By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON DC (Oct 31, 2018) US Soccer Players - For most of us, the only answer to the question "what’s next?" in MLS is "the playoffs." The knockout round happens just days after the regular season ends. It's time for one-off games that count, the most intense version of Major League Soccer.
Meanwhile, for 11 teams the end of the regular season means the end, period. With no playoffs, attention quickly turns to the winter and the steps to get back into the race for an MLS Cup in 2019. Even while the league spends the next two months creeping slowly to the grand finale, those 11 also-rans will be trying to wrap their heads around the future.
“What’s next?” is a question these teams can’t take casually. “What’s next?” is a question that needs a forceful answer. Here’s a look at what forms the answer might take for all of the teams kicked out of the postseason party.
Remi Garde probably isn’t going anywhere, a not-insignificant factor in the plans for 2019. Garde struggled in the first half of his first MLS campaign and expressed his frustrations with his players loudly and publicly more than once. Montreal brought in 16 new players in 2018, contributing to the team's struggles. The hope for Montreal is that those players settle in for 2019. Garde is pointing to “one or two” changes” to the roster, meaning less disruption and hopes for a better start and a happier finish.
New England Revolution
Like Garde did with his Impact team, Brad Friedel often expressed frustration with the commitment and effort of his players. The difference was timing. New England started relatively well, fading dramatically down the stretch. The next steps for New England are in fixing the roster. Turnover could be high, with several players either out of contract or with 2019 options. Familiar names like Agudelo, Rowe, and Fagundez might not be back for a club in desperate need of a clear identity. The sooner clarity comes to the personnel picture, the better.
The easy answer to “what’s next?” in Toronto is “get healthy." The Reds difficult schedule and injuries stalled their season as it started. The talent remains for Toronto to challenge for an MLS Cup title next year. Shaking off the disappointing 2018 season won’t be easy. The leadership is already talking about a review of rotation and preseason approaches. The commitment to spend to compete for MLS Cup remains, so the offseason should be interesting in Ontario.
Only eight players remain under guaranteed contracts for 2019. Change is most certainly coming. Whether what’s next in Bridgeview also includes a change at the head coach position is unclear, although Veljko Paunovic is also out-of-contract as of the end of December. Will the Fire “blow it up” again? The perpetual cycle of starting over needs to end but now isn't the time. Until the Fire can find consistent success, it’s hard to expect anything but another offseason of turmoil.
Another year, another wave of disappointment for Orlando City. The Lions invested heavily in overhauling the roster ahead of the 2018 season. That included spending on players as they built for the playoffs. Now, they face another chaotic offseason. Coach James O'Connor should try to make the squad his own, pushing for changes. The defense needs a ton of help, so perhaps O’Connor and GM Niki Budalic should start there.
The Galaxy has a disastrously mismatched roster with a few solid pieces, a world famous striker coming off a brilliant season, and more questions than almost anybody when it comes to what’s next. Dominic Kinnear has an interim coaching title, further unsettling things. Decisions loom about Giovani Dos Santos and a defensive group that failed spectacularly in 2018. For now, those decisions lie at the feet of GM Peter Vagenas and president Chris Klein.
Despite missing out on the playoffs by just a few points, the Whitecaps revealed itself to be in the midst of much internal turmoil during their end of season player availability on Tuesday. Several players, including Doneil Henry, Russell Teibert, and Kendall Waston, said that divisions in the locker room were rampant and damaging. Kendall Waston wants out, making the defender's situation untenable for whatever coach the club hires. The Whitecaps needs a permanent replacement for Carl Robinson and will have to convince someone of ability that the job is worth it when the cleanup from 2018 could be complicated.
It’s still an open question as to whether Minnesota United is spending enough money to truly compete for honors in the Western Conference and take a step beyond the also-ran existence. The addition of two Designated Players during the 2018 season, Colombians Darwin Quintero and Angelo Rodriguez, bodes well for higher quality additions to the roster. Here’s what we know: The excuses for Minnesota will run out quickly if 2019 is not better than the two seasons before. Sporting direction Manny Lagos and head coach Adrian Heath will face a different sort of scrutiny under the lights of Allianz than they did at TCF Bank Stadium. Raising the bar for player acquisitions is the simplest step.
The Rapids rebooted for 2018. To say it didn’t take would be an understatement. Though Colorado salvaged a bit of pride with a 2-1 win over FC Dallas on the final day of the regular season, there’s not much else to celebrate about their season. What does that mean for the offseason? Likely another roster overhaul, with general manager Padraig Smith getting another swing at putting together a winner on a budget.
San Jose Earthquakes
To the surprise of perhaps even themselves, the Quakes secured the services of former Chivas coach Matias Almeyda for the 2019 season. What’s next for San Jose is putting together a stronger roster. That means working with general manager Jesse Fioranelli, a dynamic that bears close watching with the Quakes already on the clock to make improvements to their player pool for 2019. At the same time, Almeyda must acquaint himself with MLS and work out a strategy for success that will justify San Jose’s investment in him.
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- Orlando City's misspent season
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Photo by Andrew Katsampes - ISIPhotos.com