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MLS Eastern Conference: Julian Carranza’s potential transfer, Chicago Fire’s tactical change & more on each team

We’re dissecting every MLS team in the Eastern Conference.

15 min read

Welcome back our two-part weekly MLS column here at Backheeled, where we break down all 29 teams in the league.

I’ve got the East. Joe Lowery's got the West. Miami have depth. Cincinnati have their eyes on the Supporters Shield. And New England have problems…lots of problems. 

To read up on the West, check out Joe’s rundown.

MLS Western Conference: Portland Timbers break a streak, underrated stars & more on each team
We’re dissecting every MLS team in the Western Conference.

Atlanta United

Result: 1-0 loss vs. LAFC

Was it a red card on Brad Guzan when he took down Mateusz Bogusz in the second half? Was it not? I’ll be honest: it doesn’t really matter. 

It was a clear foul, at least, and LAFC scored on the resulting free kick off a wild deflection that Guzan wouldn’t have stopped any better than Josh Cohen.

Really, Gonzalo Pineda and Atlanta United may end up looking back on this Guzan red as a blessing in disguise.

The 39-year-old has been solid this year, but was genuinely poor last season and has lost some of his explosiveness. Cohen’s brief spell in the UEFA Champions League has inflated his reputation among those who’ve never watched him — much like your grandpa’s fishing stories…was that bass really 12 pounds? Still, my money before the season was on Cohen being the better option for Atlanta in goal than Guzan. I still hold that opinion.

Outside of the silver lining I’ve constructed around this goalkeeping situation, the rest of this match was a rough for the Five Stripes. Without Thiago Almada and Giorgos Giakoumakis, they’re straight-up not a good team. That’s no surprise, really. Almost every team in MLS looks bad without their two best players. But will either of those two be around come the fall?

FC Cincinnati

Result: 4-3 win at Toronto FC

If you gave MLS a sobriety test on Saturday night near Lake Ontario, it would have failed. Miserably. Why? Because MLS was off its rocker DRUNK. Seven goals. No defending. Attacking chances dropping as frequently as One Republic dropped bangers in that one really good stretch they had from like 2007 to 2013.

I’ve got three big Cincinnati takeaways:

  1. Lucho Acosta is still the elite pure No. 10 in MLS. I can think of two players I’d consider building my attack around over him – Chicho Arrango and Lionel Messi. He’s so, so good every single week. 
  1. Luca Orellano may be a legit upgrade on Alvaro Barreal. I know that’s a hot take, and I’m not quite ready to fully commit, but I’m drifting that way. Orellano is on 0.33 xG + xA per 96 minutes, which leads all outside backs with at least 1,000 minutes played this year (per American Soccer Analysis). In his Cincinnati career, Barreal averaged 0.28, and his 2023 peak saw him hit 0.37. Orellano has come in and matched that production off the bat, and you have to think there’s still room for the 24-year-old to improve.
  1. Kevin Kelsy is awesome. No further #analysis needed. He has three goals in under 300 minutes. Brandon Vazquez had eight in 2,600 last year. Cincinnati have found their replacement. The way they consistently find answers in the transfer market should be studied.

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