There's plenty of time left in the MLS season, with many games to be played, and a lot of movement sure to occur on the table between now and the end of the year. Still, we're far enough in the 2021 campaign to take a fairly healthy stock of where teams stand, which brings up the question of which clubs currently below the playoff line should start feeling the pressure to turn things around.
The Extratime crew put that to debate in the latest episode, with host Matt Doyle ranking which non-playoff teams should be most worried in the Eastern Conference and counterpart David Gass taking the West. According to Doyle, the Eastern Conference side with cause for most concern to this point in the season would be Inter Miami CF, who are currently 11th on the table with a record of 2W-5L-2D and are coming off a 1-0 loss to D.C. United on Saturday that saw them finish the contest with nine men.
"They got played off the field by D.C. United this weekend. They played themselves off the field [with red cards]. Even with their first-choice defense out there, they're all chaos merchants: [Ryan Shawcross], [Leandro Gonzalez Pirez], [Nicolas] Figal — there is nobody who's like, 'OK, this guy is going to steady the back line.'
On the flip side, Doyle said the club he has the most faith in sparking a turnaround would be Toronto FC, based on the high-level talent the Reds should be getting back from injuries soon.
"Of the other three I am least concerned about Toronto because they have [Alejanrdo] Pozuelo, they have Ayo [Akinola], they'll have [Yeferson] Soteldo back in a bit. [Jonathan] Osorio looked good, they have enough talent to brute-force a bunch of wins even if their defense is falling apart, and right now the defense is falling apart," Doyle said.
"Nashville don't have that type of talent, Nashville are the opposite of that. And Atlanta United, despite having the most expensive roster in the league, I don't think they have enough talent either."
In terms of the Western Conference, Gass said that his pick for the team with the most concerns at the moment would be the Vancouver Whitecaps, who have struggled to this point in the season at 2W-5L-1D while playing in their temporary home of Rio Tinto Stadium, with the San Jose Earthquakes coming in a close second.
"In terms of getting momentum to make the playoffs, it has to be Vancouver. And I feel bad saying that because I kind of came into the year saying until they get back to Canada it's a bit of a mulligan if they can keep their head above water," said Gass. "But it just feels so soul-sucking what's happened to them over the last few weeks and there doesn't feel to be answers.
"Right now, it doesn't feel like anyone's even looking for answers. I know we have emails [from the fan base] asking about what's going on. There's not a ton of love right now. So while these other three teams I think are in trouble and have issues, it doesn't feel like Vancouver has a fix to get out of theirs, where the other sides you think either health, players coming back or even the pieces they have being played in different ways could get them over the top."
Be sure to check out the full episode for more from the crew on all the action in MLS as the league gets back rolling following the June international break.