Larson: The 5 most underappreciated teams in MLS today

Bradley Wright-Phillips - New York Red Bulls - gets embraced by Daniel Royer after scoring

New York Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch likens his side to the short kid in the room – the one at the back who repeatedly jumps to be spotted above taller heads standing in front of him.

He thinks his Red Bulls deserve far more attention for what they’ve accomplished in recent seasons.

“No one wants to give this group credit,” Marsch said after advancing past FC Cincinnati and into the 2017 U.S. Open Cup final. “No one wants to acknowledge that they’ve been a good team, especially in the past two or three months. No one wants to tip their hat to what’s been happening here at Red Bull. And the only way to force people’s hand is to win.”

He's right. The Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders hog plaudits in the Pacific Northwest.

The LA Galaxy and, soon enough, LAFC will dominate chatter this offseason.

As we’ve seen in recent weeks, the Chicago Fire probably have received more attention than anyone.

Perhaps a few clubs league-wide deserve much more recognition for what they’ve accomplished recently. Here are my five most underappreciated clubs in Major League Soccer right now.

5) Toronto FC

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Wait, what?

Toronto FC? Underappreciated?

Hear me out before you scroll down and holler about Larson being a “homer.”

I’m not convinced fans – and some pundits – fully appreciate TFC’s transformation from league laughing stock to, perhaps, the best team ever. It didn’t happen overnight.

Head coach Greg Vanney still hasn’t been nominated for MLS Coach of the Year and Sebastian Giovinco felt snubbed after missing out on MVP voting last year.

Oh, and defender Drew Moor, who continues to anchor the best defense in the Eastern Conference, wasn’t considered for last year’s Defender of the Year.

All that before mentioning Victor Vazquez, who – for me – is the league’s top playmaker.

Disagree? Fine, but that’s kind of my point.

Toronto FC are underrated both individually and as a team, despite being on pace to register the best season in Major League Soccer history. The fact they’re doing it with multiple castoffs – Eriq Zavaleta, Chris Mavinga, Marky Delgado – is all the more impressive.

While the Reds are widely regarded as the team to beat this season, a lack of exposure has prevented fans from truly appreciating what they’re doing.

4) Atlanta United

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Not only will the best expansion side since the 1998 Chicago Fire be competitive in this year’s playoffs. Atlanta United could win the entire thing.

Before drooling over A-Town’s roster, consider the fact that Atlanta United finish the 2017 season with eight of 10 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Talk surrounding Atlanta has mostly centered around breathtaking atmospheres and a few players who, in certain moments, have electrified the league.

What’s underappreciated, though, is the table-altering run Atlanta is about to go on and the solid inaugural roster complied by the club’s front office.

Strikers Yamil Asad and Hector Villalba were relative unknowns that have looked dangerous all season long alongside undoubted stars in Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez.

Complimentary pieces like Carlos Carmona and Jeff Larentowicz, among a handful of others, have helped Atlanta garner instant success.

In addition to the 1998 Fire, only one other expansion side – the 2009 Seattle Sounders – has previously made the MLS playoffs in a debut season.

If you don’t fully appreciate Atlanta now, you will when they climb the table by season's end.

3) Montreal Impact

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The Impact continue to possess one of the most underrated rosters in Major League Soccer – one that’s overshadowed because it lacks a “big star” by most standards.

Not mine. Ambroise Oyongo, though injured long-term, is a Cameroonian international in the prime of his career. Anyone watching last summer’s European Championship will recognize Laurent Ciman from his two appearances for Belgium – one of the best teams in the UEFA region over the previous five years.

The club’s midfield features more of the same, with Blerim Dzemaili and Ignacio Piatti turning it on late in the season in a push to save Montreal’s season.

Despite his production since 2014 (44 goals, 19 assists in 80 starts), Piatti has been perpetually considered a “second tier” Designated Player behind Sebastian Giovinco and David Villa.

The Impact were a goal away from reaching MLS Cup in 2016 – with a well-built roster that’s loaded with hidden gems casual fans miss.

Next to Atlanta, the Bleu-Blanc-Noir have the best transition game in the league – one that’s underrated as they’re excluded from “contender” lists every season.

2) New York Red Bulls

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The final verdicts from the 2017 season have yet to be handed down. But what's for sure is that up to now, New York has absolutely been red.

Most people know the New York Reds Bulls are usually solid-to-good. What they don’t realize, though, is exactly how good the Red Bulls have been in recent seasons.

Since 2013, the Red Bulls have finished atop the Eastern Conference standings in three of four seasons, making them arguably the most consistent team over that period.

A lack of playoff success has prevented New York from garnering the reputation they probably deserve. And with David Villa and surging New York City FC beginning to steal headlines, Red Bulls’ head coach Jesse Marsch won’t receive the attention his team deserves unless they finally win MLS Cup.

Like Ignacio Piatti, New York’s Bradley Wright-Phillips is criminally underappreciated and overshadowed by bigger names.

Wright-Phililps could reach 20 goals for the third time in four seasons this year after pundits predicted his goals would dry up without the services of Thierry Henry.

They were wrong. And anyone downplaying New York’s accomplishments fails to appreciate what they’ve done in recent memory.

1) Sporting KC

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Like TFC, the Kansans have built a reputation as one of the top teams in their conference. But that doesn’t mean what head coach Peter Vermes has built is fully appreciated.

Sporting Kansas City haven’t finished outside the playoffs since moving to Children’s Mercy Park in 2011 – a run of postseason appearances that includes an MLS Cup trophy (2013).

During that time, Vermes has constructed a dynamic roster despite operating with the 7th-lowest payroll in the league, according to MLS Players Union numbers.

Still, Sporting KC – and their 100-straight sellout streak – constantly rest in the shadows of bigger market clubs that spend more and attract far more attention.

Simply put: The bar is set higher in smaller markets we often take for granted.

Truth be told, Sporting KC have been one of the best – and most complete – MLS sides over the previous half-dozen seasons.

They have picked up more trophies than any other team – an MLS Cup in 2013 and a U.S. Open Cup in 2012, 2015 and now 2017 – amid building a model club.

They deserve more attention than most of their Western Conference counterparts.