The MLS Is Back Part 1 The Eastern Conference

By Ian John
March 1, 2023
major league soccer preview 2023

The brand new Major League Soccer season has just got underway across the United States, so what better time than now to give you a special two-part look at how this unusual football competition is set up, as well as giving you an insight into some of the teams and players that compete in each  of the two conferences.

Unlike most other leagues around the world, the MLS is a franchise-based operation like the NFL and NBA, which means no promotion and relegation, but the 29 teams are split into two conferences for the regular season, before each conference runs its own playoffs to decide which team will represent them in the MLS Cup Final.

In this first of a two-part series of articles (check out part two here), you can discover all you need to know about the 15-team Eastern Conference.

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Let’s know kick off this first in a two-part series of articles looking at the MLS by taking a closer look at the Eastern Conference.

Eastern Conference – History & MLS Cup Champions

The first MLS season was in 1996 and the tournament has always been split into two or more conferences. Teams no longer part of the MLS are shown in italics in the sections below, the first of which details the teams that are Eastern Conference Regular Season winners.

Regular Season Eastern Conference Winners

  • Tampa Bay Mutiny – 1996
  • D.C. United – 1997, 1997, 1999, 2006, 2007, 2014
  • NY Metrostars – 2000
  • Miami Fusion – 2001
  • New England Revolution – 2002, 2005, 2021
  • Chicago Fire – 2003
  • Columbus Crew – 2004, 2008, 2009
  • New York Red Bulls – 2010, 2013, 2015, 2016
  • Sporting Kansas City – 2011, 2012
  • Toronto FC – 2017
  • New York City FC – 2019
  • Philadelphia Union – 2020, 2022

Eastern Conference Playoff Winners

Apart from the 2000 and 2001 seasons, when there were no Conference Playoffs, the teams that have advanced to the MLS Cup Final game from the Eastern Conference are shown below, with the years they achieved the feat listed in brackets next to the team.

  • DC United – 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2004
  • New England Revolution – 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2014
  • Chicago Fire – 2003
  • Columbus Crew – 2008, 2015, 2020
  • Real Salt Lake – 2009 (Now play in the Western Conference)
  • Colorado Rapids – 2010 (Now play in the Western Conference)
  • Houston Dynamo – 2011, 2012
  • Sporting Kansas City – 2013
  • Toronto FC – 2016, 2017, 2019
  • Atlanta United FC – 2018
  • New York City FC – 2021
  • Philadelphia Union – 2022

Eastern Conference MLS Cup Winners

Teams from the Eastern Conference that have won the season-ending MLS Cup Final are shown below with the year(s) they were champions also shown.

  • DC United – 1996, 1997, 1999, 2004
  • Columbus Crew – 2008, 2020
  • Real Salt Lake – 2009 (now play in Western Conference)
  • Colorado Rapids – 2010 (now play in Western Conference)
  • Sporting Kansas City – 2013
  • Toronto FC – 2017
  • Atlanta United – 2018
  • New York City FC – 2021

Eastern Conference Competitors & MLS Cup Odds

A total of 15 teams play in the Eastern Conference, one more than is in the Western Conference this season, they are shown below with their current manager in brackets and their current MLS Cup odds at the time of writing (from bet365 Sport).

  • Atlanta United (Gonzalo Pineda) – 20/1
  • Charlotte FC (Christian Lattanzio) – 80/1
  • Chicago Fire FC (Ezra Hendrickson) – 66/1
  • FC Cincinnati (Pat Noonan) – 20/1
  • Columbus Crew (Wilfred Nancy) – 40/1
  • D.C. United (Wayne Rooney) – 40/1
  • Inter Miami C.F (Phil Neville) – 16/1
  • CF Montreal (Hernan Losada) – 25/1
  • Nashville S.C (Gary Smith) – 14/1
  • New England Revolution (Bruce Arena) – 20/1
  • New York City F.C. (Nick Cushing) – 14/1
  • New York Red Bulls (Gerhard Struber) – 16/1
  • Orlando City S.C (Oscar Pareja) – 33/1
  • Philadelphia Union (Jim Curtin) – 6/1
  • Toronto F.C. (Bob Bradley) – 33/1


This season all teams in the Eastern Conference will play each other home and away (28 games) and then they play six further games against teams from the Western Conference in a single game for a total of 34 games in the regular season.


The top nine teams in the conference will qualify for the MLS Playoffs, with the top seven in each gaining a bye to the first round, with the teams ranked 8th and 9th competing in a playoff to join the other seven teams in the quarter finals.

The quarter-finals are a best of 3 series with the higher seeds hosting two games, and the lower seed just one. All other games are single-game elimination ties with extra time and penalties used to decide the winner if needed.

Who Are The Top Players In The Eastern Conference?

A selection of the top players you can look out for on the different teams in the MLS Eastern Conference are shown below:

  • Xherdan Shaqiri (Midfielder) – Chicago Fire
  • Michael Bradley (Midfielder) – Toronto FC
  • Brandon Vazquez (Forward) – FC Cincinnati
  • Federico Bernardeschi (Winger) – Toronto FC
  • Christian Benteke (Forward) – DC United
  • Victor Wanyama (Midfielder) – Montreal
  • Luis Araujo (Forward) – Atlanta United
  • Mauricio Pereyra (Midfielder) – Orlando City
  • Kamil Jozwiak (Forward) – Charlotte FC
  • Thiago Andrade (Forward) – New York City
  • Lucas Zelarayan (Midfielder) – Columbus Crew
  • Christopher McVey (Defender) – Inter Miami
  • Carles Gil (Midfielder) – New England Revolution
  • Andre Blake (Goalkeeper) – Philadelphia Union
  • Walker Zimmerman (Defender) – Nashville SC
  • Mateusz Klich (Midfielder) – DC United
  • Luciano Acosta (Midfielder) – FC Cincinnati
  • Ashley Westwood (Midfielder) – Charlotte FC
  • Andres Reyes (Defender) – New York Red Bulls
  • DeAndre Yedlin (Defender) – Inter Miami
  • Daniel Gazdag (Forward) – Philadelphia Union
  • Brad Guzan (Goalkeeper) – Atlanta United
  • Chris Mueller (Forward) – Chicago Fire
  • Lorenzo Insigne (Forward) – Toronto FC
  • Facundo Torres (Forward) – Orlando City
  • Hany Mukhtar (Forward) – Nashville SC
  • Kei Kamara (Forward) – Chicago Fire
  • Alejandro Bedoya (Midfielder) – Philadelphia Union
  • Robert Taylor (Midfielder) – Inter Miami
  • Kenneth Vermeer (Goalkeeper) – FC Cincinnati

Who Are The Team To Back To Win The Eastern Conference?

The Eastern Conference probably has a bit more depth to it in terms of quality this year with the likes of the Philadelphia Union, NYCFC, Nashville, Inter Miami and New York Red Bulls likely to be amongst the front runners in this division.

That said, you can’t rule out FC Cincinnati, New England Revolution or Montreal either.

I think the Union are the team who will win the Eastern Conference and my full playoff spot predictions are shown below:

Playoff Predictions

  1. Philadelphia Union
  2. FC Cincinnati
  3. New York City FC
  4. Inter Miami CF
  5. New England Revolution
  6. Nashville SC
  7. Atlanta United
  8. New York Red Bulls
  9. CF Montreal

Check back over the course of the season to see how my predictions are looking!

And remember to check out our dedicated Part 2 of the article on the Western Conference.

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