The most recent club to win their first MLS Cup was Atlanta United in 2017, bringing the total of clubs to have won the biggest prize in US and Canadian club competitions to 14 of the current 27. Some of the big hitters slated for the 2021 Major League Soccer season are among the other half of the teams still looking to pull off that feat for the first time. Let’s take a look at the top three candidates to go from not having to not having this season, as well as a bonus pick for ending a long drought.
3. City of Orlando
Their level of success depends on the production they get from Nani and whether or not Daryl Dike returns from his loan to Barnsley, but even if Dike doesn’t return they will get plenty of goals. Newcomer Alexandre Pato and last season’s revelation Chris Mueller will help in this department, and they maintain a respectable defensive core martialized by Peruvian international goalkeeper Pedro Gallese. The core of this club doesn’t feel too different from the one that made the MLS Final’s Back Tournament last summer, so 2021 is a “proof year” and they will aim to make an MLS Cup Playoff run in the Eastern Conference.
2. Minnesota United
The way the Loons crashed in the MLS Cup playoffs last year, Ike Opara’s prolonged absence due to injury and still having a DP job held by youngster Thomas Chacon who is linked to a loan return in South America should be a cause for concern. However, you don’t do well in two knockout tournaments in 2020 without being among the contenders for the MLS Cup in 2021. Minnesota United’s performances are no accident and it allows them to attract more talent. That’s not to say they’re the favorites (which means another Minnesota United season will empty any remaining meaning of the word ‘underdog’), but their club is built around solid players like Osvaldo Alonso and Emanuel Reynoso, the latter setting a record for most MLS playoff assists last season with seven.
1. Los Angeles FC
LAFC significantly underperformed in 2020, failing to redeem themselves for the way they lost in the playoffs to eventual champions Seattle Sounders the year before. The new MLS club of Southern California risks becoming the new FC Dallas or the New York Red Bulls: full of talent and promise in the regular season but it never comes together when it counts. LAFC’s ranking on this list is conditioned by the fact that they still have it in their DNA to pull themselves together. Latif Blessing, Diego Rossi, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Eduardo Atuesta and of course Carlos Vela ensure that the roles of striker and midfielder are set for success. It’s up to the potentially improved defense and Kenneth Vermeer to play like he did for Feyenoord to get them to that next step.
Bonus Drought Ending Watch: Colorado Rapids
Colorado Rapids played the MLS wildcard role in 2020 and is set to reprise that role in a tricky Western Conference. How beneficial will last year’s experience be for relatively young players Sam Vines, Andre Shinyashiki, Jonathan Lewis and Cole Bassett? Lalas Abubakar will be a leader from the bottom line, and Younes Namli, DP loan signatory, comes from Krasnodar to add even more creativity to the midfield. The Rapids won’t be an easy outing, even for the biggest clubs in the West, and this season will tell more about their closeness to winning their first MLS Cup since 2010.
Did I miss a club that should have been in this article? Let me know in the comments below, on Twitter @ IvanOrnelas2 or on Instagram @ ivanthewriter95. With just over 2 weeks until the start of the 2021 Major League Soccer season, there’s plenty to be excited about!