The wait is almost over: We are just 11 days from #MLSisBack, the same number of days as there are clubs yet to win MLS Cup.
Every single year, MLS Cup grows more difficult to win. The reasoning is both simple and complex.
Simply put: The league continues to grow. FC Cincinnati brings the competition to 24 teams vying to be the last one standing. It's just math.
More nuanced: MLS is more competitive than ever. With investment, development and scouting at an apex, teams fiercely search for the elusive competitive advantage. Every club has strong top-end talent, while some are juggling how to fit all their best pieces under the salary cap. It's a good problem to have. The transfer records, both outbound and incoming, continue to be broken and exciting young players continue to elevate the league's ceiling.
It's not going to get any easier for the following 11 clubs to win their first MLS Cup: Cincinnati, FC Dallas, LAFC, Minnesota United, Montreal Impact, New England Revolution, NYCFC, New York Red Bulls, Orlando City SC, Philadelphia Union and the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Not all MLS Cup voids are created equal; Some of those droughts are a bit more painful than the others. The Revs and Red Bulls are both founding members of MLS way back in 1996, so their supporters have endured the longest wait. The Revs have made the final five times without hoisting the cup, by far the only club to suffer that fate.
Meanwhile, some other clubs haven't yet had enough time in the league to constitute a drought. Cincy are yet to kick a ball in MLS, LAFC have had just one season while Minnesota, Orlando and NYCFC have not been around much longer. For a few of the others, though, the inner clock is ticking in the front office.
How about some good news, then? The last four MLS Cup winners are all first-time winners. Perhaps that trend will continue this year? There are some strong candidates.
The Red Bulls, reigning Supporters' Shield winners and new holders for the single-season point record in MLS, are largely returning last year's core, sans Tyler Adams. The club have a readymade replacement in Cristian Casseres Jr., a 19-year-old Venezuelan who followed the path Adams blazed, starring with RBNY II in USL last season before finding an opening in the first team's midfield this year.
Rivals NYCFC have a strong shout as well, routinely finishing toward the top of the Eastern Conference since their establishment. They are without David Villa for the first time, but have spent large on Alexandru Mitrita to help fill the void, on top of an already deep and talented attacking ranks.
The other nine clubs all have a chance as well, just like the entirety of the league with the standings wiped clean and all starting from 0. Who will be the last one standing on November 10?