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MLS: Is the East Really a 'Weak' Conference?

Peter Galindo@@GalindoPWFeatured ColumnistFebruary 6, 2015

Confetti falls as New England Revolution midfielder Scott Caldwell holds the MLS Eastern Conference Champion's Cup aloft as he and teammates celebrate after the second soccer game against the New York Red Bulls of the MLS Eastern Conference final in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014. The match ended 2-2 and New England advanced with a two-game aggregate 4-3. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Elise Amendola/Associated Press

The 2015 MLS season will begin on March 6 barring a potential work stoppage, and it promises to be an exciting one, as the conferences will look a lot different this year. However, even though the East has two expansion teams, it will be extremely difficult to qualify for the playoffs this campaign compared to 2014.

MLS announced changes to its playoff format in January. Twelve teams (six from each conference) will now be able to qualify for the postseason, as opposed to the usual 10. 

If this system was used last year, teams like the Portland Timbers and the Philadelphia Union would have competed for the MLS Cup. However, the flurry of activity by almost every club is what makes this new format so intriguing.

The Portland Timbers would have qualified for last season's playoffs under the new format.
The Portland Timbers would have qualified for last season's playoffs under the new format.GREG WAHL-STEPHENS/Associated Press/Associated Press

Western teams like the Timbers, LA Galaxy, Sporting Kansas City and Houston Dynamo have bulked up their squads to prepare for what will be a hotly contested battle in the West.

In addition, plenty of teams in the Eastern Conference made significant moves. Toronto FC spent big to acquire Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco and others as the Reds vie for their first postseason berth in franchise history.

The Chicago Fire and Montreal Impact have had busy winters. Expansion sides Orlando City SC and New York City FC have also been productive during the offseason. 

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This is also the first mention of last year's top three Eastern teams, such as the New England Revolution, Columbus Crew and D.C. United. Even the New York Red Bulls, whose fanbase is still skeptical about the firing of head coach Mike Petke, should be competitive as well.

Even the expansion teams like Orlando City SC will be competitive this season.
Even the expansion teams like Orlando City SC will be competitive this season.John Raoux/Associated Press

Every team except the Philadelphia Union has made some major changes over the winter season. The Union also has time to bolster its squad before the beginning of the season, so Philly could also be in the mix for a playoff spot.

D.C. has a relatively strong squad. There are issues up front, because Fabian Espindola was the only double-digit scorer with 11 goals in 2014. Eddie Johnson woefully underperformed as a designated player, and the striker's issues were evident in the playoffs.

However, United should still be a contender in the East due to its strong defending and deep midfield. 

The Revolution was one of the most entertaining teams, and the Revs gained stability thanks to Jermaine Jones. However, A.J. Soares' potential move to Hellas Verona hit a bump in the road, per Julian Cardillo of New England Soccer Today.

Even if Soares is still on the Revolution roster, there isn't a lot of defensive depth in the squad. On the other hand, the attack and midfield should guide the Revs into the playoffs. Head coach Jay Heaps is looking at center backs as well, according to Craig Forde of MLSSoccer.com.

Even with the lack of defensive depth, the New England Revolution should still be considered as a major MLS Cup contender.
Even with the lack of defensive depth, the New England Revolution should still be considered as a major MLS Cup contender.Elise Amendola/Associated Press

The Crew made a few unknown signings from overseas, and they should be able to help guide the club into the postseason. Chicago is in the same boat, although Columbus only signed six players compared to the Fire's nine.

Orlando City has to be considered as an automatic playoff team as well. Kaka, Bryan Rochez, Amobi Okugo, Aurelien Collin and Brek Shea are just a few of the standouts in the squad. Youngsters such as Tyler Turner and Tommy Redding make this team the perfect blend of youth and experience.

NYCFC is also set for a successful campaign. David Villa should be one of the top goalscorers in Major League Soccer and will be a difference-maker for New York. Ned Grabavoy, Mix Diskerud and Frank Lampard should also form one of the best midfields in the league.

TFC and Montreal made several moves and now appear to be balanced in every position. The Impact are still searching for a big-name striker, per the Canadian Press (h/t Sportsnet), but president Joey Saputo will surely make the signing before the first week of March.

It's incredibly difficult to choose which six teams will make the playoffs out of the Eastern Conference. This is why the 2015 MLS season should be one of the most entertaining and competitive campaigns to date.

All official transactions courtesy of MLSSoccer.com.

Peter Galindo covers MLS and U.S. soccer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @PGFutbol.

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