- After winning it all last season, the Columbus Crew have made a couple of offensive additions in hopes of becoming the first repeat MLS Cup winner in nine years
- But in a tight Eastern Conference, Toronto FC, Orlando City and Philadelphia all have reasonable cases to reach the MLS Cup
- Read on for a preview, full odds and a best bet ahead of the new MLS season which starts this week
If history is any guide, the MLS Eastern Conference’s representative in the 2021 MLS Cup will either be reigning champion Columbus Crew or Toronto FC. Between them, the two clubs have been in Major League Soccer’s title game in five of the past six seasons, with Atlanta United breaking up that run of dominance in 2018.
But history has never been an accurate predictor of future events, particularly entering another pandemic-influenced season that will force Canadian clubs like Toronto to at least start its season on the road in Florida. So maybe it’s time for last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners, the Philadelphia Union, to carry over their regular-season dominance to the playoffs, or maybe Nani will thrive once again for Orlando City with the addition of former Brazilian international Alex Pato, to lead the Lions even deeper into the playoffs.
2021 MLS Eastern Conference Champion Odds
|Team||Odds at DraftKings|
|Orlando City SC||+500|
|New York City FC||+650|
|New England Revolution||+900|
|Atlanta United FC||+1400|
|New York Red Bulls||+1800|
|Inter Miami CF||+2500|
Odds as of April 14
Crew Raring to Go
Championship repeats in sports are a rare thing, and that is as true in MLS as in any other league. Only three clubs have ever repeated as MLS Cup champions, but there have been a number of others who returned to the championship game, either as the previous year’s winners or losers. In the East, Toronto FC were the last team to reach back-to-back finals, in 2016-17, but the Crew look as prepared as any team in recent history to join the Canadians in the history books.
— Columbus Crew SC (@ColumbusCrewSC) April 13, 2021
As ever, the team will rely heavily on the contributions of Gyasi Zardes, who has a total of 48 goals over the past three seasons combined. But he will have more support in that area this season, most notably in the shape of the ever-improving Lucas Zelarayan. The Argentine playmaker enters his second season in MLS, having chalked up six goals and four assists in just 16 regular-season appearances, before scoring two goals in the MLS Cup win over Seattle.
— Columbus Crew SC (@ColumbusCrewSC) January 7, 2021
While that pair will capture many of the headlines, the Crew also picked up winger Kevin Molino – who scored four playoff goals in three matches for Minnesota last term – and two-time Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips. Even at 36, the English striker showed he’s still able to contribute, registering eight goals and six assists in just 1,081 minutes for LAFC last season.
Can Lions Roar?
But at just +200, maybe the Crew don’t offer the best value in the Eastern Conference. While Toronto will likely be in the mix as always, particularly with league MVP Alejandro Pozuelo pulling the strings, an aging Michael Bradley and injury-prone Jozy Altidore will give new coach Chris Armas more than enough to worry about.
— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) April 14, 2021
The best value in the conference is likely to still be found in Florida, however. Orlando City enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2020, reaching the final of the MLS Is Back Tournament, before making the playoffs for the very first time, ultimately bowing out to New England in the conference semis.
Oklahoman Daryl Dike nods home his 8th goal in 14 games since arriving in England. If fairytale continues and the Tykes return to Premier League, the statue of Dyke that will be unveiled in Barnsley town center will be must-visit tourist stop 🇺🇸🙌pic.twitter.com/zq7zYzdoDu
— roger bennett (@rogbennett) April 10, 2021
Former Manchester United forward Nani had a good year in 2020, with six goals and four assists, and was ably abetted by Chris Mueller, who led the team with ten goals. Now added to that mix is former AC Milan star Pato, and the possible return of Daryl Dike, who is currently on loan at Barnsley in the English Championship. As head coach Oscar Pareja heads into his second year in MLS, look for the Lions to improve on their fourth-place finish in the Eastern standings, and make an added splash in the playoffs.
Best bet: Orlando City (+500)