With Orlando City SC and New York City FC both entering MLS next season, the Eastern Conference will be an entirely different animal than in years past. And while the West has widely been considered the stronger of the two conferences, the East is going through a transformation that might change that.
Flashback one year ago to the start of the 2014 MLS season and imagine you are Adrian Heath with a crystal ball. You look in and see that not one, but two regular playoff teams (Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City) will be moving out of your conference to the West. You also see that they will be expanding the playoffs to six teams per conference.
Wait, that's not even the half of it.
You see that the #bloodybigdeal experiment at Toronto FC is a disaster. The World Cup takes a toll on Michael Bradley and he does not have the impact that everyone expected. Jermain Defoe spends more time injured or unhappy than he does putting the ball in the back of the net. The Canadian outfit fails to make playoffs.. again.
Lastly, the 2013 Supporter Shield winning New York Red Bulls relegate Tim Cahill to the bench and Arsenal legend Thierry Henry retires at the end of the season.
The Eastern Conference is falling apart and ripe for the picking. Right?
Well that could have easily been the case, however, this past year has also seen some serious growth in talent in the East. Some teams found form and some spent big money. There are some serious waves being made over in the East that may just swing the balance of power back the other way.
United had an amazing turnaround in 2014. After only managing to earn 16 points in 2013, United miraculously bounced back to finish atop the Eastern Conference table. It's not just that they went from worst to first but it's the way they did it. They played with a confidence and swagger that people would expect from such an accomplished club.
Ladies and gentlemen, the DC powerhouse of old might just be coming back, and with a new stadium to boot.
We hear this every year. Toronto will make the playoffs and become a big MLS franchise. The Canadian club has already traded Defoe for American striker Jozy Altidore, but is also bringing in Juventus attacker Sebastian Giovinco. Both will be massive players for Toronto and with a rested and rejuvenated Michael Bradley it almost has to be their time to make a playoff run.
The Crew may not be the most high profile club in the league, but they should not be overlooked. At the end of last year they went thorough a re-branding similar to that of Sporting Kansas City. If it goes half as well for Columbus as it did for KC then the future is bright for the MLS original.
Lee Nguyen came to play in 2014, but New England looked like it was destined to be playoff longshots for the better part of the season. Then entered Jermaine Jones. Once the U.S. World Cup hero arrived, everything clicked for New England, and the Revolution became one of the most feared teams in MLS. With Jones and Nguyen running the team, the Revs played some of the most attractive soccer in the league and made an incredible run to the MLS Cup Final, where they eventually lost to LA Galaxy.
It is scary to think what this group can do with a whole season together.
Orlando City SC and New York City FC
It is rare that an expansion team comes in as a title contender, but with the expansion of the playoffs and restructuring of the conference it is not out of the question. The two clubs already have some of the league's most high profile and talented DPs in Kaka, David Villa, Mix Diskerud and Frank Lampard. That level of talent deserves respect.
Do you think we are entering a new era for the Eastern Conference? Are they stronger or weaker than last year? Is the West still stronger and will they always be?