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2023 MLS: Season Preview (Part 1) - tactical analysis

2023 MLS Season Preview (Part 1): Which teams can win the MLS Cup and our top picks to pick up the MVP award for 2023? – tactical analysis

It may be hard to believe, but pre-season camps have opened ahead of the 2023 Major League Soccer season.  Preparation for the 28th season, which kicks off on February 25th, has begun and there is plenty of intrigue as teams break camp.

While all 29 teams, which now includes expansion side St. Louis City SC, have questions ahead of the season, some have more than others. Let’s take a look at five of those teams.

In this analysis, we will take a look at their current tactics and transfers. Also in this tactical analysis, we will discover potential top players for this MLS season in form of a scout report.


Let’s start at the top. When we last saw LAFC, they captured their first MLS Cup in arguably the greatest match in league history. That completed the Supporters’ Shield/MLS Cup double for LAFC, the first team to do so since Toronto FC in 2017.

So what can the Black-and-Gold do for an encore? Following the Seattle Sounders and becoming the second team in MLS to win the current incarnation of the CONCACAF Champions League is surely the goal for Steve Cherundolo’s team.

They are known for attractive offensive football with lots of final third entries, lots of touches in the box and a high number of attempts on goal. Additionally, they press high up the pitch in order to recover the ball in a dangerous zone.

2023 MLS: Season preview (Part 1) - tactical analysis tactics

LAFC hooked one of the largest fish in the free agency when the club announced the signing of centre-back Aaron Long. The 30-year-old, part of the USMNT roster at the World Cup in Qatar, was the MLS Defender of the Year in 2018 and was a regular starter for the New York Red Bulls for the past six seasons.

That move came on the heels of signing Croatian winger Stipe Biuk from Hajduk Split. The 20-year-old Croatian youth international had six goals and eight assists for the Croatian top-flight side since turning pro at the age of 17. Biuk joins an attacking unit that includes Carlos Vela, Chicho Arango, Denis Bouanga, as well as Kwadwo Opoku. They also signed the 38-year-old former Everton goalkeeper Eldin Jakupović who should help fill the void left by Maxime Crepeau who is recovering from a broken leg during MLS Cup.

LAFC jettisoned Latif Blessing in a trade with the New England Revolution, former Real Madrid player Gareth Bale retired, and the defending champs could see additional departures before their mouth-watering season-opener against the LA Galaxy at the Rose Bowl on Feb. 25.

Ecuadorian international Jhegson Mendez transferred to Sao Paulo FC and fellow midfielder Jose Cifuentes and left-back Diego Palacios could also be transferred out. All three were on Ecuador’s World Cup roster, with Mendez starting La Tri’s first two matches.

New York City FC

As a feeder club for Manchester City, the Citizens enter the 2023 season looking almost nothing like the side that captured the MLS Cup two years ago. However, they are still a top side if it comes to ball possession and passing rates. They attack through the middle with a high passing accuracy as they try to avoid crosses at the same time. NYCFC press high.

2023 MLS: Season preview (Part 1) - tactical analysis tactics

The biggest outbound move was playmaker Maxi Moralez who pulled the strings as one of MLS’ best-ever No. 10s for the last six seasons, returning to his native Argentina to play for his boyhood side Racing Club.

Also gone are forward Heber, who was traded to the Seattle Sounders, standout right back Anton Tinnerholm, who returned to his native Sweden to play for Malmö FF, midfielder Nico Acevedo was loaned to Esporte Clube Bahia in Brazil and fellow midfielder Santi Rodriguez’s loan from Uruguay’s Montevideo City Torque has yet to be renewed.

On top of that, goalkeeper Sean Johnson and centre-back Alex Callens are free agents, with Johnson drawing interest from Toronto FC and Callens linked to Atlanta United, although both are in contract talks with NYCFC.

The one incoming move was signing 18-year-old MitjaIlenič right back from Slovenian top-flight side NK Domžale with additional moves surely to follow as Nick Cushing enters his first full season at the helm as head coach.

CF Montreal 

CF Montreal enjoyed one of the most successful seasons in club history, finishing second in the Eastern Conference with 65 points. Clearly, European clubs were noticing.

Star midfielder Djordje Mihailovic was the first to leave, signing with AZ Alkmaar in Holland’s Eredivisie for a reported $6 million. He was followed by fellow midfielder Ismael Kone, who also competed for Canada at the World Cup. The 20-year-old signed with Watford in the English Championship for $8 million after his first full season with Montreal.

And then right wingback Alistair Johnston, who was a standout for Les Rouges in Qatar, joined Scottish giant Celtic for $3.5 million.

Wilfred Nancy, who was a Coach of the Year candidate in 2022, departed to coach the Columbus Crew. Under him, Montreal played possession-based football but struggled to create chances on a regular base.

2023 MLS: Season preview (Part 1) - tactical analysis tactics

Filling those footsteps is former D.C. United manager Hernan Losada and CF Montreal found Johnston’s replacement in Aaron Herrera who they obtained in a trade with Real Salt Lake, while also filling in a need at centre-back by trading with Atlanta United for George Campbell. That’s especially important if the rumours that Joel Waterman and Kamal Miller are also being courted by European suitors are true.

The midfield doesn’t have to be completely rebuilt, with Designated Player Victor Wanyama agreeing to a new two-year deal, but there are plenty of questions ahead for CF Montreal looking to build off a record-breaking season.

Atlanta United 

The rebuild in Atlanta is full steam ahead, especially after Garth Lagerway was lured from Seattle to become the club’s new president and CEO. He replaced Darren Eales, the architect from day one, who left to join Newcastle United in the English Premier League.

They are known for high pressing and a dominating possession-based philosophy that seems to be successful quite often. Atlanta is one of the most well-rounded teams in MLS but struggled to turn this into goals last season.

2023 MLS: Season preview (Part 1) - tactical analysis tactics

The Five Stripes shed salary by mutually agreeing to terminate midfielder Emerson Hyndman’s contract, transferring defender Alan Franco to Brazil’s Sao Paulo, loaning midfielder Marcelino Moreno to Brazil’s Coritiba and waiving forward Dom Dwyer.

Star-turned-out-of-favour-striker Josef Martinez was also booted out the door, moving to Inter Miami, while the club re-upped midfielder Amar Sejdić who is coming off his best professional season to date and signed free agent winger Derrick Etienne who had nine goals and six assists for Columbus last season.

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan and defender Miles Robinson are both returning from Achilles injuries and, if it’s in fact true Callens could be joining, Atlanta would arguably have one of the best centre-back duos in the league.

LA Galaxy 

The Galaxy are always intriguing, especially since the noisy neighbours LAFC are coming off winning a first-ever MLS Cup. No team in MLS history has more titles than the Galaxy who are looking to take that next step up after reaching the playoffs in 2022 for the first time since 2019.

2023 MLS: Season preview (Part 1) - tactical analysis tactics

What should be most exciting for LA fans, and neutrals alike, is the first full season for Riqui Puig, the 23-year-old Spanish midfielder who had three goals and five assists in just 10 appearances after signing from Barcelona during the summer transfer window.

LA also got rid of underperforming winger Kevin Cabral in a trade with the Colorado Rapids and opened up a Designated Player (DP) spot, although they’re on the hook for a chunk of his bloated salary.

The hope is they can do the same with Douglas Costa and find suitable wingers for Mexican legend Chicharito, who is coming off an 18-goal, two-assist season.


The Major League Soccer regular season is about a few weeks away and there’s no time like the present to break down some of the preseason favourites to land the MLS MVP award. That’s why, in this tactical analysis, we will also take a look at potential star players ahead of the new season. Here’s a look at five candidates.

Daniel Gazdag

Generally speaking, the league’s MVP comes from a highly successful team, if not the best team in the league. A year ago, the Union fell agonizingly close to winning both the Supporters’ Shield and the MLS Cup and they return virtually everyone from that side and that includes Daniel Gazdag. The 26-year-old Hungarian midfielder was a strong candidate for the award a year ago, scoring 22 goals, one behind Golden Boot and MVP winner Hany Mukhtar of Nashville SC, and adding 10 assists. Gazdag was named to the MLS Best XI and he was rewarded for a career year with a new Designated Player contract and the club’s No. 10 jersey.

“I told him maybe if he dyes his hair, maybe gets a mohawk, more of the press and media will notice how good he is and maybe we talk about him – which he should’ve been in in the first place – with the MVPs,” Union coach Jim Curtin joked in a preseason press conference. “… He’s a big part of our success, not just with the ball, but against the ball as well.”

2023 MLS: Season preview (Part 1) - tactical analysis tactics

Sebastian Driussi

Had Mukhtar not won the award, Sebastian Driussi would have captured it. The 26-year-old Argentine midfielder finished second in the voting in 2022 and was also named in the MLS Best XI after a 22-goal, seven-assist regular season and three more playoff tallies, helping his team reach the Western Conference final.

Driussi is already on a DP contract, but like Gazdag, will don the No. 10 kit for Austin FC this season. And Austin are expected to again be among the Western Conference elite, meaning more chances for Driussi to shine in a national spotlight.

Also an interesting note: Mukhtar was a finalist for MVP when Carles Gil of the New England Revolution won the award. Driussi was a finalist a year ago. Will the trend continue?

2023 MLS: Season preview (Part 1) - tactical analysis tactics

Riqui Puig

It was a relatively small sample size, but man was Riqui Puig fun to watch in his first MLS season a year ago.

Signed from Barcelona during the summer transfer window, the Spanish midfielder made 10 appearances (nine starts) and had three goals and five assists, helping steer the Galaxy back to the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time since 2019.

Now the 22-year-old is more comfortable in his environment, going through his first MLS pre-season ahead of his first full season in the league. There’s a reasonable belief Puig will have an even bigger impact in 2023, especially if the Galaxy push into the upper tier of the Western Conference.

2023 MLS: Season preview (Part 1) - tactical analysis tactics

Lorenzo Insigne

Like Puig, Insigne didn’t arrive until the summer after leaving Napoli in Italy’s Serie A but made a big splash in Toronto. The 31-year-old Italian attacking star had six goals and two assists in 11 starts, helping get a buzz back in BMO Field upon his arrival despite Toronto failing to make the MLS Cup playoffs for the second consecutive year.

He will be another elite player who should be more comfortable in MLS in his first full season. The big question will be: can Toronto climb the ladder in the Eastern Conference despite still having some glaring holes in their roster?

2023 MLS: Season preview (Part 1) - tactical analysis tactics

Cucho Hernandez 

Cucho Hernandez arrived with high expectations as a club record, reported $10 million transfer from Watford in England and delivered upon those expectations immediately, scoring five goals in his first seven MLS appearances, forming a terrific (or terrifying if you’re an opponent) partnership with playmaker Lucas Zelarayan.

The 23-year-old Colombian international finished with nine goals and three assists in 16 appearances for a Columbus team that missed the post-season for a second straight year, resulting in Caleb Porter’s ouster and the signing of Wilfried Nancy, who guided CF Montreal a year ago. Again, Cucho will be entering his first full season but will be doing so under a new head coach.

2023 MLS: Season preview (Part 1) - tactical analysis tactics


The new MLS season comes with a new team in St. Louis City. Some of the biggest clubs still have to improve in order to contend for the title. In terms of popular players, the MLS is still rising. The new broadcasting contract with Apple will lead to more money for the league and the clubs to invest in more talented youngsters or players with big names.