The new year is racing into view, so let’s take a moment to look back at 2021 before you make any resolutions.
This year’s MLS campaign was full of all the usual drama and entertainment we’ve come to expect from this league. Remarkable moments and stupendous goals are run of the mill.
Below is a list of each Western Conference team’s biggest highlight from the 2021 season to get you even more excited for the fast-approaching 2022 campaign.
Austin FC’s first-ever MLS win – away at the Colorado Rapids in Week 2 – was a great moment, but proved to be a little misleading with the expansion team struggling in their first year.
There’s no place like home and, with that in mind, their 2021 highlight has to be thrashing the Portland Timbers – who eventually went all the way to the MLS Cup final – 4-1 to win for the first time at their gorgeous Q2 Stadium.
There’s talent in this Austin side and if their top players reach their full potential, there will be plenty more nights to celebrate in front of the Verde faithful.
The Rapids’ home MLS Cup Playoff match against the Portland Timbers will go down in the history books – a full stadium, a bumper TV audience, and the league’s first-ever Thanksgiving match. But ultimately, Colorado will always be remembered as the team that lost that match.
Instead, their biggest highlight of 2021 simply has to be the 5-2 win over LAFC on Decision Day that sealed their place at the top of the Western Conference. That’s right, the Rapids, with the lowest salary spend in the league, finished top of the West and sealed their place in next year’s Concacaf Champions League.
There’s no end to the credit Robin Fraser and his players deserve.
FC Dallas won the Copa Tejas trophy as the best MLS team in Texas, but when you consider the three teams involved all finished in the bottom three spots in the West, that achievement is considerably less impressive.
Instead, 2021 was all about the rise of Ricardo Pepi. The best goalscoring season of any teenager in MLS history and booting down the door at international level are just some of the things this remarkable teenager achieved. As first reported by 90min, a big-money move to Europe now awaits.
It sucks for Dallas fans to lose another young star but few will begrudge Pepi his big chance.
There really wasn’t much to shout about for the Dynamo in 2021. If you had to pick a high point, it’s probably beating Texas rivals Austin FC and FC Dallas as part of a three-game unbeaten stretch during September. That 3-0 win over Austin was the only time Houston won a match by more than a single goal all season.
Incidentally, Fafa Picault scored in both those wins, just as he did in five of his six Texas derby appearances. Six of his 11 MLS goals in 2021 were against Houston’s state rivals.
If it weren’t for Chicharito, the Galaxy would have faded into obscurity very quickly in 2021. If they’d had him fit for the whole season, they absolutely would have made the Playoffs instead of missing out in heartbreaking fashion on Decision Day.
And that’s the biggest highlight for the Galaxy in 2021; in just 1,736 minutes of action, Chicharito scored 17 MLS goals to leave him just two behind eventual Golden Boot winner Taty Castellanos – a huge improvement from his struggles in 2020.
More of the same next year and the Galaxy will always stand a chance.
After walking the 2019 Supporters’ Shield and making the 2020 Concacaf Champions League final, so much was expected of LAFC last season but they just didn’t get going. Of course, weren’t helped by consistent injuries to key players or the departure of Diego Rossi.
If we had to pick one positive, it’s probably the 3-0 battering of Seattle in October where they blew the Sounders away with three goals in 30 minutes. That and the form of new striker Cristian Arango, who could be among the Golden Boot favorites next year.
It was messy, but the 3-3 Decision Day draw with the Galaxy that dragged Minnesota United into the Playoffs at LA’s expense line has to be their 2021 highlight.
But if you’re looking for something a little more clean-cut and nicely packaged, just stick together a re-run of Emanuel Reynoso’s goals. The guy is just magic.
They lost in heartbreaking fashion on penalties, but the Portland Timbers hosting MLS Cup has to be the highlight of 2021. The Timbers Army was in full voice hours before kick-off, and the roof nearly came off Providence Park when Felipe Mora equalized in the last seconds of normal time to keep the tie alive.
There will always be a twinge of sadness looking back at the day, but it was Portland’s moment in the sun and a wonderful occasion for all involved.
Damir Kreilach. 95th-minute. Sporting Kansas City. RSL’s MLS Cup Playoff berth booked.
Real Salt Lake will go down as the cinderella story of the 2021 Playoffs for knocking out the Sounders and SKC, but it was the dramatic win to get them there that will be remembered most.
The drama and emotion behind the moment was everything soccer fans live for.
The Quakes never really got themselves into the Playoff race, so highlights were in short supply.
With that in mind, we’ll give the floor to Chris Wondolowski, who announced his retirement from the game just after scoring in his last-ever MLS goal for San Jose. A fairytale ending for a league icon.
The Sounders absolutely tanked at the end of the season, so there will be none of their customary Playoff moments to stick in the scrapbook.
Instead, the zenith of their 2021 campaign was hammering arch-rivals Portland Timbers 6-2 on their own patch in August. The scores were tied at 2-2 until Raul Ruidiaz restored Seattle’s advantage in the 55th minute and from there, they took the Timbers apart.
A nod must also be given to Seattle reaching the final of Leagues Cup, pushing Club Leon all the way in a valiant 3-2 defeat.
SKC underachieved a little in 2021, which is testament to their quality, because they almost went all the way.
Their season definitely peaked when Graham Zusi let rip from 30 yards out to seal a 3-1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps in Round One of the Playoffs. It’s a goal we’re used to seeing Zusi scoring now and one fans will play back again and again.
After a tough start, Vanni Sartini took over from Marc Dos Santos and inspired the Whitecaps to a run of just two defeats in 22 to end the season – enough to put them into the Playoffs for the first time since 2017.
Sure, they crashed out in Round One, but even making it that far was one hell of an achievement for this team.
Optimism is high for 2022 under the eccentric but lovable Sartini, with Brian White and Ryan Gauld leading the attack.