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MLS expert Graham Ruthven is here with his prediction and picks for the MLS playoffs and who he has picked to lift the MLS Cup trophy.

MLS Cup Playoffs Predictions and Futures Picks: Who Will Lift the Trophy?

With the 2021 Major League Soccer regular season now complete, it’s time to look ahead to the playoffs and MLS Cup. While the Supporters’ Shield is a mark of consistency for teams that collect the most points in the league format, the postseason is where true success is achieved in North American soccer. This is, as they say, the business end of the season.

Click Here For MLS Cup Future Winner Odds

The New England Revolution set a new record for the most regular-season points ever accrued in a single MLS campaign (73), and Bruce Arena’s side will be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs. However, history is against the Revs in that the last three Supporters’ Shield winners have failed to advance to the MLS Cup final.

While the Seattle Sounders allowed the Western Conference title to slip through their fingers in the final few weeks of the regular season, Brian Schmetzer’s side is masters of plotting a route through the playoffs, having made the MLS Cup final in four of the last five years. However, Seattle’s chances might depend on how many of their key players can stay fit - injuries have been a problem for the Sounders all year.

Despite having one of the smallest budgets in MLS, the Colorado Rapids finished top of the Western Conference in dramatic fashion on the final day of the regular season. Robin Fraser has done an exceptional job at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and is getting the best out of players like Jack Price, Auston Trusty, and Michael Barrios.

Sporting KC was the second-top scorers in MLS throughout the regular season, and Peter Vermes’ side certainly can’t be discounted from playoff contention. Johnny Russell, who notched 15 goals and seven assists in 30 regular-season appearances, is arguably the hottest attacker in the whole division at this moment in time.

Ryan Gauld, Russell’s compatriot, has also made a profound impact on MLS this season, with the Scottish playmaker’s arrival in the league a turning point in the Vancouver Whitecaps’ season. Gauld and Russell will face each other in round one of the playoffs when Sporting KC and the Caps’ title credentials will be truly tested.

The two New York clubs, New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls, will fancy their chances of making a deep run in the playoffs. NYC FC enters the postseason on the back of three wins from their last four games and also boasts MLS’s top scorer in the form of Valentin Castellanos. Meanwhile, RBNY has lost just one of their previous 12 league matches.

It just so happens that the two New York sides are also the two most prudent teams when it comes to shots conceded per match -- NYC FC has allowed just 9.5 shots on their goal per match while RBNY has averaged 9.3 per match. Interestingly, the New York Red Bulls also lead MLS for the most tackles made per match (19.5) and the most interceptions per match (13.7).

Jim Curtin’s Philadelphia Union side is widely considered among the favorites to win the 2021 MLS Cup, and with good reason. The Union is a well-rounded side that has been shrewdly built over the last few seasons. An MLS Cup triumph would culminate a long-term project led by Curtin, one of the best coaches in the North American game.

MLS’s openness and unpredictability are one of its best qualities, and the purest manifestation of this is often found in the playoffs - see how the Columbus Crew went all the way last year. Almost every match will be worth watching as North American soccer puts forward the best teams and players it can offer. 

MLS Cup Futures Picks

  • 0.75u - Philadelphia Union MLS Cup Winner (+1000)
  • 0.5u - Vancouver Whitecaps Western Conference Winner (+1400)

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Article Author


Graham Ruthven is a soccer writer and tipster who has written for the New York Times, Guardian, Eurosport and others.


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