The ultimate guide to the 2021 MLS season

Ah yes, the return of Major League Soccer. The home of a league that continues expansion despite the already-thin lack of talent every club holds. Austin FC enters the league for its debut year to become the 27th franchise in MLS. 

In comparison, the English Premier League is capped at 20 clubs with a promotion-relegation system to encourage competition at the highest level. 

Does MLS have this yet? No. Instead, only five clubs remain relevant in the grand scheme of the league with a sixth on the horizon in the southeast. Those clubs are the City of Angels enemies in the Los Angeles Galaxy and Los Angeles Football Club, the Cascadia Cup between the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders, and a potential brewing rivalry down south between now-healthy Atlanta United and Nashville FC. 

Without further ado, let’s try to figure out how the 26th season of Major League Soccer will play out. 

Eastern Conference

After winning the Supporters’ Shield last season, the Philadelphia Union committed the ultimate tank job as they fell 2-0 to the New England Revolution in the first round of that year’s playoffs. Philly will look for better fortunes in 2021 with the return of Coach of the Year in Jim Curtin and Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake, who collected eight clean sheets in 2020. 

2018 MVP Josef Martinez makes his highly-anticipated return to the pitch after suffering a season-ending injury to open 2020. Soccer fans in the south will finally have a chance to see a blossoming rivalry between Nashville FC and Atlanta United with each club healthy. 

The Columbus Crew pulled off one of the greatest defensive runs in postseason history as they shut out every club they faced after the first round, marching their way to a 3-0 victory over Seattle in the MLS Cup Final. Unfortunately, less than 1.1M viewers tuned into the dominant title match in a primetime slot on FOX, but nonetheless, Columbus will look to defend the crown and become the first back-to-back champions since the Galaxy in 2011-2012. 

Optics may start looking up for FC Cincinnati after a rough first two seasons. The offseason moves to nab Luciano Acosta and Brenner Souza da Silva may finally bring an offense to the club after a lackluster season from Jurgen Locadia. 

It’s time for the major markets of New York, Orlando and Miami to finally step up and bring more attention to MLS. Orlando City SC, NYCFC, and the Red Bulls reached the postseason last year, but both NYC teams failed to advance out of the first round and Orlando was washed by the underdog Revolution. Inter Miami was poor last season, but they can probably turn it around in their sophomore outing. 

Postseason predictions:

  1. Columbus Crew
  2. Philadelphia Union
  3. Atlanta United
  4. Orlando City
  5. New England Revolution
  6. Nashville FC
  7. FC Cincinnati

Western Conference

The conference dominated by the West Coast should look for that trend to continue in 2021 as Seattle and LAFC are bound for a heated rivalry with their abundance of talent. It may be impossible to stop either club as Diego Rossi and Carlos Vela will be healthy and available for the Los Angeles club still seeking their first postseason trophy.

LAFC’s Achilles’ Heel will come in the form of Raul Ruidiaz for Seattle, who’s put up three goals in the last two playoff matches between the clubs. 

Does any team offer a fighting chance against these clubs?

Minnesota United showed promise last year, but will they be able to find any offense after the exits of Mason Toye and leading goal-scorer Kevin Molino. Ethan Finlay is going to need to deliver his best season yet if Minnesota wants to be a true contender. 

The LA Galaxy will continue to be the laughing stock of the MLS after ignorantly believing Chicharito’s fossil was going to do anything in this league to the extent of Zlatan, Landon Donovan or Robbie Keane. Let’s be honest, he was brought thinking it would attract more Hispanic fans to the club and it has backfired tremendously. But hey, maybe upcomer Cameron Dunbar can be a breakthrough player this year.  

Unlike Inter Miami, Austin FC will reach the postseason in their debut year. Tomas Pochettino will shine in MLS and first-year head coach Josh Wolff will deliver a high-octane offense to bring some fire and fear to the Western Conference elite. I don’t expect them to be at the top of the table, but the ceiling is third or fourth in the West with a packed roster that consists of midfield veterans in Ben Sweat and Nick Lima, along with Matt Besler on the backline. 

It’s the last ride for Chris Wondolowski for the San Jose Earthquakes. The all-time leader in MLS goals will want to be sent off properly, correct? Unfortunately, he plays in San Jose( They’ll still beat the Galaxy though). 

The Portland Timbers are always the wild card in MLS play. They can be Cup contenders one match and look like a bottom-of-the-table club in the next. The signing of Claudio Bravo was a big one and the return of Sebastian Blanco will pay dividends. This is the one club this year that will give it to Seattle and LAFC and the Timbers are a true dark horse to nab that MLS Cup. It just depends on if they can score more goals than the many they will surrender. 

“Hey Cam, what about Sporting KC? They finished first in the West last year, right?” 

Yeah they did, but they were promptly rammed by the Loons at home. They were injury-riddled at the end of the year and will have some time to get used to each other with an almost brand-new roster. One player to watch for the club will be newcomer Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, who comes from the premier Dutch league. 

Playoff predictions:

  1. LAFC
  2. Portland Timbers
  3. Seattle Sounders
  4. Austin FC
  5. Sporting KC
  6. Minnesota United
  7. FC Dallas

MLS Cup Final: Portland Timbers vs. Atlanta United (Ah, a rematch you say)

Champions: Portland Timbers (this time)

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