Skip to content

MLS Eastern Conference: A Messi revenge game, NYCFC right the ship & more on each team

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

14 min read
Inter Miami

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 East. Jim Curti's got jokes. Let’s chat about the latest for each Eastern Conference squad, shall we?

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

MLS Western Conference: Phil Neville’s new approach, Rapids’ high press & more on each team
We’re dissecting every MLS team in the Western Conference.

Atlanta United

Result: 2-2 draw vs. Philadelphia Union

I was going to talk about Atlanta’s injuries.

Then they went up 2-0 against Philadelphia, thanks to goals from Daniel Ríos (his first in his second stint back in MLS) and Caleb Wiley. Then they conceded two in four minutes to draw 2-2. Maybe we should talk about injuries again? But seriously, the takeaway here is that soccer is a fickle game and we should try our best not to overreact to small sample sizes… 

Look, this team is both very talented and very deep. Even with four starters and their backup No. 9 missing, they outplayed a very good Union team and probably deserved all three points. That’s a real positive. But in a league like MLS where the margins are tight, it’s really hard to win when you don’t have your top players. It’s really hard to win when you take your foot off the gas for five minutes. And it’s almost impossible to win when you do both.

FC Cincinnati

Result: 2-1 loss at CF Montreal

It’s now been three games without a win for Cincinnati, who are coming back to earth a bit after last season’s Supporters’ Shield heroics. Don’t get me wrong – they’re still one of the top teams in the East, but they seem to have lost a little bit of that killer edge and ability to punish teams for the smallest mistakes that gave them a marginal advantage in so many close games in 2023.

A big part of that is Aaron Boupendza. I really don’t think he’s lived up to the billing so far. He gets into decent spaces and scores the odd banger, but he hasn’t been the top-tier No. 9 Cincy have needed to take a step forward, much less the one to replace Brandon Vazquez. He’s scored seven MLS goals since his debut last summer, tied for 15th among MLS strikers in that time. This was always going to be Lucho Acosta’s team, but they need more from Boupendza to fend off the rest of the conference.

On the plus side, Yuya Kubo started as a striker again and scored again. The dude can do it all. If only he could replace Roman Celentano in goal.

Charlotte FC

Result: 3-2 win vs. Toronto FC

Saturday’s 3-2 win felt like Charlotte FC in a nutshell. Plenty of energy, plenty of aggressive wing play, plenty of defensive frailty, and plenty of entertainment.

Liel Abada opened his MLS account, jumping on a loose pass just outside Toronto’s box and driving a daisy cutter off the post and in. 

The winner, though, came from one of my favorite players so far in 2024, Patrick Agyemang. I’ve talked before about his fantastic movement and workrate, and how he just needs to add more consistent finishing. He did that on Saturday, capping off a smart near-post run with a nifty finish to the back post. He’s gonna be good, folks. 

Chicago Fire

Result: 0-0 draw vs New York Red Bulls

Chicago had a fantastic opportunity to get a rare win on the road when Red Bulls’ center back Andres Reyes was sent off just before halftime. They had been under constant pressure from the Red Bulls all throughout the first half, but with a man advantage, surely they’d make New York pay… right?

Wrong! Chicago could do nothing against an even more compact New York defense, putting just two shots on target in the second half despite controlling 77% possession.

Getting Chris Mueller’s verticality onto the field should be a way to open up space centrally for Xherdan Shaqiri and Hugo Cuypers through the middle, but it was an ineffective approach once Red Bulls went down to 10, as they dropped their lines and ceded possession in favor of the counter attack. Chicago were noticeably the second-best team throughout the match. The lack of creativity and quality from the No. 10 spot is glaring.

Columbus Crew

Result: 0-0 draw at Real Salt Lake

Holy rotation, Batman!

Wilfried Nancy made wholesale changes to the team that beat Tigres in penalty kicks during midweek CCC action. Rudy Camacho was the sole holdover, while Aidan Morris (suspended on Tuesday), Alex Matan, and Malte Amundsen were the only other regular starters in the XI.

RSL went at the Crew from the opening whistle, forcing turnovers, getting in behind, and putting them under a ton of pressure. Columbus somehow survived, getting help from the woodwork a couple times and surviving an injury to goalkeeper Evan Bush to somehow keep RSL off the scoresheet. They also managed to pull off a couple fun sequences like this:

A point on the road with an ultra-rotated team is never a bad result.

One final note: it was great to see highly rated midfield prospect Taha Habroune make his MLS debut, becoming the second-youngest player to ever start a regular season match for the Crew at just 18. 

This post is for paid subscribers


Already have an account? Log in