Major League Soccer 2023 season preview

It’s hard to believe we’re just three days away from the start of the 2023 MLS Season! With a new team joining the league and another new playoff format set to debut, it promises to be an exciting and exceptionally long season.

We’ll break down our Nashville-centric previews in a separate article. For now, we’re looking at MLS as a whole.

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Western Conference

1. LAFC

Last year: 1st in West | 67 points (21W-4D-9L) | MLS Cup and Supporters Shield winners
Average positioning: 1.4
Highest positioning: 1 (Chris, Davey, Slape)
Lowest positioning: 2 (Ben, Andy)

The lowdown: The Black and Gold captured a double last year winning both the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup in dramatic fashion. Cristian Arango departed for Pachuca leaving a hole at the #9 position. There is little doubt that they will fill the gap with a high profile acquisition in the summer that will again have LAFC competing for the top spot in the Western Conference.CI

2. Seattle Sounders

Last year: 11th in West | 41 points (12W-5D-17L) | Concacaf Champions League winners
Average positioning: 2.6
Highest prediction: 1 (Ben)
Lowest prediction: 4 (Andy)

The lowdown: Seattle captured CCL glory in 2022 becoming the first MLS club to win the region’s ultimate prize. Fatigue and injuries did them in though as they missed the playoffs for the first time in their history. It is a loaded roster with João Paulo returning. The Sounders should bounce back in 2023 towards the top of the conference. – CI

3. Austin FC

Last year: 2nd in West | 56 points (16W-8D-10L)
Average positioning: 3.0
Highest positioning: 1 (Andy)
Lowest positioning: 5 (Ben)

The lowdown: Austin were a solid team who solidly overperformed their underlying numbers last season and probably overachieved by a significant margin. They have some excellent players, including an MVP favorite in Sebastian Driussi. The additions of Gyasi Zardes, Will Bruin, Leo Väisänen and Amro Tarek will all help, but they may not get as lucky as they did last year. – BW

4. FC Dallas

Last year: 3rd in West | 53 points (14W-11D-9L)
Average positioning: 3.6
Highest positioning: 2 (Chris)
Lowest positioning: 5 (Andy)

The lowdown: A relatively quiet offseason for Dallas was interrupted by a trade for Jesús Jiménez. The interesting question is whether he will start, allowing Jesus Ferreira to slide back into a #10 role, or if Jiménez will just assume the Franco Jara role as an expensive depth piece. If he hits and the young talent continues to develop, it would not surprise if FC Dallas finishes even higher than fourth. -CI

5. LA Galaxy

Last year: 4th in West | 50 points (14W-8D-12L)
Average positioning: 4.8
Highest positioning: 3 (Andy)
Lowest positioning: 6 (Ben)

The lowdown: The Ricky Puig acquisition last summer provided Greg Vaney with a creative playmaker that opened up defenses in the second-half of 2022. As with years past, there is a lot to like on the attacking end for the Galaxy. The backline still remains the weak link that will prevent LA from adding another star around the crest. -CI

6. Portland Timbers

Last year: 8th in West | 46 points (11W-13D-10L)
Average positioning: 5.8
Highest positioning: 4 (Ben)
Lowest positioning: 7 (Chris)

The lowdown: Portland completed arguably the top signing of the winter with the $10 million-dollar transfer of Brazilian attacker Evander. He has a very similar pedigree to Hany Mukhtar but coming from a slightly higher league. If Portland can figure out their revolving door at striker, the Timbers will be a significant threat in every competition. -CI

7. Sporting KC

Last year: 12th in West | 40 points (11W-7D-16L)
Average positioning: 7.0
Highest positioning: 6 (Chris)
Lowest positioning: 8 (Davey)

The lowdown: Sporting were one of the hottest teams down the stretch last season; from August on, only Philadelphia and Montreal earned more points per game. Willy Agada had a breakout season last year and is a golden boot favorite, and they’re getting DPs Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda back after missing all of 2022 with injury. If their very thin center back corps can stay healthy, this team could be quite good. – BW

8. Vancouver Whitecaps

Last year: 9th in West | 43 points (12W-7D-15L)
Average positioning: 8.4
Highest positioning: 7 (Davey)
Lowest positioning: 10 (Andy)

The lowdown: Maybe more so than any other club, Vancouver stands to benefit from the recently announced playoff expansion. The Whitecaps possess talent and an identity, but lacks the pure talent for anything more than hanging around the playoff line. Vancouver made a shrewd signing with Sergio Córdova as he fits their vertical, counterattacking style. It is just not enough to bump them to the next tier. -CI 

9. Real Salt Lake

Last year: 7th in West | 47 points (12W-11D-11L)
Average positioning: 9.8
Highest positioning: 8 (Chris)
Lowest positioning: 11 (Ben, Andy)

The lowdown: RSL always seems to find a way to sneak into the playoffs. The return of Damir Kreilach will provide a lift, and club-record signing Carlos Gómez, 20, raises the ceiling. Although, the loss of Aaron Herrera will surely be felt. -CI

10. San Jose Earthquakes

Last year: 14th in West | 35 points (8W-11D-15L)
Average positioning: 10.2
Highest positioning: 9 (Slape)
Lowest positioning: 12 (Andy)

The lowdown: The Quakes were… bad last year. Hiring Luchi Gonzalez as head coach is a huge step in the right direction, and their academy is in one of the most talent-rich areas of the country. They have some intriguing pieces, with Cade Cowell destined to be a future USMNT star, while Jonathan Mensah will solidify their defense. They may be more of a long-term project, but they should improve in 2023. – BW

11. Colorado Rapids

Last year: 14th in West | 35 points (8W-11D-15L)
Average positioning: 10.6
Highest positioning: 9 (Ben, Andy)
Lowest positioning: 12 (Chris, Davey)

The lowdown: Cole Bassett, a lynchpin of the wonderful 2021 Rapids side, returns from loan. The rest of the Rapids offseason was on-brand for the club. Buying low on Kévin Cabral, signing a DP center back, and finding pieces in European second divisions. It is an unsexy approach, but Robin Fraser has made it work before. -CI

12. Minnesota United

Last year: 6th in West | 48 points (14W-6D-14L)
Average positioning: 11.4
Highest positioning: 8 (Andy)
Lowest positioning: 14 (Slape)

The lowdown: Take away any team’s best player, primary chance creator, and all-around string puller, and they’ll struggle. Emmanuel Reynoso is currently suspended without pay after failing to show up for preseason training camp (there’s a longer story involving possible legal trouble in Argentina), and the Loons are significantly worse without him. – BW

13. Houston Dynamo

Last year: 13th in West | 36 points (10W-6D-18L)
Average positioning: 12.6
Highest positioning: 12 (Ben, Slape)
Lowest positioning: 13 (Chris, Davey, Andy)

The lowdown: Ben Olsen takes over a Dynamo roster in flux. Several pieces departed in the offseason and it remains to be seen if any of the incoming signings can raise the level of play from a year ago. The midfield trio of Artur and Héctor Herrera sitting behind Adalberto Carrasquilla works on paper, but it is probably insufficient to overcome the dearth of quality attackers. -CI

14. St. Louis CITY SC

Last year: 2023 expansion team
Average positioning: 13.8
Highest positioning: 13 (Slape)
Lowest positioning: 14 (Ben, Chris, Davey, Andy)

The lowdown: They haven’t taken the flashiest approach, but they seemingly have a clear identity and have some intriguing pieces. They’re set to play a Red Bull-esque system, and should be competitive out of the gate. Center back Joakim Nilsson will likely miss the first few months of the year after injuring his knee on international duty, which is a significant blow, but St. Louis have the potential to be better than the general consensus. – BW


Are you tired yet? Take a break, grab some more coffee, and come back for our preview of the Eastern Conference!

Eastern Conference

1. Philadelphia Union

Last year: 1st in East | 67 points (19W-10D-5L) | MLS Cup runners up
Average positioning: 1.2
Highest positioning: 1 (Ben, Chris, Davey, Slape)
Lowest positioning: 2 (Andy)

The lowdown: The Union were a Gareth Bale stoppage-time goal away from capturing MLS Cup, and survived the winter transfer window without losing any key contributors. With the roster intact, they are a prohibitive favorites to win the East. – CI

2. FC Cincinnati

Last year: 5th in East | 49 points (12W-13D-9L)
Average positioning: 2.8
Highest positioning: 2 (Ben, Chris)
Lowest positioning: 4 (Davey)

The lowdown: It’s crazy to think that just a couple years ago, Cincinnati were quite possible the worst team in MLS history. Shrewd signings and competent coaching has rapidly turned them into one of the more exciting teams in the league, though, with Lucho Acosta, Brandon Vazquez and Brenner spearheading the attack. Getting a full season from US international center back Matt Miazga and DP midfielder Obinna Nwobodo should give them a solid defense as well. – BW

3. Orlando City

Last year: 7th in East | 48 points (14W-6D-14L) | US Open Cup winners
Average positioning: 3.4
Highest positioning: 3 (Ben, Chris, Davey)
Lowest positioning: 6 (Andy)

The lowdown: Last season was a bit of a false dawn for Orlando City. They won US Open Cup but really struggled for consistency in the league due to some key injuries. This season should be different. They replaced both fullbacks, who were quite talented but both were plagued with injury issues. Most importantly, they brought in Martín Ojeda from Godoy Cruz, who should add goals to this Orlando team. If they can stay healthy, Oscar Pareja could take them to MLS Cup.- JS

4. New York Red Bulls

Last year: 4th in East | 53 points (15W-8D-11L)
Average positioning: 4.2
Highest positioning: 2 (Davey)
Lowest positioning: 7 (Andy)

The lowdown: The originators of energy drink soccer are one of those teams that always seem to find a way to make the playoffs. Their strong youth academy ensures that they always have a crop of young, hungry players to execute their vision. They will have to execute without Aaron Long, who left for LAFC in the offseason, leaving them a bit thin at center back. Fortunately, their style of play can cover up some of that loss, and if Dante Vanzeir lives up to his reputation, they’ll be fine. – JS

5. Atlanta United

Last year: 11th in East | 40 points (10W-10D-14L)
Average positioning: 6.4
Highest positioning: 4 (Andy)
Lowest positioning: 8 (Davey, Slape)

The lowdown: The most important offseason move for Atlanta came in the front office. Garth Lagerwey left Seattle to join the five stripes as President and CEO. Lagerwey is one of, if not the best, soccer executives in the country. It may take a season or two for his impact to be felt, but the team is in good hands going forward. On the field, The Father has left after Atlanta bought out Josef Martínez. Pineda has to be hoping for addition by subtraction after a fractious relationship with Martínez. Fortunately for Atlanta, Miles Robinson looks to be ahead of schedule and will be available to start the season. -JS

6. Nashville SC

Last year: 5th in West | 50 points (13W-11D-10L)
Average positioning: 6.6
Highest positioning: 5 (Chris)
Lowest positioning: 8 (Andy)

The lowdown: Nashville are running it back with essentially the same team that saw them finish fifth in the West in 2022, Hany Mukhtar is almost guaranteed to be towards the top of the Golden Boot race, and the defense should still be strong. But the lack of other scoring threats lowers their ceiling, at least until the summer transfer window. – BW

7. Columbus Crew

Last year: 8th in East | 46 points (10W-16D-8L)
Average positioning: 6.6
Highest positioning: 5 (Slape)
Lowest positioning: 9 (Andy)

The lowdown: The key addition this winter was snagging Wilfried Nancy from CF Montreal. Nancy’s squeeze should yield more juice out of this talented roster. With a full season, Cucho Hernández is a legitimate Golden Boot threat. Shipping away Jonathan Mensah made sense from a financial perspective but may prove costly on the field if it prevents the Crew from competing for silverware. – CI

8. New York City FC

Last year: 8th in East | 46 points (10W-16D-8L)
Average positioning: 7.6
Highest positioning: 1 (Andy)
Lowest positioning: 12 (Ben)

The lowdown: Since coming into the league, NYCFC have always been at the top of the Eastern Conference, but this could be the year that it all comes crashing down. Sean Johnson, Alexander Callens, Anton Tinnerholm, Heber, and Maxi Moralez have all left the team, leaving not only a big talent gap, but a bit of a leadership vacuum. Thankfully, Santi Rodríguez looks to be coming back, but they still have questions at the no. 9 position. Can Nick Cushing keep the playoff streak alive? -JS

9. Toronto FC

Last year: 13th in East | 34 points (9W-7D-18L)
Average positioning: 7.8
Highest positioning: 5 (Andy)
Lowest positioning: 10 (Chris, Davey)

The lowdown: Under Bob Bradley, Toronto have signed their share of attacking talent. Federico Bernardeschi and Lorenzo Insigne are almost certainly the best pair of wingers in MLS, and both are in the running to win league MVP. Their defense is still a huge question mark, though, and they don’t have a ton of proven depth at the back. – BW

10. Charlotte FC

Last year: 9th in East | 42 points (13W-3D-18L)
Average positioning: 10.0
Highest positioning: 8 (Chris)
Lowest positioning: 12 (Davey, Andy)

The lowdown: Sophomore Slump or just more of the same? Charlotte was widely considered a Wooden Spoon contender last season, but finished a respectable 9th in their debut season. A full season with Christian Lattanzio at the helm should provide some much needed stability. If Enzo Copetti comes in and starts bagging goals, they could finish higher. -JS

11. New England Revolution

Last year: 10th in East | 42 points (10W-12D-12L)
Average positioning: 11.4
Highest positioning: 9 (Davey)
Lowest positioning: 14 (Chris)

The lowdown: The Revs are one of the more puzzling teams heading into this year. They had a really disappointing 2022 and are looking to take the step back up. Bruce Arena made some interesting moves in the off season, trading for Latif Blessing and Dave Romney while also picking up Bobby Wood in free agency. They should have no problem staying in games with Djordje Petrovic in goal, but have to find a way to score more goals. -JS

12. Inter Miami CF

Last year: 6th in East | 48 points (14W-6D-14L)
Average positioning: 11.8
Highest positioning: 10 (Slape)
Lowest positioning: 14 (Andy)

The lowdown: Miami are one of the more interesting teams this season; they’re both in a state of rebuild and DP purgatory. Alejandro Pozuelo and Gonzalo Higuaín are both gone from this team, but Josef Martínez has come in, looking to get his career back on track after a disappointing end to his time in Atlanta. The roster additions are nice, but all eyes are on Messi and his contract situation with PSG? Is this the year they finally get their man? -JS

13. CF Montréal

Last year: 2nd in East | 65 points (20W-5D-9L)
Average positioning: 12.2
Highest positioning: 10 (Andy)
Lowest positioning: 15 (Slape)

The lowdown: Maybe Montréal are perennially underrated, but they have an uphill battle in 2023. Not only did they lose head coach Wilfried Nancy to Columbus, but Djordje Mihailovic, Joaquín Torres, Ismaël Koné and Alistair Johnston all departed this offseason. That kind of turnover is hard to overcome. – BW

14. Chicago Fire

Last year: 12th in East | 39 points (10W-9D-15L)
Average positioning: 14.0
Highest positioning: 13 (Slape, Andy)
Lowest positioning: 15 (Ben, Chris)

The lowdown: The good news is that Chicago Fire have made a lot of money by selling Gaga Slonina and Jhon Duran. The bad news is that they don’t have a good track record of bringing in the right players. Shaqiri looked decent in spells last year, but they need more return on their investment. They made a lot of moves last season and are banking on improved chemistry to take them further. -JS

15. DC United

Last year: 14th in East | 27 points (7W-6D-21L)
Average positioning: 14.4
Highest positioning: 13 (Chris)
Lowest positioning: 15 (Davey, Slape)

The lowdown: Once a perennial contender, DC looks to be heading straight for a second wooden spoon. Mateusz Klich was brought in from Leeds United to play the 10 behind Christian Benteke, but those two alone won’t cut it for this team. There are a whole lot of holes in this roster, but Wayne Rooney worked wonders at Derby County with a whole lot less. -JS

Awards predictions

2023 Golden Boot

Ben: Brandon Vazquez
Chris: Brandon Vazquez
Davey: Brandon Vazquez
Slape: Brandon Vazquez
Andy: Brenner

2023 Defender of the Year

Ben: Jakob Glesnes
Chris: Aaron Long
Davey: Kai Wagner
Slape: Jakob Glesnes
Andy: Aaron Long

2023 Goalkeeper of the Year

Ben: Djordje Petrović
Chris: Andre Blake
Davey: Djordje Petrović
Slape: Djordje Petrović
Andy: Andre Blake

2023 Young Player of the Year

Ben: Aidan Morris
Chris: Kwandwo Opoku
Slape: John Tolkin
Andy: Thiago Almada

2023 Newcomer of the Year

Ben: Evander
Chris: Evander
Davey: Giorgos Giakoumakis
Slape: Giorgos Giakoumakis
Andy: Will be signed in the summer window

2023 Coach of the Year

Ben: Brian Schmetzer
Chris: Jim Curtin
Davey: Steve Cherundolo
Slape: Oscar Pareja
Andy: Josh Wolff

2023 Most Valuable Player

Ben: Lucho Acosta
Chris: Brandon Vazquez
Davey: Sebastián Driussi
Slape: Sebastián Driussi
Andy: Sebastián Driussi

2023 Supporters’ Shield winner

Ben: Seattle Sounders
Chris: Philadelphia Union
Davey: Philadelphia Union
Slape: Philadelphia Union
Andy: Austin FC

2023 MLS Cup winner

Ben: Philadelphia Union
Chris: Philadelphia Union
Davey: LAFC
Slape: Philadelphia Union
Andy: NYCFC

Author: Ben Wrightis the Director of Soccer Content and a Senior MLS Contributor for Broadway Sports covering Nashville SC and the US National Team. Previously Ben was the editor and a founder of Speedway Soccer, where he has covered Nashville SC and their time in USL before journeying to Major League Soccer since 2018. Raised in Louisville, KY Ben grew up playing before a knee injury ended his competitive career. When he is not talking soccer he is probably producing music, drinking coffee or hanging out with his wife and kids. Mastodon

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