Before every season, we think we know what to expect from each team. Then the games start and we remember it's MLS, so most everything we thought was wrong. After all, this is the most unpredictable league around. But now we're a two months into the season and we get to look back at what we thought teams would look like, and how they've actually been.
Here is a look at which teams are better, worse or exactly the same as they looked before the season started:
Mark J. RebilasMark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta United: Same
This is a complicated one. Expectations are typically low for expansion teams, yet Atlanta looked very strong on paper thanks to big spending and signing players like Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez. Atlanta United have indeed looked good — but they’ve looked good for an expansion team, which is an important qualifier. From that angle, this season has gone as well as could've reasonably been expected so far.
Chicago Fire: Better
Chicago may have had the best offseason in the league. They desperately needed help in their central midfield, which they got with Juninho and Dax McCarty, to the point that the midseason signing of Bastian Schweinsteiger didn’t seem necessary. They added firepower in Nemanja Nikolic to take the pressure of David Accam, and they strengthened their back line too. But Chicago just looked so bad the previous two seasons that it was a question of if it could all come together. It has and it looks like Chicago are becoming more cohesive as they play together more.
Columbus Crew: Same
The Crew spent their offseason focusing on adding depth. Gregg Berhalter kept mostly the same core, but boosted their ranks with players like Abuchi Obinwa and Artur, plus some young homegrown and draft prospects. Crew SC isn’t a team of superstars, and they don’t look like one, but they are a team of solid depth and MLS experience, which is how they have managed to be a decent, but not spectacular team so far.
This depends on whether you believed that the Rapids' success last year was a total fluke or repeatable. But going by the standings, the Rapids have fared much worse this season with a roster that stuck to the existing core they had from last year. The Rapids still have trouble scoring goals, but now they aren’t grinding out defensive results either. It looks like they are due for a transition to more attacking with some midseason trades, but that probably wouldn’t be underway now if the Rapids were off to the same red-hot start they had last year.
D.C. United: Worse
There wasn’t a ton of roster turnover this season and considering D.C. finished last year on a hot streak, there was reason for optimism in 2017. That was especially true in the attack, but instead, they've struggled to score. Heading into last weekend, D.C. had scored only six goals in 7 games, which was the worst goals-for number in their conference. Patrick Mullins, who had been so key in their stretch to the playoffs last season, has been quiet or injured and Luciano Acosta has needed time to get going too. They may be ready to turn a corner after a 3-1 win over Atlanta United, but so far, they've fallen short of expectations to keep their momentum going.
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FC Dallas: Better
Oscar Pareja & Co. were excellent last year, and they again look like one of the best teams this year. So why are they better and not the same as expected? Because Mauro Diaz went down with a season-ending injury at the tail end of the regular season, and FCD fell apart in the playoffs without him. The lingering worry was that starting the season without him would make it tough for Dallas. But Kellyn Acosta is having his best season maybe ever and FCD are playing well enough as a group to overcome any worries.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY SportsMatthew Emmons
Houston Dynamo: Better
No one could’ve predicted the season that Erick “Cubo” Torres is enjoying, and his goal-scoring has been a big part of the Dynamo’s success. The Dynamo attempted to offload Torres to Cruz Azul in the offseason but the Liga MX club didn’t want him, and suddenly he is the star of the Dynamo team. He’s been helped by the offseason additions of Romell Quioto and Alberth Ellis, and the attacking trio has been hard for defenses to contain.
Thomas SheaThomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
LA Galaxy: Worse
Everyone knew this was a transition year for the Galaxy, but if the front office in LA knew it’d have gone this poorly, they probably wouldn’t have even attempted it. Joao Pedro and Jermaine Jones have not been the signings they wanted individually, and they are so mismatched in the midfield they seem to make each other worse. The team has been built around the idea of Giovani Dos Santos spearheading the attack, and the Designated Player has yet to score except from a penalty kick. Very little has been going right and they're languishing near the bottom of the table.
Gary A. VasquezGary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota United: Same
Very few people were expecting much from the Loons, and the Loons have delivered very little — at least defensively. The attack looked fine on paper and it’s performed fine as Minnesota were shut out for the first time only last weekend. But the defense started hemorrhaging goals immediately and they now have conceded a whopping 25 goals in nine games. Their roster lacked not just any star power, but also much MLS experience, and it came back to bite them, just as expected.
Brad RempelBrad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Montreal Impact: Worse
The Impact made a deep run through the playoffs last year, and the core that made them so good was mostly set to return this year. Their trio of Ignacio Piatti, Matteo Mancosu and Dominic Oduro were the battering ram that punished teams and scored goals on the counter, and Marco Donadel, Patrice Bernier and Hernan Bernardello held down the central midfield to make it happen. But their back line has failed them too many times this season by giving up soft goals and it looks like they need reinforcements in a position that functioned fine for this last year.
New England Revolution: Worse
For all the firepower and quality the New England Revolution have, they still don’t look like a top tier team. Juan Agudelo, Lee Nguyen and Kei Kamara is a fearsome trio of goal-scorers but the Revs have looked too inconsistent. The defense is solid enough, but has been sloppy plenty of times. The team doesn’t have a ton of depth, but it does have quality at every position and one can’t help but wonder if a different coach would be getting more out of Jay Heaps’ men.
Greg M. CooperGreg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
New York City FC: Same
The feeling around NYCFC has been that Patrick Vieira will know how to get good performances out of his players, and he’s mostly done that. With the core of the team returning again, it was only a question of whether what's worked right would continue -- could a player like David Villa continue to be the star of the attack and could players like the young Jack Harrison continue to step up. They have reinforced some positions, including in the central midfield, but they looked like they’d be a solid team again and they have been.
Adam HungerAdam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
New York Red Bulls: Worse
To be fair, the Red Bulls looked worse than they were supposed to be at the start of last season too and they finished strong, so this certainly doesn’t mean they won’t keep improving as the season goes on. But Sacha Kljestan, who led the league in assists last year, has been quiet and unable to set Bradley Wright-Phillips up for buckets of goals. The loss of Dax McCarty figured to be a problem, and it has been, but Jesse Marsch’s decision to try to force a 4-2-2-2 system to work earlier in the season may be as much to blame.
Adam HungerAdam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Orlando City: Better
Would anyone have predicted that the Lions would be the top team in the league 10 matches into the season? Probably not. The Lions did make some key moves to shore up their defense and central midfield, but it wasn’t a full rebuild or a star-studded offseason. Jason Kreis seems to just have players clicking in a way they weren’t before — Carlos Rivas, for instance, looks like a new player alongside Cyle Larin now.
Kim KlementKim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Philadelphia Union: Worse
Although last season was far from a roaring success, there were positive signs for the Union to build upon. Instead, it seems like their offseason roster moves haven’t worked as individual quality hasn’t been good enough and players aren’t working together well. Some of that falls on coach Jim Curtin, some on the rest of the front office, and some on the players. But being the last remaining winless team in MLS is not where the Union expected they’d be.
Bill StreicherBill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Portland Timbers: Same
Sure, the Timbers didn’t finish last season very strong, but they had one of the best offseasons in the league. They added crucial depth at every position, improved player quality by swapping out the likes of Lucas Melano for Sebastian Blanco, and they’ve built genuine competition at every position on their roster. Caleb Porter can be trusted to get results when he has the right pieces in place and it’s no surprise to see the Timbers dominating the West after their aggressive offseason. They looked good on paper and they look just as good on the pitch.
Real Salt Lake: Worse
It’s been a weird season for RSL. After just three weeks, they fired coach Jeff Cassar and Mike Petke took his place a couple weeks later. That makes it hard to even evaluate where RSL is at right now or where they are going. But there’s no way to view this season through a lens as anything but a disappointment, at least so far. There’s plenty of time for Petke to make his mark and get this younger RSL side clicking.
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San Jose Earthquakes: Same
The Earthquakes haven’t looked that good on a consistent basis, and that is exactly as it seemed like things would go. After a lackluster 2016, the Quakes didn’t seem to bring in enough depth or firepower in this offseason and they are paying for it now. Until their forwards do a better job at finishing, they will be stuck meeting the same low expectations their lackluster offseason set.
John HeftiJohn Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
Seattle Sounders: Same
It’s not easy being the reigning MLS Cup champions. There’s the whole “MLS Cup hangover” slow start to worry about. There’s always offseason shuffling, and indeed the Sounders saw some key pieces leave. But the core of their squad, including the players who were counted on the most, has remained and they still look like one of the best teams in MLS. Some players have seen their effectiveness go down, like Nicolas Lodeiro, while for others it’s gone up, like Clint Dempsey, but overall this is a team that knows how to play together and looks strong.
Jennifer BuchananJennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Spor
Sporting Kansas City: Better
Coming into this season, it was unclear who would be scoring goals beside Dom Dwyer. Oddly, Dwyer had a scoring drought to start the season and the rest of the team picked up the slack — barely, but just enough. There were also questions about defense and how smoothly Graham Zusi’s transition to right back would go. But Zusi has been solid and defense is where Sporting Kansas City have been winning games — they haven’t been scoring much, but they’ve been eking by with close score lines. Things could’ve easily gone in another direction, but they are exceeding expectations early on and are on top of the Western Conference.
Jaime ValdezJaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
Toronto FC: Same
Toronto FC have the most expensive roster in MLS and there wasn't much to improve in the offseason. It’s arguable that individual stars like Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco haven’t had the outsized impact they had in TFC’s run to the playoffs last year, but their on-and-off way of creating goals isn’t that much different than how they’ve performed in the past. Lately, Giovinco has looked more consistent and he continues to be a game-changer. The team looks pretty cohesive and able to pick up where they left off last year, and that’s what was expected.
Vancouver Whitecaps: Same
The Whitecaps had a bit of a roster rebuild where they brought in some key attacking pieces like Fredy Montero, Brek Shea and Tony Tchani. They were also derailed by injury last year and figured to start 2017 better off. They have been better, which seemed likely, but they haven’t been significantly better and don't quite look like a title contender.