It’s time to pass out some midseason grades.
You should note that we’re grading relative to expectations here. When I would get B’s and C’s in school, I always had this thought in my mind that I was being graded harder than other students just because the teacher thought I could do better. What I didn’t realize at the time is that philosophy cuts both ways. Maybe I was the Houston Dynamo of my class. “Oh wow Sam, only 50% of these words are spelled wrong, here’s your C you beautiful idiot.”
Anyways, that’s the principle we’re operating under in this case. You don’t get rewarded for being better than others, you get rewarded for being the best version of yourself. We’re also going in reverse alphabetical order because it’s fun.
On to the Eastern Conference. Click here to check out the West.
Maybe this grade is more on me, but I sure thought that TFC would show a little life before Lorenzo Insigne showed up. I knew it wouldn’t be perfect: this team was bad last year and Insigne wouldn’t be here until the summer. But, man, I thought they’d at least start to take hold of Bob Bradley’s tactics and get some results.
That’s all been made impossible by their defensive performances. They’ve had the worst defense in the league this season and a large part of that comes down to the fact that DP center back Carlos Salcedo has been horrendous. Like, one of the biggest DP busts in a while. All the solidity I expected to see because of him has been entirely mitigated by his presence and the absurd number of teenagers the Reds have been forced to play.
Insigne is here now, though, and looks like Alejandro Pozuelo is on his way out. That will apparently clear up room for Juventus’ Federico Bernardeschi to join the team, which doesn’t really fix the whole “worst defense in the league” thing, but should make them a force in attack. This grade could rapidly improve by the end of the year.
If I had told you at the midpoint of the year the Union would be exactly what they are right now, you would have said, “Yeah. Duh. It’s the Union.”
So that’s where we’re at with this. You can look deeper into it if you want but no one wants to hear your take on their forwards anymore. We do this every year. They’re going to be in a home playoff spot with a chance to win MLS Cup when it comes down to it. They’ll probably discover a few talented soccer children that end up making a major impact on the team at some point here soon. It’s all pretty predictable.
ORLANDO CITY SC
Before the year began, it seemed like the Lions were going to need some time to integrate Ercan Kara and Facundo Torres into the team. They’ve somehow outrun that assumption for the first part of the year – at least in the standings.
Orlando are currently sixth in the East despite a -5 goal differential and a not so flattering set of underlying numbers. But if we start with the assumption that they were going to need a little time, starting off strong despite that need is a pretty good sign. Kara and Torres’ recent performances are especially encouraging and there’s a chance Orlando City take a big step forward over the second half of the season and start to earn results rather than utilizing a little luck to get them.
Or ya know, it could all come crashing down quickly. That’s definitely still in play here too. Losing Antonio Carlos to injury keeps that in play all year.
The underlying numbers love them! They likely would have won the CCL if they had made it past Seattle! They’ve been first in the East despite that CCL run! Taty Castellanos is still here! And yet…
I don’t know exactly why, but things are weird right now. They’re prone to strange moments of passive defense and just generally seem at a loss when it comes to finishing off games right now. Since they lost Ronny Deila they’re 0-2-3. It all just feels off.
I imagine they’re going to recover and be just fine. But their chances of running away with the East are evaporating quickly. I guess they’ll just have to settle for probably winning the East anyway and getting a home playoff spot. But they likely won’t run away with it! And that’s almost disappointing.
NEW YORK RED BULLS
The Red Bulls are as Red Bulls as they’ve ever dared to Red Bulls and things are extremely and effectively Red Bulls right now.
New York is atop the East thanks to a stellar press and standout performances from two offseason signings, Lewis Morgan and Luquinhas. The re-addition of a healthy Aaron Long plays a big part in that too. Basically, everything they could have hoped would happen has happened. Except for, ya know, Patryk Klimala becoming an elite striker. But hey, they haven’t even needed that.
Plus their fans are super into posting whatever this is now.
I don’t understand it and frankly I’m unsettled by it. It also seems fun.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
The Revolution have packed more seasons into this season than any other team so far, I think.
They started by totally blowing it in the CCL after tailoring their roster in the offseason to try and make a run at the title. Then they felt the effects of that run by looking miserable for a few weeks. Then they recovered thanks to Adam Buksa going on an absolute tear which actually turned out to be too good of a tear because European clubs came calling and Buksa left. Now they’ve brought in Djordje Petrovic in goal and Dylan Borrero on the wing where both have looked excellent. And DP striker Giacomo Vrioni will join the team soon. It’s an entirely different group.
Oh, and somewhere along the way, Matt Turner maybe or maybe didn’t get frostbite and missed large chunks of the year before moving to Arsenal.
It’s…a lot. But despite all of it, the Revs are sitting in an excellent spot to make their way to the playoffs in the second half. Unfortunately, there’s still the whole “totally blowing it in CCL” thing. That’s gonna take you down a letter grade. It just is.
Miami looked fated for a Wooden Spoon at the start of the season. But, catching a break and putting Leo Campana into the starting lineup early in the year has defined a season that’s going far better than anyone could have asked for. It’s not perfect, but Campana is a star and Inter Miami aren’t far off playoff pace despite Campana being the only attacker producing anything. Now, it seems like Pozuelo is on the way and the Herons may just be on their way towards a shocking playoff appearance.
The fact we’re even considering the playoffs as a possibility is enough for a B.
LOOK WHO’S NOT IN LAST.
THIS IS THE KID WHO ATE GLUE THROUGH THIRD GRADE COMING INTO FOURTH GRADE WITH A THOROUGH AND INSIGHTFUL BOOK REPORT ON A JAMES JOYCE NOVEL PREPARED JUST IN CASE. WHICH JAMES JOYCE NOVEL? WELL, THEY DON’T WANT TO RUIN THE SURPRISE, BUT, IT’S ALL OF THEM. ALL OF THE JAMES JOYCE NOVELS.
CONGRATS TO NOT IN LAST PLACE FC CINCINNATI. A+.
They would be a D- without Taxi Fountas. But Fountas exists and is averaging 1.27 goals plus assists per 90 minutes and thus my hands are tied. He’s had the most explosive debut in MLS history and if D.C. United can build on it in any way, they may just be able to turn this around.
The season hasn’t gone well so far and they discarded Hernan Losada just a few games into the year, but Fountas is a star. They also just signed winger Martin Rodriguez on a TAM deal and they have a DP spot open after sending Edison Flores to Atlas. They have a chance to become an attacking force here by the end of the season.
I mean, that still probably won’t be enough to make the playoffs. But it would be way more fun than whatever the first part of the year has been.
Speaking of desperately trying to be more fun, the Crew are finally about to welcome Cucho Hernandez. Their most expensive DP signing ever better be the real deal, because the Crew desperately need a spark. Their attack has been one of the most sluggish and aesthetically bleak offenses in the league, but this grade could change very quickly if Hernandez alters their offense for the (much) better.
For now, however, they’ve underperformed.
CHICAGO FIRE FC
For a second it looked like Chicago had shockingly turned into a defensive juggernaut. But that idea quickly fell by the wayside and now they look less like the 86 Bears and more like the Pretty Much Every Year For The Last Decade Chicago Fire. It’s a bummer. That being said, I remain weirdly optimistic that this team can drag themselves out of the cellar. Their underlying numbers are actually decent and Chris Mueller and Jairo Torres may just change their attack into something worthwhile.
For now though, they’re at the bottom of the standings and it feels like just another year in Chicago. One day I’m not going to learn to stop tricking myself into believing they’ll turn it around.
The front office and managerial situation is…unique. But the on-field product is decent bordering on good and the fanbase is for real. That’s all you can ask for in an expansion year. And it seems like they still have room to build on a solid defensive identity (they’re the second best expansion team by expected goals allowed per game since 2017) and some intriguing pieces like Karol Swiderski and Andre Shinyashiki that might eventually lead to an attack worth worrying about.
If it weren’t for all the turmoil behind the scenes, Charlotte would have earned an easy A.
They went further in CCL than anyone expected and now they’re going higher up the Eastern Conference standings than anyone expected. It’s been a phenomenal year for Montreal, even with a couple of nagging injuries. Djordje Mihailovic in particular looked like a lock for MVP votes before going down a few weeks ago.
Even still, Montreal have persisted and have maybe even rediscovered how good a healthy Mason Toye can be. If that’s the case, their attacking depth is clearly among the best in the league. It’s a fun team with an excellent coach that’s outperformed any reasonable expectation. They’ve earned the highest grade possible.
I had no idea what to do here. How much do you punish a team for underperforming when nearly every single critical player has had a critical injury? The lack of consistently available personnel is one of those things that aggravates Atlanta United’s worst traits as a team and has led to some horrifically familiar performances where the team doesn’t make off ball runs and/or falters at pivotal moments defensively.
Some of that is the injuries. Some of that is the DNA of a team that just doesn’t know how to win anymore.
It’s been three years since they’ve been an effective team and this cursed as heck year hasn’t made the road back to relevance an easy one to follow. It’s as frustrating a year as they come, but it’s still tough to give this team the benefit of the doubt. There have been flashes of impressive play at times, but until they find a way to start consistently putting quality performances together across the board – either by a change of personnel or tactics – they’re going to stay average at best.