Next year’s Western Conference will be different from the one that the Quakes just finished 10th in.
With a new team joining the MLS, a team will be moved from the Eastern Conference to the west, altering the conference.
There will also be changes to some of the teams that finished ahead of the Quakes, meaning that there will be work to be done for the team going into next season.
The Western Conference of next season will be dramatically different from this past season, with teams going through large-scale changes and a new team joining the conference. With all these changes, it will be interesting to see how the Quakes will approach the offseason, given the volatility of the new landscape.
Whether through player acquisition or development, the Quakes will have to prepare themselves for the new western landscape properly.
With Charlotte FC joining the MLS, Nashville SC will be moved from the Eastern Conference to the west to better balance the two leagues. While Nashville isn’t the most recognizable of teams in the east, they have been one of the best teams in the league over the past two seasons.
Nashville finished third in the east last season and tied on points with the Philadelphia Union, a remarkable achievement considering the competition found in that conference. Manager Gary Smith has found a way to develop a team that is a defensive powerhouse that has allowed the tied lowest amount of goals in the whole league. Similar to the Seattle Sounders, this team can also score at a high level and still remain solid defensively.
The team’s identity revolves around defender Walker Zimmerman, who has returned to his defender of the year form since his move to Nashville. Hany Mukhtar has been one of the league’s most underrated players, as his MVP form has allowed for Nashville’s offense to be amongst the best in the league. Nashville will be a formidable opponent next season for the Quakes, as they will likely continue that hot form into the Western Conference.
There were 5 other teams that missed the playoffs alongside the Quakes, with two of those teams being surprises. Both LA teams and all teams from Texas also failed to make the playoffs, which is kind of insane when considering the success of both those markets in the MLS.
It will be an interesting offseason for the two LA teams, as they came into the season with championship aspirations but failed to even make the playoffs. LAFC has just fired their longtime manager Bob Bradley and will have to find a new manager that can get the most out of the arguably, most talented team in the league. While the Galaxy started the season strong, they stalled towards the end, with the team failing to complement the excellent play of Chicharito.
The situation for the Texas teams is a lot more different than that of the LA teams, with all teams going through a rebuild. Austin FC’s first season in the MLS had some highs and lows, but it was clear that the team will need a few more seasons to become a competitive force in the league. FC Dallas and the Dynamo have squads that desperately need to rebuild through the draft and player development in their academies.
When comparing the Quakes to the other teams that failed to make the playoffs, it’s clear that they are closer to the LA teams in terms of what they need this offseason. There are some aspects of rebuilding that the team needs, but they are closer to competing in the Western Conference than the Texas teams.
Seven teams finished in the playoff spots and will compete to represent the Western Conference in the MLS Cup finals. Throughout the season, these teams should their class above the Quakes, and there are some things that the Quakes could take from those teams.
It’s clear that the top teams in the west are the Colorado Rapids, Sounders, Sporting KC, and the Portland Timbers. All these teams have a mixture of great coaching and teams that easily mix MLS-proven players and stars to be the best in the league. The team that the Quakes should follow is Colorado, as they have a budget similar to the Quakes but have created a competitive roster based on cheap MLS veterans and designated players who fit the team.
While the top four teams may seem to be miles above the Quakes, the bottom three teams of the playoff bunch aren’t too far away from the Quakes. Minnesota United, Vancouver Whitecaps, and Real Salt Lake are all talented teams that, given the right conditions, could cause some major upsets. Like the Rapids, these teams provide a template for the Quakes to follow due to their limited budgets and ability to find quality players that can contribute to MLS success.
At times it seemed that the Quakes were so far below these playoff teams, but these teams do offer some insight on how the Quakes could become more competitive. The Rapids, amongst all the other teams, should be the inspiration for the team going into the offseason.
With a rapidly changing Western Conference, it is important for the Quakes not to get stuck behind as the west becomes more competitive. The teams that finished above and below the Quakes will all likely go through some change which should force the Quakes to undergo some changes too.
A new team and some teams are likely to hit the reset button; the west will be wild next season.
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