The most recent club to win their first MLS Cup was Atlanta United back in 2017, bringing the total of clubs to have won the biggest prize within American and Canadian club competitions to 14 out of the current 27 in existence. Some of the projected heavy hitters in the 2021 Major League Soccer season are among that other half of teams still looking to achieve that feat for the first time. Let’s take a look at the three top candidates to go from have-not to have this season, along with a bonus pick to end a long drought.
3. Orlando City
Their level of success depends on what production they get from Nani and whether or not Daryl Dike returns from his loan spell at Barnsley, but even if Dike doesn’t return, they will get plenty of goals. New arrival Alexandre Pato and revelation from last season Chris Mueller will aid in that department, and they maintain a respectable defensive core martialed by Peruvian international goalkeeper Pedro Gallese. The core of this club doesn’t feel all too different from the one that made the final of the MLS is Back Tournament last summer, so 2021 is a “prove-it year” and they’ll be aiming to make an MLS Cup Playoff run in the Eastern Conference.
2. Minnesota United
The way the Loons crashed out of the MLS Cup Playoffs last year, Ike Opara’s lingering injury absence, and still having a DP slot filled by young Thomas Chacon who is linked with a loan move back to South America should be a cause for concern. However, you do not perform well in two knockout tournaments in a row in 2020 without being among the contenders for the MLS Cup in 2021. Minnesota United’s performances are not a fluke and it’s allowing them to attract more talent. That doesn’t mean they’re the favorites (which means another season of Minnesota United draining any remaining meaning out 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 assists in MLS Playoffs last season with seven.
1 . Los Angeles FC
LAFC significantly underperformed in 2020, not achieving redemption from the way they lost in the playoffs to eventual champions Seattle Sounders the year prior. The newer Southern California MLS club is in danger of becoming the new FC Dallas or 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 contingent that they still have it in their DNA to get their act together. Latif Blessing, Diego Rossi, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Eduardo Atuesta, and of course Carlos Vela assure that the forward and midfield roles are set for success. It’s up to the potentially improved defense and Kenneth Vermeer to play like he has for Feyenoord to take them to that next step.
Bonus Drought End Watch: Colorado Rapids
Colorado Rapids played the role of MLS wildcard in 2020, and look set to reprise that role in a tricky Western Conference. How much good will last year’s experience do for relatively young players Sam Vines, Andre Shinyashiki, Jonathan Lewis, and Cole Bassett? Lalas Abubakar will be a leader in the backline, and DP loan signing Younes Namli comes in from Krasnodar to add even more creativity to the midfield. The Rapids will prove not to be an easy out even for the bigger clubs out West, and this season will tell us more about how close they are to winning their first MLS Cup since 2010.
Did I miss out on any club that should’ve been in this article? Let me know in the comments below, on Twitter @IvanOrnelas2, or on Instagram @ivanthewriter95. With a little over 2 weeks to go before the 2021 Major League Soccer season kicks off, there’s plenty to be excited about!