MLS 2021 - TEAM PREVIEWS, PREDICTIONS, PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR AND MORE
The MLS is back in a few hours, bigger than ever before. A longer than normal off-season has led to some major changes and you might have forgotten what happened last season. So FootTheBall brings to you a comprehensive preview of each team in the league :
2020 Regular Season Finish – 12th in Eastern Conference
The 2018 MLS Cup winners had a disappointing season last time out without their talisman striker, Josef Martinez. Back from his ACL injury, Martinez will be key to Atlanta’s hopes for the 2021 season.
The five stripes will start the season with a new man at the helm – former Argentina international defender Gabriel Heinze. There is much hope around the team and its young squad after missing out on the playoffs in 2020 but can the youngsters bring back the cup back to Atlanta?
Player to Watch Out For – Josef Martinez
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 4th in Eastern Conference
2020 Regular Season Finish – New Entrant
The MLS’ new boys will be looking to have a good outing in their first season. Much of the noise around Austin has been about their stadium and owners but what happens on-field is what matters in determining where they fall in the MLS ecosystem.
The squad seems a bit haphazard and no clear strategy is apparent but there are nonetheless some very good players in there. Their coach, Josh Wolff is also taking charge of an MLS side for the first time. It remains to be seen whether the inexperience will be their bane or will it take sides by surprise.
It's almost here, Austin.
Saturday. On National TV. pic.twitter.com/fqyqlhCpiX
— Austin FC (@AustinFC) April 16, 2021
Player to Watch Out For – Tomas Pochettino
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 10th in Western Conference
2020 Regular Season Finish – 11th in Eastern Conference
Chicago missed out on the playoffs last season by a single point and they had no one to blame but themselves. They are one of the most structured sides in the league still and have opted to retain faith in manager Raphael Wicky who has not made any major new additions to the squad.
They will rely on last season’s golden boot runner-up Raphael Wicky for the goals but it is supplying him with chances that Fire may struggle with. The stability should help the team but a playoff spot looks out of reach.
Player to Watch Out For – Gaston Gimenez
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 10th in Eastern Conference
2020 Regular Season Finish – 14th in Eastern Conference
Cincinnati were the league’s worst team last season, scoring just 12 times. They’ve made promising signings in the off season to rectify that but the squad still looks unbalanced. Luciano Acosta and Brenner have joined to add goals but the defence is very questionable.
Manager Jaap Stan will need to impart a lot of his own knowledge if Cincinnati are to avoid embarrassment again.
— FC Cincinnati (@fccincinnati) April 12, 2021
Player to Watch Out For – Luciano Acosta
Predicted 2021 Season Finish – 13th in Eastern Conference
2020 Regular Season Finish – 5th in Western Conference
The Rapids have become a solid playoff side and all signs point towards a similar season in 2021. No major departures and some astute signings in Michael Barrios and Philip Mayaka make them a dark horse in the Western Conference.
They are one of the more entertaining sides in the league and it’ll be interesting to see if they can add more steel to become a title challenger.
Player to Watch Out For – Lalas Abubakar
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 4th in Western Conference
2020 Regular Season Finish – 3rd in Eastern Conference
Last year’s MLS Cup winners, Columbus are very well poised to defend their title. There has been no major departures and they’ve made excellent acquisitions in Kevin Molino and Bradley Wright-Phillips. Their squad is deep, versatile, experienced and energetic. Columbus are easily the safest bet to win the title
Matchweek in Columbus.
𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐦𝐩𝐬 𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐛𝐚𝐜𝐤. pic.twitter.com/rbNlqjWAfl
— Columbus Crew SC (@ColumbusCrewSC) April 12, 2021
Player to Watch Out for – Lucas Zelarayan
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 1st in Eastern Conference
2020 Regular Season Finish – 6th place in Western Conference
The Southampton of the MLS, Dallas have made a name for producing (and selling) good players. They remain a competitive side but their inability to retain their best players along with a reluctance to spend restrains their progress.
They lost a key player in Michael Barrios but have signed two wingers to replace him. They’re an easy shout for a playoff spot but silverware again looks a bridge too far.
Player to Watch Out For – Jader Obrian
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 6th in Western Conference
2020 Regular Season Finish – 13th place in Eastern Conference
DC were very poor last season. The hopeful days of Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta seem well behind them and there’s not much to say this season will be different.
They have made few changes to the squad and the incoming players seem to be of a similar level as the existing ones. The new manager’s arrival however has injected new energy into the club. Energy can only get so far and it’s going to be a long season for DC.
— D.C. United (@dcunited) April 14, 2021
Player to Watch Out For – Edison Flores
Predicted 2021 Regular Season – 14th in Eastern Conference
2020 Regular Season Finish – 12th in Western Conference
Houston had a difficult season last year, struggling to cope with the loss of key players in Alberth Elis and Mauro Manotas. They have added defensive reinforcements but still lack a lot of quality. Their attack especially looks short of ideas and goals. Houston will need a lot of effort and a lot of luck to qualify for the playoffs.
Player to Watch Out For – Tim Parker
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 13th in Western Conference
2020 Regular Season Finish – 7th in Western Conference
One of the league’s most exciting side, LAFC struggled last season with player absences. Star man Carlos Vela could only make four starts along with Eduard Atuesta. Their players are now fit again and they’ll be looking to finally get their hands on that elusive MLS Cup. LAFC have a very good roster and a very good manager in Bob Bradley to lead them. Good times to come.
— LAFC (@LAFC) April 16, 2021
Player to Watch Out For – Carlos Vela (who else?)
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 1st in Western Conference
2020 Regular Season Finish – 10th in Western Conference
It looks to be another mediocre season for LA Galaxy who have not made any major signings. They have also lost a proven goal-scorer in Cristian Pavon.
Their squad is made up of two extremes – ageing veterans or promising youngsters. The club needs more time than one off-season to rebuild and challenge for trophies again. This season, even the playoffs look unlikely.
Player to Watch Out For – Jonathan dos Santos
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 9th in Western Conference
INTER MIAMI FC
2020 Regular Season Finish – 10th in Eastern Conference
David Beckham’s team was inconsistent and off-the-pace last season. Their squad looked like a shoddily assembled team of has-been superstars. So, they have rectified it by erm adding Ryan Shawcross and Kieran Gibbs to their roster and making Phil Neville their manager.
There is no way to tell how this experiment is going to end up but we’re going to say, not well. There still is some quality in the squad so they should not be bottom of the table.
— Inter Miami CF (@InterMiamiCF) April 12, 2021
Player to Watch Out For – Gregore
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 12th in Eastern Conference
2020 Regular Season Finish – 4th in Western Conference
Minnesota were the league’s dark horses last season but repeating it looks a bit unlikely. They have lost winger Kevin Molino who was integral to their run to the Western Conference final.
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) April 16, 2021
They still have some exciting talents and the rest of the core is still intact. Minnesota still haven’t signed a proper centre forward however and in the absence of Molino, they look slightly short of goals. The team should make the playoffs again but it would be very surprising if they went all the way like last year.
Player to Watch Out For – Emanuel Renyoso
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 7th in Western Conference
2020 Regular Season Finish – 9th in Eastern Conference
Montreal scraped through to the playoffs last season but Thierry Henry’s departure from the managerial role has thrown a spanner into their works. The side has good attacking depth and their new signings all possess different skills.
— CF Montréal (@clubdefootmtl) April 15, 2021
It’ll be interesting to see whether new boss Wilfried Nancy can produce a cohesive side out of what are essentially bits and pieces. Montreal will also have to play their matches at Inter Miami’s DRV PNK Stadium, losing on their home advantage.
Player to Watch Out For – Djordje Mihailovic
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 11th in Eastern Conference
2020 Regular Season Finish – 7th in Eastern Conference
Last season’s new entrants took the league by surprise by resorting to the old school tenet of defence wins championships. They had a good run to the conference semi-finals, losing out to eventual champions Columbus.
Two days from kickoff. Don't miss it.
— Nashville SC (@NashvilleSC) April 16, 2021
Nashville have added some attacking options to complement their defensive stability and look set for another good season. Their attack still lacks quality to be guaranteed a playoff spot and it will likely go down to the wire.
Player to Watch Out For – Walker Zimmerman
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 9th in Eastern Conference
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
2020 Regular Season Finish – 8th in Eastern Conference
New England’s eighth place finish undermines how good they were last season. They missed Carles Gil for most of the season which led to some poor results and his fitness is key to their success this season.
— New England Revolution (@NERevolution) April 16, 2021
They have added quality depth across positions this season with no particular significant departure. The Revs under Bruce Arena have a habit of turning up in the big matches which cannot be undervalued.
Player to Watch Out For – Matt Turner
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 3rd in Eastern Conference
NEW YORK CITY FC
2020 Regular Season Finish – 5th in Eastern Conference
NYCFC have looked a solid playoff team in recent years and they continue to do so for the upcoming season despite some key departures. Their star forward Heber will miss the start of the season due to a ACL tear.
— New York City FC (@NYCFC) April 16, 2021
Combined with a slow off-season, that could mean that the Pigeons start behind the eight ball. Their core is still intact to a large extent but they might just miss some extra quality to reach the playoffs
Player to Watch Out For – James Sands
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 8th in Eastern Conference
NEW YORK RED BULLS
2020 Regular Season Finish – 6th in Eastern Conference
The Red Bulls have made whole sale changes to their outlook. Manager Gerhard Struber had his first transfer window and it looks like the club has backed his high-press aggressive philosophy.
— New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) April 16, 2021
His work at Barnsley has reaped rewards with the Championship side now fighting for a playoff spot. Their squad is young and there is little to base predictions on. Many expect that New York Red Bulls will regress but they can be the season’s surprise package.
Player to Watch Out For – Caden Clark
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 7th in Eastern Conference
ORLANDO CITY SC
2020 Regular Season Finish – 4th in Eastern Conference
Orlando took on everyone last year and nearly went all the way in the Eastern Conference, losing out to the Revs in the semi-finals. And they did so in style (no not just their purple kits).
— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) April 16, 2021
Oscar Parejo’s men remain one of the most entertaining sides in the league. They have lost a key player in Kamal Miller and doubts remain over Daryl Dike will return but they have added Brazilian Alexandre Pato to make up for the losses. Expect a title push but can they hold their nerve?
Player to Watch Out For – Nani
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 2nd in Eastern Conference
2020 Regular Season Finish – 1st in Eastern Conference
Last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners have shown what ‘suffering from success’ means, losing three of their starting eleven. Ray Gaddis, Mark McKenzie, and Brenden Aaranson have all departed with no particular direct replacement.
— PhilaUnion🛡 (@PhilaUnion) April 15, 2021
The Union weren’t the best team over the season without squad depth and so an internal replacement will be adequate. A repeat of last season’s triumph however will not be possible without more quality.
Player to Watch Out For – Kacper Przybylko
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 5th in Eastern Conference
2020 Regular Season Finish – 3rd in Western Conference
Portland emerged victorious in the MLS is Back tournament which has given them a thirst for silverware. This is likely to be the last season of their trio of Blanco, Diego Chara and Valeri given their age but the squad still has considerable depth and quality.
A grand occasion.
— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) April 16, 2021
The Timbers’ only position of doubt remains the full back area given that there are new players expected to start on either side of defence. Their ageing core may not take them top of the table but an MLS Cup win makes for a tempting last hurrah.
Player to Watch Out For – Yimmi Chara
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 3rd in Western Conference
REAL SALT LAKE
2020 Regular Season Finish – 11th in Western Conference
Real Salt Lake had a disappointing season last time out and their off-season activity indicates a lethargy in the club. The side has stood still when others have moved forward and signs do not bode well for Freddy Juarez’s boys.
#OTD in 𝟐𝟎𝟎𝟓
— Real Salt Lake (@realsaltlake) April 16, 2021
They have added former US international Bobby Wood to their ranks but no one to supply him. Real Salt Lake have a pretty average roster and one would need something very special to drag them to playoffs
Player to Watch Out For – Aaron Herrera
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 12th in Western Conference
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES
2020 Regular Season Finish – 8th in Western Conference
The mavericks of the league are back with their rolling circus. The Quakes conceded the most goals last season and their off-season shows that they aren’t bothered by that.
Time to work.
— San Jose Earthquakes (@SJEarthquakes) April 16, 2021
San Jose score a lot of goals and they have added another creative presence in Javier “Chofis” Lopez. When they kick off it is anybody’s guess what the score line will be but their defensive issues will most certainly hurt them over the season.
Player to Watch Out For – Cade Cowell
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 8th in Western Conference
2020 Regular Season Finish – 2nd in Western Conference
Seattle were the MLS Cup runners up last season, losing the final to Columbus. They do not look as strong as last year given the departures they have had to deal with.
— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) April 16, 2021
Gustav Svensson, Kelvin Leerdam, Joevin Jones, Roman Torres and Jordan Morris have all gone with no real replacement. They still have a lot of quality in their squad but they should be happy with a playoff spot.
Player to Watch Out For – Joao Paulo
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 5th in Western Conference
SPORTING KANSAS CITY
2020 Regular Season Finish – 1st in Western Conference
Last season’s Western champions, Sporting look slightly weaker than last year. A large part of their core has left including Matt Besler and Gerso.
Our one day out from matchday mood?
Whatever this is 🥰 pic.twitter.com/pHdj7MRn4Z
— Sporting Kansas City (@SportingKC) April 16, 2021
They have made some intriguing signings and it will be interesting to see how their MLS season plays out. Sporting KC still have one of the best rosters in the leagues and will be right up there competing for the MLS Cup come the end of season.
Player to Watch Out For – Alan Pulido
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 2nd in Western Conference
2020 Regular Season Finish – 2nd in Eastern Conference
The Canadian side were impressive for much of last season, powered by league MVP Alejandro Pozuelo. However, Toronto struggled towards the back end of the campaign, especially in the playoffs.
"The locker room right now is electric because there's a lot of belief that the players gain from experiences like that. If you were inside you'd see all the veteran players – Poz, Jozy – rallying around the young guys that stepped up in a big way tonight.”#TFCLive | #SCCL21
— Toronto FC (@TorontoFC) April 15, 2021
They lack some attacking depth given how injury prone their forwards are. They still have Pozuelo with them and a new exciting coach in Chris Armas which should guarantee them a playoff spot.
Player to Watch Out For – Alejandro Pozuelo
Predicted 2021 Regular Season Finish – 6th in Eastern Conference
2020 Regular Season Finish – 9th in Western Conference
It is another gloomy season on the horizon for the Whitecaps faithful. The team has some exciting players and pacy wingers but little else apart from that.
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) April 14, 2021
They are defensively suspect and have not added to that area of their squad substantially. Vancouver haven’t had any major departure other than Fredy Montero for this season’s MLS. Expect the same from the Canadians even if their “home” is now in USA.