With Week 1 of the 2021 MLS season in the books, ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman recently identified several "super teams" across the league.
His SportsCenter discussion with host Neil Everett was framed through the rapid rise and fall of the proposed European Super League, which saw the likes of Manchester United, Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid – leaders in their respective countries – announce their withdrawal.
While that plan petered out, big-name clubs remain in the upper echelon of Europe’s top leagues – and things are no different in MLS. Certain sides, in Twellman’s view, are in the super-team conversation for 2021.
Twellman quickly pointed to Seattle as a leader, referencing their four MLS Cup trips in the last five years. Under head coach Brian Schmetzer, they’ve lifted the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy in 2016 and 2019.
Seattle boast starpower, too, with midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro and forward Raul Ruidiaz among the best in MLS at their respective positions. US men’s national team winger Jordan Morris is as well when healthy (ACL recovery), and goalkeeper Stefan Frei, center back Yeimar Gomez Andrade and midfielders Joao Paulo and Cristian Roldan are other foundational pieces.
“Seattle Sounders, first and foremost,” Twellman said. “They’ve been to four of the last five MLS Cups. They had an abysmal first half against Minnesota and they end up winning the game 4-0. So you look at the way they played that game.”
Twellman said that Bob Bradley’s LAFC is another cream-of-the-crop team in MLS. They won the Supporters’ Shield in 2019 behind a record-setting 72 regular-season points, then advanced to the Concacaf Champions League final in 2020.
LAFC have arguably the league’s top player in forward Carlos Vela, who won Landon Donovan MLS MVP honors in 2019. Diego Rossi won the 2020 MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi, and the midfield trio of Eduard Atuesta, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Latif Blessing displays acumen, skill and bite.
“I think LAFC is another team that is a difficult team to play against,” Twellman said. “I think they’re up for it.”
Sticking in the Western Conference, Twellman also highlighted Portland as being in ther MLS super team conversation. They won the MLS is Back Tournament in 2020 and won MLS Cup in 2015.
Veteran midfielders Diego Chara and Diego Valeri are the heart and soul of head coach Giovanni Savarese’s team, and Twellman thinks they’ll get even better once Sebastian Blanco is back healthy and striker Jaroslaw Niezgoda recovers from his own long-term knee injury.
“The Portland Timbers are an interesting one,” Twellman said. “They lost [against Vancouver] over the weekend, but they’re going to get back a couple key players.”
Looking at the Eastern Conference field in 2021, Twellman had a bit more trouble identifying a super team.
But he ultimately floated Atlanta as a possibility, even after their significant step back in 2020. With Josef Martinez returning and new head coach Gabriel Heinze leaving his stamp – all while bringing in Argentine talents like center back Alan Franco and midfielder Santiago Sosa – the 2018 MLS Cup champions could return to their lofty standards.
“The Eastern Conference is one of a little more of a crapshoot, so to speak Neil, because so many teams are on equal level,” Twellman said. “Now Atlanta United’s the interesting one, the sexy one, but Josef Martinez needs to get back.