Each MLS team has played a good handful of games since the regular season resumed in home stadiums. The season is at a full sprint, with games nearly every day and many teams playing twice a week, so while there’s a good bit of squad rotation going on, we’re getting a better sense of the teams that should be the legitimate contenders when the playoffs come around.
The league looks a little different this year than it has in recent years. Atlanta United is in the wilderness right now, whereas Orlando City looks like one of the Eastern Conference’s most complete teams. LAFC is struggling without Carlos Vela and Eduard Atuesta. The New York teams are scrapping at the fringe of the playoffs, and the Red Bulls seem headed for a rebound.
Let’s take a look at the most impressive teams, particularly those who have risen to a newfound contender status.
Of course, the Crew being good isn’t a new thing — they were a preseason darling, and they were dominant in the MLS is Back group stage before losing to Minnesota — but they have been the best in the league since the resumption of the full regular season. In five games, they’re 3-1-1 and have conceded a grand total of one goal. In the 10 regular season matches they’ve played in 2020, they’ve conceded just twice.
That defensive record is probably unsustainable, given that no team has come close to conceding just once every five games consistently. Two of their last five games came against FC Cincinnati, not much of an offensive juggernaut. But they have a comfortable spot atop the Supporters’ Shield race, and there’s nothing to suggest they can’t be dominant defensively over the rest of the season.
If they can create difference-making plays in attack, and they have the personnel to do it, they might be favorites.
Orlando City SC
After a run to the final of the MLS is Back tournament, Orlando City aren’t going away. They have a pair of wins and a pair of draws since the regular season restart, plus a 3-2 loss to Inter Miami. They’ve generally defended very well, and win when they get top quality from their attackers. Nani has been coming off the bench in recent games. He’ll be in the starting lineup when the big games arrive.
The biggest part of their success has been their stout defense, something they have pretty much never had before in their history. Pedro Gallese has been great at goalkeeper. Center backs Antonio Carlos and Robin Janssen avoid mistakes and contribute to Orlando’s preferred possession style with quality distribution, particularly Janssen. Their central midfielders — any three of Oriol Rosell, Sebastian Mendez, and Junior Urso — can do the dirty work.
Orlando are still fourth in the East, but they look like they could have enough to pick up some playoff wins. They’ve already shown they can win knockout games.
Everyone loves the plucky underdog LA Galaxy. They have four wins in four games post-tournament, and all of sudden look like a pretty good team for the first time in a while. Even without Chicharito, who was injured back in Orlando and hasn’t played since July, the Galaxy are scoring and defending competently.
The center back combo of Daniel Steres and Nick Depuy has been very solid. Cristian Pavon is carrying the attack on his back, as the Galaxy funnel most of what they do through him. Sebastian Lletget is excelling. Younger auxiliary pieces are stepping up as key pieces, including Chicharito backup Ethan Zubak, highly-touted 18-year-old Efrain Alvarez, and left-sided 19-year-old Julian Aruajo, who can play either as a winger or a left back. For years, the Galaxy have neglected their younger players and failed to maximize their development. That’s starting to change, to positive results.
Also, Jonathan dos Santos is just now coming back. The Galaxy have wins over LAFC (twice) and the Portland Timbers. They might be for real.