MLS 2024

MLS Eastern Conference preview & predictions: Atlanta, Columbus top but woe is Canada

We are ready to kickoff the 2024 MLS season and predicting this league remains as hard as ever. But ASN's Brian Sciaretta gives it a shot with a look at the strong Eastern Conference which features the reigning MLS Cup winners, the reigning Supporters Shield winners, and the Inter Miami circus. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
February 21, 2024
4:00 AM

THE 2024 MLS Season is days away and it’s time for the annual MLS preview and predictions, which is one of the hardest things to do. Today, we will start in the Eastern Conference where there are so many huge questions starting with the Inter Miami circus, Columbus as the reigning Cup champs, and Cincinnati as the reigning Shield champs.

Looking at last year, the predictions were off in some places and right in other places. I was high on Philadelphia, but they were still good. I didn’t have Cincy as the Shield winners, but I still predicted them to be very good. I should have had Nasvhille as better than I did and I overrated the Red Bulls, but overall I don’t think I did too poorly.

What do I think about this year in the East? Here’s a look at how I have everything playing out.


Atlanta United

Prediction: 1st in the East

Taking Atlanta United at the top is a gamble, but the team is talented and is hopefully hungry to prove themselves. They have one of the league’s best players in Thiago Almada and they have one of the best No. 9 forwards in Giorgos Giakoumakis. The team lost Miles Robinson in defense but Robinson didn’t have a great season in 2023 and he is replaced by 28 year old Stian Gregersen, a Norwegian international.

Atlanta’s defense was bad in 2023, but there should be plenty of room for optimism. In addition to Gregersen, Atlanta United also acquired Polish international Bartosz Slisz, 24, from Legia Warsaw in defensive midfield to protect the middle of the field. Those players will now sit in front of new goalkeeper Josh Cohen who arrives with Champions League criteria but who hasn’t played in eight months. Add that to the question marks.

But the risk in taking Atlanta United first overall is them keeping it all together. Obviously, Almada is on the radar of a lot of European teams. He’s a World Cup winner and now the leader of Argentina’s Olympic team. Is he going to be there at the end of the season? Caleb Wiley is heading into his third season as a starter and he’s only 19. He likely has the Olympics in front of him too. Will he be there?

Then you have international duty where Giakoumakis is gone if Greece qualifies, and that could be a huge hit.

But predicting MLS is hard enough. It becomes even harder (if that is possible) when you factor in player departures or absences. For now, I like where they look on paper and they always have one of the best home field advantages in the league.

Key departures: Miles Robinson, Matheus Rossetto

Key additions: Josh Cohen, Stian Gregersen, Bartosz Slisz


Columbus Crew

Prediction: 2nd in the East


The defending champions were playoff monsters with Cucho Hernandez and Diego Rossi leading the way. And the good news for Columbus is that they are bringing all the key players back and they arguably have the best coach in the league in Wilfried Nancy.

For American fans, Aidan Morris has blossomed into a terrific midfielder, and he should be a key player on the U.S. Olympic team this summer in Paris. The club also added a nice wingback/midfielder in Marino Hinestroza from Pachuca.

There is a lot to like about Columbus, but there are two things. First, they now have a bull-eye on their back and that complicates things. There is a lot of preseason hype for Columbus and that never helps (see Philadelphia or LAFC last year for their regular seasons). But also, this team still seems more like a playoff team than a regular season team. Playoff teams are all about designated players and top end talent whereas the regular season is also about depth.

Still, there is a lot to like about Columbus.

Key departures: Julian Gressel, Kevin Molino, Josh Williams

Key additions: Marino Hinestroza, Derick Jones


Inter Miami

Prediction: 3rd in the East


All eyes are on Miami and it’s travelling circus which has become the modern version of the New York Cosmos of the late 70’s. We know the legends who are on the team but what we don’t know is how Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, and now Luis Suarez will handle a full season when they need to do so much of the heavy lifting. Miami was really good last season when Messi arrived, but we already saw the cracks in the armor towards the end with injuries and fatigue. Suarez was fantastic in Brazil last year with Gremio but there were concerns over his knee.

What I like about Miami is that behind the stars there is a nice solid young core, but that doesn’t look great at the start with Facundo Farias out with a long-term knee injury and Benja Cremaschi out for 6-8 weeks with a sports hernia. Diego Gomez, 20, should start regularly.

Miami is going to be fun this year and they’ll win a lot of games. But there are some big concerns: weak defense, age, and salary restrictions that will weaken the ability to correct problems. The latter cannot be overlooked and that is why they sent Kamal Miller packing.

But Inter Miami has a great manager in Tata Martino who will understand the need for squad rotation to pace the team throughout the season. Miami should be a better team in the playoffs than they are in the regular season. I don’t think they’ll win the East in the regular season, but if they get to the playoffs healthy – look out.

Key departures: Luis Suarez, Josef Martinez

Key additions: Kamal Miller, Julian Gressel, Nicolás Freire


FC Cincinnati

Prediction: 4th in the East


It’s never easy for the reigning Supporters Shield winner or the reigning MLS Cup champion. Now holding the Shield, FC Cincinnati will be a team everyone wants to beat. Heading into 2024, Cincinnati made a lot of changes, some for the better, some for the worse. Losing Brandon Vazquez was big. His replacement, Corey Baird, played well in Houston but it is asking a lot for him to put up Vazquez-type numbers.

But it's more than just Vazquez. Central defender Yerson Mosquera is now on loan at Villarreal, midfielder Junior Moreno packed up for Saudi Arabia in the winter. Wingback Santiago Arias is back in Brazil.

Cincinnati was active in an attempt to find like-for-like replacements. Paval Bucha arrives from the Czech Republic for Moreno. U.S. national team center back Miles Robinson comes from Atlanta to replace Mosquera. Luca Orellano comes in from Vasco de Gama to replace Arias.

It's not a knock on the new players, but having that many replacements for key players adds uncertainty in how they will fit into their new team and environment. It’s unrealistic to think they will all be successes. On top of that, it also seems a bit unrealistic to think league MVP Luciano Acosta will put up the same numbers as he did in 2023.

We are going to learn a lot about Pat Noonan as a head coach this year.

Key departures: Brandon Vazquez, Junior Moreno, Yerson Mosquera, Santiago Arias

Key additions: Corey Baird, Miles Robinson, Luca Orellano, Pavel Bucha.


Philadelphia Union

Prediction: 5th in the East


Like clockwork, the Philadelphia Union will once again be good. This team will look a lot like 2023 as there are no major losses and no major signings.   Instead, what you have is a starting lineup that consists of good players in their prime and also some good young players coming through the system.

Then you have a coach in Jim Curtin who is liked and respected by the players and the fans.  The most notable offseason news for Philly is that they brought back Alejandro Bedoya for another year after it seemed as if he was on his way out. Bedoya, now 36, won’t do the heavy lifting on the field but it keeps peace with the players who were public about wanting their captain back.

Philadelphia has an established backline anchored by Jacob Glesnes and Jack Elliot in the middle with Kai Wagner and Olivier Mbaizo/Nathian Harriel. Up front they have a number of good scoring options with Daniel Gazdag, Mikel Uhre, and Julian Carranza. A wildcard will be the continued development of Jack McGlynn. The U.S. Olympic hopeful is one of the top young American players in the league and if he can continue to progress, Philadelphia can be very good again.

The real concern, however, is their lack of change. This league has been evolving quickly. If you’re not improving, you’re falling behind. Philadelphia is electing to rind the same group with no major changes. That’ll work only if they all improve.

Key departures: None

Key additions: None

Orlando City SC

Prediction: 6th in the East

A lot of things went right for Orlando in 2023 and head coach Oscar Pareja has done a great job finally bringing a winner to central Florida. But things in 2024 will be a test for Pareja to have the same level of success.

For one, Orlando lost its captain in Mauricio Pereyra, but that was probably for the best as he will turn 34 in March. Center back Antonio Carlos will also be tough to replace as will Junio Urso.

Meanwhile, Nicholas Lodeiro arrives as one of the league's most accomplished players but he is also well past his prime. Slovenian international David Brekalo also will look to fill in for Carlos.

The big question will be up top as the club tried to loan and then sell Duncan McGuire after he scored 15 goals across all competitions in 2023 in his rookie season. But that deal blew up at the 11th hour and the club brought in Luis Muriel as a DP from Atalanta in Serie A. But to match McGuire, Muriel will need to score a lot and Muriel hasn't played a 2000-minute season since 2016/17. But that raises the question of how McGuire will respond to losing his starting job after performing so well?

Key departures: Mauricio Pereyra, Antonio Carlos, Junior Urso

Key additions: Luis Muriel, David Brekalo, Nicholas Lodeiro


New York Red Bulls

Prediction: 7th in the East


The longest playoff streak in the league is on the line in 2024 and I predict it will continue for the Red Bulls. The Red Bulls snuck into the playoffs last year but dispatched Charlotte in the play-in game before falling to Cincinnati in the first round.

In the offseason, the club brought in new manager Sandro Schwarz after Troy Lesesne did an admirable job in an interim role after Gerhard Struber was let go. It’s an open question about Schwarz and if he doesn’t work out, things will go south quickly for the Red Bulls.

But Schwarz has some interesting things going for him. When looking back at 2023, RBNY was very good at creating chances but miserable at finishing them. It’s not going to take much of an upgrade for scoring to improve – potentially by a lot. Now they add Emil Forsberg, who will add a lot. Forsberg will score and he should help others. Dante Vanzier had a miserable first year with RBNY, but if he’s surrounded by better players, that should also help him. Not to mention, Elias Manoel improved as the season progressed.

The real wildcard, for me, is the return of Lewis Morgan who essentially lost out on 2023 due to injuries. But he was incredible in 2022. The question is what the team can expect out of Morgan in 2024. If he’s good, the Red Bulls could be very good. The team also has brought in Norwegian youth international Dennis Gjengaar on a U-22 initiative deal that could also rotate with Morgan.

Overall, the net additions (including Morgan) vastly outweigh the departures.

Key departures: Dru Yearwood, Omir Fernandez, Luquinhas, Tom Barlow

Key additions: Emil Forsberg, Dennis Gjengaar, Noah Eile


New England Revolution

Prediction: 8th in the East


So much went wrong for New England in 2023 and the most obvious example was the murky suspension and then termination of Bruce Arena as head coach and sporting director. The club never recovered. Now the club turns to Caleb Porter, who didn’t coach in 2023. Porter has won MLS Cup with both the Timbers and the Crew but eventually fell out of favor.

This Revs team doesn’t feature a lot of upgrades and the losses are noticeable. Gustavo Bou is gone and the big addition is goalkeeper and Slovakian international Henrich Ravas. Dylan Borrero should return from his ACL injury which sidelined him most of 2023, but it is a question over how long it will take him to return to form. Meanwhile, highly rated American teenager Esmir Bajraktarevic will take over at right wing and he will be fun to watch. But he will also be important to the Revs success. Giacomo Vrioni will need to be better at the No. 9.

The good news is that Tomás Chancalay will return after his successful loan in 2023 was turned into a permanent deal.  

The Revs can go either way this year.

Key departures: Gustavo Bou, Omar Gonzalez

Key additions: Henrich Ravas, Jonathan Mensah


New York City FC

Prediction: 9th in the East


In our 2024 prediction, the playoff line in the East will be drawn by New York City FC – who will creep into the play-in game. After failing to make the playoffs in 2023, NYCFC went young in the offseason. The biggest piece is Jovan Mijatovi? from Red Star Belgrade, which NYCFC reportedly paid nearly $9 million to acquire him. Argentine youth international winger Agustín Ojeda also joins the club from Racing.


Behind the youthful attack is a stable all-American central midfield in Keaton Parks and James Sands and a decent backline. But success this season will come down to head coach Nick Cushing and his ability to develop younger players. But Cushing could be on the hot seat this season, and a short leash makes it tough to develop young players because the manager might opt for win-now options.

Key departures: Alfredo Morales, Braian Cufré, Richard Ledezma

Key additions: Jovan Mijatovic, Agustine Ojeda


Chicago Fire

Prediction: 10th in the East

The Chicago Fire has been disappointing for most of the last decade. The team doesn’t lack ambition, but it lacks execution. The best example has been the overpaid Shaqiri.  For that reason, it was surprising at the end of the 2023 season that the team extended the contracts for sporting director Georg Heitz and technical director Sebastian Pelzer. This was extremely disappointing to the fan base. It’s great that they can sell young players for a lot of money, but it doesn’t mean much to the fans unless they can win.

Coming into this season, the club has made some smart moves bringing in known MLS performers in Kellyn Acosta and Andrew Gutman. And the biggest news is the addition of Hugo Cuypers from Gent in an eight-figure deal. On top of that, there is a nice new contract for top young American Brian Gutierrez, who will eventually get sold but probably not in the 2024 season as he pushes for the Olympic team.

If new center back Tobias Salquist from Silkeborg pans out, Chicago should be in the mix for a playoff spot.

On paper, all the additions seem to be positive. But Chicago needs a lot of improvement and Chicago needs all these upgrades to go their way. It’s not impossible, but I can’t bet on Chicago just yet.

Key departures: Ousmane Doumbia, Miguel Navarro, Jairo Torres

Key additions: Hugo Cuypers, Tobias Salquist, Kellyn Acosta, Andrew Gutman.


Nashville SC

Prediction: 11th in the East


Once again, Nashville will return to a familiar formula of relying on Hany Mukhtar on offense and Walker Zimmerman on defense. That becomes harder each year as the rest of the league upgrades. It’s also a lot of pressure on Mukhtar and Zimmerman. Zimmerman, meanwhile, has missed a lot of preseason dealing with an injury.

In terms of upgrades, Tyler Boyd replacing Fafa Picault is a bit of a wash. Dru Yearwood can be a nice accompaniment, but he isn’t a difference maker either.

It’s a veteran team that should know how to compete and stay in the mix. But it feels as if they are riding on a familiar formula for too long.

Key departures: Fafa Picault, Dax McCarty

Key additions: Tyler Boyd, Dru Yearwood


Charlotte FC

Prediction: 12th in the East


Last season the club snuck into the playoffs before being easily eliminated by the Red Bulls. After that, head coach Christian Lattanzio was let go and replaced by Dean Smith. But this year’s team doesn’t seem to be as good.

They've shed two designated players in Kamil Jozwiak and Karol Swiderski - which is fine. But they haven't adequately replaced them. Yes, they are rumored to be leading the chance for Uruguayan youth international winger Luciano Rodriguez, but that's not enough. New midfielder Djibril Diani will also look to help but doesn't bring a very strong resume.


Charlotte just seems to be a work in progress. They'll probably make a lot of changes throughout the season under Smith gets underway. But this just feels like a transitional season unless they can make moves in the next few weeks and this summer – and that all of these moves pan out.

It will be fun to see the debut of U.S. U-17 Nifma Berchimas who was a standout at the U-17 World Cup in the fall despite playing up a cycle. He won’t be asked to do much of the heavy lifting, but eyes will be on Charlotte and how they handle the development of a top young American teenager.

Key departures: Karol Swiderski, Kamil Jozwiak

Key additions: Luciano Rodriguez (rumored), Djibril Diani


DC United

Prediction: 13th in the East


After a decent run with the Red Bulls in an interim role. Troy Lesesne replaces Wayne Rooney as the head coach and he will have a big task ahead to build something for a club that hasn’t been relevant in the Eastern Conference in quite some time.

The good news for DC United is that they have a No. 9 who is good and has played well in MLS with Christian Benteke. They also have some promising young players in Ted Ku-DiPietro and Gabriel Pirani. They've also brought in players who have been effective in MLS in Aaron Herrera and Jared Stroud.

But all DP spots are filled with the acquisition of Matti Peltola from Finland who is a d-mid who will look to protect the spine alongside fellow DP Mateusz Klich.

This roster lacks the depth required for a full season. They'll win some games, but are they ready for the grind? Also, the loss of defensive stalwart Donovan Pines will hurt.

On another note, their ability to develop top young American players will be put to the test with forward Kristian Fletcher and defender Matai Akinmboni who are both looking for spots on the U.S. U-20 national team in 2024.

Key departures: Donovan Pines, Chris Durkin, Derrick Williams, Ruan

Key additions: Matti Pelota, Aaron Herrera, Jared Stroud


CF Montreal

Prediction: 14th in the East


Another season, another offseason of major upheaval for CF Montreal who will start their third straight season with a new coach. But this is coming from an organization who could not get along with Jesse Marsch and Wilfried Nancy. Now it is Laurent Courtois who gets the gig after successfully leading the Columbus Crew 2 in MLS Next Pro.

But the good news is that Courtois worked in Columbus with Wilfried Nancy and this should help the team return to the style of 2022. That would be good if the team still had two of its top offensive weapons in Djordje Mihailovic (who left after the 2022 season) and Romell Quioto (who left this past winter).

But Courtois will instead have Dominic Iankov to fill Mihailovic's No. 10 role and two strikers. Matias Coccaro, 26, a TAM signing who arrives after scoring 53 goals and adding 24 assists in 194 games for Huracan in Argentina. They also added legendary striker Josef Martinez who had a tough ending in Montreal. He's past his prime, but Martinez is one of the greatest ever forwards in MLS history.

But with a coach who has never coached at the first-team level and a lot of new players who are new to the league, there is a lot of unknowns that will have to break their way.

Key departures: Romell Quioto, Aaron Herrera, Zachary Brault-Guillard

Key additions: Dominic Iankov, Matias Coccaro, Josef Martinez, Ruan, Raheem Edwards


Toronto FC

Prediction: 15th in East


The Wooden Spoon winners in 2023 are back for the first full season under John Herdman, who coached the tail end of last season. When Herdman was brought on, we heard a lot of talk about how the culture of the team needed to change. But typically, when an organization changes team culture, you see heavy turnover of players.

That didn’t happen and now Herdman will have to try to change the culture of a team with the same players. That’s a tough task. Yes, Michael Bradley and Victor Vazquez are no longer on the team and that will make the roster younger. But there were no major signings.

Of course, Toronto has players that can win games on their own in Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi. That will happen at times this year, but it’s hard to see what the plan is here.

Key departures: Michael Bradley, Victor Vazquez, CJ Sapong

Key additions: Deybi Flores, Tyrese Spicer

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