Six MLS Clubs That Have Defied Expectations So Far

COMMERCE CITY, CO - APRIL 24: Diego Fagundez #14 of Austin FC reacts to his goal against the Colorado Rapids during the second half at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on April 24, 2021 in Commerce City, Colorado. Fagundezs goal was the first in Austin FC history. (Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images)
COMMERCE CITY, CO - APRIL 24: Diego Fagundez #14 of Austin FC reacts to his goal against the Colorado Rapids during the second half at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on April 24, 2021 in Commerce City, Colorado. Fagundezs goal was the first in Austin FC history. (Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images) /

Major League Soccer’s reputation as one of the tougher leagues to predict is never too far from the truth. These clubs are a few examples of those touted to either do well or poorly this season but after three weeks of MLS regular season action, the early report cards offer some blindsides for fans and analysts alike. For this article, I only selected clubs who played 3 league matches, which means Real Salt Lake (overachieving) and Columbus Crew and Toronto FC (underachieving, though they also had to balance CONCACAF Champions League commitment) has to settle for being honorable(?) mentions along with LA Galaxy (5th place in West with 6 points in 3 games).

Underachieving: Philadelphia Union

12th in Eastern Conference

1 point from 3 games

Results: 0-0 draw @ Columbus, 2-1 loss at home to Inter Miami, 2-0 loss at home to NYC (down to 10 men)

Philadelphia Union have a legitimate excuse with the CONCACAF Champions League, but even so, you expect the defending Supporters Shield winners to come out of the gates a bit stronger than this. Perhaps some people will point to Union faltering in this more normalized MLS schedule to critique their achievements in 2020. Their next CCL game against Club America won’t be until August, so in the meantime, Jim Curtin will look to steady the ship as they have a trip to Soldier Field up next. 3 points against Chicago Fire is expected for Philadelphia.

Overachieving: CF Montreal

4th in Eastern Conference

5 points from 3 games

Results: 4-2 win at home* over Toronto, 2-2 draw @ Nashville, 0-0 draw at home vs Columbus

*=PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida is where CF Montreal currently play their home games

CF Montreal looked to be a club in transition, if not turmoil, given the moves made this offseason. Many people expected them to be near where FC Cincinnati currently are at the Eastern Conference table. Perhaps the season opener being against their big rivals Toronto gave them a kickstart they needed for this campaign. Like all Canadian clubs this season, Montreal plays all of their home games away from their usual home stadium, making this start even more impressive. They have a good chance to keep this momentum going against Vancouver Whitecaps in Rio Tinto Stadium before the rebranded side faces expansion club Inter Miami back in Florida.

Underachieving: Portland Timbers

12th in Western Conference

3 points from 3 games

Results: 1-0 loss @ Vancouver, 2-1 win at home over Houston, 4-1 loss @ Dallas

Have this Portland Timbers side peaked last summer following their 2019 MLS is Back Tournament victory? Since then, they’ve proven to still be a strong MLS regular season team prior to FC Dallas knocking them out of the playoffs. Lately, they haven’t even done well in the regular season. It’s a tough task when you have two matches against Liga MX powerhouse Club America to schedule, but losing to the weakest of the Cascadia trio was definitely not the start to the season they were after. Up next following a concerning loss to Dallas: gut check time for the Timbers as their biggest rivals Sounders come to Providence Park.

Overachieving: San Jose Earthquakes

2nd in Western Conference

6 points from 3 games

Results: 2-1 loss @ Houston, 3-1 win at home over Dallas (10 men), 4-1 at home over DC United

San Jose Earthquakes are the Jekyll and Hyde of Major League Soccer, and this three-game sample size hints at that reputation being confirmed. However, these last two games have seen their “Jekyll” side emerge scoring 7 goals and conceding 2. The difference between the Quakes’ performances this season and in 2020 is that they aren’t getting punished as often as they were (so far) when on the backfoot. If they can find some defensive solidity (acknowledging they have yet to keep a clean sheet this season), they can continue their rise. Next up is a trip to Sandy to face Real Salt Lake and then welcome Seattle to San Jose which will paint a clearer picture of Matias Almeyda’s outlook for this season.

Underachieving: Minnesota United

13th in Western Conference

0 points from 3 games

Results: 4-0 loss @ Seattle, 2-1 loss at home to RSL, 1-0 loss at home to Austin

Minnesota United so far have gone from just narrowly missing the 2020 MLS Cup Final to being the only side through 3 games to be without a point. That can’t feel good for Adrian Heath and company, especially as they entered this season with possibly their highest expectations in their club’s history. Unlike the other sides in the underachieving category, they have no other commitments outside of Major League Soccer. It doesn’t get any easier in the next game as Colorado Rapids host the Loons at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Even with the sometimes forgiving playoff structure which allows 7 clubs in each conference to make the postseason, a slow start can be tough to overcome.

Overachieving: Austin FC

4th in Western Conference

6 points from 3 games

Results: 2-0 loss @ LAFC, 3-1 win @ Colorado, 1-0 win @ Minnesota United

Nobody expected Austin FC to become the worst expansion side in league history. Their opening result being a 2-0 loss to LAFC was no reason to be alarmed given how good LAFC is. The surprise comes from two weeks later Austin finds themselves above LAFC in the Western Conference Table. What’s most impressive is Austin FC are doing this well as full-time road warriors. Their first home game won’t be until June 19 when they host the San Jose Earthquakes. In the meantime, their immediate attention is focused on visiting Sporting Kansas City.

Will the overachievers continue their good performances or will they be brought down to earth soon? Will the underachievers wake up and restore status quo or will things go from bad to worse? Let me know your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter @IvanOrnelas2.