Clubs look to avoid complacency each offseason, while others face mounting pressure to prove that their prior campaign was a short-term aberration and not a long-term trend.
Extratime hosts Andrew Wiebe and David Gass debated that dynamic on the show's latest episode, discussing which teams have the most room to improve heading into 2021.
At the top of Wiebe's list? Atlanta United, who missed out on the playoffs for the first time since joining MLS in 2017 by struggling to reach another gear, both before and after mutually agreeing to part ways with ex-head coach Frank de Boer in July 2020.
"Atlanta are coming from a place that I don't really think I expected them – I'm not going to say ever to be – but to be quickly after the highs they reached in their early expansion life," Wiebe said. "After Tata [Martino], after the hiring of Frank de Boer, which I think at the time most people said, 'Hey, this looks like a pretty good hire.' After winning two trophies, last year was sort of a shock to the system."
"I feel like Vancouver's having a good offseason," Gass said. "We heard the rumors around Otavio, who's starting for Porto right now in the Champions League Round of 16. If they can get a player like that in, it's wild. But even without, I think they're an improved team."
Meanwhile, the Galaxy have a narrative that's similar to Atlanta's – talented players, a new coach and a possibility to move up the table. Some questions remain after the five-time MLS Cup champions missed the playoffs for the third time in four years, though.
"Does Chicharito bounce back? Is he better?," Gass asked. "Is Jona [dos Santos] healthy? Is [Cristian] Pavon there? What's the backline look like? There's more question marks, but the expectation is they'll be better than they were last year, and there's a lot of room, like you said, for them to grow."
On the spectrum's other end, teams that paced the 2020 pack could experience a dip in form. In that arena, Gass identified the Philadelphia Union (reigning Supporters' Shield winners) and Seattle Sounders (MLS Cup finalists) as possible candidates.
"Philly loses Mark McKenzie, arguably the best center back in the league," Gass said. "They lose Brenden Aaronson, who seems like a generational player and they won Supporters' Shield, which I don't think they're in the running for right now.
" ... The other one's Seattle because, yeah, they've got a spine, but I don't know four positions who the starters are for that team and now the Jordan Morris thing has made it a little bit more complicated, how the team is put together this year."
For more on MLS teams' rising and falling stock, check out the latest Extratime episode here.