A 28-team NFL/MLS Mashup
(Photo: Johnny Wakefield)
by Chris Ashley and Russell VarnerEditor's note: For this assignment, we asked two of our regular writers, Chris and Russell, to take the world that many Charlotteans are more familiar with – the NFL – and slam it into the world we're introducing to the new soccer fan – MLS. Two footballs, two leagues we'll all love to watch in Bank of America Stadium, and two passions many expect to hold together there for years and years to come. (If throwball isn't your thing, maybe skip this article.)
That said, no comparison is perfect, and some of these are downright appalling, but we kept to the standard of Eastern Conference-NFC and Western Conference-AFC. We hope you enjoy it.
Russell's assignment: The 14 teams in 2021's MLS Eastern Conference
- Atlanta United – They're the Green Bay Packers: one of the league’s preeminent franchises with arguably the league’s best player. They both play in a stadium that everyone wants to visit and is known around the world. They're also really easy to hate.
- Charlotte MLS – Too obvious: we're the Carolina Panthers. The teams have the same owner. They play in the same stadium. We assume they'll have the same colors. And, to top it all off, no one knows exactly what to expect from them next season.
- Chicago Fire – The Los Angeles Rams. Both the Rams and the Fire have undergone logo changes that no one asked for and no one likes, and both are hoping a move to a new stadium can help revitalize their team and their fan bases. That's big, because both team’s futures are equally murky.
- Columbus Crew – The Chicago Bears. Here we see the case of two landmark franchises that have been in the league since the very beginning, but both have fallen upon hard times. It can be argued though that Columbus’ #SavedTheCrew win in 2018 is bigger than any Bears victory since 1985.
- FC Cincinnati – Porkopolis is the Detroit Lions. Both teams have more or less been jokes on the field and have had to deal with multiple coaching changes. It can be argued that the Lions’ main contributions to the league have been making prime players retire early and an 0-16 season, marked by a horrific defense. Likewise, FC Cincinnati had a first season to forget, including one of the worst defensive seasons in league history.
- D.C. United – The Dallas Cowboys. Both Dallas and D.C. United have storied histories as legendary franchises in their respective leagues, winning numerous titles and having plenty of league stars play for them. However, both have not experienced much of that success recently – they combined to win six league titles in the 1990s, but have won just one since.
- Inter Miami CF – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both franchises – located in Floridian cities where the teams have to fight for relevancy – are hoping their combination of big-name coaches and flashy player signings will be enough for the league (and their fans) to take them seriously in 2020/21.
- Montreal Impact – The Arizona Cardinals. Neither Arizona nor Montreal has ever had much sustained success, but both are hoping sexy new coaching hires can help fix that. Additionally, both teams had recent runs to championship games that most people forget about (Montreal is one of two MLS teams to reach the CONCACAF Champions League final since it switched to its current format in 2008-09).
- New England Revolution – The San Francisco 49ers. Both teams are led by a head coach that has changed everything about the team and, as such, is beloved by everyone that follows the team. Both have one major offensive star with a supporting cast that can be just as deadly.
- New York City FC – The Minnesota Vikings. You probably can’t name more than two or three players on their rosters, but they are consistently challenging for the best record in their respective leagues. Underestimate these guys at your own risk.
- New York Red Bulls – The New Orleans Saints. These are two of the most entertaining teams in their respective leagues to watch year in and year out. However, neither team can find a way to win the big games when it matters most. The Red Bulls are beginning to see their glory days fade; here's hoping the Saints will experience the same soon.
- Orlando City SC – The Washington Redskins. While the ownership situation in Orlando may not be as bad as it is in Washington, these are two clubs that often win the offseason with splashy signings. However, that hasn’t led to much winning in the postseason (or regular season, for that matter).
- Philadelphia Union – The Atlanta Falcons? A sexy sleeper pick for many people, both teams have rosters that look great on paper. But both also have a tendency to not play up to their potential or to fall just short.
- Toronto FC – Toronto has to be the Seattle Seahawks. Both Seattle and Toronto are teams you can call the class of their respective leagues. Both are well-coached sides led by one or two offensive stars, but anyone on the roster is capable of making the big play when called upon.
- Austin FC – Austin is the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags are owned by a billionaire businessman who often threatens to move the team. Sound familiar? Anthony Precourt may not have succeeded in moving the Crew from Columbus to Austin (#SavedTheCrew), but he was ultimately successful in getting the team he wanted in the city he wanted it in. Let’s hope he doesn’t get itchy if fans fail to show up for the green trees.
- Colorado Rapids – The Tennessee Titans. Both have classic yet distinctive color schemes in their respective leagues. While both of these teams have had moments of success in their past, they have also both struggled through droughts of futility. But both franchises enter 2020 with strong teams hoping to break through.
- FC Dallas – The New York Jets. Both FC Dallas and the J-E-T-S, JETS, JETS, JETS have had success in their past. But neither franchise has been able to sustain any of that success, and both are overshadowed by other big teams in their market (I'm looking at you, North Texas SC).
- Houston Dynamo – The Indianapolis Colts. Both of these cities are hosts to relocated franchises. Both franchises had a brief moment in history where they were near the top of their respective leagues, but neither has been able to do much outside of those windows.
- Los Angeles Galaxy – The New England Patriots. This one was easy: the Galaxy and the Patriots are arguably the greatest franchises in the history of their leagues. Each holds the record for titles, (the Pats with six Super Bowls and the Galaxy with five MLS Cup titles). And both teams once boasted one of the greatest players in the history of their sport who have each moved on to Florida to continue their careers. Maybe Brady and Beckham can open a golf course together.
- Los Angeles FC – The Baltimore Ravens. Go with me on this: The 2019 MLS MVP was Carlos Vela. The 2019 NFL MVP was Lamar Jackson. Both teams were odds on favorites to win it all last season and both came up short. Neither team looks to be slowing down anytime soon.
- Minnesota United – The Houston Texans. Minnesota and Houston are two of the newer teams in their leagues. Both teams are in cities with a long history in their sports. And while neither team has won a championship yet, each is hungry and capable of making a strong push in the next several years.
- Nashville SC – The Miami Dolphins. Thanks to the draft the Dolphins had last month, their fans are full of hope for a young and energetic team. Likewise, fans of MLS’s newest Western Conference team are excited and hopeful about their team as they begin their journey as lifelong fans. But, I think both of these teams are very much in the “wait and see” category as they work through some obvious growing pains in their near future.
- Portland Timbers – The Las Vegas Raiders. Timbers Army, meet Raider Nation. These are arguably the most rabid fanbases in their leagues. The creativity and eccentricity of the two fanbases are unmatched. And with the Raiders moving to Las Vegas, you can now say that each team is arguably in the wildest market in their league.
- Real Salt Lake – The Denver Broncos. These two Rocky Mountain teams have each won a couple of championships. But neither team has been able to establish any kind of dynasty or sustained threat. And, outside of a few iconic players in the past, neither of these teams has ever been filled with household names. John Elway is Kyle Beckerman? Maybe.
- San Jose Earthquakes – The Cleveland Browns. Cleveland and San Jose were two of the iconic franchises in their leagues ... and then their teams were moved to other cities. But neither city would let losing their team keep them from fighting to get them back. The Quakes also haven't won anything since 2003. The Browns ...
- Seattle Sounders – The Sounders are the Kansas City Chiefs. They have been the best of the best in recent years. They are the two reigning champions coming into the 2020 season. And what is Patrick Mahomes if not the NFL equivalent to Clint Dempsey? Intensely loyal fanbases in legendary color schemes too.
- Sporting Kansas City – The Pittsburgh Steelers. SKC and the Steelers are both iconic brands. These two franchises have seen a ton of success in their history with each team winning multiple championships. And while neither team has reached the pinnacle of their sport in the last few years, they always seem to be in the hunt for a championship season.
- Vancouver Whitecaps – The Buffalo Bills? Here are two of the northern-most teams in their leagues who play in cold weather climates (although the Whitecaps do have the luxury of an indoor arena). Neither team has been able to win it all or have any kind of sustained success. And, if we’re being honest, these would be the two teams you would be most likely to forget about if asked to list these conferences by memory.