The Major League Soccer 2021 season is at its midpoint. As MLS gets back on its feet after the harsh realities of the pandemic, seeing teams play in full houses has been a joy in feeling that life is getting back to normal. There have been great comeback stories, stadium openings, and dumpster fires for some teams which has made 2021 extremely fun to watch.
While we won’t cover each team individually, we will review some of the bigger stories of the league as well as highlight some players or clubs that are not being talked about as much. This season we saw the Seattle Sounders set a record for longest unbeaten run at 13 games and on the other side of the coin Atlanta United and the San Jose Earthquakes went winless in 11 matches.
The comeback story of Chicharito Hernandez to the coming out party for Ricardo Pepi have been some of the feel-good stories so far. While the firing of Gabriel Heinze and the mess that is Inter Miami has left fans and pundits with their mouths open. With a half season still left to go, MLS will surely provide a lot to talk about after the All-Star break. For now, let’s enjoy some of the best stories and highlights of the 2021 MLS season so far.
The rise of Chicharito
Fans in Los Angeles were scratching their heads when Javier Hernández could only score 2 goals in 12 games last season. After an offseason of soul searching and a coaching change Chicharito found his scoring touch in MLS. 10 goals in 10 games, and while he has gone down with injury no one can question that Chicharito is the rainbow of a rather bland Los Angeles Galaxy team.
The fall of Gabriel Heinze and Atlanta United
Local media in Atlanta said it best, Gabriel Heinze’s time as coach of Atlanta United was so quick that the media never saw him in person. For all the reports and the “sources”, Heinze did not fit in, but had the Atlanta United brass done their homework they would have known that. You don’t ask a guy who spent his career avoiding the media to be the “face” of the club. On the field, Atlanta United did little to justify not firing Heinze winning only two games for the Argentine manager.
Inexplicably the club is still trying to make high price signings that will almost certainly shackle the next coach that comes in. While Atlanta United boasts that they spend the money, they are a club with a lot of expensive deadweight.
The Revolution in New England
An old dog doing with the same trick, Bruce Arena has built a winner in New England. The Revolution have done everything they were criticized for not doing before the arrival of Bruce Arena. Carlos Gil, Gustavo Bou, and Adam Buksa could be the best three DPs in all of MLS considering their production and work rate. As always Bruce is building a great team off of a great triangle offense, and as usual American players are blossoming with Arena, Matt Polster, Matt Turner, and Brandon Bye are a few examples. Anyone watching the Revs knows that the team is an MLS Cup candidate.
The Matías Almeyda experiment
While Matías Almeyda has won the hearts of many, his life philosophy, his approach to the game, and his charisma make him a great person to showcase on social media. And that has been pretty much it for Matías Almeyda in MLS, he is a great story. His team…. a nightmare, 11th in the West, San Jose fans have grown tired of seeing their team eek out wins and watch from afar how other teams are playoff bound. While not all Almeyda’s fault, the firing of Jesse Fioranelli is the first sign that the Argentine’s experiment is coming to an end.
The unbeatable Sounders
The Revs have competition for the MLS Cup and they’re in Seattle. The Sounders have been special this season and all while doing it without Nicolás Lodeiro and Jordan Morris. Kudos to Raúl Ruidíaz for showing that a DP steps up, the leading scorer of the league, at the time of this writing, has proven 10-fold that Gareca made a huge mistake not taking him to the Copa America.
Los Angeles weak club
LAFC has gone down the pecking order of the best clubs in MLS and this season the team has looked well, stale. Much more should be expected by a team that is still largely the same group of players that broke the MLS record for points in a season. Bob Bradley has the team in the playoffs, yes, but 1 game above .500 is that really the measuring stick? Yeah, Vela has been good but Rossi not so much, and to be honest the team has been largely disappointing and are in the clear mostly for the forgiving league MLS can be to some. What to do with Brian Rodríguez seems like a question Bradley will need to answer quickly although help is on the way in forward Cristian Arango.
A dark horse in NYCFC
Statement game after statement game is all NYCFC has done this season with big wins against the Crew and Orlando City. Firmly in third in the East after an inconsistent start the club is on a three-game winning streak and is playing some of the most attractive soccer in the league. NYCFC of 2021 could be the team to finally end the New York champion drought in MLS.
Ricardo Pepi has been one of the best young players to watch this whole season with strong performances for an otherwise lackluster FC Dallas side. Subject to strong transfer rumors, Pepi might not be in MLS for long so watch him!
In the dumps
Inter Miami has just been a rollercoaster ride of bad play, bad decisions, and weak performances. The worst team in MLS with only 12 points, they’re off the field fiascos are jaw dropping, recently loaning a $9 million signing for free in Matías Pellegrini. For all the crap he gets, Gonzalo Higuaín has 7 goals on the year and is the best player on the worst team this league has seen in a long time.
Kudos to the Crew and Austin FC
Three words: Beautiful Soccer Stadiums! The Crew joins the club of being the only MLS team to play in two stadiums built for them and Austin’s Q2 Stadium is one of the nicest in the whole league, and a worthy atmosphere! Not to be left out is TQL Stadium of FC Cincinnati all great venues for Soccer in the U.S.
Orlando City and Minnesota United are teams to look out for down the stretch, both teams have shown that they can play good soccer and get wins. The Colorado Rapids quietly are in the top spots in the West while Nashville SC have only lost 1 game this whole season.