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MLS midseason check-in: Why every team in the East should (and shouldn’t) be worried heading into the summer

We're calming nerves and creating panic, all at the same time.

12 min read

We’re halfwa—

You know what, rather than me writing some elaborate intro, just roll the Bon Jovi lyric in your head.

For some MLS teams, things couldn’t be going much better. For others, rage-quitting and going back to the start menu for the 2024 season has to sound pretty darn appealing right now. Still, even the worst teams have a bright light at the end of the tunnel. Okay fine, maybe the light isn’t quite bright. Will you give me “dim”? Great. Thanks. And even the best teams can be toppled by an injury or two, a disciplined low block, and a strong wind.

Today, we’re taking the temperature of all 15 teams in the East. We’re pointing out one reason why each one should (and shouldn’t) be worried as we approach the dog days of summer. Tomorrow, we’ll tackle the West.


Atlanta United

Why you should worry: Your summer to-do list is really, really long

I didn’t expect “figure out what on earth you’re going to do with Thiago Almada” to be, like, the third item on Atlanta’s to-do list this summer, but here we are. With Gonzalo Pineda gone and Giorgos Giakoumakis reportedly on his way to Cruz Azul, Garth Lagerwey and co. have a coach to hire and a starting striker to replace before they even get to Almada.

There are too many moving pieces for Atlanta to push for a home playoff series, which should be the benchmark for this team.

Why you shouldn’t: You have committed ownership and a smart chief executive

Sure, there are moving pieces on moving pieces. But you know what? You can bet on Arthur Blank being willing to open the checkbook to get Lagerwey whatever he needs during the secondary transfer window, which opens in just about a month. And you can bet on Lagerwey to make the right move at a higher rate than just about anybody else in this league. There’s no owner/executive combo in MLS that I trust more than Blank and Lagerwey.

Charlotte FC

Why you should worry: You can’t win if you don’t score

Allow me to run you through a list of totally random soccer teams: Austin FC, Sporting Kansas City, FC Dallas, Charlotte FC, the New England Revolution, and the Chicago Fire. Alright, I lied. That wasn’t a random list. No, that’s the bottom of the non-penalty xG rankings in MLS this season. Dean Smith’s team ranks 26th in the league in npxG per 90, according to FBref. 

You are who you hang out with, and Charlotte FC aren’t hanging out with the right crowd.

Why you shouldn’t: You cleared all that room for this very moment

Kamil Jozwiak? Gone. Enzo Copetti? Gone. Karol Swiderski? Unlikely to return to Charlotte once his loan with Hellas Verona expires at the end of this month. 

“The summer transfer window is the best opportunity for acquiring top talent, and this move provides us a tremendous amount of flexibility as we look to strengthen our squad,” general manager Zoran Krneta said when Copetti’s move to Argentina was announced last month.

Smith has helped guide a necessary rebuild in Charlotte. Fans will hope he can help the front office nail a big signing or two this summer.

Chicago Fire

Why you should worry: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”

I’m going to let November, 2023 me take over the start of this section:

On Tuesday, the Fire announced their decision to sign sporting director Georg Heitz to a contract extension. They also extended technical director Sebastian Pelzer’s deal. 2024 will be the fifth season in Chicago for both of those folks. Just for fun, let’s take a quick look at how the Fire have performed with Heitz running the show:

  • 2020: 11th in the East
  • 2021: 12th in the East
  • 2022: 12th in the East
  • 2023: 13th in the East

The Chicago Fire are 14th in the East right now. Who. Could. Have. Seen. This. Coming.

Why you shouldn’t: Xherdan Shaqiri’s goodbye party is already in the works

Xherdan Shaqiri, one of the biggest flops ushered in by the current front office, appears to be close to an exit. He left Chicago early to join up with Switzerland ahead of the Euros and without him, the Fire picked up points in three-straight games for the first time all season. 

Success isn’t quite as simple as “ditch your underperforming playmaker and results will follow”. But Shaq’s likely departure opens the door for a summer reinforcement to at least inch the ball closer to the end zone.

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