Major League Soccer 2021 season preview

It’s finally here! After the longest offseason in league history, we’ve arrived at the first match week of the 2021 Major League Soccer season.

We’ll have plenty of season preview content out this week here at Broadway Sports Media, including a pair of live podcast episodes. On Monday night, we’ll preview Nashville’s 2021 season with‘s Tom Bogert. On Thursday, we’ll preview Nashville’s opening match against FC Cincinnati with SBI‘s Tyler Snipes, as well as a special guest. Look for those live on Broadway’s Twitter, Facebook and YouTube channels.

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Below are our predictions for the 2021 season. Standings have been determined by averaging each writer’s picks.

Eastern Conference

1. Columbus Crew – Last year’s MLS Cup winners have only gotten better, adding players like Bradley Wright-Phillips and Kevin Molino to an already stacked roster. The road to the Eastern Conference final looks like it will run through Columbus.

2. Philadelphia Union – Last year’s Supporters Shield winners lost several key players, with Ray Gaddis retiring and homegrowns Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie moving to Europe. But the Union have shown a consistent ability to replace players through their exceptional academy, and still have the talent to compete at a high level.

3. Orlando City – Under Óscar Pareja, Orlando were revitalized in 2020. While forward Daryl Dike is tearing up the English Championship, they signed former superstar Alexandre Pato to join consistent performers like Nani, Chris Mueller and Mauricio Pereyra. With Dike getting plenty of interest from the biggest clubs in Europe, they could find themselves with plenty of cash to splash in the summer.

4. Atlanta United – Atlanta were abysmal last season. But with Gabriel Heinze taking the reigns, Josef Martínez back to health, and new signings Alan Franco and Santiago Sosa, Atlanta should look more like their MLS Cup winning iteration than last year’s nightmare.

5. Nashville SC – Nashville finished seventh last season, riding a strong defense through plenty of attacking issues. Now, after finding their form down the stretch and adding players like CJ Sapong and Rodrigo Piñeiro, their attack should be improved. Defense will always be their foundation, and with a chance to be the best defensive side in the league, they’ll prove that 2020 wasn’t a fluke.

6. New England Revolution – Under Bruce Arena, New England have turned into an exciting attacking side. With Carles Gil, Gustavo Bou and Tajon Buchanan causing problems for defenders, New England should find themselves in the playoffs once again.

7. Chicago Fire – Chicago played some of the most entertaining soccer of the 2020 season and made some of the worst mistakes of the 2020 season. Manager Raphael Wicky has a clear tactical identity, and Robert Berić was quietly one of the best strikers in the league last season. If they can eliminate self-inflicted mistakes, they could be one of the surprises of the season.

8. Toronto FC – Chris Armas is at the wheel, leading an aging core who have plenty of questions defensively. The talent is there, but it’s not deep and mostly on the wrong side of 30. Jozy Altidore, still one of the best strikers in the league when healthy, is rarely healthy. They have the potential to be one of the better sides in the conference, but the margins are really, really thin.

9. New York City FC – They’ve been one of the best teams in the league over the last three years, with a win total that can compete with anyone. But they don’t have much depth defensively, even less in attack, and they’ll be playing home games at their arch-rival’s stadium for much of the season. They look like they’ll be on the cusp of playoff qualification for much of the year.

10. Inter Miami CF – Miami were one of the most disappointing expansion sides in recent memory, entering the league with plenty of hype and failing to deliver epically. They blew it up, bringing in manager Phil Neville and Premier League vets like Ryan Shawcross and Kieran Gibbs, but the issues seem like too much to overcome.

11. FC Cincinnati – Cincinnati were the worst team in MLS last season. It wasn’t close. Jaap Stam is in his first full season as manager and they spent a lot this offseason to bring in attacking talent like Brenner and Lucho Acosta, but the issues run deep and will probably take more than one season to fix. At least they have a dope stadium, though.

12. New York Red Bulls – This team is really hard to figure out. New manager Gerhard Struber was in charge for just one match this season, and their roster overturned quite a bit this season. If signings like Fabio and Andres Reyes hit, they could push for a playoff spot, but they’re at a bit of a talent deficit. If the system doesn’t cope for their lack of talent, they’ll be in trouble.

13. DC United – They brought in a new manager, Hernan Losada, who is young but has impressed in Belgium and promises to bring a more exciting style of play than the “Benny ball” they’ve played for the last decade. They’ve brought in a couple young signings, but like New York, the overall lack of talent isn’t overwhelming. It’s hard to see one of the worst sides in the league last year turning things around without more high level signings.

14. CF Montréal – Thierry Henry’s departure put Montreal in a bad spot just before the season, although they were quick to promote assistant Wilfried Nancy to the full-time job. Their just isn’t a ton to work with on this roster, and they’ll likely have to focus hard on defense to mitigate a really thin attack.

Western Conference

1. Minnesota United – Playmaker extraordinaire Emanuel Reynoso is joined by striker Ramón Ábila, and Minnesota should have an exciting attack once again, even with the departure of Kevin Molino. They also brought in Wil Trapp to an already strong midfield, and manager Adrian Heath has turned this side into a consistent threat against anyone in the league.

2. LAFC – They missed Carlos Vela, the best player in MLS, for most of 2020 and were still pretty good. With Vela back and their foundation of Diego Rossi, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Eduard Atuesta and Eddie Segura back, as well as a few key additions, they look scary.

3. Portland Timbers – Sebastián Blanco is back from a torn ACL, reinforcing a roster that’s as deep as it gets. Their attack is full of high-end players, and when they are in form they’re one of the most dangerous counter-attacking sides in the league. Several key players are either in their mid 30s or coming off of serious injury, but the positives in this roster are enticing.

4. Sporting KC – The top seed in the Western Conference last year, they create chances with the best of them. They’ve added much needed help to defense and central midfield, and Alan Pulido leading the line, they should be a contender if they can avoid too many injuries.

5. Seattle Sounders – Seattle was an MLS Cup finalist and one of the best attacking sides in the league last year, but will be without their most dangerous attacker for all or most of the season. Jordan Morris suffered a torn ACL on loan with Swansea, and they also lost players like Gustav Svensson, Kelvin Leerdan and Joevin Jones. They have options, it’s hard to see them topping the conference without replacing those guys.

6. FC Dallas – Dallas are maybe the deepest team in the West, thanks to the best academy in MLS. They sold right-back Bryan Reynolds to Roma in the winter, and they shouldn’t miss a beat this year. Their DPs didn’t blown anyone out of the water last year, but their overall level is so consistent that it’s hard to see them missing the playoffs in ’21.

7. Colorado Rapids – The Rapids are actually kinda fun! They play open soccer, creating plenty of chances and conceding a good chunk as well. Younes Namli has been tearing things up in preseason, and their starting midfield is packed with proven players in MLS. They also have a good bit of depth and have turned out some really solid young players in recent seasons. Don’t sleep on Colorado.

8. LA Galaxy – LA were massively disappointing again last year, but brought in former Toronto manager Greg Vanney to right the ship. Striker Chicharito has been a flop so far in his MLS career, and the rest of their roster is aging. They have plenty of experience, but they haven’t shown an ability to win when they need to the past couple seasons. There’s a timeline where they could be pretty decent this year, but it seems more likely they’ll improve marginally and miss out on the playoffs once again.

9. San Jose Earthquakes – Under Matias Almeyda, their man-marking style is one of the more unique systems in MLS. They’re always entertaining, even when they’re not always good. They were really poor defensively last season, and although they’ve added some interesting pieces like Javier “Chofis” Lopez, they probably don’t have the high-end attacking talent to overcome their defensive issues. It would be nice to see Chris Wondolowski go out with a bang, though.

10. Austin FC – The newest expansion side has a lot of similarities to how Nashville built their year one roster, and there’s a lot to like here. Danny Hoesen doesn’t seem like the line-leading forward they’ll need to make the playoffs in year one, though. If they bring in a DP striker in the summer, things could change. Sound familiar?

11. Vancouver Whitecaps – They’ve brought in some exciting players, with Deiber Caicedo and Caio Alexandre joining Lucas Cavallini. They could be pretty decent going forward, but they give up tons and tons of chances. They probably can’t score enough to make up the difference, but they’ll be fun to watch.

12. Houston Dynamo – Tab Ramos is an experienced manager, and they’ve strengthened their midfield and defense in the offseason. They lost a lot of attacking talent, though, with Alberth Elis and Maro Manotas departing. While they won’t concede a lot, they probably aren’t going to score a lot either.

13. Real Salt Lake – This club is in turmoil, on and off the field. Freddy Juarez is in his second year in charge, and while there are exciting young pieces like Aaron Herrera and David Ochoa, the attack leaves a lot to be desired. If Bobby Wood comes in and finds the type of form he hasn’t found for the last three years, they could turn some heads. As it stands, they look like the weakest team in the West.

2021 Golden Boot Winner

Andy SimmonsGyasi Zardes
Davey ShepherdCarlos Vela
Jonathan SlapeJosef Martínez
Ben WrightCarlos Vela

2021 Defender of the Year

AndyWalker Zimmerman
DaveyWalker Zimmerman
Slape Sam Vines
BenWalker Zimmerman

2021 Landon Donovan MVP

AndyCarlos Vela
DaveyNicolas Lodeiro
Slape Lucas Zelarayan
BenEmmanuel Reynoso

2021 Supporters Shield winners

AndyColumbus Crew
DaveyColumbus Crew
Slape Columbus Crew
BenColumbus Crew

2021 MLS Cup Winners

DaveyColumbus Crew
Slape Philadelphia Union
BenPortland Timbers

Agree or disagree with our predictions? Let us know on Twitter or in the comments!

Author: Ben Wrightis the Director of Soccer Content and a Senior MLS Contributor for Broadway Sports covering Nashville SC and the US National Team. Previously Ben was the editor and a founder of Speedway Soccer, where he has covered Nashville SC and their time in USL before journeying to Major League Soccer since 2018. Raised in Louisville, KY Ben grew up playing before a knee injury ended his competitive career. When he is not talking soccer he is probably producing music, drinking coffee or hanging out with his wife and kids. Mastodon

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