, the backline is rock-solid, and I’m willing to bet Henrich Ravas is a good goalkeeper after all the success the Revs have had in that position. A strong spine can take you places in this league.

Why they won’t: Can you trust the DPs not named Carles Gil?

Giacomo Vrioni hasn’t lived up to his DP billing status, scoring just seven league goals since he joined New England midway through 2022. Then there’s Tomás Chancalay, who had success based on the box-score stats last year. But the winger only landed in the 53rd percentile for non-penalty xG plus xAG per 90 among his positional peers, according to FBref. Let's see if his production is sustainable.

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New York City FC

Why they will: They’re ready for the season to start

Unlike last year, I guess? NYCFC didn’t sign a starting No. 9 until the summer transfer window in 2023, which put them well behind the eight-ball in the Eastern Conference. This year, the key players are all signed, sealed and delivered. This team is talented, flexible and fully capable of going toe-to-toe with anyone.

Why they won’t: Goalkeeper is a concern

As is the rest of the backline, frankly. But sticking in goal, Matt Freese took the starting job from Luis Barraza late in the year. The 25-year-old was solid, if unspectacular to finish out the year. With a really young attacking group bound to lose the ball in bad spots and a backline without any elite talents, Freese will have to keep performing at an above-average level.

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New York Red Bulls

Why they will: They addressed their biggest need

Signing Emil Forsberg from RB Leipzig to replace Luquinhas might just be the single biggest upgrade made by any team in MLS this winter. Luquinhas only landed in the 33rd percentile in xAG among his positional peers last year. Forsberg will be the elite creator the Red Bulls needed to get over the hump last year.

Why they won’t: Dante Vanzeir doesn’t look like the goalscorer they need

With RBNY, it feels a bit like they’re plugging one hole in the boat just to have another one spring wide open. The creator is here. But are we sure about the forwards? Vanzeir was signed as a DP ahead of last season, but only scored two goals in 750 minutes. It’s too early to judge his ability, but anything outside of a major improvement (or new lead-the-line striker) will spell trouble.

Orlando City SC logo
Orlando City SC

Why they will: They had a great offseason

Outside of the Duncan McGuire saga, Orlando City’s offseason went about as well as it could have. They replaced Antônio Carlos, upgraded Mauricio Pereyra, and now have options up top with Luis Muriel joining from Serie A. Last year’s second-best team got a glow-up.

Why they won’t: There’s no dominant attacker

There are a lot of quality players here: Facundo Torres, Martín Ojeda, Iván Angulo, Nico Lodeiro, Muriel, McGuire and more. Let's see if someone can make the attack truly theirs, or if the by-committee approach has flaws.

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Philadelphia Union

Why they will: This group is elite

Two years ago, the Union topped the Eastern Conference and made a run to MLS Cup with nearly the same squad that’s at Jim Curtin’s disposal this season. Philly have a proven, successful starting lineup that can take them places.

Why they won’t: As others improve, they stay the same

When does continuity become complacency? That’s the question the Union’s front office should be asking themselves. While much of the rest of the East strengthened during the offseason, the Union didn’t make a single major addition. That’s a problem.

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Portland Timbers

Why they will: You’re already better than last year

In Maxime Crépeau, Portland signed a goalkeeper who will help them right the shot-stopping ship. Kamal Miller is in town to add a flexible defender to the backline. By ditching Yimmi Chara and Jarosław Niezgoda, you opened two DP spots. Oh, and Eryk Williamson and David Ayala are back. This team is so clearly better now than it was at any point in 2023.

Why they won’t: Will the new DPs hit?

The Timbers are better now than they were last year, sure, but it will be up to their to-be-announced DP signings to make them trophy contenders. Yimmi Chara and Niezgoda don’t provide a hopeful precedent, and the jury's still out on Evander.

Real Salt Lake logo
Real Salt Lake

Why they will: All they have to do is make the playoffs

And they will. They almost always do. At that point, anything can happen for a team that knows exactly who they are and how they want to play under manager Pablo Mastroeni. RSL won’t beat themselves. That’s up to you.

Why they won’t: The youngsters are still too young

Diego Luna, Andrés Gómez and Fidel Barajas are all fantastic young attackers. But it’s hard to shake the feeling they’re too young to be game-changers for a team that’s only bringing back one DP (Cristian Arango) for the start of the new season.

Why they will: Amahl Pellegrino is legit

Look, am I 100% sure the 33-year-old is going to hit on the left wing for the Quakes this year? No. But am I 100% sure the Norwegian is awesome and was a dynamic goalscorer for Bodø/Glimt, bagging 49 goals in his last two seasons in Scandinavia? Absolutely. Between Pellegrino and Cristian Espinoza, San Jose’s wingers can carry them while Daniel takes care of business on the other end.

Why they won’t: The rest of the West got better

Once they add a DP No. 10, San Jose will be stronger on paper than they were last year. But a bunch of other Western Conference playoff bubble teams stepped up in the offseason, too. FC Dallas broke their club transfer record to add a DP striker, Sporting KC are (mostly) healthy, Portland fixed their biggest issue, the Galaxy are more dynamic, and the Rapids don’t look like a bottom-feeder anymore. The Quakes are better. But are they better enough?

Why they will: Almost everyone is back

Outside of Nico Lodeiro, everyone who played significant minutes for Brian Schmetzer’s team in 2023 is back for 2024. Pedro de la Vega is in town, too, ready to add a real 1-v-1 threat on the left wing. This is a fantastic team, folks. There’s no reason to expect anything other than a trophy push.

Why they won’t: Maybe de la Vega isn't "the guy"

As Seattle lost in last year's Western Conference Semifinal to LAFC, it became clear they needed one more piece to become a heavy favorite heading into 2024. The front office believes de la Vega is that piece. But is the 23-year-old winger ready to be a game-changer? With just one full season of major minutes under his belt, the answer to that question might be "no."

Sporting Kansas City logo
Sporting Kansas City

Why they will: They have a bunch of talent and a tactical edge

SKC’s front six is really nice. Even with Gadi Kinda’s move back to Israel, it’s easy to see the quality between Alan Pulido, Johnny Russell, Erik Thommy and others. Peter Vermes’ team has both the talent and the tactical cohesion to rise above the chaos that’s coming to the Western Conference this season.

Why they won’t: There are too many questions in the back

Starting center backs Andreu Fontàs and Dany Rosero are both on the wrong side of 30 – and they looked like it for chunks of last season. With starting left back Logan Ndenbe out with a long-term knee injury and Jake Davis still green at right back, the defense won’t be able to hold the necessary high line to make Vermes’ controlled approach work.

Why they will: Two of the best players in MLS play in St. Louis

Roman Bürki was elite last year during St. Louis’ historic expansion season. The former Dortmund goalkeeper was the best shot-stopper in MLS, saving more goals than expected than any of his positional peers, according to FBref. He’s a Best XI-caliber goalkeeper. Eduard Löwen is the same in midfield. Löwen is a complete No. 8, fully able to contribute at a high level in every phase.

Why they won’t: There’s too much change on the backline

The accurate (but more boring) concern is that teams stopped being scared of St. Louis by last June and basically stopped losing to them by last September. Still, a more interesting concern is there could be effectively three new starters along the backline. Joakim Nilsson barely played last year and the front office signed two new fullbacks (Nikolas Dyhr, Tomas Totland) for a reason. That turnover could spell trouble for a team that uses a high line.

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Toronto FC

Why they will: John Herdman creates buy-in

That’s what he did with Canada as their men’s national team topped Concacaf World Cup qualifying in the last cycle. That’s what he’s going to do in Toronto. If the English coach can get even one of the Italian stars to buy in, the entire game changes for Toronto FC.

Why they won’t: Too many things have to go right

Even if you get Lorenzo Insigne or Federico Bernardeschi on board, Toronto FC still have way too many question marks. Herdman has never coached at the club level, the backline looks shallow and there’s no proven No. 9. This won’t be Toronto’s year.

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Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Why they will: The spine is strong

Between Brian White, Ryan Gauld, offseason signing Damir Kreilach (if he stays healthy), Andrés Cubas, and a strong center back group, the Whitecaps have one of the best spines in MLS. Even that small handful of players immediately makes them stand out from the rest of the West.

Why they won’t: They’re inconsistent

No team in MLS allowed more goals from set pieces than the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2023 (18, according to Opta) and only one allowed more xG from set pieces. Your spine doesn’t matter if you can’t keep the ball out of your net on basic, largely controlled moments.