We’re in the final few days of the 2021 preseason. Hope is springing eternal all over MLS, and with hope comes possibility: Can our guys do it? Is there a chance that Unfancied Team X can come out of nowhere and put together a dominant regular season?
Is there a chance that Playoff Caliber Team Y can make the jump — as last year’s Shield winners, the Philadelphia Union did — from “very good” to “literally the best team in the regular season?”
The answer to that first question is almost certainly “no.” The only Shield winner to come out of nowhere and win the title in the past decade was the 2012 Quakes, and they really did prove to be a (completely magical) one-off.
And so that’s what we’re going to talk about in this column: Why your team can win the Shield. But in actuality, why they almost certainly won’t.
Atlanta United will win the Shield because...
It’s an annual tradition at this point: You ask why Atlanta can win the Shield, and I provide you with a screenshot of the current MLS roster values as per Transfermarkt. Here’s the top 10:
There’s the top 10. Take it with a grain of salt, of course — Transfermarkt is a blunt instrument and domestic (both American and Canadian) players are criminally undervalued relative to their European and South American peers.
Atlanta United won’t win the Shield because...
Notice how many “ifs” I stacked in that previous paragraph? Sosa, Franco and Ibarra should obviously hit, but Fernando Meza, Matheus Rossetto and Manuel Castro should’ve, as well. So should Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco before them.
None have, really, and Barco’s pretty much the only one of that group that’s left (Rossetto has been in Brazil for personal reasons and hasn’t been a part of the team in preseason in any meaningful way). Atlanta’s shopping sprees have not produced any clear difference-makers since the Tata Martino era, and it’s a lot to hope that turns around overnight even if the early returns on this latest crop are very positive.
And then there’s the Josef thing. I’m pretty sure that he’ll eventually get back to being what he was — ACL tears aren’t really career-derailers these days — but if it takes him three or four months, Atlanta will drop points that they’ll need to collect if they’re going to win their first Shield.
Austin FC will win the Shield because...
There haven’t been a ton of positional play adherents in MLS, but it sure looks like Josh Wolff is going to break that mold. He’ll be doing so while building through a midfield with two Best XI candidates (Alex Ring and Tomas Pochettino), and an attack with two DPs, and a mostly veteran defense.
There’s a chance that Austin hitting the league with positional play produces a weekly advantage similar to what we saw from RBNY’s balls-out press under Jesse Marsch in 2015. It took the league a year to figure out what the hell was going on and come up with countermeasures.
Austin FC won’t win the Shield because...
They’re an expansion team. No expansion team has ever even come close to winning the Shield, and I highly doubt any will.
Moreover they have significant concerns at center forward and in central defense.
Chicago Fire will win the Shield because...
Oof. Um... gimme a sec.
Ok, Robert Beric really was the best center forward in the league last year, and the type of target man who makes it really hard to press this team. That’s combined with plus passers at almost every position, including and especially Paraguayan international Gaston Gimenez in central midfield. So they absolutely have the ability to play through you, but then also have a very obvious Plan B in Beric that they put to good use repeatedly against pressing sides last year.
All of this is within the context of a roster that hasn’t changed much year-over-year, so you’d expect to see a good deal of continuity and, in theory, chemistry. That’s the type of thing that can elevate perennial also-rans way up the standings.
Chicago Fire won’t win the Shield because...
I’m just not sure that keeping continuity within this backline is more valuable than upgrading it:
There were lots of plays like that last year, and not just from the kids. Everyone was culpable.
The Fire give away goals and points very cheaply, and have done so for a long while. It’s hard to imagine an immediate about-face to the degree required to actually win the Shield.
FC Cincinnati will win the Shield because...
They spent a ton of money this offseason and their fans on Twitter believe that’s made them an elite MLS team. Scroll up to that list of Transfermarkt values and you’ll see them comfortably into the top 10.
Can’t knock their ambition!
FC Cincinnati won’t win the Shield because...
They spent a lot of money and showed a lot of ambition last year as well, and the players they brought in were, by and large, more experienced and productive than the guys they’ve brought in this year. They scored 12 goals and had a league-worst -24 goal differential.
There’s a good chance Cincy will be better in 2021, but they’ve taken two Wooden Spoons on the trot. If they go from that to the Shield just build Jaap Stam a statue immediately.
Colorado Rapids will win the Shield because...
The Rapids are quietly on the Union’s path: They’ve leaned into playing and developing their kids, have scrounged for undervalued assets within the league, play an attractive, attacking style and are coached by an all-time great MLS center back.
It all lines up! They are where the Union were ahead of last season, and we know where the Union ended up.
Screw your Transfermarkt top 10. Players win trophies, not spreadsheets.
Colorado Rapids won’t win the Shield because...
If they’re actually on the same path as the Union — an absolutely massive “if” — they’re more likely at the place Philly were ahead of the 2019 season, not the 2020 season.
And the other issue is that Philly added a Best XI-caliber d-mid last year in Jose Martinez, making a team that was already tough to play through absolutely miserable to play through. The Rapids have a lot of good players who make the game pretty, but they don’t have that. You can settle into a rhythm against them and you’re not going to have bruised ankles after the game.
Columbus Crew will win the Shield because...
This is one of the deepest teams not only in the league this year, but in MLS history. They go at least two-deep, and oftentimes three- or four-deep, at pretty much every position. And those guys on the depth chart aren’t placeholders, they’re proven veterans (BWP, Kevin Molino et al) or high-upside kids who’ve shown it in big matches (Aidan Morris, Aboubacar Keita et al) and just... don’t play scared. Ever.
They also, as a group, seem to completely understand Caleb Porter’s attacking and defensive schemes, and in Lucas Zelarayan they’ve got an MVP candidate in the prime of his career.
We saw the level they could hit in last year’s playoffs. There’s no reason to think they can’t hit that level in the biggest regular-season games, but still possess the kind of meaningful depth necessary to turn hose Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday three-games weeks into consistent seven-pointers. In fact I don’t think anybody’s better-equipped to do so.
Columbus Crew won’t win the Shield because...
Funny fact about Caleb Porter’s tenure in Portland: Despite the fact that he had Diegos Chara y Valeri in their respective primes, they never made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. For whatever reason those Timbers sides never dealt well with expectations:
The 2013 side — Porter’s first — finished third in the Shield race and were one of the favorites heading into 2014. That 2014 side malaised (that’s not a verb but get off my case) their way through the season before making a late push, but fell just short of the final playoff spot in the West.
The 2015 side got their feet under them in late spring and basically kept it going right through MLS Cup, in which they beat the Crew 2-1. The 2016 side defended that title by... malaising their way through the season. They won back-to-back games just once and lost three-of-four down the stretch to fall well short of the playoffs.
I can not imagine the same thing happening to this Crew team. Even if Zelarayan gets hurt (please don’t get hurt) I think the floor is like 5th in the East at worst.
But there are greater expectations on this side than Porter ever faced in Portland, and both he and the players have to handle them better than Porter’s Timbers teams ever managed to if they’re to win the Shield.
FC Dallas will win the Shield because...
Dallas made a number of offseason moves last year, and I’d argue that none of them really worked as well as intended. DP center forward Franco Jara was a disappointment, and while some underlying numbers really liked TAM No. 10 Andres Ricaurte, nobody would peg him in 2020 as the type of game-after-game orchestrator that great teams often have.
But it was their first season in MLS, and obviously came under trying circumstances. It is reasonable to expect significant improvement from both, and if your No. 9 improves, and your No. 10 improves, and you’ve got a solid midfield and defense behind them, and you’re already a playoff team, and then you add a touch of this:
A livewire goalscoring winger is exactly what the doctor ordered for Dallas, and what Dallas themselves have been trying to order for years. If Jader Obrian is it — and thus far in preseason he very much has been it — then things are suddenly looking way up for this team.
FC Dallas won’t win the Shield because...
If Jara and Ricaurte didn’t adjust well or quickly, will Obrian? Dallas’s recent list of acquisitions is filled with guys who were overhyped and significantly underdelivered. Yes, Obrian’s looked good in preseason, but so did Santiago Mosquera for a couple of years. We know how that worked out.
And it’s not just Obrian. Dallas brought in center back Jose Antonio Martinez — a veteran of the Segunda Liga who’s had a cup of coffee in La Liga itself — this offseason to replace Reto Ziegler. So here they are in a situation where once again, they need two offseason signings to hit if they’re going to contend for any sort of silverware.
All this, by the way, assumes that Jara and Ricaurte actually will improve in 2021. No guarantee on that.
D.C. United will win the Shield because...
Everybody has kind of forgotten how absurdly good Edison Flores was for Monarcas Morelia (RIP) back in 2019, right before D.C. brought him in. If you’d asked around Mexico who was better, Flores or Zelarayan, it would’ve been like an 80/20 split in favor of the Peruvian. And we know what kind of team you can build around Zelarayan.
Flores is the same. He is a foundational piece you can build a winning, dynamic team around, and we literally saw that happen in Liga MX.
A good chunk of the rest of the roster is composed of guys who are in their prime and have, at one point or another, been above-average (at the very least) MLS players at their positions. There is a chance that new head coach Hernan Losada will have a galvanizing effect and turn this group into an entertaining, attacking collective that overperforms their baseline talent.
D.C. United won’t win the Shield because...
I have a hard time talking myself into believing that said baseline talent is in the top 50% of the league, and it’s tough to make up that differential no matter how strong the collective is.
Just being good would mark a massive improvement for D.C. in 2021.
Houston Dynamo will win the Shield because...
Well, they went out and addressed their biggest need by trading for Tim Parker and drafting Ethan Bartlow. Central defense should be a strength now, and if Tab Ramos can get the most out of Derrick Jones, then central midfield could become a strength as well. And then maybe something miraculous could happen.
Houston Dynamo won’t win the Shield because...
I used “miraculous” for a reason. Even with their offseason upgrades the Dynamo have the look of a club that’ll be lucky to make the playoffs, not one that’ll charge to the top of the table.
It would take like 14 different miracles for that to happen and just... no. It’s not gonna.
LAFC will win the Shield because...
They have the best player in the league. Carlos Vela is healthy again, and we saw in last year’s CCL run what that means. They also have last year’s Golden Boot winner, and for my money they have the best central midfield in the league.
They added a starter at right fullback and depth at left fullback, and they signed Jesus Murrillo permanently. All of that means Bob Bradley will be able to rotate the squad and keep it rested while still keeping guys in their natural spots — no more of Latif Blessing at right back, or Vela as a false 9.
And they are just so, so good, even against the best teams the continent has to offer:
Plus you’ll recall that this group already knows what it’s like to win the Shield. Two in three years would be a hell of a statement.
LAFC won’t win the Shield because...
It seems possible, or maybe even likely that Eduard Atuesta is going to be sold this summer, and he was irreplaceable most of last year. I don’t doubt that LAFC would still be really good and eventually figure out a way to play at a high level without him (that clip above in the CCL final vs. Tigres came with Atuesta, who’d been red carded in the semis vs. Club America, watching from the stands) but I do think that it’d cost them points in the short run.
And the other thing is that the Shield is “been there, done that” for LAFC. This isn’t to say they don’t want to win it — I’m sure they do. But the game-by-game drive and intensity they showed in 2019, which is what’s required to win the Shield these days, could understandably elude them.
LA Galaxy will win the Shield because...
LA Galaxy won’t win the Shield because...
This is a team that’s mostly been pretty terrible since 2015, and while adding a bunch of new pieces was necessary to reverse that, it’s likely not sufficient. There needs to be a cultural overhaul in Carson, and those usually take more than a couple of years.
And then beyond that, it’s time to understand the obvious: Just adding new pieces doesn’t mean the new pieces are going to be good. Galaxy fans know this well after the past six seasons.
Inter Miami will win the Shield because...
They really do have a ton of talent — four DPs worth, as a matter of fact! — most of whom have won wherever they’ve been. Last year was just a disaster because said talent was never quite on the same page, and that divide submarined the whole season.
Enter Phil Neville, whose reputed greatest strength as head coach of the England women’s national team was his ability to unite the locker room and get everyone pulling in the same direction. Do that with the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Rodolfo Pizarro and Blaise Matuidi and you’ll likely win a bunch of stuff.
Inter Miami won’t win the Shield because...
There’s no guarantee Neville will be able to pull off the same trick with Miami that he did with England, and there’s no guarantee that Higuain and Matuidi aren’t cooked. Neither were particularly convincing last year.
If you don’t have match-winners at the top of your roster and you don’t have any sort of reliable depth on the bottom of your roster, you’re not winning the Shield. Not even close.
Minnesota United will win the Shield because...
Did you see how well Bebelo played last year? Dude walked right into that No. 10 role and elevated the whole team.
Well, most of that team is back, and the Loons have added a big-time No. 9 in erstwhile Boca Juniors starter Wanchope Abila. And it looks like a DP left winger could be inbound, as well.
Minnesota United won’t win the Shield because...
Bebelo was amazing, but they weren’t actually that much better with him:
More worrying, though, is that this team went supernova only when Kevin Molino kicked it into high gear down the stretch and into the postseason. Minnesota may be adding a DP (or TAM) left winger, but understand that this guy’s gonna have massive shoes to fill regardless of what his roster status is. And MLS is littered with DPs who were nowhere near as good and dynamic and match-winning as Molino was last autumn.
CF Montréal will win the Shield because...
Uhh... can I pass? Or use a lifeline? Let me phone a friend. Here’s noted Montreal stan David Gass:
CF Montréal won’t win the Shield because...
I think it’s pretty clearly a rebuilding year, and one in which the expectations are to just be competitive and hopefully identify a few of the kids to build around going forward. Just making it back to the postseason would be a major win.
Nashville SC will win the Shield because...
They had one of the league’s best defenses last year, and while the attack sputtered out of the gates the really found themselves during the final month of the season before breaking some hearts in the playoffs.
As a matter of fact they became the first expansion team since the 1998 Chicago Fire to win a postseason game. If they can bottle that late-season form and get their DPs to produce at a level commensurate with their pricetags, Nashville will be a problem.
Nashville SC won’t win the Shield because...
Any defensive slippage and the margins become way too slim for this team, and there’s likely to be some defensive slippage for three reasons:
Nashville pounded Miami into the ground, beat Toronto and made Columbus really work for it in the playoffs. They’re not a fluke, they’re a threat. And people are going to treat them like one.
New England will win the Shield because...
It took a bit but entering year 3, all the pieces are in place for Bruce Arena & Co. Carles Gil is healthy and scoring in preseason, Matt Turner is back, and Adam Buksa’s adjustment period is in the rearview mirror. The young talent, meanwhile — guys like Henry Kessler and Tajon Buchanan — just keeps progressing.
Plus they went out this winter and added three new pieces (LW, LB, CM), each of whom is a potential starter. Add in their already established depth, and the Revs have the type of talented and deep squad that, you know, really could win the Shield.
New England won’t win the Shield Because...
Are they still gonna get battered on set pieces? If the answer is “yes” then they probably have no real shot at taking the Shield. It’s impossible to have such an obvious and easily exploitable (relatively speaking) flaw and still finish atop the table after 34 games.
NYCFC will win the Shield because...
The most successful team in MLS over the past five regular seasons in terms of total points? It’s NYCFC. They’re also second only to LAFC in total points over the past three seasons.
The truth is that I don’t think there’s ever been an MLS team that’s been this good for this long and hasn’t managed to win a single trophy (Twellman’s Revs won an Open Cup, remember). NYCFC have been elite or close to it for half a decade, and most of the guys who’ve been the core of that group are still around.
Teams this good always eventually win something.
NYCFC won’t win the Shield because...
The Pigeons probably aren’t a team that’s this good anymore. They’re thin as hell at center forward, and central defense is a worry. Maxi Moralez is one-of-a-kind, but he’s also 34 and is coming off the worst year of his career.
They weren’t particularly close to any trophies last year and none of their (very few) offseason signings look like needle-movers. It feels like the window for this core group probably closed, and we’re eight months away from something of a rebuild.
RBNY won’t win the Shield because...
Those 2015 and 2018 groups had more high-level veteran talent than this one, and the other big thing is that the level of coaching in MLS now is just significantly better than it was a few short years ago.
Few teams had the tactical acumen or knowhow to adjust to Jesse Marsch’s press back then. That won’t be the case in 2021, and so having an inventive coach with a unique approach doesn’t create as much of an advantage as it once did. And the Red Bulls just don’t have enough talent to make up the differential.
RBNY will win the Shield because...
Gerhard Struber is here to bring this team back to The Red Bull Way. They will press higher and harder and more consistently and with more success than anybody in the league, and the roster’s stuffed with young and hungry players at pretty much every position.
None of them may look like stars (young Caden Clark excepted), but that’s part of The Red Bull Way as well: they see value and get the very best out of it where other clubs would only see replaceable cogs.
We’ve seen something like this movie before, back in 2015 and then again back in 2018.
Orlando City will win the Shield because...
They went from a punchline to a legitimate threat to win any/every competition they entered in 2020. That’s the Oscar Pareja effect, and it took him all of two games to build that into the team.
Now that Papi’s had an entire year to rebuild both the culture and the roster, it doesn’t take a massive leap of the imagination to picture this team hoisting the Shield come November.
Orlando City won’t win the Shield because...
This team could beat you three ways in 2020:
- Possession play
- Individual brilliance primarily from Nani
Their ability to beat you via possession fell off a cliff when left back Joao Moutinho got injured late last summer, and Moutinho’s still out. There’s been no replicating his distribution or overlapping threat in his absence.
Pareja adjusted for that by becoming a counterattacking team over the final two months of the season, driving as much as possible through Daryl Dike. It, uh, seem like a pretty good bet that he’s not going to be back this year, and while Orlando City’s center forward depth chart is long and distinguished, none of them’s Dike.
As for Nani’s individual brilliance, it has a shelf life. Dude's disappeared down the stretch each of the past two years.
NANI'S 2020 STATS:
- Nani's first 16 games of 2020: 6g/6a
- Nani's final 10 games of 2020: 3g/0a
NANI'S 2019 STATS:
- Nani's first 19 games of 2019: 8g/8a
- Nani's final 11 games of 2019: 4g/2a
Given how back-loaded the schedule is with three-game weeks, it’s tough to imagine the Portuguese winger having enough gas to be a lead-his-team-to-the-promised-land attacker like, say, Vela was in 2019,or Bradley Wright-Phillips in 2018, or Sebastian Giovinco in 2017, etc.
I actually think it’s more prudent to punt on the Shield, rest Nani as much as possible and try to be fully charged for the postseason. Orlando City showed last year at the MLS is Back Tournament just how dangerous a tournament team they could be — this was before Dike broke into the lineup, remember — and there’s a decent chance they can catch that particular lightning in a bottle come the playoffs.
Philadelphia Union will win the Shield because...
They just 100% know who they are in a way that most teams in this league just can’t match. We’ve seen it already this year when they went down to Saprissa and outclassed a veteran side that was at home and in the middle of its season. Philly did that in their very first game of the year.
And because of their prodigious academy and Ernst Tanner’s shrewd eye in the transfer market, they have way more depth than people realize. The culture in Chester is plug-and-play-and-win no matter who they’ve got on the field.
Philadelphia Union won’t win the Shield because...
They sold two Best XI starters for a combined $15 million. Their starting right back, who played mistake-free soccer for damn near a decade and is the club’s all-time appearance leader, retired somewhat out of the blue this winter.
I don’t care how strong the culture is: you don’t just plug-and-play-and-replace that and keeping collecting points at a Shield-winning level. There is bound to be some regression.
And if there’s not — if Philly win back-to-back Shields despite the offseason departures — it’s one of the great accomplishments in MLS history. Full stop.
Portland Timbers will win the Shield because...
In terms of pure, high-level talent, Portland might have more than anybody else in the league. Diego Valeri can win you a match. Jeremy Ebobisse can win you a match. Sebastian Blanco, once he returns, can win you a match. Jaroslaw Niezgoda can, once he returns, win you a match. Yimmi Chara can win you a match. It’s getting to the point where we should all believe that Eryk Williamson can win you a match:
Over the course of a long season the ability to out-talent opponents is just a massive advantage, and Portland will out-talent almost everyone they go up against.
Portland Timbers won’t win the Shield because…
For all their talent and supposed veteran knowhow — both of which were on display last summer when they won the MLS is Back Tournament — the Timbers had a very obvious Achilles’ heel: They completely collapsed during the final 15 minutes of games. It wasn’t precisely that they’d run out of gas, but given how many players in crucial roles were well into their 30s, we can’t rule “actually, they really did run out of gas” out as a culprit.
None of that mid-30s cohort (other than maybe Diego Chara) is aging backwards.
Teams that cough up late points don’t win the Shield. Simple as.
RSL will win the Shield because...
This is MLS and MLS is madness. Anything can happen!
RSL won’t win the Shield because...
They finished 21st overall last year, averaging just 1 ppg and just slightly more than one goal per game. They have made only minimal additions to that roster, and while those additions all make sense — and Anderson Julio in particular has looked good in preseason — it sure doesn’t feel like enough to make a 20-place jump in the standings.
San Jose will win the Shield because...
Everyone’s sleeping on the Quakes!! They averaged 1.8 ppg once Matias Almeyda finally had a come to Jesus moment and benched Daniel Vega. That’s up from 0.8 ppg when Vega played, and the goals against numbers tell the same story: 3.1 goals per game allowed with Vega in net, and just 1.3 allowed when J.T. Marcinkowski got the nod.
1.8 ppg would’ve put the Quakes fourth in the Shield race last year. Take that and add a new No. 10, enhanced midfield, fullback, forward and winger depth, and maybe a massive jump from young Cade Cowell, who’s scoring for fun in preseason...
I am so ready for Goonies 2.0. I am so, so ready for Wondo to go out with another trophy of literally any kind.
One other note: You have to be kind of crazy to win the Shield. You have to get up week after week, game after game even during the dog days of summer or when the season’s dragging.
Almeyda demands exactly that from his side.
San Jose won’t win the Shield because…
They’re even worse defending set pieces than the Revs for one. For two, Almeyda has pretty consistently made head-scratching personnel decisions for months at a time, and just punting on a month’s worth of results is not something Shield-winners do. And for three, that man-marking defensive scheme can really, really sap a team’s energy. It’s hard to imagine them being at their best during the stretch run, and the Shield is often won (or lost) during the stretch run.
Seattle Sounders will win the Shield because...
A very good way to put the bad taste of last year’s MLS Cup failure well in the past is to come out and have a dominant regular season of the sort they haven’t managed to produce in seven years.
The Sounders might not — probably do not, to be honest — have the pieces to do that. They lost a lot of established talent this winter and, in true Sounders fashion, didn’t make any big moves and likely won’t until the summer window opens in July.
But they are still a top 10 team in the league on pure talent, and are likely to push into the top 5 if they have the kind of summer shopping spree that they’re known for. A team with that kind of talent level and winning culture, as well as the pride that comes with it and whatever chip they might be carrying after the Crew murked ‘em in December, can be very, very dangerous.
I’d love to see this Seattle side come out with the intent to inflict humiliation upon their opponents from matchday 1. It’s been too long.
Seattle Sounders won’t win the Shield because...
They probably won’t be deep or dynamic enough until whatever acquisition Garth Lagerwey makes in July, and by then the Shield’s likely to be out of their reach.
And beyond that... it’s just not a priority for this group. They’ve been laser-focused on winning MLS Cup since Brian Schmetzer took over, and while I’d like that to change I’m pretty sure Schmetzer doesn’t give a damn what I’d like or not.
Sporting KC will win the Shield because...
For a decade we said “Oh man, imagine Peter Vermes with a transfer budget.” And then Peter Vermes was given a transfer budget last offseason, went out and signed a couple of attacking DPs, and produced one of the best attacks in the league — one good enough to propel them to the top of the Western Conference in the regular season.
This winter’s transfer budget was smaller, but directed at central defense and central midfield. If Vermes did as well in signing Nicolas Isimat-Mirin and Remi Walter as he did in signing Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda then Sporting are going to be really, really good. And it’s a pretty short journey from “top of the West” to “top of the whole damn table.”
Sporting KC won’t win the Shield because...
Of course, it’s not like Vermes hasn’t tried to address the team’s needs in central defense before. There’s been a long line of center backs coming to KC since Sporting traded Ike Opara after the 2018 season, and to a man they’ve failed to come anywhere near filling the void.
Isimat-Mirin is the latest in that procession. The odds are against him being anywhere near as good as Opara was in his prime, and if he’s not that, then the gap between “top of the West” and “top of the table” becomes a chasm.
Toronto FC will win the Shield because...
It was the Reds, not the Union, who actually spent most of last season atop the standings. It was only down the stretch after Alejandro Pozuelo picked up a knock — one of about a million TFC players who dealt with injuries in 2020 — that Toronto fell off the pace and crashed all the way down to... second in the league.
They finished second last season despite playing on the road for basically the entire year (they were based in Hartford, remember) and dealing with a biblical spate of injuries. They might not have claimed a trophy last season, but the mental strength they showed was impressive as hell.
Few teams have Toronto’s kind of depth.
Toronto FC won’t win the Shield because…
My god they didn’t even get through the first game without multiple hamstring injuries. Erickson Gallardo — who forced the own goal vs. Leon — was stretched off after about 25 minutes. Jozy Altidore made it to the 70-minute mark before limping off, and is now awaiting the results of an MRI.
Pozuelo didn’t play in that game as he’s hurt, as is Jonathan Osorio. Same with Chris Mavinga, who’s probably the most important player on the team. Justin Morrow isn’t fit yet either, and neither is young striker Ayo Akinola.
I don’t care how much depth and potential you have: You can’t consistently lose that many key players to soft tissue injuries and compete at the top of the league. It’s impossible.
Vancouver Whitecaps will win the Shield because...
If they simplify and go to a sit-and-counter default, they have a front line that can get out into transition and give anybody problems. And if Caio Alexandre hits, they’ll have the type of game-controlling central midfielder who can spring exactly those type of counters.
Vancouver Whitecaps won’t win the Shield because...
The ‘Caps finished 17th overall, with 1.17 ppg and a goal differential of -17 — third worst in the league. And believe it or not, the boxscore stats liked the ‘Caps more than the advanced stats did, and advanced stats tend to do a good job of predicting what’s to come.
Vancouver could very well be much better than they were in 2020, but they are incredibly unlikely to be so much better that they win the Shield no matter how many times they’re able to get out on the counter and put the ball in the net.