A guide to MLS’s western conference teams ahead of 2021 season

The MLS season kicks off this Friday! To prepare for the season we at Philly Sports Network have researched all 34 teams to give some insight on how they look heading into the 2021 season. Here is part two of that preview: A guide to MLS’s western conference teams!

Mandatory Credit: Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire

MLS’s western conference teams

The Western conference has teams that are good, bad and somewhere in between. There are only seven playoff spots available in 2021, so that means a team in the west that may have been really good a season ago may not make it this year.. Here’s a look at all 13 western conference teams!

Can Austin make the playoffs in their first season?

Newcomers Austin FC are set to come into MLS like other expansion sides before them. They have assembled a good roster of MLS veterans and young foreign playmakers. However, since this team hasn’t played a competitive match yet in its history, it’s hard to say if a good roster build is as good on the field as it is on paper. Will this Austin team be able to have it all together in their first season? They will have to show if they are mostly against a strong western conference!

Austin is putting a lot of faith in their center forward Danny Hoesen. If he isn’t a double-digit goal scorer, it’s unlikely that Austin will be a playoff team in their first year of existence.

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (3): Brady Scott, Brad Stuver, Andrew Tarbell
  • Defenders (8): Matt Besler, Julio Cascante, Hector Jimenez, Freddy Kleemann, Zan Kolmanic, Nick Lima, Jhohan Romana, Ben Sweat
  • Midfielders (7): Sebastian Berhalter, Diego Fagundez, Daniel Pereira, Tomas Pochettino, Alex Ring, Ulises Segura, Jared Stroud
  • Forwards (6): Cecilio Dominguez, Jon Gallagher, Danny Hoesen, Kekuta Manneh, Rodney Redes, Aaron Schoenfeld

Is Colorado good or not?

Colorado Rapids made the playoffs in 2020, but they did so because of their points per game, and not actual points won. There were teams that were quote-unquote better than the rapids that were not in the playoffs because of the pandemic-stricken season. The Rapids are a fun team that returned most of their starters from last season. They play an open style that can look really good at times, but other times they get destroyed by teams. It makes them hard to judge heading into 2021. Is Colorado going to be good or not?

One thing is clear, If head coach Robin Frasier can get this side playing at that fun to watch high level of play then they can return to the playoffs in 2021. If not, then they could easily be on the outside looking in come playoff time.

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (4): Clint Irwin, Andre Rawls, Abraham Rodriguez, William Yarbrough
  • Defenders (11): Lalas Abubakar, Sebastian Anderson, Steven Beitashour, Michael Edwards, Kortne Ford, Jeremy Kelly, Drew Moor, Keegan Rosenberry, Auston Trusty, Sam Vines, Danny Wilson
  • Midfielders (10): Kellyn Acosta, Cole Bassett, Braian Galvan, Oliver Larraz, Philip Mayaka, Nicolas Mezquida, Younes Namli, Jack Price, Will Vint, Collen Warner
  • Forwards (8): Michael Barrios, Nicolas Benezet, Matt Hundley, Jonathan Lewis, Diego Rubio, Andre Shinyashiki, Yaya Toure, Darren Yapi

Can Dallas’ kids help them make a playoff run?

Dallas has been the model team for the “play your kids” revolution. They have consistently one of the teams that produce players in their academy, plays them at a young age and then sells them off to bigger clubs for major money. They did this again in 2020, and have the depth from their academy in 2021 as well. The question is can Dallas’ kids make the jump up in their play to help Dallas win multiple playoff games? FC Dallas has been a consistent playoff team, but they have been stopped from making runs in the past few seasons. Making the jump could happen because of their depth all over the field.

While Dallas has depth thanks to their kids they have from their academy, they have historically underperforming “star” players. For Dallas to make that playoff run, they’ll need their designated players to play up to their potential. If not, Dallas likely will be in the lower half of playoff teams.

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (3): Jimmy Maurer, Phelipe Megiolaro, Kyle Zobeck
  • Defenders (7): Bressan, Nkosi Burgess, Matt Hedges, Ryan Hollingshead, Jose Antonio Martinez, Eddie Munjoma, John Nelson
  • Midfielders (8): Bryan Acosta, Edwin Cerrillo, Nicky Hernandez, Paxton Pomykal, Andres Ricaurte, Thomas Roberts, Tanner Tessmann, Ema Twumasi
  • Forwards (7): Kalil ElMedkhar, Jesus Ferreira, Franco Jara, Jader Obrian, Ricardo Pepi, Dante Sealy, Freddy Vargas

Will Houston rebrand spur a change to the play on the field?

Houston is the second MLS side to rebrand in 2021. They are keeping their name and adding the FC behind their name. The Dynamo has a new, more modern logo, but will their play on the field reflect the clean new look? Houston was just flat-out not good in 2020. They were a last place team and only won four games. In 2021 they will need some new players to lead the line for Tab Ramos’ team. The front line looks completely different than it did last season with the familiar names leaving the club. Their new pieces show speed and defensive prowess. Can that be the formula for Houston to get back in the mix in the western conference playoff picture?

There will likely be growing pains for this Houston team as many of their important players are new to the team. Their roster build shouts for them to be a defend and counter type of team. If they can pull that off to perfection, then Dynamo FC should be in the mix for a playoff spot in 2021.

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (3): Marko Maric, Kyle Morton, Michael Nelson
  • Defenders (9): Ethan Bartlow, Jose Bizama, Maynor Figueroa, Alejandro Fuenmayor, Ian Hoffmann, Sam Junqua, Adam Lundkvist, Eric McCue, Tim Parker, Zarek Valentin
  • Midfielders (8): Juan Castilla, Darwin Ceren, Joe Corona, Boniek Garcia, Derrick Jones, Marcelo Palomino, Daniel Rios, Memo Rodriguez, Matias Vera
  • Forwards (8): Mateo Bajamich, Ariel Lassiter, Nico Lemoine, Tyler Pasher, Fafa Picault, Darwin Quintero, Christian Ramirez, Maxi Urruti

Can LAFC make it back to the top of the west?

LAFC had a tough 2020 MLS season that saw their star Carlos Vela out with an injury. Without his leadership on the pitch, LAFC fell from the top of the west to seventh place. A tough playoff game against Seattle Sounders saw an early playoff exit for LAFC. In 2021 they have the core of their team back and healthy. Many of them were a part of the record-setting team that LAFC was in 2019. The question surrounding them is can they get back to the top of the west? LAFC has players who are at or near the top of their positions in MLS; they also brought in more depth to help them make a push for the top of the west. Will this be enough to get back to the top out west?

LA has very few weaknesses, but if their center forwards or goalkeepers are a problem in 2021, then it could mean that LAFC doesn’t make it back to number one in the west. However this side when healthy almost won the Concacaf Champions League in 2020, so this team should be one that can compete for the top spot!

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (3): Tomas Romero, Pablo Sisniega, Kenneth Vermeer
  • Defenders (9): Tristan Blackmon, Erik Duenas, Marco Farfan, Jordan Harvey, Tony Leone, Jesus Murillo, Diego Palacios, Eddie Segura, Mohamed Traore
  • Midfielders (6): Eduard Atuesta, Latif Blessing, Jose Cifuentes, Bryce Duke, Francisco Ginella, Mark-Anthony Kaye
  • Forwards (8): Corey Baird, Cal Jennings, Danny Musovski, Kwadwo Opoku, Brian Rodriguez, Diego Rossi, Christian Torres, Carlos Vela

Is LA Galaxy on their way back to relevancy?

LA Galaxy has fallen off from being the class of MLS over the past few seasons. Even with huge superstar players, they have not been able to climb to the top of the west. Since the Galaxy saw their cross-town rivals LAFC come into the league they haven’t even been able to compete for the top team in LA. In 2020 they fell far off the cliff finishing 10th in the west. In 2021 they brought in a club legend to be their head coach and bring them back to relevancy, Greg Vanney. Vanney made Toronto FC one of the best clubs in MLS after they were a laughing stock, now he’s looking to do it for the club he starred for when the Galaxy was the standard. The question is can he get his new team back to relevancy in 2021?

LA has a veteran side that can figure out ways to win with the right coaching. In Vanney, they now have this. The downside is that the Galaxy is an older team. Could injury and fatigue set in for the side and keep them from coming back to the top of the west? Maybe, but I’d be surprised if Vanney doesn’t get this LA team back to the playoffs in 2021.

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (4): Jonathan Bond, Jonathan Klinsmann, Eric Lopez, Justin Vom Steeg
  • Defenders (10): Danilo Acosta, Julia Araujo, Nick DePuy, Marcus Ferkanus, Oneil Fisher, Giancarlo Gonzalez, Jalen Neal, Daniel Steres, Jorge Villafana, Derrick Williams
  • Midfielders (9): Efrain Alvarez, Jonathan dos Santos, Samuel Grandsir, Carlos Harvey, Sacha Klejstan, Sebastian Lletget, Jonathan Perez, Adam Saldana, Victor Vazquez
  • Forwards (3): Cameron Dunbar, Javier Hernandez, Ethan Zubak

Can Minnesota take that next step up and win the west?

Minnesota has flown under the radar in the past few years but has been a really good team out west. Now they’re more in the spotlight after a good 2020 season, and it’s thanks to their strong midfield presence.  Gregus and Alonso offer veteran leadership from the middle of the pitch, while playmaker Reynoso pulls the strings for the offense! They look good enough to make a run for a top-four spot in the West. That is if they can keep their form up now that teams are taking them more seriously! 

The question for the Loons is a simple one, who is going to score their goals? If they have a player score 15 plus goals this year, then there’s no reason Minnesota won’t be near the top of the west. If not, well then they’ll likely be a lower-seeded playoff team!

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (4): Fred Emmings, Tyler Miller, Dayne St. Clair, Adrian Zendejas
  • Defenders (10): Noah Billingsley, Michael Boxall, Bakaye Dibassy, Chase Gasper, Brent Kallman, Romain Metanire, Callum Montgomery, Ike Opara, Jukka Raitala, DJ Taylor
  • Midfielders (10): Osvaldo Alonso, Thomas Chacon, Hassani Dotson, Ethan Finlay, Jan Gregus, Niko Hansen, Jacori Hayes, Robin Lod, Emanuel Reynoso, Wil Trapp
  • Forwards (3): Juan Agudelo, Foster Langsdorf, Patrick Weah

Will the Timbers continue to stay at the top of the west?

Portland has been consistently near the top of the west for the last five seasons. Their strength lies in the depth they have and in their stars being among the top of MLS. The timbers are a team that is hard to stop when they get on a roll. Head coach Gio Savarese will get the most from his guys in every single match, it’s second nature to this team at this point. The question still remains for Portland if they will be able to win the west in 2021? The only way they might not be in contention for that top spot is if the injury bug rears its ugly head. 

The stars of Portland are for the most part past their prime. That doesn’t mean they aren’t great players, but it does mean that risk of injury affecting the team’s cohesion is greater. If Portland can get by injury-free this year, the. They should be near or at the top of the west! 

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (4): Jeff Attinella, Steve Clark, Aljaz Ivacic, Hunter Sulte
  • Defenders (8): Pablo Bonilla, Claudio Bravo, Ish Jome, Larrys Mabiala, Zac McGraw, Bill Tuiloma, Josecarlos Van Rankin, Dario Zuparic
  • Midfielders (13): Darion Asprilla, Sebastian Blanco, Blake Bodily, Diego Chara, Yimmi Chara, Jorge Gonzalez, Martin Loria, Christhian Paredes, Andy Polo, Diego Valeri, Eryk Williamson, Renzo Zambrano
  • Forwards (3): Jeremy Ebobisse, Felipe Mora, Jaroslaw Niezgoda

Can Salt Lake make the biggest jump up the standings in the west?

Real Salt Lake missed out on the playoffs in 2020, winning only five games and finishing one place above the last place in the west. This year they’re hoping to bounce back in a big way. Their attack had been bolstered thanks to the addition of US international striker Bobby Wood. He will try to bring life to what was an awful attack last season. Apart from his addition, Salt Lake is a team that is unpredictable. Right now they don’t have the same punch that the other teams in the west do and that could hurt them this season as they play the majority of their games against other western conference sides.

RSL could make it back to the playoffs if all things click and their attack comes out firing. However, if the opposite happens then we will see them on the outside looking in.

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (4): Jeff Dewsnup, Zach MacMath, David Ochoa, Andrew Putna
  • Defenders (7): Justen Glad, Aaron Herrera, Erik Holt, Ashtone Morgan, Noah Powder, Marcelo Silva, Donny Toia
  • Midfielders (8): Nick Besler, Maikel Chang, Everton Luiz, Bret Halsey, Damir Kreilach, Justin Portillo, Pablo Ruiz, Albert Rusnak
  • Forwards (10): Andrew Brody, Chris Garcia, Milan Iloski, Anderson Julio, Douglas Martinez, Justin Meram, Jeizon Ramirez, Rubio Rubin, Tate Schmitt, Bobby Wood

Will San Jose push for the playoffs again?

San Jose and their coach Matias Almeyda play an intersecting man-marking style. It makes them a must-watch. They either dominate games or lose them 7-0. Cause of this style. It truly is must-watch tv when they’re on. For the Earthquakes, 2021 is the year that Almeyda has his style of play down and the players he wants to run that system. The hope is that San Jose will be a dominating side that imposes its will on the game. However, as we’ve seen in the past when things go wrong they go really wrong. This will be the main try to watch for San Jose in 2021.

If San Jose can do what they want to do, they could be a playoff team no questions asked. If not, it’s hard to think that they will finish anywhere near the playoffs

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (4): Matt Bersano, JT Marcincowski, Emmanuel Ochoa, Daniel Vega
  • Defeders (9): Luciano Abecasis, Jacob Akanyirige, Osvaldo Alanis, Tanner Beason, Florian Jungwirth, Marcos Lopez, Paul Marie, Tommy Thompson, Casey Walls
  • Midfielders (11): Eric Calvillo, Cristian Espinoza, Carlos Fierro, Gilbert Fuentes, Siad Haji, Judson, Eduardo Lopez, Eric Remedi, Shea Salinas, Jack Skahan, Jackson Yueill
  • Forwards (3): Cade Cowell, Andy Rios, Chris Wondolowski

Can Seattle keep up their crazy level of success?

Seattle made it to MLS Cup again in 2020. Their longevity and success have been well documented. Now as they head into 2021 some things may look different with the players they have on the pitch, but that club culture is still alive and well for Seattle. They still have a good amount of star players returning for 2021, and still have head coach Brian Schmetzer leading the team. The downside is that they are going to need to have other players step up for those that aren’t there anymore. That is the pressing question that Seattle needs to figure out heading into the 2021 season.

Can Seattle still make a run to and through the MLS playoffs in the western conference? They’ve been to so many MLS Cups over the past few years that makes it silly to count them out

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (3): Stefan Cleveland, Stefan Frei, Spencer Richey
  • Defenders (7): Xavier Arreaga, Yeimar Gomez Andrade, Jimmy Medranda, Nouhou, Shane O’Neill, Alex Roldan, Brad Smith
  • Midfielders (9): Josh Atencio, Jordy Delem, Ethan Dobbelaere, Shandon Hopeau, Joao Paulo, Danny Leyva, Nicolas Lodeiro, Cristian Roldan, Kelyn Rowe
  • Forwards (3): Will Bruin, Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez, Raul Ruidiaz

Is Kansas City the best team in the west?

Sporting Kansas City was the best team in the west in 2020 through the regular season. They have a proven style of play set by head coach Peter Vermes, and the players execute it; well at least on the offensive side. SKC’s attack created great chances last season, and they are returning for more in 2021. The main problem area is the defensive setup. At one time SKC had the most stout defense in MLS. Now they have trouble stopping other teams and rely on outsourcing their opposition to get results. 

In 2021, if they can figure out the defense, and continue to score like they did last year then Kansas City will be able to keep up with the rest of the western conference. If not then they will struggle to keep pace.

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (4): Tim Melia, Kendall McIntosh, John Pulskamp, Brooks Thompson
  • Defenders (8): Amadou Dia, Andreu Fontas, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, Jaylin Lindsey, Luis Martins, Roberto Puncec, Graham Smith, Graham Zusi
  • Midfielders (8): Grayson Barber, Gianluca Busio, Cameron Duke, Roger Espinoza, Felipe Hernandez, Gadi Kinda, Ilie Sanchez, Remi Walter
  • Forwards (7): Ozzie Cisneros, Tyler Freeman, Wilson Harris, Alan Pulido, Johnny Russell, Daniel Salloi, Khiry Shelton

Can Vancouver get out of the basement in the west?

Vancouver has been a rough team for the past few seasons. Head coach Marc Dos Santos will have his work cut out for him in his third season in charge as the Whitecaps will try to climb up the standings in 2021 and compete for a playoff spot. Vancouver is a team built to play without the ball and hit teams when they are most vulnerable. The problem for Vancouver is that this has not paid off in the past. In 2021 they have Caicedo and Dajome who can fly down the wings and Cavallini who can put the ball into the back of the net. If those three can click on the counter, then Vancouver could just get things in order to make it to the playoffs in 2021. 

The main problem for Vancouver is that their style doesn’t bode well for their struggling defense. This was the problem last year and it could be the same issue this year for Vancouver. If the defense is leaky, then they will likely not make the playoffs in 2021.

Roster

  • Goalkeepers (4): Isaac Boehmer, Maxime Crepeau, Thomas Hasal, Evan Newton
  • Defenders (9): Ali Adnan, Javain Brown, Derek Cornelius, Gianfranco Facchineri, Bruno Gaspar, Erik Godoy, Cristian Gutierrez, Jake Nerwinski, Ranko Veselinovic
  • Midfielders (7): Caio Alexandre, Michael Baldisimo, Janio Bikel, Patrick Metcalfe, Leonard Owusu, Damiano Pecile, Russell Teibert
  • Forwards (7): Theo Bair, Deiber Caicedo, Lucas Cavallini, Cristian Dajome, David Egbo, Ryan Raposo, Tosaint Ricketts

Final Thoughts

There are some clear favorites in the western conference. LAFC, Seattle, Portland and Kansas City all have what it takes to win the west. Teams like Minnesota, Dallas and LA Galaxy could push in the west as well. After those seven teams there are a bunch of unknowns. Will we see a classic MLS scenario and have a team near the bottom of the standings in 2020 make a huge jump up in 2021? We’ll have to wait until this weekend to see how teams really look!

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Mandatory Credit: Mandatory Credit: Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire

One thought on “A guide to MLS’s western conference teams ahead of 2021 season

  1. If you look again at the Western Conference standings in 2020 you’ll see that even ranked by total points and not PPG the Rapids still would have qualified for the playoffs, they just would have had a lower seed.

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