Well, it’s that time of year again. Apparently. When I got asked to do this “again”, I didn’t remember doing this bit last year. But then I went back and looked and realized I had filed that memory away under “The one where everyone got mad at me.” Certainly everyone will relax on this one and take the not-so-serious suggestions in an even-keeled mannerrrrraannnddddd you’ve already skipped this part and gone straight to Twitter to complain about your team’s suggestion haven’t you?
Anyway, here’s what should be on each team’s “New Year, new me” list. Each of these are anywhere between “resolution” and “wish list item”. Why? Because I lost focus of the angle on this piece about halfway through and got too confused to correct to whatever the angle was actually supposed to be. Gonna be better about that next year. Promise.
Vancouver Whitecaps: Be true to yourself
Vancouver needs to take a long look at itself, decide to stop existing in-between identities, and really steer into being a chaos team that sits deep and steals goals on the break. Right now they’re the kid who has moved out of their parent’s house and is wondering if they should get the mohawk they’ve always wanted. Just do it Vancouver. You’re not under their control anymore. Dye it purple if you really want to.
The 2021 version of this for Vancouver is finding a couple more pieces to compliment Lucas Cavallini and Michael Baldisimo and committing to using them and a low block to bludgeon their way to the playoffs. As Matt Doyle points out, they were pretty good at the low-block and transition model for parts of the year. This team isn’t going to be a dominant, ball-controlling force anytime soon. Really lean into your strengths Caps.
Toronto FC: Get a cloning machine?
It’s going to take a lot to replicate Vanney’s success and the next coach will have to deal with a side that seems to be perma-injured and features pieces that are growing older in a “Roy Kent being the slowest player on the field” kind of way. They’re still obviously very, very good at soccer and they still have plenty of cash to put into this team. Toronto is going to be just fine long-term. But it sure would help if they could pull a manager like, oh, I don’t know, Patrick Vieira into their orbit.
Sporting KC: Get some bubble wrap
For Alan Pulido specifically. The consensus at the end of the season for SKC was they were simply a better team when Pulido played. It’s true that even without Pulido regularly available, this team still finished first in the West. But it’s also true they got boat raced by Minnesota in the playoffs without him.
Maybe a better illustration is this stat from Doyle:
In his 13 starts across all competitions, Sporting were 8-3-2 with a +10 goal differential. In the 12 games he didn't start Sporting were 4-5-3 with a -2 goal differential.
Hmm...seems like they might be better off when he’s healthy. If they can get Pulido steady, this team should have most of their core back save for Matt Besler and (potentially) Gianluca Busio. Pulido plus a couple of defensive upgrades could mean a whole lot more for KC than just a first-seed in the West.
Seattle Sounders: Get a bunch of giant TVs and a bunch of DVRs
For pretty much the entire year, Seattle had the best lineup in the league. At the end of the year, it seemed like they had the best lineup in the league AND the Sounders Playoff Voodoo Magic that had pushed lesser editions of the team to MLS Cup. It was horrifying.
Then they showed up in Columbus and absolutely none of that seemed apparent. They got mollywhopped. And no one in rave green is still entirely sure why.
That game should be playing in 4K on repeat in every corner of the Sounders’ training facility. They should be mad for the entire year. They’ll be more than good enough to get back to MLS Cup in 2021. If they get back, they’ll need to make sure that this time they finish what they started.
San Jose Earthquakes: Live in the moment
Some of us have been lucky enough to date someone far more attractive than us. I’ve heard this is awesome. But also a bit unnerving. There’s pretty much a constant countdown clock happening until they move on.
The Earthquakes are experiencing this right now. But the good news is, the countdown clock on Matias Almeyda is pretty defined. He’ll definitely be back in 2021 and it seems like he’s intent on seeing out his contract to 2022 despite interest from other clubs. Instead of panicking about him leaving, San Jose should take a deep breath and just try and get as much out of the experience as possible. Go all in. This may never happen again so you might as well try to maximize your enjoyment.
The Quakes should invest as much as possible with no cares or worries about anything post-Almeyda and Wondo. Almeyda has already said he’s begging the club to invest in talent, why not oblige? No one is going to give you a better chance to win.
Real Salt Lake: Get one of those venture capital investments
RSL are still looking for an ownership group. Finding one that will invest — and help establish a positive club culture — would be very welcome in Salt Lake.
Portland Timbers: Continue outrunning father time
This is probably going to be the wish/resolution for the next six years until Diegos Chara and Valeri both start every game at age 40 and we just go ahead and pencil them in for every game until the heat death of the universe. But until then, the Diegos are 34 and Sebastian Blanco is 32 and coming off an ACL tear. The trio is still absurdly talented and Portland are still easily one of the best in the league when even just two-third of that group is healthy. Portland’s hope is all three will be available and just as effective as ever at the right time.
Philadelphia Union: Get some homegrown reinforcements
What do you do when you’re facing the problem of losing at least two of your most talented players to historic transfer fees? I dunno, probably just throw more Homegrowns at it.
Brenden Aaronson is gone, Mark McKenzie is leaving, Kai Wagner is probably leaving and the Supporters’ Shield winners will be looking to replace three key pieces. Non-homegrowns Jakob Glesnes and Jack Elliott should be up to make up for McKenzie at center back. But can Anthony Fontana or, ya know, maybe even Paxten Aaronson fill in for Brenden? Can Matt Real do the same for Wagner? That’s two huge questions. But Philly’s Homegrown record has been pretty excellent lately. And knowing them, they probably have a few more waiting in the wings.
Orlando City: Adhere to The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Soccer Teams
Chris Mueller somewhat famously has a book club. It’s mostly motivational books and he follows a lot of the programs listed in those books to a tee. The discipline is seriously impressive and it helped turn him into one of the league’s most-effective players this season.
As a team, Orlando are going to have to take a cue from Mueller in 2021. It mainly involves taking all the good habits learned from the best season in club history and getting rid of a few of the bad ones that saw them drop points down the stretch to teams they probably shouldn’t have, and then implode a bit in the playoffs against New England.
They should be very good again. Now they need to nail down the little things.
New York Red Bulls: Be in a montage
Towards the end of Chris Armas’s tenure, the Red Bulls stopped looking like themselves. The furious pressing and chaotically direct goals in transition didn’t seem to be coming anymore. They began to get their groove back a bit toward the end of the year, but now new manager Gerhard Struber will be tasked with getting the team completely back in shape and back to a better version of itself.
Normally those kinds of self-improvements condense well into montage form. I want a Rocky-style training video of Struber teaching them how to press like a unit, practice scoring goals from inside the six-yard-box and bringing random players named, like, David Archibald the Second from bordeline Ivy League schools into the roster to score those goals from inside the six-yard-box. The classic Red Bulls we know and love.
NYCFC: Get a white t-shirt attitude
Ronny Deila introduced himself to New York like this:
Despite this initial confidence, NYCFC struggled for a second before ending the year as one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. All they’ll want to do next year is build on the confidence from the end of the season until they’re as confident as their manager.
New England Revolution: Start dancing well before midnight
Even though they came on as a playoff Cinderella, a healthy New England were always going to be someone to reckon with. Getting Carles Gil back transformed the team and they’ll be hoping for a full year from him and the rest of a talented group that includes Tajon Buchanan, Gustavo Bou and Matt Turner. They (probably) won’t be able to sneak into the playoffs as an eight-seed this season. But they should be aiming to be consistent enough to avoid that risk in the first place.
Nashville SC: Be more adventurous
Score more goals. That’s it. I don’t know what else I can add.
Montreal Impact: No Thierry ennui
It always feels like there’s a risk of Thierry Henry realizing he’s accomplished far more in life than pretty much everyone else and there’s no need for him to take on a managerial career when he can just drive around in a sports car and be handsome for the rest of his life. I might be projecting a bit because that’s what I would do if I were Thierry Henry, but until that happens, actual Thierry Henry will continue to work to improve a team that gave up a shocking amount of goals last season. Montreal regularly came out in a low block and gave up the most goals in the Eastern Conference. There’s still a ton to do to make this team a contender, and no one involved can afford to be complacent.
Minnesota United: Lose their dog
Alright, no more underdog mentality. Minnesota came moments away from MLS Cup. Absolutely no one is underrating them anymore. Which means the culture around the club has to shift toward a team with a target on its back, and more importantly a team deserving to be there at the very end. They have the talent to do it. It will help a bit if they act like it.
Inter Miami CF: Have a sophomore bump
Expansion years are supposed to be tough. But every now and then a team bucks that trend. It just so happened that the team that bucked the trend in 2021 was Nashville. Inter Miami technically made the playoffs just like I technically have a college degree, but 10th place and Mass Communication doesn’t mean much in the real world.
There’s a lot, a lot of work to do here it feels like. The team lacked a clear identity and didn’t improve much even after adding Gonzalo Higuain and Blaise Matuidi. They’ll be hoping they just need a year to get their bearings.
LA Galaxy: Get a sweaty neck
I was thinking a playoff scarf in Southern California would be pretty uncomfortable. But no one in LA would mind it happening.
LAFC: Find someone to settle down with
LAFC are always going to thrive in chaotic, transition-based soccer. No one is asking them to stop being themselves, but a little steadiness would do a lot for them. Settle down. Relax. Find a nice center back to help take care of you. Who knows how long that attack will last? What about that nice Zimmerman fellow, you should call him up.
Or...ya know...potentially sell nearly everyone for absurd sums of money never before seen in MLS and remake the team entirely. Eduard Atuesta, Brian Rodriguez and Diego Rossi all may be on to other things. We may see a practically brand new LAFC. Either way, there should be some focus on steadying the ship defensively.
Houston Dynamo FC: Keep everyone distracted
Ooh, a fancy new rebrand. Looks good! Everyone look at that and maybe don’t so much worry about the product on the field for this year. Look, a hexagon!
D.C. United: Complete a successful transfer of power
That means whoever takes over for Ben Olsen actually brings some excitement to this team. The fanbase, the stadium and the club are worthy of a team that’s a contender.
FC Dallas: Get the Paxton Pomykal update
He’s back! Well he should be at least. After (another) major surgery, there are a lot of questions about the 20-year-old. If he can come back healthy and effective, this is a Dallas team with an extra gear. Throw in a shiny new attacking DP and the ceiling is pretty high. If neither of those things happens, then the floor is Big Tex.
Columbus Crew SC: Just have fun
Congrats Columbus! You get a full 2-3 years off from worrying about things. You get these kinds of perks when you have a season end perfectly. Win the Supporters’ Shield? Cool! Bonus! Finish last in the East? Whatever! Can’t hear you over the sound of the MLS Cup!
Good news is the team should be pretty darn good again. But it shouldn’t matter either way.
Colorado Rapids: Hound with Bassett
Now if Bassett gets sold off to Europe...Hey just enjoy yourselves out there Colorado. Ask Columbus for advice on that.
FC Cincinnati: Delete Facebook. Lawyer up. Hit the gym
Gotta build a better you, man.
Chicago Fire FC: Keep that new home smell
The biggest challenge for Chicago is going to be recreating what would have been the magic of a full stadium return to Soldier Field in 2020. The logo rebrand could have gone better and Soldier Field never got its big MLS moment.
The Fire were better than their record let on last season. If they can couple an improved product with an identity and home that still feel fresh, they might be able to get the rebrand bump they missed out on in 2020.
Austin FC: Find a star deep in the heart of Texas
Everyone pretty much gets a free pass in year one. But it’s a whole lot more fun if you actually end up being pretty good. Or at least entertaining.
The fanbase already seems huge, the stadium is excellent, the brand is solid. Now they just need to put a star on the pitch who makes an expansion team worth paying a little extra attention to.
Atlanta United: Get Heinze’s 5 & 7
New manager Gabriel Heinze hasn’t inherited a total fixer-upper, but a couple of rooms desperately need renovation. The first thing Atlanta United can do to help him is go out and get a defensive midfielder who can make an impact. The holding midfield position is crucial in Heinze’s Bielsa-esque tactical setup and Atlanta is simply devoid of any real talent at the spot right now.
A bonus would be to go out and get a winger who can find the back of the net. There’s no guarantee Ezequiel Barco (who maybe shouldn’t even be out wide in the first place, but has ended up there) will be healthy (or effective enough when he is) and while some are high on Jurgen Damm, I’m still not entirely convinced. Which is honestly great for me because needing an Argentine 5 and a 7 set me up for this killer ketchup joke.
Seems like the universe is finally allowing some good things happen in 2021. We’re gonna make it y’all.