Your Premature Favorite Favorites to Win the 2021 MLS Cup Greg Seltzer

Although the Major League Soccer off-season carousel has begun, it is still too early to select the best candidates to celebrate the 2021 MLS Cup title.

Still, that’s exactly the trick I’m trying to pull off this year as well. I may have drawn too much confidence from last year’s “too early fool’s game” (three of the four conference finalists were among my seven picks, including the new Columbus champion). We’ll see in a little less than a year.

Before we get into my early favorites for next season, let’s put a “close but not quite” limit to some honorable mentions that have just a few characters more than this winter’s great eight: FC Dallas, FC New York City and Portland Timbers.


Full disclosure: I piled Bob Bradley’s guys in first place at the last minute. The fact that they did not reach the goal of the tournament eroded LAFC even before the late collapse against the Tigers on Tuesday in the final of the Concacaf Champions League. Mix growing motivation with top talent and you will get a dangerous competitor.

As for that talent, LAFC will have as much as anyone in MLS, even if Diego Rossi finally flies to Europe. They would still have Carlos Vela and a deep, dynamic and versatile midfield. I also expect to bring back Jesus David Murill, who helped defend the central defense hampered by the departure of Walker Zimmerman by trade.

If Rossi leaves anyway, they could enter the market with an assigned slot machine (maybe the new No. 9?). I also assume the club will clear up the problematic spot that was right back. What I’m saying is that LAFC will continue to be frighteningly good next season. That would say that some Euro-club that was attacking Eduardo Atuesta would probably reject them a couple of places. He is a very special animal in the middle, which would be difficult to replace quickly.

Seattle Sounders

The Seattle Sounders reached four of the five MLS Cups from 2016-20. | USA Today Sports

Speaking of heavy chips on powerful shoulders, don’t underestimate the level of revenge that will stir in Sounder’s heart after the disappointing defeat of the MLS Cup by Columbus. This Seattle team usually intends to return to correct such mistakes.

And most of the key speakers will return. I guess it’s possible that some distant club could lure Jordan Morris, but right now it looks much more likely that the triple attacking monster in Seattle will remain intact when the 2021 season kicks off. Brian Schmetzer will have a young defense that came to his place at the end of last season to the front net player of the caliber of the champion Stefan Frei. They are also expected to be able to keep Joao Paula to help Nicolas Lodeir and Cristiano Roldan control midfield games.

However, new starters will need to be found for the right flank. Outside contracted right-back Kelvin Leerdam spoke to the Dutch press like a guy who wants to go home, and the wing job on that side is wide open. So again, it’s very easy to believe that GM Garth Lagerway will handle these details properly.

Columbus Crew SC

I’ve been high in the crew all year, and winning the MLS Cup without two key starters certainly won’t make me leave their corner. They would make a very reasonable choice here, although repetition in this league is harder than sculpting ice with a spoon.

In fact, you can consider Columbus the end of my first level of early favorites. Like LAFC and Seattle above, they are only level above the pack at the moment. The ace crew in the hole is their field balance. They have no holes to exploit, and their ability to lift the ball can become extremely suffocating even for the best opponents. The Caleb Porter team provides a good mix of seasonal vets, aces in their prime and young guns with the best options yet to come.

Columbus has a reliable system, the right players to suit every role and a coach who understands timely changes. The East should be crucial in 2021, but I would definitely not pass by the current champions to earn a return trip to the MLS Cup.

Orlando City SC

It took me a long time to decide which club should lead the second class. Collective team spirit, cohesion and the sublime trajectory of talent are very important in this exercise, so I am going with the Lions to continue on their 2020 campaign.

Like most teams, Orlando City will need some lineup changes around the edges, but almost all of the core groups that were pleasantly surprised in 2020 will return. The midfield is highly functional and among the deepest in the league. The defense is solid and the stability of the wing is daunting.

On top of all that, Orlando City also has a DP place to play and a host of promising youngsters on the rise. When Oscar Pareja pulls the reins, this team will not be a pony for one trick.

Philadelphia Union

Philadelphia Union won the Fan Shield 2020 | USA Today Sports

It would be very easy to place Fan Protector holders more on this list. Most regular players go back to 2020 and they are the only club listed here that currently has two open DP spots. I can fully imagine a world in which the Union is returning stronger than ever.

For now, there are questions to be answered. The sale of home midfielder Brenden Aaronson leaves a void, and it will hurt quite a bit if left-back Kai Wagner and / or center-back Mark McKenzie follow him to Europe. However, Philly may have already had ready-made replacements (namely Anthony Fontana, Matthew Real and Jack Elliott).

Another question mark revolves around leading striker Kacper Przybylka. Is he the scorer who scored 22 goals in his first 38 matches with Union or the guy who has scored just one goal in his last 12 outings? That answer may contain the truth about Philadelphia’s hopes in the title.

Toronto FC

The Reds are another team with a number of key gears coming back that could easily get to this ladder. Any club with reigning Landon Donovan MLS MVP, two deadly strikers, a strong cast and a bunch of experience should always be a threat.

Of course, it’s very hard to get strong in terms of teams when we don’t yet know who will coach them. For whatever reason, FC Toronto became stagnant in the final third before the end of 2020. Whoever takes over will have to deal with the situation, as this team should not regularly require exclusions to achieve victories.

CEO Ali Curtis has important work to do, other than hiring a head coach to replace Greg Vanney. The BMO group will need a new left back, an additional playmaker to help / divert attention from Alejandro Pozuela and some medium back depth. If he fills these vacancies well, the Reds will again be among the top favorites of the MLS Cup.

The New England Revolution

Any team that returns in the entire starting lineup of the final lineup of the Eastern Conference and Bruce Arena will shoot should worry everyone present in 2021. for.

New England needs to restore most of the stable depth and could probably use a dedicated destroyer to guard the gate, but such problems are relatively easy to solve. Perhaps a key role is played by newly acquired midfielder Wilfrid Kaptoum.

Instead, we’ll focus on a gang returning with Carles Gil, a free pair of strikers, a stingy back line, a cruel thief net, and a few young people who gained a ton of spice in 2020. They’re back, honey.

Minnesota United FC

Emanuel Reynoso had one goal and seven assists in three playoff games for the Audi 2020 MLS Cup | USA Today Sports

The bones of a great team are present, but Loons is finishing my second ranking of competitors in the MLS Cup, because the most uncertainty started in 2021. The issue is both many and vital.

Will Ike Opara return to its previous dominant form, or should Minnesota United plan without the MLS defender of the year 2019? Will skipper midfielder Ozzie Alonso return? How about borrowed striker Luis Amarilla, who started hot before his injuries reduced the season? Can I find a way to re-sign Kevin Molin even though he has publicly said goodbye to the club and their fans?

Yes, it’s a lot of shrugging for the team I’m pushing for as a real candidate. But that’s not all bad news. Minnesota is a solid back even without Opara and Alonso, Emanuel Reynoso is starting to look like a real candidate for MVP, and the team is playing with a tone of heart. I have supported Loone from the beginning to the end of 2020, and will continue to do so next year if I can productively fill vacancies.