By Jeff Rueter – SAINT PAUL, MN (Apr 5, 2018) US Soccer Players - One month in, and the MLS season is just as unpredictable as any other. Teams are still figuring out their identities in the early goings of the 2018 campaign, leading to many an upset through five weeks.
As always, it’s good to clarify the role of power rankings. While one can look at the table and see whose results have been kindest, these sorts of rankings are set to answer one question: on a neutral field, which team would beat another? By going through all 23 teams with this in mind, here’s the lay of the land in this writer’s eyes.
A reminder: CONCACAF Champions League results don’t factor into these rankings. They do, however, explain the good or bad performance of those teams participating in both competitions.(Last month’s ranking in parenthesis)
1. NYCFC (2)
The league’s sole undefeated team checks in atop the table. Despite David Villa limited to just 171 minutes in the team’s first five matches, a mix of depth, youth, and quality have made the Pigeons the class of the league thus far.
2. Columbus Crew (7)
Going into the season, the Crew were a tough team to peg. Despite losing Justin Meram and Ola Kamara, the attack has been running at a steady clip, with their 9 goals just one shy of the league leaders. Zack Steffen has been a revelation over the past twelve months.
3. Atlanta United (6)
There’s been a lot of ink used to cover Tata Martino’s side, but no win has impressed more than last weekend’s 1-0 squeaker in Minnesota. Down a man on the road, Atlanta bunkered in, showing they don’t need a game to be open in order to get a result.
4. Toronto FC (1)
Come playoff time, the Reds will be just fine. However, injuries to key defenders Justin Morrow and Chris Mavinga have tested the Toronto backline. A win over RSL looked like a return to form after two league losses.
5. New York Red Bulls (4)
Like Toronto, CCL action has caused for inconsistent league results as coach Jesse Marsch has to rotate his squad. A loss to Orlando and old friend Sacha Kljestan mars an otherwise strong start in an incredibly crowded Eastern Conference.
6. Sporting KC (8)
Someone’s got to top the West this season, right? The new faces have taken to SKC quite well. If the defense can reclaim some of its 2017 magic, this may be the most complete Sporting side since the title-winners in 2013.
7. LA Galaxy (11)
As Zlatan went, so went the Galaxy this past weekend. If that becomes the team’s calling card, it could be a dangerous one over the course of a season.
8. LAFC (20)
Bob Bradley has this team in rare form to start their MLS existence. From the two-headed attacking threat of Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi to lesser-heralded players like midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye, the new kids should be good to go as long as their starters stay fit.
9. Montreal Impact (15)
Remi Garde has done quite a job in getting Montreal up-and-running so quickly. Jeisson Vargas looks like he could be quite a threat for years to come, and Ignacio Piatti keeps winding back the clock. Amazingly, the East have six of the top nine teams in the season’s early goings.
10. FC Dallas (13)
From this point onward, it feels like a true dogfight for superiority. FC Dallas have started to correct some of 2017’s malaise while keeping afloat without Kellyn Acosta. With their first four games at home, Dallas needs to close out the stretch with a win this weekend.
11. Vancouver Whitecaps (16)
Vancouver always feels like a team on the brink of greatness or falling apart. Despite constantly changing the faces in the lineup, an attack built around Alphonso Davies and Kei Kamara may be enough to make the playoffs in a weakened West.
12. Houston Dynamo (14)
The statement victory over Atlanta feels like it was ages ago, and Wilmer Cabrera’s side has just one point from the ensuing three matches. Which team is the real Dynamo?
13. Seattle Sounders (3)
By virtue of losing their first three games, we're not ranking the Sounders in the playoff positions. Right now, Seattle is leading the league in injuries at key positions. As those players return, the two-time defending conference champs should get back to their usual standing in the West.
14. Portland Timbers (5)
It’s been a rough start to the Gio Savarese era, and Liam Ridgewell’s absence is certainly an eyebrow raiser. For a Timbers defense that’s leaking in goals, it’s hard to understand why the heart of the backline remains out of the picture.
15. Real Salt Lake (12)
This year’s RSL side seems a perfect Mike Petke team: young, full of athleticism, but prone to mental lapses when pressured. It’s up to the man-manager and veterans to get the best out of a talented but raw team.
16. San Jose (18)
Their results (win v. MIN, loss @ SKC, loss v. NYC) all fall in line with the power rankings. The next three games against lower-half sides will do a lot to decide the Quakes’ fortunes in 2018.
17. Minnesota United (21)
When the Loons lost in 2017, it looked like an exercise in damage control. So far in 2018, they’ve been competitive in nearly every minute. That’s progress; we’ll see how much Darwin Quintero moves the needle in Minnesota.
18. Orlando City (9)
It took an awfully long time for the pieces to come into place, partially due to injury. If the Lions can’t make up for lost points in the early-goings, there could be even more dramatic changes in Orlando.
19. New England Revolution (23)
A huge amount of credit to Brad Friedel for getting five points in his first four MLS games. Wins over Colorado and a short-handed Dynamo side aren’t sexy, but these points could come in handy if the Revs are for real. With the MLS transfer window closing on May 1, New England has to find a resolution to the Lee Nguyen saga quickly.
20. Philadelphia (19)
Once again, the Union look like a team that needs a few new ideas. After winning the opener and drawing against the Crew, a 3-0 loss to the Rapids leaves Jim Curtin going back to the drawing board once more.
21. Colorado (22)
Dom Badji has been a revelation so far this season, but a defense that’s unrecognizable from the stout 2016 version isn’t doing a lot of favors for Tim Howard. That could come back to haunt Anthony Hudson in his first go-round.
22. DC United (17)
Despite getting plenty of new pieces, DC has stuttered out of the gate. Perhaps it’s an adjustment period, or it’s a lack of a full-time venue until the summer. Whatever the case, it may be a long year in the nation’s capital.
23. Chicago Fire (10)
Chicago may have underestimated just how valuable David Accam was. Without the pace and width he provided, the Fire have become too one-dimensional up top. Combine that with an injury-riddled defense and a shaky goalkeeper situation, and 2017 seems like a glorious yesteryear.
Jeff Rueter is a reporter and analyst covering Major League Soccer for The Guardian, ESPN FC, The Athletic - Minnesota, and USSoccerPlayers. Follow him on Twitter: @jeffrueter.
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(Photo by Andrew Katsampes - ISIPhotos.com)