Three MLS teams on the come up, and what it means for the playoff race

Written By Harrison Hamm on August 11, 2021

With summer international tournaments out of the way, the MLS season is back in full swing, with a congested schedule coming up. The season is only halfway done, and now with some teams getting crucial players back from international absences, an important stretch of the season is coming up.

Some teams have found their form in the immediate aftermath of the Gold Cup, Copa America, and Euros, with summer signings entering the fold. Let’s take a look at some of the teams whose form has perked up and what it might mean.

D.C. United

It happened a bit quietly, but United has put themselves in position to be a threat in the Eastern Conference. They went into the mid-July break on the high of a 7-1 annihilation of Toronto FC, and have kept up their form since, with three wins, two draws, and one loss in their past six games. Last week, they went on the road midweek to Columbus and won 4-2, then beat CF Montreal on the weekend.

They’ve done it on the back of Hernan Losada’s high-energy pressing system, which concedes possession but also confounds opponents. It has been perfect for the roster. Forward Ola Kamara is currently on a goal-scoring tear, averaging a goal and a half per game(!) to find himself second in the Golden Boot race despite playing way fewer minutes than the two leaders. Julian Gressel has been outstanding at wingback, and Andy Najar and Joseph Mora have been solid opposite him.

The logjam in the middle of the Eastern Conference could mean that D.C. goes from a team trying to make the playoffs to a team trying to get homefield advantage. The five clubs from 2-6 in the standings are separated by just three points. It didn’t look like it earlier in the season, but United are a solid part of that group.

FC Dallas

There was a time not too long ago when FCD was one of the worst teams in the league. They sat at the bottom of the standings with a listless roster and some troublesome injuries. But a red-hot stretch against the league’s best teams has elevated them out of the bottom and into the playoff hunt. They cooked the LA Galaxy 4-0, then beat Sporting KC and Austin FC with a road point against Seattle sandwiched in there.

That’s an impressive run, and as usual for FC Dallas, it came primarily from the performances of the young players. Ricardo Pepi has been the main star, scoring a hat trick against LA and affecting games outside of the scoresheet. Paxton Pomykal is back from injury and playing well, and Jesus Ferreira has a couple recent goals.

But FCD has also gotten some good performances out of veteran newcomers, which is a nice change. Their most recent signings have found roles immediately. With games against Sporting KC and Seattle coming up, the schedule’s not getting any easier, but Dallas are playing much better now.

Colorado Rapids

The Rapids, heading into this weekend, are four points back of third-place LA Galaxy with two games in hand. Colorado is an under-the-radar team with solid defensive structure. They concede few goals and usually don’t score too many, as their lack of a quality center forward has inhibited their attack. But they have an interesting collection of attackers who can make things happen in space and with the ball at their feet, including Jonathan Lewis, Michael Barrios, and Andre Shinyashiki.

They recently brought in center midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye in a trade with LAFC. Kaye cost a lot, but he’s an elite player who fits perfectly in Colorado’s midfield. They also signed left back Lucas Esteves to replace Sam Vines, who Colorado recently transferred to Royal Antwerp in Belgium. It’s been a pretty good summer for the Rapids, and they continue to trend upward.

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