Most improved? 3 MLS teams who have upgraded in 2022

Quick Hit
  • As the regular season winds down in MLS, we’re looking at three teams who have truly improved from 2021 to 2022
Want more American soccer? We have you covered.

This is an excerpt from Monday’s Weekend Recap. Subscribe to our free newsletter to get future editions of the Weekend Recap delivered right to your inbox.

People say that the holidays are the most wonderful time of the year. But you know what? They’re wrong. Dead wrong. The most wonderful time of the year is when various MLS teams and their social media accounts start firing missiles at media members, myself included, for their inaccurate preseason predictions.

It’s incredible content, honestly. You’ve got Austin FC head coach Josh Wolff waving a piece of paper with predictions about how Austin would finish near the bottom of the West again this season. And then you’ve got FC Dallas combining predictions with…Pawn Stars? It really is the most wonderful time of the year. 

With all of the “we deserve more credit” in the air recently, I wanted to hand out credit where it’s due by giving some Most Improved awards to teams that really upgraded in 2022. Using the numbers as our guide, let’s get to it.

FC Dallas

This weekend’s result: 1-1 draw at the San Jose Earthquakes 

I mentioned FC Dallas up above, so let’s start with them, shall we? Dallas finished 11th in the West last year with an average expected goal difference (xGD) of -0.16 per 90 minutes, according to FBref. They didn’t create a ton in the attack, they didn’t lock things down in the defense, and they struggled to fully implement their tactical approach.

Fast forward to 2022, though, and FC Dallas are a real force in the West. They have a defined style of play under Nico Estevez, with some careful possession and quick transitions in their 4-3-3. Not only are they third in the Western Conference after this weekend, but they also have a +0.11 xGD per 90. 

Spending significant money on players from both inside and outside the league, mixed with Estevez’s guidance, has created a much improved FC Dallas team. 

FC Cincinnati

This weekend’s result: 2-1 win at Real Salt Lake

FC Cincinnati’s turnaround is the absolute best example I can think of to illustrate the value of hiring smart, capable head coaches and general managers. 

Before Pat Noonan and Chris Albright arrived in Cincy, things were bad. Like, go ahead and ship them the Wooden Spoon before the season even starts bad. But now that they have savvy soccer decision-makers, things are starting to hum for Cincinnati. Don’t get me wrong: the players deserve a ton of credit for the team’s turnaround. As a player, though, operating in a defined tactical system with some better pieces around you is how you take your team from the bottom of the league to the playoffs in a single season.

Per FBref, FC Cincinnati went from averaging -0.68 xGD per 90 last season to +0.08 this season. Talk about improvement.

CF Montreal

This weekend’s result: a 1-0 win at the New England Revolution

There’s something so enticing to me about teams that know how they want to play and actually execute on the field. If you haven’t noticed, that’s been the common thread from FC Dallas to FC Cincinnati, and now, to CF Montreal.

Montreal were sneaky good last year under Wilfried Nancy. They missed the playoffs, but they have some of the better underlying numbers in the Eastern Conference. This year, Montreal are going to make the playoffs and they have an even better set of numbers to boot. Per FBref, they’re fourth in MLS in xGD per 90 with +0.42. They’re creating more in the attack and conceding less in defense. If that’s not a receipt for success, I don’t know what is.

I imagine that it would be difficult to get Nancy away from Montreal given that he’s been there since 2016. But various teams who are lower down the table in both conferences could certainly use someone like Nancy on the sidelines.