The new Major League Soccer season gets underway later this month and we have taken a look at some of the main contenders to challenge for overall glory in 2023.
Los Angeles FC were crowned champions last season after winning one of the most dramatic MLS Cup finals in history, as they prevailed 3-0 on penalties after a 3-3 draw with Philadelphia Union which included two goals in stoppage time at the end of extra time.
Steve Cherundolo's side are expected to be in the mix to defend their title this year, but who else is fancied to end the season as the top team in the MLS?
|What||Major League Soccer 2023|
|Where||United States and Canada|
|When||Regular season: 25th February 2023 – 21st October 2023|
|How to watch||MLS Season Pass, Apple TV (UK)|
|Odds||Los Angeles FC 9/2, Philadelphia Union 7/1, New York City FC 8/1, New York Red Bulls 12/1, CF Montreal 12/1|
Barely three months have passed since the emotional rollercoaster that was the MLS Cup final, a match which culminated in LAFC lifting the championship for the first time in their history.
A lot has changed since then, with the likes of the now-retired Gareth Bale and last season's top scorer Cristian Arango having left the club, and it is in attack where Cherundolo may have work to do, with a lot of the goalscoring responsibility seemingly resting on the shoulders of the experienced Carlos Vela.
The arrival of US international defender Aaron Long does appear a smart piece of business, but history is against LAFC, as no team has successfully defended the MLS Cup since LA Galaxy in 2012.
Just how do you recover from one of the most agonising defeats in MLS Cup history?
That is the question Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin is going to have to answer this season.
The Union were seconds away from lifting a first MLS Cup title in 2022 after Jack Elliott scored a 124th-minute goal to put them 3-2 up against LAFC in the final, only for Bale to equalise four minutes later before Philadelphia then lost the match on penalties.
The hurt of that defeat will run deep within the squad, but it could also inspire them to go all the way this year. Last season's 24-goal top scorer Daniel Gazdag could well prove a key figure once again.
New York City were beaten in the Eastern Conference Finals by Philadelphia Union last season, but with English coach Nick Cushing beginning his first full season in charge, the 2021 MLS Cup winners will be hopeful they can lift the title for the second time in three years.
However, they have suffered some notable key departures during the offseason, with goalkeeper Sean Johnson heading to Toronto FC and attacking midfielder Santiago Rodriguez, who had more assists than any New York City player last season, returning to Uruguay following the end of his successful loan.
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New York Red Bulls have had to play second fiddle to their city neighbours over recent seasons, as while New York City have enjoyed deep runs in the playoffs, the Red Bulls have fallen in the first round in each of the last four years.
Head coach Gerhard Struber will be hoping to break that cycle this year and the addition of Belgium international forward Dante Vanzeir, who averaged over a goal every two games during two-and-a-half seasons with Union SG in his homeland, could prove a real coup.
It is all change at CF Montreal, as after reaching the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals last season, Le CFM lost head coach Wilfried Nancy to Columbus Crew, with Hernan Losada, who was fired by DC United last season, coming in to replace him.
There have been more outgoings than incomings at Saputo Stadium during the offseason, including the departures of Canadian internationals Alistair Johnston and Ismael Kone. Replicating last season's strong showing could prove difficult.
It must have made tough watching for LA Galaxy fans last season, as LAFC lifted the MLS Cup, but the Galaxy remain the most successful club in MLS history even if the last of their five titles came nearly a decade ago.
Beaten by their city rivals in last season's Western Conference Semi-Finals would have been a bitter pill to swallow for Greg Vanney and his side, but they remain a team that boasts a wealth of quality, not least in the shape of former Barcelona star Riqui Puig and the evergreen Javier Hernandez, who scored 18 times for the Galaxy last season.
Austin FC's second season in the MLS proved very successful, as under the guidance of head coach Josh Wolff, they made it to the Western Conference Finals where they were only stopped by eventual champions LAFC.
Topping last season's performance will prove tough and they'll almost certainly need another 20+ goal season from Argentine forward Sebastian Driussi, but this is an Austin team that appears to be building plenty of positive momentum.
The only player that scored more goals during the 2022 regular season than Driussi was Nashville SC ace Hany Mukhtar, who netted 23 and also provided 11 assists.
The fact NSC have kept hold of him could prove crucial to their chances this year. Nashville were also strong defensively last season, with US World Cup stars Shaq Moore and Walker Zimmerman key to that resilience.
The balance could well be there within Gary Smith's squad for them to mount a serious bid for MLS Cup glory.