2021 MLS preview

The Canadian teams

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Below is a free look at the three Canadian teams in the preview.

Montreal

2020 record – 8-13-2 (26pts)

9th in East

MLS is Back – 1-0-2, 3rd in Group C, Lost 1-0 to Orlando in Ro16

MLS Playoffs – Lost play-in game to New England 2-1  

Top goal scorer – Romell Quioto (8)

The long and the short of it --  Like all three Canadian teams it was a tough go of it in 2020, with the team being forced to play in New Jersey for most of the year. That lack of certainty ended up costing them their head coach too when Thierry Henry returned to Europe. They put a brave face on about that, but it had to hurt. After it finally looked like they were going have some stability there, they are once again starting with a new manager in Wilfried Nancy. He was an assistant under Henry, but it’s still turnover in a team that is most consistent with being inconsistent.  

Defining Moment of 2020 – Likely the early CCL play, where Henry was able to get a vastly inexperienced Impact side (and they were the Impact then, so we will call them that) into the quarterfinals. It proved to be the only time Montreal fans would get to see him o the sidelines, as the world shut-down a couple weeks later.

Why they will succeed in 2021 – If they stay defensively solid. They aren’t talent heavy in the attack and for the former Impact to be successful they are going to need to be organized. A double pivot of Victor Wanyama and Samuel Piette isn’t going to make headlines outside of Quebec, but is a pretty solid foundation.

Why they will fail in 2021 – Who’s going to score? They will need to hit on all of their new additions to have a chance to be near the top of the table. That rarely happens.

Key additions – Bjorn Johnsen. He’s not a sexy signing. Journeyman would better sum him up, but there is some thought that he might be a late bloomer in that he’s his game relies on smarts and an understanding on how to use his big frame to score. Banging in a few corners might be in Montreal’s plans this year and having a 6’5” dude up top is good for that.  

Key departures – Borjan. He was an enigma for sure, but with him gone Montreal doesn’t really have a true game breaker that they can look to when they need a goal. This would be a good time for Ballou to live up to some of him hype – show me; don’t tell me there.

The view from here – It would have been tough regardless, but having the uncertainty of the ongoing COVID situation hanging over their head makes this a significant ask. They are going to need to grind results. Will they have the will to do that when they are staring at a eighth week in a hotel room?

Prediction – 11th in East

Toronto FC

2020 record – 13-5-5 (39pts)

2nd in East

MLS is Back – 1-2-0, 1st Group C, Lost 3-1 to Philly in quarterfinals

MLS Playoffs – Lost 2-0 to Nashville in Ro16

Top goal scorer – Alejandro Pozuelo and Ayo Akinola  (9)

The long and the short of it – It was weird. They looked like the best team in the league for the better part of the summer then it all went sideways, fast. After going top of the Shield standings, they crashed down to 2nd and out of the playoffs to an expansion team. What team were they? Toronto the good? Or TFC of old? I’m not sure we know yet.

Defining Moment of 2020 – The Nashville game. Precisely when Jonathan Osorio missed an open chance early in that game that would have changed the whole complexion of the game. When that didn’t go it seemed inevitable that the low block of Nashville would frustrate. And oh did it frustrate.

Why they will succeed in 2021 – If the young kids can keep up the energy that they showed in the CCL win over Club Leon and, more importantly, they spend that DP money wisely.

Why they will fail in 2021 – If they make a mistake on the DP and the injuries keep piling up. TFC can’t seem to keep people healthy. What’s up with that?

Key additions – None. Literally none. Luke Singh on a 4-day contract is as close as they’ve come to adding.  

Key departures – Greg Vanney. It’s the coach isn’t it? That’s where the questions start. TFC was very good last year for a long stretch. How much was on the tactics?

The view from here – I’m in the minority on this, but I’m as high on this TFC team as I have been since 2017. They have a spine that is as good as any team in the league and I think the system Chris Armas wants to put in place makes sense. Rather than putting pressure on the older legs, I feel it take load away. The kids are going to be doing the heavy lifting. It’s the skilled core that will take advantage of the chances they create.

Prediction – 3rd in East, MLS Cup finalists

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Vancouver Whitecaps

2020 record – 9-14-0 (39pts)

9th in the West

MLS is Back – 1-0-2, 3rd Group B, Lost 0-0 (3-0) to Kansas City in Ro16

MLS Playoffs – Did not qualify

Top goal scorer – Lucas Cavallini (6)

The long and the short of it – Year two of the MdS era was intended to be a fresh start. He fully admitted to not fully understanding the talent needed in his debut season and sought out to fix it in year two. Then…the plague. So, it’s hard to judge season two. What that does mean is that season three is key. The Caps need to show progress.

Defining Moment of 2020 – Blowing a lead against San Jose in MLS is Back in what was likely the most entertaining game in the tournament. It underlined what the Whitecaps could do well – show pace and energy and hit on the counter – while also underlining how vulnerable they are to being sliced apart themselves.  

Why they will succeed in 2021 – They find some more steel. The Whitecaps are easy to play against and give up too many chances. It would help if Cavallini played like a DP too.  

Why they will fail in 2021? – If their young players don’t take a step forward. This is a team that’s not talent heavy – at least not in any way that has been demonstrated. They won’t spend big so they need to find more from within. Some might even say that getting results in 2021 will depend on those…fine lines!

Key additions – Caio Alexandre is an intriguing creative addition. Brazilians are always hit or miss on the transfer market as they can often be over valued, but MdS has deep connections down there so there’s hope here.  

Key departures – He never quite lived up to his reputation, but Fredy Montero was an offensive weapon that’s now gone.

The view from here – I like their adds and I like MdS. But, it’s hard to see how they can find their way into a tough Western playoff picture. I see an improved team, but still a team lacking. Will incremental improvement allow MdS a 4th season?

Prediction – 9th in West