Five questions that will define the 2021 MLS season | J. Sam Jones

Greg Vanney - LA Galaxy - announcement - holding scarf

Matt Doyle has been doing a series of excellent columns asking a big question for each team in the Eastern and Western Conference. Which made me think it’d be an easy way to steal content if I made it even broader and less nuanced.

This is basically The Mothership consuming itself. You shouldn’t fight it, you should just watch and see whether or not we make it out alive on the other side. All that being said for no reason, let’s zoom out a bit and take a look at five big questions that will (probably) define the MLS season. 

Who won the coaching carousel?

I’m realizing as I’m going through the big questions about this season that we’ve already at least hinted at them at The Daily Kickoff. But how could you not be fascinated by the new head coaches at some of the league’s most prestigious clubs. 

Gabriel Heinze comes to Atlanta with a ton of hype, Greg Vanney comes to LA with hype and understanding he’s in it for the long haul, Chris Armas is looking to prove a point in Toronto, Hernan Losada is hot and taking over a D.C. United team that hasn’t had a new manager in a decade, Gerhard Struber is in New York and seems to be a perfect fit in the Red Bulls’ system, but will he have the players? Oh, yeah, and then there’s Phil Neville in Miami

And now there's a new coaching search with Thierry Henry stepping down at CF Montréal.

It’s probably been the most fascinating offseason for managers in … MLS history? Now we get to sit back and see who wins in year one and make rash judgments about their abilities to lead their team after just one season. It’s going to be awesome.

Did everyone just kind of decide to wait until summer? 

It’s been picking up some as of late, but it’s been an notably quiet offseason overall. Especially considering how many teams need high-impact players or even players to just fill huge spots on their roster. But “unprecedented times” are gonna “unprecedented times”. 

So it may just be that teams have understood not only will they have to wait until summer or later for full stadiums, but that even in a normal year you can often get away with waiting until summer to assess your needs and still be successful. Why not wait, find out what the situation is like when it comes to your finances, find out what your team actually needs after a few months together and act accordingly? No one remembers the choir in Sister Act II: Back in the Habit before Lauryn Hill arrived, but they sure remember what happened when she did. 

Perhaps it’s patience. Or maybe it’s finances and the state of the global transfer market. Or maybe I’m just seeing things and the offseason is about to go insane as we get closer to the beginning of the season.

Which team accidentally had too many good players? 

Bad year to have too many good players. 

The international calendar is stacked in 2021. Players will be leaving for the Olympics, FIFA World Cup qualifying, Concacaf Nations League Finals, the Concacaf Gold Cup, Copa América and the European Championship. If you made the critical mistake of having too many good players, it could be a long summer for you. 

Like I just said a few paragraphs ago, though, you don’t have to be at your peak the whole year. But you most certainly have to be there at the end of the year. Will there be a team that loses too many players and too many games to recover by the end of the year to make the playoffs? 

Do the injured folks still look injured? 

Carlos Vela, Josef Martinez, Ike Opara and Sebastian Blanco are all returning for what will hopefully be their first full season since 2019. They will all play a massive part for four of the league’s best and highest-profile teams. If they’re back to their old ways, then those four teams will be among the best in the league. If they are just OK, those teams will likely just be good and not great. And if they don’t look like themselves at all, we could see each of their teams seriously underperform like LAFC and Atlanta did last season. 

Will the kids do the thing again? 

Pretty simple for how complex it actually is. But we’re going to see if the collection of young MLS players headed to Europe for big money can be repeated this year. It’s beginning to seem like every couple of months, a new young player pops up who takes the league, and then the world market, by storm. Will the momentum from the last couple of years continue?

No matter what, Philadelphia will play a bunch of homegrowns, Dallas will send another player to Bayern Munich and a Red Bulls player with a name that sounds like someone made up an alias on the spot will draw interest after they do something to beat Atlanta United. And as much as that last one will hurt me personally, it’s nice that with all these questions we can still have constants.