The MLS season is starting Friday, with expansion team Minnesota United traveling to the west coast to take on the Portland Timbers, the 2015 MLS Cup winners. We here at Brace The Hammer thought we’d provide a guide for Hammer fans to decide which team to follow (or hate, or whatever) in the upcoming MLS season. Haven’t really followed the MLS? No worries, most of America doesn’t really follow it either. So check out our guide to figure out which MLS team is right for you!
Check out the Western Conference guide we published last week!
Pros: Another expansion team. Again, no bandwagon jumping here! The team has been patient assembling its roster, and seems committed to putting a decent product on the field rather than just slapping a team out there and hoping for the best.
Cons: Atlanta has lost two NHL teams to small-market Canadian cities, the Flames (now in Calgary) and the Thrashers (now the reborn Winnipeg Jets) so Atlanta doesn’t have a history of really supporting teams that aren’t named the Falcons or Braves. Speaking of Braves, they’re the last Atlanta team to win anything, and that was over twenty years and two stadiums ago. They will also share their stadium with the Falcons, which means they will have a few thousand fans echoing in a giant stadium they can’t fill in a couple of years. They also choose black and red as their team colors because the Falcons play in those colors and sell gobs of merchandise.
Pros: Sweet crest, unlike the all the copying that goes on in the rest of the league. A fairly original name, a nod to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. They won the Championship in their first season in the league, 1998 as well as the US Open Cup, winning both competitions they were in on the first try. They’ve won the US Open Cup three more times, in 2000, 2003, and 2006. Their primary kit has always been one of the better ones in MLS, and Chicago is one of the coolest cities in the US.
Cons: Chicago is cool. Too bad the Fire don't actually play in Chicago. After sharing Soldier Field with the Chicago Bears of the NFL, the team moved to a new stadium built in Bridgeview, IL in 2006. The new location has not proven to be successful off the pitch, as the team has underachieved ever since the move, having not qualified for the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons after losing in the conference finals four out of the previous five seasons.
Pros: If we’re going by style points and aesthetics, Columbus Crew have some of the best kits around. That black and yellow is fierce. If you can’t play like Borussia Dortmund, might as well look like them! The Crew also have one of the best youth systems in MLS, making them a good team to invest in early on the ground floor. Wil Trapp and Ben Swanson are future internationals for the United States and it should be fun to watch them develop. Throw into the mix with 31 year old Argentinian Federico Higuaín, and you have a squad that will surprise the best any given day.
Cons: Let’s get this out of the way first. West Ham played a friendly against the Columbus Crew in 2008. The Crew die-hard supporter section, the Nordecke, decided to taunt the Hammer support that showed up by chanting obscene slogans at them. At half time, fights broke out between some of the Hammer fans and the wannabe “hooligans” of the Columbus Crew fans. It was embarrassing for both clubs, but not to be deterred, the Crew fans also started fights against fans from Toronto later in the season. Even with some very successful years, the Crew struggle with attendance as have the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets. The fans are spoiled with the success of Ohio State sports, and a good portion of the fanbase tend to be the ultimate bandwagon fans, only showing up when the team is good or trendy.
Disclaimer: The writer of the “cons” section is not only a Michigan alumnus, but also almost got assaulted at the West Ham- Columbus friendly, so he might be a tad biased against the Columbus Crew.
Pros: The original “United” in MLS, they were the first club in the States to try and name their club like a proper football club, before the rest of the league started copying them. They were the most successful club in MLS for the first decade of the league, winning the MLS Cup three of the first four seasons in 1996, 1997, and 1999. They also won the MLS Cup in 2004, have won the Open Cup three times, 1996, 2008, and 2013. They also won the CONCACAF Cup (before it was the Champions League) in 1998, the only US team to win that competition. They also beat Brazilian giants Vasco da Gama to win the Copa Interamericana in 1998. Their fans have been great for years, easily the best fan group in MLS for the first decade of the league’s existence. Supporter groups such as La Barra Brava, the Screaming Eagles, La Norte and the District Ultras create a fantastic atmosphere at RFK Stadium.
Cons: Those wins all took place over a decade ago, and the team has seemed lost since the retirement of team icon Jamie Moreno in 2010, who appeared 329 times for the team scoring 131 goals. Along with fellow Bolivian Marco Etcheverry, who scored 34 goals in 190 appearances for DC United between 1996 and 2003, they helped to form the core of the team that was dominant for the first few years of MLS and the team has not seen success sustained since they left. The attendance has dipped in the past couple years as the team has been mired in mediocrity, and they are moving to a new stadium in a couple of years, so let’s hope the new stadium brings back the lovin’ feeling that RFK had for so many years.
Pros: Ahh, Montreal. A city with all of the pomp and arrogance of Paris, with none of the culture or history. Maybe I should just skip to the ‘Cons’ section now... Eh, I’ll try to say something positive. They almost made it to the MLS Finals last year. There, I’ve done it. Really though, they might have the best center back pairing in the league with Victor Cabrera and Belgian, Laurent Ciman. As well as one of the more dynamic forwards in MLS with Ignacio Piatti. Montreal relies on frustrating opponents and never stop fighting in the midfield. They are a good side who have recently found success, much of which could be attributed to Ivory Coast international, Didier Drogba, who has since left after falling out of favor with the club, teammates, and fans.
Cons: For a team in Canada, they have very few Canadians. In fact, for much of the 2016 campaign their starting XI was devoid of Canadian internationals. Now, that’s not a prerequisite for a team, but it does help grow a loyal and substantial fan base. They currently host their opponents at Montreal Olympic Stadium, which houses 66,000 people. However, the average home match attendance can range from 16,000 to 22,000, which makes for some stark support. Unless of course, they are hosting rival Toronto, in which case every seat will be occupied.
New England Revolution
Pros: Every other Boston team is successful to annoying degree. With the New England Patriots being the most successful NFL team over the past 20 years and the Red Sox finally breaking the curse and winning World Series titles in 2004, 2007, and 2013 there has been plenty to root for if you’re a fan of Boston sports. Oh, yeah, the NBA team, the Boston Celtics, has won 17 NBA titles with the most recent coming in 2008, and the Boston Bruins, the NHL team, has won six Stanley Cups (the championship trophy), most recently coming in 2011. Boston fans have been spoiled with success, and so it’s only a matter of time before the Revolution join the rest of the major league sports franchises in the area and go on a 10 year undefeated run or something.
Cons: The team plays its games in Gillette Stadium, home to the NFL’s New England Patriots. The capacity for MLS games is reduced from about 69,000 to 20,000 because the team has only exceeded an average of 19,000 fans once since 1998, and that was in 2015, with the team averaging only a tad over 11,000 fans in 2006. The cavernous Gillette Stadium creates a poor atmosphere for games played there. In addition, the team has missed the playoffs in four of the last seven seasons, and this in a league where over half the teams make the playoffs. Oh, and they also play in suburban Foxboro, Massachusetts, so forget about anything besides parking lots around the stadium if you ever visit.
New York Red Bulls
Pros: Constantly in contention to win their conference, if not the title. They’re very much like Arsenal in that regard. Always finishing in the top four, but can’t seem to take that next step to secure themselves as Champions. They have one of the best forwards in the league with Bradley Wright-Phillips, who spent most of his career in England with Southampton and Charlton Athletic. However he didn’t find his MVP form until he arrived in New Jersey where he’s racked up 69 goals in a little over three seasons.
Cons: Welcome to Harrison, New Jersey. One of the highest crime rates in the state. Oh, you didn’t realize Red Bulls don’t actually reside in New York? Yes, well, it’s much cheaper to play in New Jersey, and just slap a New York sticker on the product. If you’re into assault and battery, Red Bulls might be for you.
Both pro and con: Red Bull arena was built on a moat. While it is a soccer-specific stadium, however rare, it’s very difficult to get to. Plan on driving? Ha! Get ready to wait in line and there is only one way in and out. Taking public transportation? Tie up those New Balance laces because you need to walk over the bridge. I will begrudgingly admit they have an awesome atmosphere with great fans.
New York City FC
Disclaimer: I’m a season ticket holder so take everything I say as biased nonsense.
Pros: This is the best club that has ever graced Major League Soccer with their presence. Maybe not, but with the New York Yankees and Manchester City as owners, you’d expect big names and big results. A recent expansion team, they are going into their third season season, finishing in second last year. They made a massive splash into MLS signing David Villa, Andrea Pirlo, and Frank Lampard as their international players. As manager, they have Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira as their manager. If you’re looking for a European-styled team to support in MLS, this is your choice. Expect multiple championships in the future.
Cons: Parent club Manchester City is always looming. NYCFC has been accused of being a testing ground for their parent club’s youth system. While we have our own starts, that part of the organization is very much true. In our first year we housed Man City starlet, Angelino, and now NYCFC has just brought in Yangel Herrera. Fans are always wary if a player performs too well, they might be whisked off to the fatherland or sold for a profit. Looking at you, Jack Harrison.
Pros: If you’re looking for a 34 year old legend who can still play like an absolute boss, look no further than Kaká. Kaká is the centerpiece of a very good expansion team that has tons of potential. They also have one of the best fan bases on the east coast as well as a massive, state of the art, 25,000 seat stadium of their own. The Lions roared into the 2015 season along with NYCFC, and were clearly the better and more cohesive of the two expansion teams. Orlando also boasts one of the best young strikers in the league behind Canadian, Cyle Larin.
Cons: Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter. Something about the land of Disney makes everything seem a bit superficial. Perhaps, also a bit magical too, much like Orlando’s recent run of form. How much longer can Jason Kreis keep the slight of hand going with Kaká turning 35 this summer? Once he exits, who will be there to pick up the ACME anvil?
Pros: Outside of NYCFC and LA Galaxy, Toronto might have the most star-studded lineup. It also doesn’t hurt they are the best team in Canada with a massive following. They are owned by a group called MLSE, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, who in the past have been accused of mediocrity for the sake of profit. All of that seemed to change a few years ago when the group began to heavily invest in DP spots. They brought in Italian international Sebastian Giovinco who is constantly on everyone’s lips for MVP yearly, as well as top American internationals in Bradley and Altidore. They call BMO field which saw an average home game attendance of 27,000, in a 30,000 capacity stadium.
Cons: My only issue with Toronto is that their midfield features one of the most frustrating US Internationals ever in Michael Bradley. I know, I know, he has vision. I also have a vision, a vision where Michael Bradley is no longer losing possession thirty times a match for a goal scoring counter. However, in typical Bradley fashion, he’s wonderful for Toronto. As is American teammate Jozy Altidore. What injury problems right? Toronto took part in the MLS Final last season and lost in front of a sell-out, home crowd at BMO Field. Who knows when they will get another chance at the title. However, if anyone can, it’s this talented squad.
Pros: The fans without a team. No really, the Sons of Ben were founded before an MLS team was awarded to Philadelphia, and they would go to DC or NY games and root against their traditional sporting rivals. That translated to a great opening season in their brand-new stadium just outside of Philadelphia in Chester, PA, right on the waterfront. The fans have been dedicated, and the Union Academy has produced a plethora of young talent that is active all over the MLS and in the college ranks. They’ve been runners-up in the US Open Cup twice, in 2014 and 2015. Ex-Rangers midfielder and defender Maurice Edu plays for the Union, and they lost in the playoffs last year to finalists Toronto FC. This is an up-and-coming team that could surprise many people this year.
Cons: The team on the field has not always lived up to the dedication of the fans in the stands. In the seven years of existence, the team has only made the playoffs twice and the stadium has had a revolving door for players in that time, with even club legend Sébastien Le Toux being traded away from the team twice. The team even fielded Freddy Adu, the “legendary” American youth flop for a time. Plus, rooting for Philadelphia sports teams is torture, with the Eagles not winning a championship since 1960, the NHL’s Flyers last winning in 1975, and only the baseball team, the Phillies, winning anything since the early 1980s. Plus, Eagles fans threw batteries at Santa Claus. Who does that?