Major League Soccer

Every Eastern Conference club's biggest accomplishment in 2021

Chris Smith
New York City FC lifted the MLS Cup after their first ever final appearance
New York City FC lifted the MLS Cup after their first ever final appearance / Andy Mead/ISI Photos/GettyImages
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The new year is racing into view, so let's take a moment to look back at 2021 before you make any resolutions.

This year's MLS campaign was full of all the usual drama and entertainment we've come to expect from this league. Remarkable moments and stupendous goals are run of the mill.

Below is a list of each Eastern Conference team's biggest highlight from the 2021 season to get you even more excited for the fast-approaching 2022 campaign.

1. Atlanta United: Josef Martinez's golazo vs FC Cincinnati

Atlanta United had what could be best described as an 'up and down' 2021 campaign. Initial promise under Gabriel Heinze quickly evaporated into a slide down the table, unsavory reports of his treatment of players, and angst from supporters.

Then Rob Valentino and, later, Gonzalo Pineda got their teeth into the side, sparking the Five Stripes' climb back up the Eastern Conference. That climb was completed with a 2-1 win over Decision Day that booked Atlanta's return to the MLS Cup Playoffs - the win was sealed with a stunning volley from none other than Josef Martinez.

2. CF Montreal: Winning the Canadian Championship

There was a lot to like about CF Montreal in 2021 under Wilfried Nancy but, ultimately, they missed out on the Playoffs after occupying a post-season spot for most of the season.

But they still ended up with some silverware in the cabinet, beating Toronto FC to lift the Canadian Championship in front of their own supporters at Saputo Stadium. What that, CF Montreal have a spot in next season's CONCACAF Champions League in the bag, too.

3. Chicago Fire: Fan Appreciation Night

It was another tough season for the Chicago Fire, who once again missed out on the MLS Cup Playoffs. But with some talented young players breaking through, a new head coach, and a renewed presence within the city, things might be starting to change.

The Fire's annual 'Fan Appreciation Night' was undoubtedly the high-point of their season, with 31,308 fans in attendance to watch their 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake in the final home game of the season.

It was the Fire's third-highest all-time attendance, and the most they've managed since their inaugural 1998 campaign.

4. Columbus Crew

Domestically, the Crew were desperately short of high points as their MLS Cup defense went tragically wrong. But they still managed to bring home a trophy, beating Cruz Azul to seal the Campeones Cup.

An MLS club beating a Liga MX club is always something to celebrate, even more so when it brings home some silverware.

A nice shiny finish on an otherwise tough season.

5. DC United

DC United very nearly hired Chris Armas as their head coach instead of Hernan Losada. Then, in July, they beat Toronto FC 7-1, effectively dropping the guillotine on Armas' spell in charge of the Reds. Poetic much?

For a team that didn't make the Playoffs, that's as standout a moment as any. Things should improve under the impressive Losada next season.

6. FC Cincinnati

FC Cincinnati were a little more competitive at the start of 2021, at least by the pretty poor standards they've set themselves in MLS. Then they won just one of their final 25 games to send them crashing back to the foot of the Eastern Conference. They're getting a little too familiar with that wooden spoon.

The one positive in that dismal run was 2-0 victory at home to Toronto FC in September, which was Cincy's first and, to date, only win at their impressive new TQL Stadium.

7. Inter Miami CF

Inter Miami are not hitting the heights expected of them in MLS so far. But in April, we were given a wholesome moment as Federico Higuain set up younger brother Gonzalo for an equalizer against the Philadelphia Union. Higuain Snr then went ahead and bagged the winner in the 83rd minute.

The Higuains are the sixth set of brothers to combine for an MLS goal, while it's the first time in league history two brothers have scored in the same game.

For Inter Miami, that's really as good as it got on an individual moments basis.

8. Nashville SC

In all honesty, most of the 2021 season can be seen as a highlight for Nashville. They're good. Really, really good. And if we're being even more honest, their biggest standout should have been Hany Mukhtar picking up the MVP award, but he was snubbed in favor of Carles Gil.

With that, the absolute biggest moment of the season was their Playoff win over Orlando City. Gary Smith's men came 1-0 down to win 3-1 with Mukhtar running the show again. Nashville crashed out in the next round, but this was a night that proved their status as a top MLS team, despite being in the league for just two seasons.

9. New England Revolution

The Revs might have crashed out of the MLS Cup Playoffs at the first hurdle, but the 2021 season will still go down as their best-ever.

That's because they absolutely walked the Supporters' Shield, picking up a single-season record 73 points and outscoring every other team in MLS.

For a club that has mostly existed as a perennial runner-up, losing all five of their MLS Cup final appearances and two of their three US Open Cup finals, this is a moment that will be long savored. The points record will ensure they'll be remembered above all other shield winners.

10. New York City FC

NYCFC supporters have had plenty to deal with during their time in MLS - not least because of their less-than-ideal stadium situation. But no matter what, they'll now have the best comeback possible: "Who cares? We're LS Cup champions!"

After so many Rond One heartbreaks, the Pigeons went all the way, beating Atlanta United, the Revs, the Philadelphia Union, and the Portland Timbers to win their first-ever trophy.

11. New York Red Bulls

As always, the Red Bulls made the Playoffs then failed to deliver in the post-season. But considering their poor start, that's a great achievement in itself, and they look close to clicking under Gerhard Struber.

If you want an individual Red Bull moment to savor, Patryk Klimala's 102nd-minute equalizer in the Hudson River Derby against NYCFC in September is your best bet.

As a result, the Red Bulls now hold the records for earliest and latest MLS goals.

12. Orlando City SC

With 55 minutes on the clock, CF Montreal and Orlando City were locked at 0-0 in their winner-takes-all Decision Day clash. Montreal had put so much into the first half, but had failed to break down the Lions' defense.

Then up stepped Jhegson Mendez with a wonderful volley, putting Orlando ahead and breaking the Canadian resolve.

Daryl Dike went on to double the lead and, for the second year running, Orlando were a Playoff team. A huge moment and an absolute golazo.

13. Philadelphia Union

Speaking of golazos, Philadelphia Union center-back Jakob Glesnes is an expert in this department.

The 27-year-old Norwegian picked the perfect moment to remind everyone of his capabilities from distance, lashing one home in the 123rd minute of the Union's win over RBNY in Round One of the Playoffs.

A penalty shootout was avoided, there was carnage in the stands, and another little piece of Union folklore was created.

14. Toronto FC

A crippled amount of injuries and being forced to play their home games way down in Florida meant absolutely nobody fancied Toronto FC to beat Club Leon in their CCL round-of-16 clash.

But after a gutsy 1-1 draw down in Mexico, the Reds pulled off the improbable, beating Leon 2-1 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex to book their place in the quarter-finals.

Cruz Azul would send them packing, and the rest of their season fell apart from there. But that was one hell of an achievement from a heavily depleted team.

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