MLS 2015 season preview: Key offseason moves, analysis and outlook

The 20th season of Major League Soccer kicks off this Friday, with the Chicago Fire traveling to Los Angeles to play the defending champion LA Galaxy.  Starting their inaugural season with ten teams, the MLS now finds itself with twice as many teams nearly two decades ago, including newcomers New York City FC and Orlando City SC, with former MLS club Chivas USA calling it quits at the end of last season. Let’s take a look at the teams competing in their respective conferences for the upcoming season and predict how they may fare.

Eastern Conference

Chicago Fire
Manager- Frank Yallop
Last season finish- 9th place
Offseason moves- In: Shaun Maloney, Guly do Prado
Out: Robert Earnshaw, Florent Sinama-Pongolle
Outlook: While flashes of improvement will be displayed, expect the Fire to miss the playoffs in 2015.

Columbus Crew SC
Manager– Gregg Berhalter
Last season– 3rd place, MLS Cup Conference semi-finals
Offseason moves- In: Kei Kamara, Cedrick Mabwati (arriving in July)
Outlook: Kamara will help the Crew improve this season, and the Crew should equal or exceed the success they achieved last season.

DC United
Manager– Ben Olsen
Last season– 1st place, MLS Cup Conference semi-finals.
Off-season moves- In: Jairo Arrieta, new stadium in 2017
Out: Lewis Neal, Joe Willis
Outlook: With a solid core of players largely unchanged from 2014, expect another playoff run following the 2015 campaign.

Montreal Impact
Manager– Frank Klopas
Last season– 10th place
Off-season moves- In: Marco Donadel, Laurent Ciman
Out: Marco Di Vaio (retired)
Outlook: Expect some improvement defensively, but their overall league standing will remain largely intact.

New England Revolution
Manager– Jay Heaps
Last season- 2nd place, MLS Cup runners-up
Off-season moves- In: Juan Agudelo
Out: A.J. Soares
Outlook: Jermaine Jones as well as midfielder Lee Nguyen should lead the Revolution to another strong season.

New York City FC
Manager– Jason Kreis
Last season- N/A (Expansion Club)
Offseason moves- In: David Villa, Frank Lampard (joining in July)
Outlook While expectations are high with top flight names like David Villa and Frank Lampard on the roster, there’s plenty of buzz about playoff talk. But in their inaugural season, it would seem to be premature.

New York Red Bulls
Manager– Jesse Marsch
Last season– 4th place, MLS Cup Conference runners-up
Offseason moves- In: Sacha Kljestan, Felipe Martins
Out: Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, Jamison Olave
Outlook- With a lack of leadership and a new manager (and system), expect the Red Bulls to fall short of the mark set in 2014 and miss the playoffs.

Orlando City SC
Manager– Adrian Heath
Last season– N/A (Expansion Club)
Offseason moves- In: Kaka, Brek Shea, Donovan Ricketts
Outlook- All eyes will be on team captain, Kaka, who faces the burden of carrying a team in its inaugural season. As with any team in its infancy, Orlando will be a work in progress.

Philadelphia Union
Manager– Jim Curtin
Last season– 6th place
Offseason moves- In: C.J. Sapong, Steven Vitoria
Out: Zac MacMath
Outlook Ben’s Army should have more to cheer for this season with a stronger defensive back line, but the Union are still unlikely to progress into the postseason.

Toronto FC
Manager– Greg Vanney
Last season– 7th place
Off-season moves – In: Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore
Out: Jermain Defoe
Outlook– Adding two international players with Michael Bradley in the offensive midfield role may lead this squad through the MLS playoffs if they remain healthy.

Western Conference

Colorado Rapids
Manager– Pablo Mastroeni
Last season- 8th place
Offseason moves- In: Zac MacMath, Sam Cronin
Zat Knight, Brian Mullan
Outlook- Colorado turned down the chance to sign Diego Forlan, 35, in a rebuilding effort after going winless in their final 14 matches of last season. Expect another tough season for the Rapids in 2015.

FC Dallas
Manager– Oscar Pareja
Last season– 4th place, MLS Cup Conference semifinals
Offseason moves – In: Dan Kennedy, Atiba Harris
Out: Jair Benitez, George John
Outlook- Dallas will focus on youth up front to make them contenders again, spearheaded by Colombian winger Fabian Castillo. Tab them as a possible contender for a final playoff spot.

Houston Dynamo
Manager– Owen Coyle
Last season- 8th place (moved from Eastern Conference)
Offseason moves- In: Erick “Cubo” Torres
Out: Andrew Driver, Omar Cummings
Outlook– This team is unlikely to make major strides defensively. And that’s why it’s hard to predict any tangible improvement.

LA Galaxy
Manager- Bruce Arena
Last season- MLS Cup champions
Offseason moves- In: Steven Gerrard (joining in July)
Out: Landon Donovan
Outlook- Considered favorites to continue their dominance in the Western Conference once again, Steven Gerrard will quickly assert his midfield magic and help distribute the ball.

Portland Timbers
Manager- Caleb Porter
Last season– 6th place
Offseason moves- In: Nat Borchers, Adam Larsen Kwarasey
Out: Donovan Ricketts, Michael Harrington
Outlook- The Timbers missed out on the playoffs by just a point in 2014, but expect this squad to make the playoffs this year..

Real Salt Lake
Manager– Jeff Cassar
Last season- 3rd place, MLS Cup Conference semi-finals
Offseason moves- In: Jamison Olave
Out: Nat Borchers, Ned Grabavoy
Outlook- With a roster shakeup during the winter, RSL still has several veteran players remaining in key positions. Look for the team to compete in the postseason once again in 2015.

San Jose Earthquakes
Manager- Dominic Kinnear
Last season– 9th place
Offseason moves- In: Innocent Emeghara, new stadium
Out: John Busch, Sam Cronin
Outlook– Quake fans will be treated to a beautiful new stadium, but it is highly unlikely they will be watching any games there beyond October in 2015.

Seattle Sounders FC
Manager- Sigi Schmid
Last season– 1st place, MLS Western Conference Championship runners-up
Offseason moves- In: Tyrone Mears, Troy Perkins
Marcus Hahnemann, DeAndre Yedlin
Outlook– Their back line features all players over the age of 30, but their experience and leadership will propel this team well into the postseason.

Sporting Kansas City
Manager– Peter Vermes
Last season– 5th place, MLS Cup Knockout Round (in Eastern Conference in 2014)
Offseason moves- In: Roger Espinoza, Soni Mustivar
Out: Aurelien Collin
Outlook– Sporting KC made several moves defensively in the offseason that should address their 2014 issues and return them to the playoffs and beyond in 2015.

Vancouver Whitecaps
Manager– Carl Robinson
Last season– 5th place, MLS Cup Knockout Round
Offseason moves- In: Octavio Rivero
Out: Andy O’Brien
Outlook- One of the youngest teams in MLS, the Caps have improved upfront, and it projects that this team will qualify for the MLS postseason in 2015.