Alfredo Morales - NYCFC - hands on knees

Nobody likes to write off any side too early in the season, but early struggles often forebode an uphill battle toward the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.

For this reason and several others, there will be eight MLS teams intent on ensuring they don't follow up a Week 1 loss with another this weekend. Naturally, some clubs (such as league new kid Austin FC) are simply under less pressure to succeed in 2021.

Then there's a larger group on zero points heading into Week 2 that will be feeling plenty of heat. More is expected of them and another defeat may put their 2021 season under a dark cloud if they can't instantly right the ship.

So, which teams most need to pull a U-turn by making sure they don't end up empty-handed this weekend? Let’s sort through the field.


Like some of my colleagues, I felt like the Herons looked rather good until they suddenly didn't in their season-opening loss to the LA Galaxy. The Inter Miami attack looks very capable of blossoming in 2021, but they're going to want to stop blowing leads, an area head coach Phil Neville will need to attend to.

Despite last season's early futility, this Saturday’s trip to Supporters’ Shield holders Philadelphia Union (8 pm ET | TV & streaming info) is the ideal time to find a solution to that problem, if you catch my drift.

Well ... Week 1 certainly happened. The good news is the Sounders are in the rearview mirror (for now, at least), and Minnesota have shown a knack for getting up off the mat stronger. The latter point means that expectations are high at Allianz Field.

The Loons will need that rally spirit in abundance when Real Salt Lake arrive on Saturday (8 pm ET | TV & streaming info). The visitors have had an extra week of preseason to get their ducks in a row, and if we've learned anything about the Power Rankings, it's that the club at the bottom will be in the mood to whoop somebody.

When you get a taste of playoff soccer, it's hard to let go of it. The Cityzens and their fans know; the club has earned a postseason invite in all five seasons since their inaugural MLS campaign, but are yet to reach the Eastern Conference Final.

Now they need to shake off an early loss at D.C. United to take care of home business Saturday (1 pm ET | TV & streaming info) against an FC Cincinnati team that features new worrisome attack weapons like Brenner and Luciano Acosta. It's also an opponent that NYCFC hold a perfect 4-0 record against. Can you say "trap game"? Airing that phrase ahead of time might be wise over in the Bronx.


Considering all the roster turnover since they posted a then-MLS record 71 points in 2018, one might think there really shouldn't be that much pressure on the New York Red Bulls. Yeah, ditch that thought — this is Gotham, baby, and head coach Gerhard Struber will learn there’s always pressure when you haven't won the big one. 

Reaching the postseason is both the requisite first step to winning the big one, and they’ve made the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs 11 years running. That brings us to Sunday (5:30 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes), when the Red Bulls visit an LA Galaxy side that’s suddenly feeling it again.

Obviously, following a loss to Vancouver Whitecaps FC by falling at home to Houston Dynamo FC on Saturday (10:30 pm ET | TV & streaming info) would be a terrible way to stumble out of the gate. This would go double for Portland, who began the season near the top of the title contenders list.

Sure, they hope to have Sebastian Blanco and Jeremy Ebobisse fit soon, and sure, they usually have their way with Houston at Providence Park. But this pressure isn't about the likelihood that the Timbers will drop to 0-2 (frankly, I wouldn't count on it). It's about the nightmare start to 2021 it would be if they did.

Believe me, I get it. It's easy to drop the opening day Canadian Classique derby when you're missing vital spine members like Ayo Akinola, Jozy Altidore, Chris Mavinga, Jonathan Osorio and reigning Landon Donovan MLS MVP Alejandro Pozuelo. The thing is, the Reds have consistently been one of the league's deepest teams in recent years and most of those names are due back soon.

Plus, they just stunned Liga MX’s Club Leon in the Concacaf Champions League with that shortened squad. So dropping to 0-2, even with these challenges, isn’t good enough for Toronto and new head coach Chris Armas. They'll need to deal with a presumably confident Vancouver on Saturday (3 pm ET | TV & streaming info) to avoid that fate.