Nashville SC

Why every team is hopeful (or worried) at the season's halfway point | MLSSoccer.com


We’re halfway through the season. That means your team still has half a season to look forward to… or worry about.

Here’s why each club should be feeling optimistic and maybe not so optimistic about the rest of 2024.

Hope springs eternal because…

It can’t get any worse, right? The Five Stripes have underperformed their underlying numbers by a comical amount and haven’t caught any breaks with injuries. Things should get better even if no one touches anything.

Even still, big changes are coming. Atlanta fans have a new manager and (likely) DP No. 9 to look forward to. And that’s at the very least. There’s every reason to trust club president and CEO Garth Lagerwey will get those moves right.

This year is a total bummer almost no matter what happens. Atlanta couldn’t find a groove at the start of the year, their confidence faltered, their luck somehow got worse and now they aren’t going to come anywhere close to living up to preseason expectations.

Hope springs eternal because…

Rodolfo Borrell finally has the stove hot enough to start cooking. He’s already jettisoned Emiliano Rigoni in favor of new DP winger Osman Bukari and he likely won’t stop there. The roster still needs some reshaping and there’s reason to believe Borrell can get this right.

Same as it ever was. Austin can’t outrun their underlying numbers into infinity. Per American Soccer Analysis, only two teams have a lower expected points-per-game rate. In most years, they’d be a Wooden Spoon contender. Borrell has serious work to do and we don’t have proof of concept for his ability to build a quality MLS team.

Hope springs eternal because…

Teams all over the league wish they were in Charlotte’s position. Dean Smith has this team playing elite defense and Charlotte can add two attacking DPs in the upcoming window. If they get those right – they’re willing to spend at the kind of level that makes those signings hard to get wrong – the comparison will be Gary Smith’s Nashville but with multiple attacking options. The floor for that kind of side is about as high as it gets.

What if they miss on those DPs? This is the same club that brought in Kamil Jozwiak and Enzo Copetti. Having money to spend helps, but it doesn’t guarantee anything. If they don’t get those moves right, they’re just Nashville without Hany Mukhtar.

Hope springs eternal because…

Maybe Chicago find a way to move on from and replace Xherdan Shaqiri this summer? They’ve definitely been better in the last three games with Brian Gutiérrez bearing the creative burden. Five points from three games isn’t nothing!

They’ve made the playoffs twice since 2010. This team is well-acquainted with struggle.

Hope springs eternal because…

Cincy can’t miss. They lost multiple key players last offseason and have shrugged it off like it’s nothing. They’re a Supporters’ Shield contender for the second straight year and it’s highly likely they’ll move on from Aaron Boupendza this summer window and bring in a new DP No. 9. If that guy is a fit, there aren’t many teams that will be able to slow this group down.

Maybe they don’t get that move right? Maybe they can’t keep winning every one-goal game they get in forever? I don’t know; it feels like we’re reaching here.

Hope springs eternal because…

Year one of Colorado’s revamp is going about as well as anyone could have hoped. They’re only eighth in the West right now, but they’re not trailing too far behind the others in the middle of the conference. After last year’s last-place finish, that’s considerable progress. Even Kévin Cabral has meaningful contributions.

It’s unclear how they’ll sort out what’s happening at goalkeeper. Per FBref, Zack Steffen has been the worst shot-stopper in MLS by a considerable distance. They’ve given up 31 goals on 22.2 post-shot xG faced. Basically, their current goal differential of -2 would be +7 with average goalkeeping.

Hope springs eternal because…

Wilfried Nancy is still here. Cucho is still here. Darlington Nagbe is still here. You don’t need much more than that to be successful in MLS.

It has, uh, gotten kind of weird since the Concacaf Champions Cup final. President and GM Tim Bezbatchenko is gone, leading to Issa Tall’s promotion. Aidan Morris is (reportedly) gone. Assistant GM Corey Wray is unexpectedly gone. Just imagine if someone swoops in for Nancy. This already feels like a drastically different club and it’s almost certain that more changes will be on the way eventually.

Hope springs eternal because…

A new manager means a brand new day, right? And DP forward Petar Musa seems like the genuine product.

There’s a ton of work to do. They aren’t getting Paxton Pomykal back until 2025 and guys like Alan Velasco and Geovane Jesus remain out injured. Maybe it’s time for a reset?

Hope springs eternal because…

The underlying numbers are so good. They’re second in the league in expected points. If they were even just having average luck/finishing, they would be on 1.73 points per game instead of 1.12. Eventually, this has to regress to the mean. Even if it’s just a little.

The bottom line is that averaging the league’s second-best expected points-pe- game mark in the first half of your new head coach’s first season is an excellent sign.

All that being said, what if D.C. missed their window? They blew one too many leads at the start of the year and there’s no guarantee they’ll keep playing at a high level. There are still holes in this roster and they’ll be playing catch up the rest of the season. They can still be a playoff team, but the ceiling they could have reached has already disappeared.

Hope springs eternal because…

The general bones of last year’s team that made the Western Conference Final are still there. They’re solid defensively and through midfield. They just need some help in attack. Like, a lot of help. A new DP attacker or two is possible though.

There are no guarantees that attacking help is coming. And there are no guarantees that whoever does arrive will be any good. Houston may be stuck trying to win as many 1-0 games as possible for a while.

Hope springs eternal because…

The underlying numbers are the best in the league and the eye test is getting better week over week. They aren’t just relying solely on transition moments and magic from Denis Bouanga. They’re playing excellent ball and they’re set to add multiple pieces this summer. They could easily finish first in the West, easily win the Supporters’ Shield and easily grab another trophy or two along the way.

It’s hard to see how this could go south at this point, but the pathway to a disappointing ending probably starts and ends with Olivier Giroud failing to produce at the level they’re hoping for. If he’s not scoring and becomes a net negative defensively, things could be derailed a bit.

Hope springs eternal because…

Few attacks can go punch-for-punch with this team. Riqui Puig is as good a pure No. 10 as we’ve seen in MLS and the rest of their front four is excellent. Oh, and don’t overlook the excellent work Gastón Brugman does in midfield. A home playoff spot is almost definitely on the way.

They are not good defensively and they’re ultra-reliant on Puig. As of now, this is a good team that doesn’t seem solid enough across the board to truly be considered a contender. With how good the attack has been, that feels like a disappointment.

Hope springs eternal because…

There are real problems defensively. The six goals they allowed in two home games the week before the June international break felt like the seams coming undone for a team that’s been incredibly lucky relative to their underlying numbers this season.

That overperformance has come in large part from Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez being superhumans. Both will be absent for multiple games during Copa América. Their Supporters’ Shield chances could evaporate quickly. After that, it would be down to Leagues Cup and MLS Cup for them to win a trophy this season.

Hope springs eternal because…

Emanuel Reynoso is gone for good and the Loons have been better than ever without him. Tani Oluwaseyi is becoming a star, Robin Lod has been an All-Star-caliber creator and every non-Reynoso thing that could have gone right has gone right this year. Now he’s gone, they can go out and add another DP.

What if Oluwaseyi and Lod take a step back? Despite great underlying numbers, Oluwaseyi should at least come back to Earth a little bit just because he’s a young player in his first full season. Lod has had a lot of luck when it comes to assists. A new DP may dull the pain of a step back a bit, but there’s a chance the Loons have a tough time maintaining this level of performance.

Hope springs eternal because…

It's still year one under a new coach. And they should be getting key attacking pieces like Mahala Opoku and Matías Cóccaro back soon. There’s a lot of room to grow.

Former sporting director Olivier Renard is gone and there’s work to do before this roster can compete at a high level again. Getting healthy will solve some of that, but it won’t solve all of that. A playoff appearance this year is unlikely. From there… well, without Renard around, who knows?

Hope springs eternal because…

A new manager and more expansive soccer could be on the way. Maybe that will also lead to a roster-building approach that’s a bit more interesting as well.

It’s been a rough year. And the future isn’t going to feel all that bright if Hany Mukhtar keeps trending the way he’s trending. After three straight MVP-caliber seasons, he’s finally slowed down a little. It’s impressive he went full speed for this long after carrying this attack on his back. Maybe a new manager can revitalize Mukhtar and this attack as a whole.

Hope springs eternal because…

Two straight wins! They’re only six points out of a playoff spot with a game in hand!

Even with those two straight wins, the Revs are on pace to have the worst underlying numbers since 2013 Chivas USA. It might get a little better. “A lot better” feels off the table.

Hope springs eternal because…

The talent is finally translating into an effective attack. It took a while for Nick Cushing and company to find their footing, but this particular concoction of young attackers has turned New York City FC into one of the most dynamic sides in the league. They’re eighth in the league in xG created per game. That’s all you really need when you have a midfield pairing of James Sands and Keaton Parks, and Matt Freese putting up outstanding numbers in goal.

They’re still the youngest team in the league and young players have a tougher time maintaining consistency. There will eventually be a lull for this group. How are they going to handle it?

Hope springs eternal because…

This is the best Red Bulls side since 2018. Emil Forsberg has been everything they could have asked for, Lewis Morgan looks like he hasn’t missed a beat and the rest of the team is doing typically hard-nosed Red Bulls-y things with an added ability to play with the ball at their feet as needed. They have some different clubs in the bag for the first time in a long while and they have space to add a DP this upcoming transfer window.

Probably for the normal Red Bulls reasons.

Hope springs eternal because…

Uhhhhhhhh… man, I don’t know. They got it together last year in the second half. Maybe they can do it again? Maybe they make some major moves this summer?

Nothing is clicking in attack, Pedro Gallese has taken a nosedive in goal, Luis Muriel hasn’t lived up to his price tag, the underlying numbers aren’t good, et cetera. It’s a long list.

Hope springs eternal because…

This is still the same group we’ve seen put together excellent season after excellent season. It’s impossible to count them out. And their underlying numbers continue to be very good.

It feels like nearly everyone has regressed and now it seems like Julián Carranza could be on his way out. They may not blow it all up this summer, but this could be the start of a new era for Philadelphia. That’s going to involve some growing pains.

Hope springs eternal because…

It’s year one under a new manager, Evander has taken a leap forward and they’re set to bring in another DP. It hasn’t been great, but it has been totally fine in Phil Neville’s first season.

They aren’t all that bad, but they aren’t all that good either. They need more time and a few more upgrades to start truly competing again in the West.

Hope springs eternal because…

This could not be going any better. They’re on top of the West, Chicho Arango has gone turbo-nuclear and the underlying numbers are outstanding too. Emeka Eneli is a rising star and Andrés Gómez may already be one. It’s pretty much impossible to find anything to complain about.

Oh, wait! They could add a DP this summer. There’s room to make this team even better.

This is it RSL fans. This is the year. The odds that it gets better than this in 2025 or anytime soon just aren’t that high in MLS. Players cool off, players get pulled to other teams, changes are made and things are just different. Enjoy it while you can.

Hope springs eternal because…

They’re relatively decent in attack. DP No. 10 Hernán López is a nice addition and they’ve been nearly as unlucky as D.C. and Atlanta when it comes to their underlying numbers this year.

Even if they do trend back toward the mean here, they still have an uphill climb towards being a good team. Getting better doesn’t mean getting good. Things are complicated even further by their near league-worst goalkeeping so far. They probably aren’t a Wooden Spoon-caliber team, but they’re not a playoff team either.

Hope springs eternal because…

One of these days, Pedro de la Vega is going to be healthy.

Beyond that… well, maybe we’ve reached the point where everyone is comfortable hitting the reset button on this group. They need change beyond de la Vega and this uncomfortably disappointing season might be enough to force some movement.

Even if they were matching their expected points-per-game rate, they’d be averaging just 1.38 points per game. That would put them sixth or seventh in the West. We’re a long, long way from this team being picked as a near-unanimous first-place finisher in preseason.

Hope springs eternal because…

It’s honestly the same as Seattle. This year has been disappointing enough to encourage big changes. They can get to work on refreshing this roster soon.

They won’t be able to fix everything immediately. The red-hot run to a playoff spot probably isn’t coming. This year already feels like a wash.

Hope springs eternal because…

Eduard Löwen is back in the lineup and he improves St. Louis in every phase of the game. Maybe he can turn some of the many (many) draws they’ve been earning into wins.

There’s not a ton of flexibility at the top of the roster and they’ll have to do some work to find more value in the middle. Their penance for last year’s incredible run might be a middling second season.

Hope springs eternal because…

Practically everyone had this team finishing at the bottom of the East. Things in John Herdman’s first year have gone far better than expected. Their DPs seem invested and they’ve found the kind of defensive solidity that’s been absent for years. If they can get Federico Bernardeschi, Lorenzo Insigne and Richie Laryea healthy and on the field at the same time, another step forward is on the table.

It feels like they’re already pushing up against their ceiling. Unless some key pieces arrive this summer, they still have work to do on this roster before it’s a contender. Can you really complain about that after last season though?

Hope springs eternal because…

This is pretty much the same exact "good but not great" team they’ve been for a while now. It’s not getting worse. But it’s not getting better either. Life in purgatory can be tough.

@J_SamJones

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