This MLS season will be kicking off in April, later than previous seasons. This gives teams more time to prepare and plan for another season of gritty, competitive action.
The Columbus Crew SC won the title last year over the Seattle Sounders, who have made the playoffs every single year since 2009. Those teams are high on people’s radars for good reason, along with the likes of Sporting Kansas City and Toronto FC, teams with numerous years of success.
However, there are three teams in MLS who have the most to prove in 2021, due to a final spot in the standings or offseason moves made that have made teams look good on paper. Take a look at who we picked to keep a close eye on in 2021.
3. FC Cincinnati
FC Cincinnati has had a rough two years in MLS. The team has finished at the bottom of the table for the last two years in two seasons with no light at the end of the tunnel. However, FC Cincinnati is on this list primarily because of how they look on paper heading into 2021.
While the signing of Pity Martinez now seems unlikely, the Ohio club did make a splash by signing Brenner, a Brazilian striker. Brenner is a young player, only 21-years-old, with a lot of promise. He joins from São Paulo, on a $13 million transfer, in his native country and has featured through various Brazilian youth national teams. He’ll look to give Cincinnati something they’ve been missing for two years: a real threat up top.
Brenner wasn’t the only signing that Jaap Stam made this year. Rónald Matarrita, a Costa Rican defender, was acquired from New York City FC with $600K in GAM, while goalkeeper Cody Cropper will compete for the No. 1 spot in net, joining on a free transfer from the Houston Dynamo.
Cincinnati had an exodus of players too, as Stam overhauled the roster and started clean. Kendall Waston, Greg Garza, Spencer Richey and Hassan Ndam were just a few of the 12 players that left Cincinnati.
Cincinnati might not rocket up to first place, but the goal this year is certainly to inch closer to the playoffs. On paper, this team looks poised to punch their first-ever playoff ticket. Betters could certainly be going for a wildcard with Cincinnati. Some online books have offers, such as the William Hills promo code giving a discount.
All eyes are on Brenner to see if he’ll be worth the money that Cincinnati forked out in hopes to score some goals.
2. C.F. Montreal
Just like Jaap Stam, Thierry Henry is entering his second full season as an MLS head coach.
C.F. Montreal has a new look, a new name and a whole new rebrand. Now, on the pitch, the club is looking to match the level of excitement with their play. After three-straight seasons of not qualifying for the playoffs, Montreal made it to the play-in round in 2020. However, the team dropped out early and fast.
Henry is back at the drawing board and has made moves to bolster Montreal. Djordje Mihailovic was the big offseason acquisition, joining from the Chicago Fire for $800K in GAM. Allocation money was used on Norwegian forward Bjørn Johnsen, while Erik Hurtado joined on a free transfer from Sporting Kansas City.
During the MLS Expansion Draft, Montreal traded to bring defender Kamal Miller back to his native Canada.
Maximiliano Urruti was the big departure for the team, leaving to join the Houston Dynamo, while Jukka Raitala has since signed with Minnesota United.
Henry had a good first season as manager, but he needs to step up his game. All eyes are on him, just as much as the players, due to his name and his own professional success. A new name, a new look, but will it be a different Montreal on the pitch?
1. Houston Dynamo FC
While it was tempting to write down Atlanta United, everyone knows why the team faltered so much last year. Also, three teams from the Eastern Conference would have been completely lopsided.
The Houston Dynamo haven’t made the playoffs in three seasons. Ever since the club began play in 2016, the Dynamo have punched their ticket to the playoffs once. Last year, the team made a splash by bringing on Tab Ramos as head coach. Ramos has been considered as one of the best youth national team coaches in U.S. Soccer history.
In 2020, Houston finished 12th in the Western Conference.
The biggest loss was losing Mauro Manotas after six seasons in Houston. The forward elected to join Club Tijuana in Liga MX, where he has been on a tear this season. In addition to Manotas, the team saw Victor Cabrera, Aljaž Struna and Michael Salazar leave in the offseason.
However, Houston has picked up some talent. Urruti joined from Montreal, while Joe Corona was shuffled from Austin FC to only have his rights picked in the MLS Re-Entry Draft by the Dynamo. Costa Rican international Ariel Lassiter joined in December from Liga Deportiva Alajuelense in Costa Rica, a powerhouse club, for a fee of $400K. Also, one of the most prolific goal-scorers in the USL, Tyler Pasher, joined from Indy Eleven.
Ramos has the pieces to work with, but now he has to gel them together. In the state of Texas, there are now three MLS clubs. Houston has some tough competition in the West, but Ramos has the chops to compete with coaches like Brian Schmetzer, Gio Savarese and Bob Bradley.
The Dynamo could be the Texas team to watch in 2021.