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What Can We Expect from the Canadian MLS Teams in 2021?

| January 27, 2021 11:29 am PDT
Previewing Canadian MLS Teams in 2021

It’s fair to say that Major League Soccer’s Canadian teams often get overshadowed by America’s top clubs.

With just one MLS Cup triumph between them, Toronto FC, CF Montréal, and Vancouver Whitecaps have struggled to establish themselves among the league’s leading sides.

In recent times, TCF has flown the Maple Leaf Flag in Major League Soccer, reaching three MLS Cup finals in the past five years. But both Montréal and Vancouver have had very little to shout about.

So, what can we expect from the Canadian MLS teams in 2021?

In this post, I discuss the prospects of Toronto FC, CF Montréal, and Vancouver Whitecaps for the upcoming MLS season, which is set to kick off on April 3.

Can Toronto FC Improve Under Chris Armas?

How Did TFC Fare Last Season?

  • MLS is Back Tournament: Round of 16
  • Eastern Conference: 2nd
  • Playoffs: First round

The Reds showed heaps of promise last season, yet 2020 ultimately ended in failure. After narrowly missing out on the Supporters’ Shield, TCF fell at the first playoff hurdle, losing to Nashville SC.

Still, there are plenty of positives that Toronto can carry into the new campaign.

Having racked up nine goals and nine assists, Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo picked up the 2020 Landon Donovan MVP Award. Teenage sensation Ayo Akinola enjoyed a stellar season, too, while veteran striker Jozy Altidore rediscovered his best form.

With right-back Richie Laryea and winger Pablo Piatti also impressing throughout 2020, the future looks bright in Ontario.

Assessing the Reds’ Offseason Moves

Of course, the biggest offseason news concerning Toronto is the departure of long-standing head coach Greg Vanney. Following six successful years with the club, Vanney resigned after the Reds’ playoff elimination.

Ex-Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas – who was sacked by the New York club midway through the last term – has been appointed to lead TFC into the new campaign.

At 48, Armas is still a relatively inexperienced head coach. Before taking the Red Bulls job, the former midfielder had only worked as an assistant, with roles at Chicago Fire and Adelphi Panthers.

However, Armas showed glimpses of what he is capable of during his two-year stay in New York. With a high-pressing approach and a focus on intensity, Toronto supporters can expect an exciting brand of soccer in 2021.

CHRIS ARMAS’ RECORD AS NEW YORK RED BULLS HEAD COACH
Games Wins Draws Losses Goals For Goals Against Points Per Game
71 33 11 27 104 95 1.55

TFC made full use of the 2021 MLS SuperDraft, selecting four players. Maryland midfielder Matt Rosa was the club’s first-round pick, with Nathaniel Crofts, Paul Rothrock, and Jon-Talen Maples getting plucked in the latter rounds.

Unfortunately, Liverpool loanee Tony Gallacher has returned to his parent club following an underwhelming spell in MLS. The Scotland U19 left-back made ten appearances for Toronto, contributing just one assist.

Armas will no doubt be hoping to stamp his mark on the squad when the transfer window opens on February 10. The new head coach has already inherited a strong roster, but he will surely be keen to make some additions of his own.

Let’s not forget that TCF has an open designated player spot to take advantage of.

What Can Toronto FC Achieve in 2021?

With Armas replacing Vanney as head coach, it is difficult to gauge exactly how Toronto will fare this year. We all know that TFC’s squad is packed with quality players, but it will naturally take a bit of time for everyone to get on the same page.

Still, the Reds find themselves among the bookies’ early favorites for the 2021 MLS Cup, so they will be expected to hit the ground running right from the word go.

It is important to remember that the Ontario outfit has only finished outside of the top four in Eastern Conference in one of the last five seasons, securing the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup in 2017.

The team will almost certainly take some time to get used to Armas’ tactics. But given the Reds’ recent record, nobody would be overly surprised if they kicked off the Armas era by getting their hands on some silverware.

It probably wouldn’t be realistic to expect Toronto to win the MLS Cup in 2021. However, the Supporters’ Shield is well within their reach.

Will New-Look CF Montréal Reach the Playoffs?

Montréal in 2020

  • MLS is Back Tournament: Round of 16
  • Eastern Conference: 9th
  • Playoffs: Did not qualify

It’s fair to say that CF Montréal struggled for consistency last season. In fact, that is probably a bit of an understatement. Thierry Henry’s men failed to win back-to-back games in 2020, so it is hardly surprising that they ended up ninth in the Eastern Conference.

Having recorded eight wins and 13 defeats last term, a lack of draws ultimately proved to be the team’s downfall. Montréal only managed to tie two games all season, with no team in the East drawing less.

The Quebec club actually scraped into the postseason, although they failed to qualify for the playoffs. Henry’s side suffered a 2-1 play-in loss to New England Revolution, marking the end of their campaign.

There is no denying who Montréal’s star performer was in 2020. Indeed, Romell Quioto bagged ten goals and seven assists last season.

What Has Montréal Done During the Offseason?

There is one obvious matter that needs addressing straight off the bat – Montreal Impact is now Club de Foot Montréal.

The club underwent a complete rebranding following the end of the previous campaign, which has seen the club change its name, crest, and colors, as well as a number of other adjustments.

Whether or not the rebranding will have an impact – see what I did there? – on the team’s on-field performances remains to be seen. But it feels like this is the start of something exciting for everyone involved with the club.

In terms of player moves, Montréal only made one selection in the SuperDraft. Michigan State midfielder Giuseppe Barone was picked in the third round, with Evan Bush moving to Vancouver in exchange for the pick.

However, the club acquired Mason Toye from Minnesota United and Kamal Miller from Austin FC in pre-draft trades, meaning that Henry has added proven MLS experience to his roster.

After impressing on loan from Italian side Bologna last season, young pair Luis Binks and Lassi Lappaleinen have had their temporary deals extended.

How Far Can CF Montréal Go in 2021?

It is no secret that Henry’s men were nowhere near consistent enough last season. Sure, they managed to claim notable wins over the likes of Columbus Crew and Toronto FC. But those kinds of victories were few and far between.

Having said that, it does feel as though Henry has what it takes to carry the club to the next level.

With a full pre-season to work with his squad, the France legend will be confident of starting the new campaign on a positive note. He will no doubt be looking to be active during the transfer window, although he will also be happy with what he has already got.

With former Tottenham Hotspur star Victor Wanyama anchoring the midfield and exciting youngster Djordje Mihailovic recently arriving from Chicago Fire, Montréal should qualify for the playoffs without any real problems this year.

Still, Henry’s men aren’t likely to trouble the league’s top teams in 2021.

Can Vancouver Whitecaps Progress?

How Did the Caps Cope Last Season?

  • MLS is Back Tournament: Round of 16
  • Western Conference: 9th
  • Playoffs: Did not qualify

After finishing rock bottom of the Western Conference in 2019, Vancouver improved slightly last season. But having failed to qualify for the playoffs, it could be argued that no real progression was made in 2020.

Scoring goals was the Whitecaps’ biggest problem last term. The team only managed to net 27 goals in 23 games, with only one side – Real Salt Lake – scoring less in the West.

It is worth also worth mentioning that Marc Dos Santos’ men finished the regular season with the third-worst defensive record in the division, meaning the head coach has plenty of work to do in 2021.

MOST REGULAR-SEASON GOALS CONCEDED IN MLS (2020)
Team Goals Conceded
San Jose Earthquakes 51
LA Galaxy 46
Vancouver Whitecaps 44
Montreal Impact 43
DC United 41

Discussing Vancouver’s Offseason Activity

The Caps have already made a number of additions to their roster since the end of the previous campaign, with David Milinkovic (Hull City) and Ranko Veselinovic (Vojvodina) arriving from Europe.

Milinkovic is a French winger with second-tier experience in Italy and England, while 21-year-old Veselinovic is an exciting Serbian center-back with plenty of potential.

Vancouver was fortunate enough to make two first-round selections in the SuperDraft, picking up forward David Egbo and defender Javain Brown, both of whom are likely to challenge for a spot in Dos Santos’ starting XI.

The British Columbians also acquired a further two players in the second round, selecting midfielder Eric Iloski and defender Joel Harrison.

All in all, the Whitecaps can be satisfied with their offseason activity, at least for now.

What Can Vancouver Accomplish in 2021?

Ultimately, the Caps will be looking to improve on what turned out to be a hugely disappointing 2020 campaign. Playing away from homemade life difficult for the team last term, but that can’t be used as an excuse for missing out on the playoffs.

Since joining Major League Soccer in 2011, Vancouver has qualified for the postseason on four occasions. However, their last playoff run came back in 2017, and they have never made it past the quarter-finals.

Taking everything into consideration, securing a playoff berth would be viewed as a success in 2021. With a series of promising offseason moves, the Whitecaps will surely see that as a realistic achievement.

The Western Conference grows to 13 teams this year, with expansion team Austin FC joining the league. This will make it even more difficult for the Caps to compete, but they should be able to qualify for the playoffs.

The Verdict

There is no denying that Toronto FC should once again be the most successful Canadian team in MLS this year. TFC is entering a new era under Chris Armas, but the team still has star players like Pozuelo, Altidore, and Bradley to rely on.

Anything less than playoff qualification would be a massive underachievement for the Reds, although I can see them going deep into the postseason and possibly even winning the MLS Cup.

At this stage, it is difficult to predict how CF Montréal will adapt to the big recent changes at the club. Theoretically, nothing should change on the pitch. But you never know.

Having made a number of promising offseason trades, Henry’s men should have enough quality to reach the playoffs. However, I’m not expecting them to advance any further than the quarter-finals.

The Whitecaps will also be expected to qualify for the playoffs in 2021, especially given their offseason movements. Marc Dos Santos has been in Vancouver since 2018, so he will certainly know enough about his side.

In my opinion, the best the Caps can hope for is a postseason berth. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if they fall short again this year.

The 2021 MLS season is set to kick off on April 3. To get you in the mood for the new campaign, why not check out some of my recent MLS posts?

Ben Morris
Ben Morris

Ben is a sportswriter and tipster who specializes in soccer. Currently based in the UK, he has traveled all around the world watching – and betting on – his beloved sport.

Alongside his regular soccer content, Ben publishes blogs and picks for cricket, Formula 1, Aussie rules, darts, and various other sports.

Ben is a diehard fan of Nottingham Forest and England, so he hasn’t had much to cheer about in recent years!

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