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5 teams To challenge NYCFC This Season

It’s one of the glorious quirks of the competition format that NYCFC were able to win the MLS Cup despite finishing a lowly fourth in the Eastern Conference.

New York City soccer players celebrate

Ronny Deila’s side won less than 50% of their regular-season games and drew more than 33% of them, but they hit their stride in the postseason campaign and defeated the Supporters’ Shield champions – New England Revolution – among others in a glorious end to the season.

The presumption, then, is that they will perform much better in the Eastern Conference, but Taty Castellanos and co certainly won’t have things their own way – as such, let’s take a look at five teams that could challenge for supremacy in the East.

New England Revolution

The Revs won the Eastern Conference title by a staggering 19 points in 2021, before falling short in the playoffs to NYCFC. They scored a whopping 65 goals in 34 games, and while they were more suspect defensively, they still had way too much firepower for their rivals in the East.

An attacking trio of Carles Gil, Gustavo Bou and Adam Buksa is a match for anyone in MLS, and if they continue that form in this forthcoming season, then once again New England will take some stopping. Their cause will be aided by a couple of offseason signings. Sebastian Lletget is an experienced campaigner in MLS, and he will add the leadership and nous in midfield that was perhaps found lacking in the highly pressurized playoff situation.

Omar Gonzalez has also been brought in from Toronto FC, and he will add depth to a defensive unit that was found wanting at times in 2021. Teal Bunbury and Scott Caldwell have moved on to pastures new, but their loss will be mitigated by those coming in, and so we have to expect that the New England Revolution will be there or thereabouts once again in the Eastern Conference.


Both Montreal and Toronto FC have been usurped as the leading team in Canada by, surprisingly enough, the Vancouver Whitecaps. You feel as though Montreal should be the kings of Canada. Montreal is arguably one of the cultural capitals of the country, with its festivals, arts, cuisine, the biggest casino in the country, and much more besides. The soccer club’s fanbase is as fervent as you would expect from a region with a notable French heritage – France being the current World Cup champions, of course.

Montreal finished 10th in the Eastern Conference last term, but they only lost 12 matches – for context, NYCFC were defeated in 11. So, the conclusion is that if the Canadians can convert some of their stalemates into victories, they can improve significantly in 2022.

They have quickly moved to snap up some of the players they signed on loan last season permanently. Joaquín Torres was a revelation with his creative play, while Lassi Lappalainen and Ahmed Hamdy add depth to what is a solid roster under Wilfried Nancy’s leadership.

Alistair Johnston has been brought in from Nashville to bolster the defence, and perhaps most crucially of all, Montreal have – at the time of writing – been able to hang on to the two main jewels in their crown – Djordje Mihailovic and Mason Toye, who missed much of the 2021 campaign with a shoulder injury.  If you’re looking for an Eastern Conference team with plenty of room for improvement, Montreal ticks the box.


The 2020 expansion team lost just four games last season, and no outfit in the whole of MLS were tougher to beat.

The downside was that they tied a staggering 18 of their 34 outings, but those who look at life from a glass half-full perspective will note that if they can convert even a handful of those into victories, they will accrue the kind of points tally that could easily top the Eastern Conference. For that to happen, they will need Hany Mukhtar to have another career-defining campaign, and they will need further brilliance from the likes of top goalscorer C.J. Sapong and the uber-creative Randall Leal.

Statistically the best defensive unit in the East, Nashville will miss Alistair Johnston at the back. However, the addition of the quality Sean Davis in midfield, plus the goals of Teal Bunbury, could help the team go from tough-to-beat to standings-toppers in the space of just one season.

D.C. United

Advocates of the expected goals (xG) metric may already be aware that when comparing the xGD (the difference between expected goals for and against) of Eastern Conference teams, D.C. United ranked third behind NYCFC and New England. The question now for Hernán Losada and his coaching team is, how do they translate those classy performances into points in the standings?

Defensively they are solid, with Bill Hamid in goal shielded by the likes of Steve Birnbaum and Tony Alfaro. In attack, Ola Kamara enjoyed another goal-laden campaign, and he is well supported by the quality deliveries of Julian Gressel and Andy Najar.

D.C. need to find another attacking player who can take some of the goalscoring burden from Kamara, but the stats confirm that they create plenty of high-quality chances – if they can improve on their finishing, the Black and Reds can fly in 2022.

Toronto FC

The 2021 season was a catastrophe for Toronto FC. Rumors of fallouts with players cost Chris Armas his job as head coach, while quality operators such as Jozy Altidore were left out in the cold. Injuries cost midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo six games of the season, and all things considered, the 2021 campaign was one that Toronto would like to strike from their history.

However, Bob Bradley, a safe pair of hands if ever there was one, has come in as head coach, and he will set about restoring order and confidence into a roster that won the MLS Cup as recently as 2019.

The eye-catching signing of Italy international Lorenzo Insigne is a real statement of intent, and if he can help to get the best out of Pozuelo and co, then the whole of MLS will be served notice of Toronto’s ambitions.

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