Rags to Riches: How the Two 2021 MLS Conference 1st Seeds Rebuilt Their Clubs
With the MLS Playoffs kicking off this weekend, it is important to acknowledge the incredible transformation of the two 1st seed teams in both conferences. Colorado Rapids and the New England Revolution both got themselves a bye in the post-season bracket this year with finishing top of the Western and Eastern Conference respectively. The more impressive thing about these two teams is their recent history or lack thereof. It is inspiring to see where these teams came from and how they did it.
In the past seven seasons since 2014, the Rapids only managed to get into the playoffs twice with finishing 5th last campaign and 2nd in 2016. In the other five seasons starting in order of 2014, they finished 8th, 10th, 10th, 11th, and 9th. A once competitive team became very underwhelming as fellow teams started picking up guaranteed wins week by week. Something changed this year out of nowhere as their new, young, and exciting team was led by Coach of the Year 2021 Finalist Robin Fraser. They finished with the most wins and least losses in the Western Conference just sneaking above the Seattle Sounders on Decision Day with a 5-2 win over LAFC. Now, they look forward to a match with the winners of (4) Portland Timbers vs (5) Minnesota United.
Price #19 - 12 assists on the season speaks for itself as the Rapids' center-midfielder was a huge influence both offensively as well as facilitating out of possession.
Barrios #12 - The winger was Colorado's highest goalscorer (8 goals) and 2nd assist leader (5 assists). A constant threat during his time in the MLS, and he had one of his most effective seasons in 2021.
Bassett #26 - Coming from the Rapids Academy, and impressing in the USYNT U20's squad in recent years, Cole Bassett made his statement year this season scoring 5 goals and assisting 4 from midfield. The Rapids have a very talented young core for the future including teammate Jonathan Lewis.
If you have followed the MLS for the last handful of years, you know that the New England Revolution has been one of the more average teams in the league. Since 2016, the Revs have finished 7th or 8th in every season. With low attendance turnout and no soccer-specific stadium, the New England side seemed to be going nowhere. This was until last season when Bruce Arena led the team to a 2020 Eastern Conference Final. It was clear that this team had some sort of a spark within it. This season, they had the most points in either conference with 73, as well as having a whopping +24 goal differential. Bruce Arena has come back from his own mediocrity after failing to qualify with the USMNT in 2018. It is an inspiring team that has found its identity in 2021 as they prepare to play the winners of (4) NYCFC vs (5) Atlanta United.
Striker Partners - Gustavo Bou #7 & Adam Buska #9 were an unstoppable duo this season as they scored 15 and 16 goals respectively. New England scored against teams for fun and it was their two strikers that carried most of the weight.
Carlos Gil #22 - 13 assists for the former Valencia man only added to the respect that other teams have for this man. The midfielder shows his class in every game by dictating everything New England does. Speculation of transfer rumors has not been a distraction as he has said that he is there to stay in New England.
Tajon Buchanan #17 - With his 8 goals and 6 assists from the right-wing, the Canadian youngster earned himself a transfer to Club Brugge at the end of the 2021 MLS Season. With every game, Buchanan seems to grow in contribution and flare, adding a real sense of x-factor.
Look forward to seeing these two teams and their key players in the next round of the MLS Playoffs. It will be entertaining to see if either of them can finish the fairytale and secure an MLS Championship Title for their club.