SBI's 2021 MLS Season Staff Predictions

SBI's 2021 MLS Season Staff Predictions

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SBI's 2021 MLS Season Staff Predictions

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The 2021 MLS season kicks off on Friday night, and the SBI Editorial Staff has come together to make its predictions for the upcoming campaign.

Los Angeles FC and Atlanta United are the favorites to lift silverware this season, and the editorial staff’s predictions for this year’s MLS awards are dominated by players from LAFC and the Five Stripes.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a wide range of opinions on which players will be among the best this season. None of the awards the SBI staff voted on led to unanimous selections, but there were some clear frontrunners, like Goalkeeper of the Year favorite Matt Turner and Supporters’ Shield favorite Los Angeles FC.

Here are the SBI Editorial Staff’s picks for 2021 MLS Awards, some SBI-specific awards (Young Player of the Year, Surprise Team), Supporters’ Shield winner and MLS Cup champion:


Most Valuable Player


EMMANUEL REYNOSO. After showing off just how talented he was in 2020, particularly doing the Loons’ playoff run, Reynoso will now have a full season to work his magic, and the arrival of Ramon Abila should only make him more dangerous. (Ives Galarcep)

CARLOS VELA. LAFC didn’t finish where they wanted in 2020, but Vela’s playmaking and goalscoring ability will lead the way for Bob Bradley’s side in 2021. (Larry Henry Jr.)

EMMANUEL REYNOSO. Turned lots of heads after arriving to Minnesota in September, racking up two goals and 14 assists in 16 games. Those stats only figure to increase with a full preseason, more time to settle, a 34-game schedule, and a familiar face up front. (Franco Panizo)

CARLOS VELA. What have you seen to present a real threat to his evergreen MVP status? He’s an MVP with MVP-caliber support, and he’s going to feast as he returns to a full schedule. (Tyler Snipes)

CARLOS VELA. after missing most of last season with a knee injury, Vela will back and ready to prove the doubters wrong.  (Matt Singer)

CARLES GIL. Having missed most of last season, Carles Gil returns from injury ready to pull the strings for an ambitious Revolution side. (Cameron Albert)


Defender of the Year


EDDIE SEGURA. There will be stiff competition for this award in 2021 but if LAFC has the kind of season it is capable of having, then Segura will be in the thick of it as the leader of the defense. (Ives Galarcep)

JONATHAN MENSAH. The Columbus Crew will be tough to break down once again this season and last season’s finalist Jonathan Mensah will be at the forefront of Caleb Porter’s set up in 2021. (Larry Henry Jr.)

AARON LONG. While the defender is sure to miss time with the U.S. Men’s National Team, his stellar performances when with the New York Red Bulls should lock up this award for him. (Franco Panizo)

WALKER ZIMMERMAN. 2020 put down the foundation for him to lead Nashville SC and its stingy backline to a new level: Conference contender. (Tyler Snipes)

MILES ROBINSON. Walker Zimmerman is a tempting pick, but Robinson had a down season last year and is due for a rebound. (Matt Singer)

JONATHAN MENSAH. The Crew finished as the second best defensive side in MLS year, largely thanks to a dominant and consistent season from Jonathan Mensah. Expect the same in 2021. (Cameron Albert)


Goalkeeper of the Year


MATT TURNER. After putting together a 2020 season deserving of the award, Turner take another step towards award winner status as he leads the Revs into title contention. (Ives Galarcep)

MATT TURNER. Turner played a major part of the New England Revolution’s playoff run last season and remains one of the top shot stoppers in MLS overall. (Larry Henry Jr.)

MATT TURNER. The New England Revolution netminder will deservedly claim the accolade after another strong season in between the pipes in New England. (Franco Panizo)

ELOY ROOM. People other than Andre Blake exist and if Crew go farther than the Union in 2021, it’ll be in big part to Room’s success. (Tyler Snipes)

TIM MELIA. If the timeless veteran and penalty-saving extraordinaire can lead Sporting KC to the playoffs it would make for a great storyline. (Matt Singer)

MATT TURNER. Arguably snubbed for this award the last two seasons, this is the year Matt Turner will be recognized for his heroics between the sticks. (Cameron Albert)


Newcomer of the Year


RAMON ABILA. The Reynoso-Abila connection is going to be fun to watch in Minnesota, and having a preseason to adapt to the new league should help Abila get off to a strong start on his way to an outstanding season.

TOMAS POCHETTINO. Austin FC will need some flare in its attack if it wants to make a splash in MLS and Pochettino certainly brings that and more to the squad. (Larry Henry Jr.)

ALEXANDRE PATO. Orlando City has long needed a reliable goal-scoring threat at the No. 9 position, and Pato will be just that playing alongside the likes of Nani, Mauricio Pereyra, and Chris Mueller. (Franco Panizo)

BRENNER. The $13-million man will be responsible for the seemingly undoable task of lifting FC Cincinnati off the floor in the East. If he lives up to the advertisements, possibly a lot more. (Tyler Snipes)

BRENNER. The $13-million price tag means he is tasked with being everything Jurgen Locadia is not and then some. FC Cincinnati is in dire need of goals and it will be Brenner or bust this season.  (Matt Singer)

BRENNER. FC Cincinnati have been looking for a hero to take them off the bottom of league table and Brenner will be that guy. (Cameron Albert)


Young Player of the Year (Best Under-21)


GIANLUCA BUSIO. Poised to take on a greater role in 2021, fresh with a new number (10), Busio should thrive in a revamped Sporting KC lineup as he plays himself into a winter transfer to Europe and helps Sporting KC put together a strong campaign. (Ives Galarcep)

CADEN CLARK. The Red Bulls teenager showed last year that he can make an impact in MLS, and he will do more of the same in his first full season in the league. (Franco Panizo)

AIDAN MORRIS. The Columbus Crew will play a lot of games across various competitions in 2021. Morris already established his big-game ability in last year’s MLS Cup, and should be top of mind when Caleb Porter begins rotating. He will settle in nicely and get a starter-level workload to broadcast that he’s a key player in the defending champions’ future. (Tyler Snipes)

JULIAN ARAUJO.  Araujo broke in last season and was one of the few bright spots on a bad LA Galaxy team. The departure of Rolf Feltscher means it is all on Araujo to man the right back position under Greg Vanney. (Matt Singer)

CADEN CLARK. The handful of appearances we saw from Caden Clark towards the last season showed that the 17 year-old is ready to compete in MLS. Given the style Gerhard Struber intends his side to play, expect Clark to be a regular in the Red Bulls’ XI. (Cameron Albert)


Coach of the Year


GABRIEL HEINZE. Atlanta United could absolutely be one of the surprises of 2021, with a revamped squad and Heinze setting a good early tone. Chris Armas, Oscar Pareja and Luchi Gonzalez are also in the mix, but Heinze will get the plaudits for helping re-install Atlanta as a league power. (Ives Galarcep)

ADRIAN HEATH. Minnesota United delivered its best season to date in 2020 and Heath will propel to club to even newer heights this season with a strong squad. (Larry Henry Jr.)

ADRIAN HEATH. The Loons’ continued rise in the Western Conference combined with how lethal the attack will look leads to Heath getting recognized. (Franco Panizo)

BRUCE ARENA. Arena elevated the New England Revolution in 2020, and will establish staying power this year after a deep playoff run. (Tyler Snipes)

CALEB PORTER. If Columbus continues their dominance, it will be Porter’s trophy to lose. (Matt Singer)

BOB BRADLEY.  An up and down 2020 will inspire Bob Bradley and company to a second trophy, likely the Supporter’s Shield. (Cameron Albert)


Golden Boot


ALAN PULIDO. After an injury-hit 2020, Pulido heads into a very important year for club and country. He is motivated to return to the Mexican national team, and with an improved Sporting KC side, Pulido should contribute the goals for a team that could be a Supporters’ Shield sleeper.

JOSEF MARTINEZ. Josef Martinez missed most of last season through injury, but looks ready to lead Atlanta United’s offensive line once again in a needed bounce back campaign. Larry Henry Jr.)

CARLOS VELA. If he avoids the type of injury that took out a bite of his season last year, Vela will score the most goals in MLS for the second time in three seasons. (Franco Panizo)

GYASI ZARDES. The addition of Kevin Molino to his line of assist men is ludicrous. Zardes has hit double-digit goal tallies in three-consecutive years and 2021 will be his year to lead the league. (Tyler Snipes)

GONZALO HIGUAIN. Brought in as the big new signing for Inter Miami, the former Juventus man is due to show he still has something left in the tank. (Matt Singer)

JOSEF MARTINEZ. It may take time for Martinez to return to the levels of years past but once the Venezualen gets going, there’s no stopping him. (Cameron Albert)


MLS Best XI


Matt Turner; Kai Wagner, Aaron Long, Eddie Segura, Richie Laryea; Darlington Nagbe, Emmanuel Reynoso, Carles Gil; Carlos Vela, Alan Pulido, Alejandro Pozuelo. (Ives Galarcep)

Matt Turner; Kai Wagner, Jonathan Mensah, Walker Zimmerman, Anton Tinnerholm, ; Victor Wanyama, Michael Bradley, Kellyn Acosta; Josef Martinez, Carlos Vela, Gyasi Zardes. (Larry)

Matt Turner; Anton Tinnerholm, Antonio Carlos, Aaron Long, Kai Wagner; Darlington Nagbe, Alejandro Pozuelo, Emanuel Reynoso; Carles Gil, Alexandre Pato, Carlos Vela. (Franco Panizo)

Andre Blake; Ryan Hollingshead, Walker Zimmerman, Jonathan Mensah, Anton Tinnerholm; Alejandro Pozuelo, Darlington Nagbe, Nico Lodeiro; Diego Rossi, Josef Martinez, Carlos Vela. (Tyler Snipes)

Tim Melia;  Diego Palacios, Walker Zimmerman, Miles Robinson, Nick Lima; Alejandro Pozuelo, Eduard Atuesta, Jonathan Dos Santos; Diego Rossi, Josef Martinez, Carlos Vela. (Matt Singer)

Matt Turner; Kai Wagner, Jonathan Mensah, Walker Zimmerman, Anton Tinnerholm; Jose Martinez, Lucas Zelarayan, Emanuel Reynoso; Carlos Vela, Josef Martinez, Carles Gil. (Cameron Albert)


Supporters’ Shield


LAFC. The Columbus Crew have a stacked team, and deep bench, but the Eastern Conference is loaded and racking up the points won’t be as easy as it will be in the West for LAFC. (Ives Galarcep)

SEATTLE SOUNDERS. The Seattle Sounders remain a top threat in MLS and will capture the Supporters’ Shield by possessing an all-around strong squad. (Larry Henry Jr.)

MINNESOTA UNITED. Being good, deep, and consistent is the name of the game for this trophy, and the Loons will be all of that. They also will not lose many players to international duty over the course of the year, which is a major plus. (Franco Panizo)

LAFC. Bob Bradley’s team has mastered the art of getting points and will once again be in control of the West. The conference will play a part, because the top-heavy East will have all of the contenders taking points from each other. (Tyler Snipes)

LAFC. There’s no roster as deep and talented as LAFC in the Western Confrence which should the club to its second Shield in three years. (Cameron Albert)


Surprise Team


FC DALLAS. Luchi Gonzalez has a revamped roster, with added speed in attack and strength in defense, but FC Dallas isn’t getting much buzz about its 2021 prospects. If Gonzalez can strike the balance between the new foreign additions and the youngsters, Dallas could really have a big year. (Ives Galarcep)

REAL SALT LAKE. RSL struggled in 2020 but should be much improved heading into this season. Freddy Juarez has Bobby Wood and Rubio Rubin to add to his attack while several young Americans will play leading roles (Justen Glad, Aaron Herrera). I expect RSL to contend for a playoff spot this season after a horrid 2020 year. (Larry Henry Jr.)

LA GALAXY. With Greg Vanney leading the way, the Galaxy play a more collectively-sound brand of soccer en route to enjoying a bounce-back season that ends with a playoff appearance. (Franco Panizo)

NASHVILLE SC. An honest seventh place in 2020 was a tremendous start for an expansion team who had an aggravating time trying to get its best attackers on the field at the same time. This year, that will change. Once they get that attacking spark, they will be a complete team who is capable of outlasting those in the CCL/Campeones Cup/USOC field. (Tyler Snipes)

LA GALAXY. On paper the LA Galaxy are a talented group of players with a lot of question marks. The hiring of Greg Vanney is a sign that the Galaxy are trying to turn things around and get back to their winning ways and perhaps things will come together well in year one. (Matt Singer)

INTER MIAMI. It’s easy to predict a wild year from Inter Miami, but lets be positive. Although they struggled last season, individuals on this Inter Miami team like Gonzalo Higuain and Blaise Matuidi could be among the leagues best if they can get going under new leadership. It’s a large task but over a 34 game season, Miami has time to get comfortable before the playoffs. (Cameron Albert)


MLS Cup Predictions


LAFC OVER CREW. No surprises here, as the Crew and LAFC head into the season as the top two teams. As we learned last year all it takes is an injury to a top star to shake things up, but if LAFC and Columbus can avoid that then they should be the class of the league. From there, look for Carlos Vela to shine and Bob Bradley to lift his first MLS Cup since 1998. (Ives Galarcep)

LAFC OVER ORLANDO CITY. LAFC possesses one of the top offensive units in the league and also has a good mix of talent in its midfield and defense. After slipping up in 2020, expect Bob Bradley’s team to be more consistent in a full campaign and defeat the Lions in the MLS Cup Final. (Larry Henry Jr.)

ORLANDO CITY over MINNESOTA UNITED. The Lions may suffer their bumps during a busy regular season, but their talented squad will do enough to make a deep run in the playoffs before knocking off the Loons to punctuate the incredible turnaround story under Oscar Pareja. (Franco Panizo)

LAFC OVER UNION. It’s been a long time coming and 2021 is the year that Bob Bradley and company finally get that elusive MLS Cup. (Tyler Snipes)

LAFC OVER CREW. Bob Bradley’s squad captures the elusive trophy more than two decades after Bradley’s first. (Matt Singer)

TIMBERS OVER CREW. The Timbers will be representing the West after LAFC crash out of the playoffs despite being favorites. One last heroic performance from Diego Valeri will lead Portland to its second MLS Cup, crushing the dreams of a Crew repeat. (Cameron Albert)

 

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