With the newest MLS season upon us, and with a certain team finally beginning play in Austin, I decided to jump into MLS this season with extra enthusiasm and whip up some playoff predictions for both the Eastern and Western conferences. The Eastern conference piece has already gone live so today we turn our attention to the dominant Western conference.
Last season: Playoffs
7th in the West: 9W 5D 8L / 32Pts
The last time LAFC was fully healthy in 2019 they blew apart the record books, setting the new league marks for points and goals in a season, and watched as talisman Carlos Vela shattered Josef Martinez’s record for goals in a season.
They were a formidable force before injuries, including to Vela, and the pandemic caused a fluke of a season last year. Even then by December, with the squad mostly fit, they were mere minutes away from becoming the first MLS team to be crowned CONCACAF champions in 20 years. That’s a much more accurate image of the real LAFC.
Lethal, high-flying, and with a singular goal in mind after failing to cap off that wonder year in 2019 with MLS Cup silverware, LAFC is quite simply primed for a remarkable season. They have the last two golden boot winners and are in not insignificant ways even better then in 2019. They, alongside Columbus and Portland, stand as the clear favorites for the MLS title.
Bob Bradley has assembled a great collection of talent. It’s time to finally cash that in and claim the MLS crown. Anything less than that will be a let-down.
- Portland Timbers
Last season: Playoffs
3rd in the West: 11W 6D 6L / 39Pts
I have always found myself drawn to Portland. They have just built up one of the best soccer cultures in the states and have flourished in their time in the league. An utterly charming side, with great fans, a great stadium, and with a squad filled with wonderful talents and people, the Timbers are what virtually every MLS team should aspire to be.
Oh. And it helps that Diego Valeri is a vampire who doesn’t age. The heart and soul of the side, Valeri has been integral to the Timbers success and even as the years have added up, he has continued to perform wonderfully for the squad.
In many ways the Timbers are the opposites of LAFC. Lacking the flash and style of LA but more than making up for it with experience, championship and playoff pedigree, and well-earned confidence and supporters culture, I expect Portland to thrive both within MLS and in every competition they enter. While I think LAFC will go all out more in the regular season to top the West again, I think Portland will peak at the right time and any team that has to play them in the post-season does so at their own peril.
Without question one of the league’s best teams.
- Sporting Kansas City
Last season: Playoffs
1st in the West: 12W 3D 6L / 39Pts
Sporting Kansas City is one of the best run organizations in MLS. A consistent, steady, and good team virtually every year, they are one of the most decorated teams in the league’s history for very different reasons than the flashy Galaxy teams of old. Peter Vermes has done wonders for the club.
A more defensive mindset that minimizes mistakes and does what it needs to do to win, Sporting KC have found their bread and butter to be cup competitions, winning the US Open Cup multiple times within the last decade.
Leave it to KC to be one of the teams least affected by COVID 19 and the repercussions it caused. I firmly expect KC to be one of the stronger teams out West again: one that will finish around 50-60 points on the year, make the top 3 or 4 and, if they qualify to, make a deep run at the US Open Cup. The Western Conference is stacked, particularly at the top, but rest assured at the end of the year KC will be right there in the top half of the conference looking to win it all again.
- Seattle Sounders
Last season: MLS Runners-Up
2nd in the West: 11W 6D 5L / 39Pts
I mean, it’s the Sounders. They are arguably the most consistent and accomplished team since entering the league. They are currently riding a record 12 straight trips to the post-season (AKA every year they’ve existed), have made it to 6 of the last 9 Western Conference Finals, and since 2016 have turned it up another gear, with 4 conference titles during that 5-year period alongside two MLS Cup crowns as well. Being great is simply what they do.
While some seem to be somewhat down on this Sounders team, I feel they do so at their great peril. The Sounders are the San Antonio Spurs of soccer. A team that consistently does good enough in the regular season, making sure everyone is healthy and that the team is peaking once the playoffs begin to make a serious run for the title year after year.
Anyway, all these words are probably moot and the Sounders will make it to the finals again so…
- Minnesota United
Last year: Conference Finals
4th in the West: 9W 7D 5L / 34 Pts
The ultimate “I’ll believe it when I see it” team on this list. I just don’t fully trust Minnesota and want to see them be able to match what they did in the playoffs last season over the course of an entire season now.
If Minnesota can match that, if they are able to replicate that formula then they will be a real threat not just to finish in the top 3 in the West this year, but make a real run in the playoffs.
I will say that as much as I’m maybe more skeptical of Minnesota than some people, they were just a single goal away from being Western Conference Champions and making it to MLS Cup. So, I’m ready for them to of course get 65 points, finish second and make me look silly.
- Colorado Rapids
Las year: Playoffs
5th in the West: 8W 4D 6L / 28Pts
I think the Rapids are just gonna do their Rapids stuff. I expect them to finish firmly between 5th and 8th, you could pick any spot and I’d believe it. I think they don’t have the highest regular season ceiling but neither is their floor particularly low either. Ultimately I think they are just good enough to forge their way through this gauntlet of a season and punch their ticket to the post-season.
It’s also one of the picks I am easily least confident in.
- Austin FC
Last year: None
Expansion team starting their first year in the league.
Look. I’m biased. I’m ok with that. I live in Austin, love the city and want its first professional sports team to do well, ok!
But I also think that there is definitely potential for this team to be something special and really make some noise right out of the gate.
I really think that manager Josh Wolff is going to do something exciting and adventurous with Austin FC, I’m really excited to see them play, and yeah I want the hometown team to do well. It’s all good.
An attacking, possession-based, quick team is what I’m expecting to see this season. If Austin makes the playoffs, that’s absolutely a successful debut season. It’s also something I think is achievable.
Western Conference Finals Predictions
LAFC v. Portland
Western Champions: Portland