By Brian Maurer
Image courtesy of Austin FC
Austin FC have made a strong run throughout the 2022 MLS season which has continued into the postseason. They are now in the Western Conference finals where they will face off against Supporter’s Shield winners Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC). Here is a look at how expansion teams since 2015 have fared from their inaugural season through their second season.
All stats found on either FBref.com or SofaScore
Austin FC’s Historical Second Season Jump
Austin FC has had a larger points per match jump (+.74) from their inaugural season than any MLS expansion team since 2005, when expansion teams became a regular occurrence. What has made their run this season so remarkable is how they finished in their inaugural season.
Austin FC had the second worst inaugural season since 2015, only better than the historically poor FC Cincinnati expansion. Being projected by many MLS pundits to be near the bottom of the Western Conference for a second straight campaign, Austin instead went on to challenge for the Supporter’s Shield for large parts of the season, and can make an MLS Cup final with a win on Sunday.
Other Notable Expansion Season Jumps
Atlanta United and LAFC both should be recognized for the improvements that their teams made in their second seasons. They are, currently, the only expansion teams since 2015 to win trophies in their second season. LAFC claimed the 2019 Supporters Shield, while Atlanta United claimed the 2018 MLS Cup. Both of these teams had successful playoff qualifying inaugural seasons, but even with that initial success going on to win trophies the next year is a noteworthy improvement.
New York City Football Club (NYCFC) also had a remarkable second campaign, climbing from near the bottom of the table to 4th in the Supporters’ Shield standings. The major shift that occurred for NYCFC was the coaching change. Patrick Vieira made his head coaching debut for NYCFC’s second season, helping them jump 17 points higher than their inaugural season.
Nashville SC With A Little Jump, But Lots Of Consistency
Nashville SC’s second year jump was small compared to the other teams previously mentioned, but it should be noted that they were one of the few expansion side’s to qualify for the playoffs in their inaugural season. In fact, with Atlanta United and the Seattle Sounders missing the playoffs this season, Nashville SC have become the only expansion side to have never missed the playoffs.
This is a small three year sample size currently, but still fun to note and to keep an eye on. While Nashville’s jump was small, they have proven to be able to maintain a steady consistent pace that finds them in playoff contention year after year.
The Early Expansion Woes
FC Cincinnati, Inter Miami, Minnesota United, and Orlando City all struggled, for various reasons, throughout the early parts of their expansions. It should be noted that all four of these teams qualified for the 2022 MLS playoffs. While it was a struggle for these teams to work out their team build initially, they have all shown the ability to improve and grow into more competitive teams within MLS.
*Stats that occurred during the 2020 season, when schedules were greatly altered due to COVID-19