Who will win MLS Cup in 2021? Predicting every Round 1 matchup and a champion

Records were broken and a resurgence was forged in Major League Soccer this season, as the New England Revolution, winners of the Supporters’ Shield, set a regular-season points record in the post-shootout era and the Colorado Rapids had their best conference finish in club history.

The MLS Cup Playoffs begin Saturday and the Revs and Rapids enter as respective No. 1 seeds in the Eastern and Western Conferences. Both received first-round byes.

New England (73 points) will host either New York City FC or Atlanta United FC on Nov. 30 in the conference semifinal round, and Colorado will await the Portland Timbers or Minnesota United FC for a second-round clash on Thanksgiving Day.

Here’s who I think will survive Round One, followed by my picks along the way to the MLS Cup Final.

Drake Hills’ picks for 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs by USA TODAY Network on Scribd

Nov. 7: New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner celebrates winning the 2021 Supporters' Shield after the regular-season finale at Gillette Stadium.
Nov. 7: New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner celebrates winning the 2021 Supporters’ Shield after the regular-season finale at Gillette Stadium.

Eastern Conference

New England is good. They’re record-setting good. But are they better than 2017 Toronto FC?

The Reds were the last team to do the double: lifting the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup in the same season. U.S. Men’s National teamers Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and a dangerous Sebastian Giovinco helped TFC to lift the cup. I’m predicting New England to do the same.

MVP candidate Carles Gil (4 goals, 18 assists), goal-getters Adam Buksa and Gustavo Bou (31 combined), teaming up with premier youngster Tajon Buchanan are enough firepower.

(4) New York City FC vs. (5) Atlanta United

Winner: Atlanta United

Atlanta United’s Luiz Araújo and coach Gonzalo Pineda were timely additions to Josef Martinez and Miles Robinson anchoring the Five Stripes. New talent working cohesively will be enough to limit NYCFC’s Taty Castellanos, who won the Golden Boot this season (19 goals, 8 assists).

(3) Nashville SC vs. (6) Orlando City SC

Winner: Nashville SC

Nashville SC has not lost at home this season, becoming the seventh MLS club in history to do so. A fourth meeting against Orlando City won’t be breaking that streak. Nashville’s MVP candidate Hany Mukhtar has scored two goals against the Lions this year.

(2) Philadelphia Union vs. (7) New York Red Bulls

Winner: Philadelphia Union

The New York Red Bulls are the sleeper team of the East and its record proves a 1-0 score line is all RBNY needs. Their last five wins were secured by a one-goal margin.

The Union is strong at Subaru Park and will be too strong for RBNY.

Colorado Rapids Dominique Badji (8) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal against the Seattle Sounders during the second half of an MLS soccer match Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Commerce City, Colo. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Colorado Rapids Dominique Badji (8) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal against the Seattle Sounders during the second half of an MLS soccer match Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Commerce City, Colo. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Western Conference

Rapids coach Robin Fraser took this club from a bottom-half team in the league to a No. 1 seed in three seasons, the first in club history.

Colorado’s scoring comes by committee. Michael Barrios has been the attacking catalyst (8 goals, 8 assists), but the development of Jonathan Lewis (7 goals) and the return of Dom Badji (5 goals) has led the Rapids to the top.

A seasoned playoff bunch like the Portland Timbers should end the Rapids’ MLS Cup journey in the second round, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rapids home-field advantage and an early goal gets them passed the Timbers.

No. 4 Portland Timbers vs. No. 5 Minnesota United FC

Winner: Portland Timbers

Sebastian Blanco and Felipe Mora were worth a combined 18 goals this system. Add in the surprise of Dairon Asprilla adding a spark up front and they should handle business for Portland at Providence Park.

No. 3 Sporting Kansas City vs. No. 6 Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Winner: Vancouver Whitecaps

This seems to be the anticipated upset of the postseason. The way Vancouver ended the season against the Seattle Sounders, only losing one of its final nine matches, an upset is fitting. MLS newcomer Ryan Gauld and Cristian Dájome are two players to watch in this one.

No. 2 Seattle Sounders FC vs. No. 7 Real Salt Lake

Winners: Seattle Sounders

The Sounders should handle business at home in Round One. With a healthy Raúl Ruidíaz, a margin of multiple goals wouldn’t be a surprise.

For stories about Nashville SC or Soccer in Tennessee, contact Drake Hills at [email protected] Follow Drake on Twitter at @LiveLifeDrake. Connect with Drake on Instagram at @drakehillssoccer and on Facebook.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: MLS Cup Playoffs 2021: Predicting winner for every Round 1 game