MLS is in a good spot this season. It’s fun, fast and the teams lend fans plenty of reason to tune in, para bien o para mal.
But there are a lot of games. So this highly subjective, very unscientific rankings of teams based on the elusive, nebulous “watchability” factor, can help the decision-making process when a handful of games overlap on a Saturday evening. One important note: this is no composed exclusively on quality – a team can be watchable while not actually being competent at winning. Entonces, here they are, from worst to first.
Someone had to be last and perhaps this is a bit harsh, given they are intent on two-footing the high-press pedal to the floor, but DC have shown zero interest in attempting to do much else. They’re in the bottom tier in pass completion percentage, total passes completed and expected goals.
Chicago are capable of playing aesthetically pleasing soccer, but the team routinely concede head-scratching goals with basic defensive lapses. Until that’s eradicated, any playoff push will be a mirage. And with that, any compelling tension is removed from their season. Raphaël Wicky’s keen sense of style and always-in-form hair are redeeming qualities.
Wilfried Nancy had the unenviable task of taking over following the abrupt departure of Thierry Henry and inherited a squad in flux. They have been a pleasant surprise in the season’s early days, and it’s fun to watch Djordje Mihailovic level up. But that’s about it (hasta aquí) for Club de Foot Montreal, who are stuck in Fort Lauderdale for a few more months due to the pandemic.
Vancouver have settled into a defend-and-counter approach to start 2021, but it doesn’t lend for watchability, though Michael Baldisimo and Caio Alexandre have great potential for a fun midfield pairing.
Tab Ramos has begun evolving the Dynamo to play with more energy, but the metamorphosis won’t be complete this year. It’s difficult to replace forwards Alberth Elis and Mauro Manotas after they left the club.
If reclamation stories are your thing, RSL is the club for you. One-time USMNT wonderkid Rubio Rubin has started the season on fire. The scenic shots around Rio Tinto Stadium, tucked neatly in the Rocky Mountains, give them a boost as well.
Dallas are dedicated to building through possession but the final third has proved tricky for longer than FCD fans care to admit. They once again will lean on a cadre of exciting young homegrown talent, even after producing (and selling) the likes of Reggie Cannon and Chris Richards to big European clubs over the last few seasons.
FCC haven’t been good to start the season. That shouldn’t be entirely surprising given their brief MLS history. Todavía they have enough attacking talent to make them a fun watch. Luciano Acosta and $13m Brazil youth international Brenner are compelling on the pitch, then there’s Jaap Stam’s terrifying angry stares blaring from the sidelines. There will certainly be few (Si alguna) 0-0 draws with this team.
You know what you’re getting with a Red Bull team: High energy, high pressing, a ton of transition and limited possession sequences. RBNY place excellently in the #PlayYourKids category. Half of the squad is 23 or younger. They have zero players over 30. Watch Caden Clark as much as you can before he’s gone.
Greg Vanney has made this a more cohesive unit, though that probably means we won’t get to witness some of the 6-2, 6-3 y 5-2 results we were treated to last year.
There’s a reason Inter Miami have been selected for so many national TV games, and it’s not because they are projected for a deep playoff run. David Beckham. Gonzalo Higuain. Phil Neville. Blaise Matuidi. Ryan Shawcross (!). Fans of the European game over the last two decades are getting a pure, uncut line of nostalgia.
One thing the first few games of the season has taught us about Atlanta: they are definitely still a work in progress. Josef Martinez is back but not quite himself just yet after missing a year. Santiago Sosa is fun as hell, but until their pace of play improves, his best passes are sideways or diagonals to full-backs rather than attackers.
They have a big-time music artist do a guitar riff live before home games, so that’s a start. On the field Nashville’s elite defensive unit are back and the attack has shown encouraging signs now that all three DPs are fit and finding form.
NYC FC are a much different team under Ronny Deila – but they just keep on winning. Taty Castellanos is never far from the headlines, whether he’s scoring, practicing the dark arts or winding up opponents to the point of smacking him in the face.
Colorado like to play an open and attacking brand of soccer, with plenty of young talent for Robin Fraser to pick from. Cole Bassett is a good bet to be among the league’s next wave of homegrown talent transferred to Europe, while Younes Namli’s left foot is more wand than limb.
Minnesota struggled mightily to start the season, but there’s plenty of time (and reinforcements on the way) to fix things. They still have Emanuel Reynoso, one of the league’s most exciting No 10s, while his pal from Boca Juniors, Wanchope Abila, is still settling at the club. Adrian Heath is always a fun interview, también.
Orlando City used to be eminently watchable for all the wrong reasons before Oscar Pareja took over. Ahora, they’re committed to attacking, possession-based soccer. Honestamente, we don’t need to get too complicated here: Nani is still capable of breathtaking moments. And Alexandre Pato should be back soon, también.
It is rare for defending champions in a salary-capped league to improve in the offseason following their title, but that’s what Columbus did. Despite a slow start, most around the league are giving them a Concacaf Champions League and injury-related mulligan. They have stars. They have fun role players. When Kevin Molino makes his debut for the club, they’ll have yet another dimension.
Expansion intrigue always gives first-year clubs a boost as we watch them take their first steps in MLS. The early signs are positive and not entirely surprising given the deliberate vision of a possession-based 4-3-3 under Josh Wolff. Matthew McConaughey is a minority owner and “Minister of Culture” (whatever that means).
An attack with Alan Pulido and Johnny Russell is devastating and they haven’t defended well with any consistency, creating a bunch of wide-open games. Peter Vermes is a treasure on the sideline when he’s melting a referee with an angry stare.
The Portland attack is saturated with match-winners, even without the injured Sebastian Blanco and Jaroslaw Niezgoda. Club legends Diego Valeri and Diego Chara seem eternal. Gio Savarese is easily a top three most gif-able head coach in MLS.
Another team with a distinct high-pressing essence. They’ve turned into one of the league’s best developmental clubs, también, selling rising US international talents Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie to Europe. Jose Martinez is a walking yellow card who plays with panache and fire, and there are few things more exciting than Ilsinho subbing on when Philly are chasing the game. Más, their yellow-and-blue kits are one of the very best produced by an MLS club in recent memory.
They already had the league’s reigning MVP in Alejandro Pozuelo, and then Toronto added another premier attacking talent this month in Yeferson Soteldo. The Reds are borderline must-watch because of those two alone, particularly with the intrigue of seeing how they’ll fit together under a new head coach.
Carles Gil is among the league’s most exciting and graceful players when he’s in form, which seems to be every time he steps on the pitch. New England also have a fatal flaw when defending set-pieces. Not ideal for Revs fans but all the more fun for the rest of us.
It’s a new system for the Sounders for the first time in a long time, debuting a 3-5-2 to great success. Seattle have the indefatigable genius of Nico Lodeiro and the assassin-like finishing of Raul Ruidiaz. Plus they have the unintentional comedy of Nouhou, gorgeous Jimi Hendrix-inspired secondary kits and a tremendous atmosphere (once the stadium is allowed to be filled again).
Chico, are Quakes games an experience. Their controlled chaos man-marking style is unique in the modern game. They also have one of the league’s rising stars in 17-year-old Cade Cowell. And MLS’s all-time goals king Chris Wondolowski is still out here gnawing on gum, yelling and scoring.
Despite a slow start, they have the best player in the league (Carlos Vela), the reigning Golden Boot winner (Diego Rossi), a classy deep-lying playmaker (Eduard Atuesta) and a tactical ethos that knows one speed: go. Todo lo que, plus Bob Bradley’s developmental chops (and late-career fashion growth) on the sidelines, plus playing in one of the league’s very best atmospheres. Enjoy.