New Year's resolutions; most make them, few stick to them.
Still, there will be plenty of MLS clubs to consider as the 2022 season races into view, and what better time than January to clear out bad habits, reshape a roster, or resolve to do better?
Here's one New Year's resolution for every Eastern Conference team:
1. Atlanta United - stop throwing away leads
In the end, despite having to part ways with the controversial Gabriel Heinze and ease Josef Martinez back into action, Atlanta United finished fifth in the Eastern Conference. They were just three points off second, which is an incredible achievement all told.
But it would have been a lot better if they'd just learned how to see games out. Too many times, the Five Stripes had one and two-goal advantages heading into the last 15 minutes of games, only to collapse and leave with nothing - or a point if they were lucky.
As they learned in the testing surroundings of Yankee Stadium against NYCFC in Round One of the Playoffs, seeding and home advantage are really important in the post-season. It was their propensity to switch off that ultimately cost them a deeper run. The addition of the vastly experienced Osvaldo Alonso is a good start in this respect.
2. CF Montreal - put two halves together
CF Montreal spent so long above the Playoff line, it almost felt wrong that they missed out on Decision Day, losing 2-0 to Orlando City.
Their season was saved with a Canadian Championship title, beating Toronto FC in the final and sealing their spot in next season's Concacaf Champions League. And in reality, even challenging for the Playoffs at all was quite the achievement.
In 2022, Wilfried Nancy will be focusing on maintaining the strong form they showed in the first half of last season across an entire campaign - they fell away hard at the end, winning just two of their last nine MLS matches.
3. Charlotte FC - be competitive
There are two kinds of expansion teams: the Atlanta United/LAFC variety that compete from the off, and the FC Cincinnati type that tank hard.
Charlotte FC have started making a lot of noise ahead of their expansion year and in truth, you can't help but be impressed at some of the business they've pulled off so far.
That all counts for nothing if they crash and burn toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Compete game after game and keep the Playoff line on the horizon and 2022 can be deemed a success.
4. Chicago Fire - be better in both boxes
The Chicago Fire underperformed their xG by a pretty considerable 9.3 last season, while only Toronto FC and FC Cincinnati allowed more goals in the Eastern Conference. Fundamental, and inexplicable, errors cost them despite some surprisingly impressive performances.
With a new head coach and crest, and some talented homegrown players coming through, there's renewed optimism that the Fire can make the Playoffs for just the third time in 13 years next season. But Ezra Hendrickson simply must make his new side better in both boxes.
5. Columbus Crew - stay fit
Okay, so avoiding injury is the sort of New Year's resolution that's akin to vowing to win the lottery, but that's really what derailed the Crew's MLS Cup title defense in 2021.
When everyone was healthy, they were great. Lucas Zelarayan, Gyasi Zardes, Pedro Santos, and co. caused havoc for the opposition. But their entire team was crippled with injuries throughout.
It's hard to build any sort of consistency when key players are consistently ruled out, so Caleb Porter must either find ways to keep his team wrapped in cotton wool, or add even more depth.
6. DC United - manage workloads
When DC United were at their high-energy, pressing, overwhelming best, they were a joy to watch in 2021. The big problem was that Hernan Losada demanded so much from so few players that they regularly ran out of gas in the middle of the highway.
Let's be straight: this isn't necessarily a criticism of Losada. He's definitely improved the Black and Red. He just needs to pick his moments to conserve energy and bring in a few more spare parts to avoid flat tires and blown baskets.
7. FC Cincinnati - help Lucho Acosta
Lucho Acosta was really, really good in 2021:
- Fourth in MLS for successful dribbles (86).
- Seventh in MLS for chances created (78).
- Seven goals and eight assists in 31 appearances.
All that for an FC Cincinnati side that once again finished rock bottom overall. They have a great lynchpin to build around, and Brenner could be the striker to partner the little Argentine. But literally everything else has to be better. Help Lucho, and good things will happen.
8. Inter Miami - get more from the DPs
Phil Neville spoke at length in 2021 about getting more from his Designated Players. In reality, it was the patchy form of Gonzalo Higuain, Rodolfo Pizarro, and Blaise Matuidi that caused their big winless streaks and cost them a Playoff berth.
Pizarro looks set for a return to Monterrey, so one spot could be opened up there. And Matuidi was left unprotected in the recent MLS Expansion Draft, so he's clearly not as valued in South Florida as you might think.
The New England Revolution were only so good because their DPs were relentless in the final third. Same goes for the likes of Sporting Kansas City, NYCFC, and Nashville. Inter Miami need that sort of production, too.
9. New England Revolution - tighten up at the back
How do you improve a record-setting Supporters' Shield-winning team? Well, we gotta pick something...
While the Revs won a lot of games by a single goal, they also allowed themselves to be drawn into too many goalmouth shootouts. They were the top scorers in 2021, but very middle-of-the-road defensively. And that's pretty much what cost them in the Playoffs.
It'll cost them again next year if they're not careful, in regular-season play, the Playoffs, and in CCL.
10. New York City FC - be more clinical more often
Like the Revs, it really is tough to find a way to improve the MLS Cup champions. Of course, there could be a fair few departures from NYCFC this offseason, so Ronny Deila may actually have his hands full.
In their current iteration, you'd probably want them to be more clinical throughout the entire season, not just down the stretch. They'll come unstuck against Liga MX sides in CCL if they don't put their chances away and with how competitive the East could be next season, every chance matters.
Again, though, we're really being harsh here.
11. New York Red Bulls - ask more questions of the opposition
Gerhard Struber did brilliantly to turn the Red Bulls around and drag them over the Playoff line in 2021. Their charge up the table was predicated on rock-solid defense and taking that one chance when it comes.
That's fine until you suddenly concede a couple of goals and have to start asking questions of the opposition defense. What happens when the Red Bulls suffer a defensive lapse and go behind? Where do the chances and goals come from?
Struber has sorted the basics, now it's time to start adding some flair to create a masterpiece. The addition of Lewis Morgan from Inter Miami is a good start.
12. Orlando City - replace big departures
Oscar Pareja did well to make Orlando City a Playoff team for a second year running. For much of 2021, he was simply unable to field his best XI due to injuries, suspensions, and Daryl Dike spending the first half of the year on loan at Barnsley.
As reported by 90min, Dike is set to leave Orlando in January while Nani and Uri Rosell have already left the club amid a host of uncertainties.
This will all leave Orlando very shorthanded, especially in attacking areas, with work to do in the transfer market to make sure they remain a Playoff team for a third year running. Everything else is just fine and dandy at Exploria Stadium.
13. Philadelphia Union - find a clinical striker
It took a while, but the Union finally got their act together and surged into second in the East, while they also went to the Conference Final in the Playoffs.
There's a good argument to say they'd have gone even further had they been armed with a clinical striker (of course, we'll give them the benefit of the doubt with the number of players they had sidelined due to Covid protocols).
Between Kacper Przybyłko and Sergio Santos, the Union's forward line missed a mountain of chances against NYCFC, who eventually punished them with a 2-1 win to book their place in the MLS Cup final. Jim Curtin will not want a repeat of that in 2022.
14. Toronto FC - get Insigne over the line
Toronto FC were terrible for most of 2021, but Bob Bradley is in town now, so things should improve.
They'll improve considerably if they can bring in Lorenzo Insigne. As reported by 90min, TFC have been looking to move on Yeferson Soteldo to make that happen.
That has to be where all of TFC's focus goes in January - getting that deal done and bringing Italian stardom back to BMO Field.