By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Nov 7, 2019) US Soccer Players – The two clubs left standing in the 2019 season are not the top two teams in these rankings. LAFC slipped from the top spot, but the club’s season was so stellar. That’s still better than Toronto FC’s even though the Reds are playing for the MLS Cup title and not the second-year Los Angeles club.
For the rest of the teams involved, the pecking order was fairly simple since we already know how all but two teams finished. Teams got more credit for reaching the postseason than not, and for winning a postseason match than not advancing. The top spot for the year-end rankings will go to the MLS Cup finalists, no matter how great LAFC’s season was. Winning a championship is the ultimate goal. For that the team should get the ultimate recognition. We end the 2019 Power Rankings with Toronto and Seattle sharing 1st-place while we wait to see who lifts the Cup on Sunday.
1. Seattle Sounders (ranked 7 in October)
Seattle saved the best for last. The club is the last team left standing in the Western Conference and is one home win away from winning its second title in league history. Seattle has been solid all season long, but the team is playing like a champion down the stretch. Raul Ruidiaz is a classy finisher, while Nicolas Lodeiro is a master at pulling the strings. Seattle seems destined to win the championship simply because of how it took down LAFC at Banc of California Stadium. If the club can tap into some of the confidence gained from beating the best team in the league, they’re the favorites in the final. Update: They won.
2. Toronto FC (12)
After winning the 2017 MLS Cup, Toronto FC was on its way to becoming a dynasty. After losing the CONCACAF Champions League final in 2018, the club began a regression that caused the team to miss the playoffs. That negativity carried into this season. Even as late as May and June, the club had a poor showing as Toronto FC suffered through an eight-match winless skid. Toronto last lost a match on August 3. This team does not appear as dangerous as the 2017 version, but little has gone wrong for Toronto FC of late. Update: They didn’t.
3. LAFC (1)
One of the best regular seasons in league history is now just a footnote. LAFC could not take a step toward immortality and reach MLS Cup. The most painful defeat in club history was ultimately this team’s final act in 2019. LAFC’s attack, which was perhaps the best in league history, let the team down in the worst moment. LAFC had just one goal against Seattle and it was from a set piece. Even though LAFC set a bunch of records and featured the league MVP in Carlos Vela, this season was certainly the one that got away.
4. Atlanta United (6)
Atlanta was one win away from hosting MLS Cup for the second consecutive season. The club was essentially one penalty away from doing that, but Josef Martinez failed to convert at the most inopportune time. Instead of leading 2-0 with momentum, it was 1-1 minutes later. Atlanta ended up watching the visitors grab a late winner. Atlanta was never really a threat like last season. Squandering away the chance to host the championship once more was a harsh finish for this side.
5. NYCFC (2)
The postseason was a rather short experience for one of the best regular-season teams this season. NYCFC was hoping to battle with Atlanta United for a spot in MLS Cup but instead laid the path for Toronto FC to return to the title game. The offense let NYCFC down, not scoring against Toronto FC. NYCFC had 63 goals this season, second only to LAFC. When the club needed goals the most they did not come. Although NYCFC had a strong showing in the regular season with a conference-high 64 points, a +21 goal differential, and 18 wins, the season was disappointing with such a short playoff run.
6. Philadelphia Union (5)
Philadelphia used up all of its playoff magic in overcoming a 3-1 deficit to the Red Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. Against Atlanta in the conference semifinals, Philadelphia gave up an early goal and never recovered. Still, the season overall was a step forward. Coach Jim Curtin solidified his standing as coach by guiding the Union to 3rd-place in the regular season. The Union also had its highest win total (16) and most points (55) in club history. The Union should be back strong in 2020.
7. Real Salt Lake (11)
RSL exceeded expectations this season by winning a playoff game and reaching the Western Conference semifinals, particularly in light of the off-the-field issues that threatened to derail them. Still, RSL weathered the storm from the Mike Petke sacking to secure a top spot in the Western Conference. Longtime star Nick Rimando called it a career and went out showing some of the quick reflexes that made him so successful for so many years. Rimando was one of the reasons why the club was able to maintain its course and reach the postseason despite the turmoil. Without him, the club could suffer a slide in 2020.
8. LA Galaxy (8)
A playoff victory and conference semifinal exit might have been the limit for this team. It’s up to LA to decide whether or not they’re just another playoff pretender. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic all but gone, the Galaxy will need to bring in some top-level talent to replace his 30 goals. The Galaxy cannot import heart, which is what the team had during its title runs earlier this decade. Short of that, the Galaxy will continue to play middling soccer and come up short in the postseason.
9. Minnesota United FC (3)
The club’s season came to a bitter ending with a 2-1 loss to LA Galaxy. Minnesota had the ignominy of being the only home team to lose in the first round of the playoffs. They had their chances against the Galaxy, but the attack could not finish. Such was the problem with the team down the stretch as Minnesota scored just nine goals in its last nine matches. Darwin Quintero has seemingly fallen out of favor and could be on his way out of the club. Quintero did not start in the playoff match despite the team suffering for goals.
10. New England Revolution (4)
This season was ultimately not a successful one as New England lost in its first playoff match. Still, even reaching the playoffs, particularly after the start the team had, was staggering. New England was one of the best teams in the league in the second half of the season, but it could not get past the Eastern power that Atlanta has become. New England has work to do in the offseason. The club should enter 2020 as a legitimate title contender in large part because of the work Bruce Arena began this season.
11. FC Dallas (13)
FC Dallas stood toe-to-toe with eventual Western champion Seattle in the conference quarterfinal match. Seattle scored two, FC Dallas answered with two. Seattle took a 3-2 lead in the second half, FC Dallas leveled terms with less than 10 minutes left. But FC Dallas ultimately had no answer for a late Seattle goal and bowed out of the postseason after the one match. Still, FC Dallas showed quite a bit of fight and spirit and was closer to victory than Real Salt Lake or LAFC were against the same Seattle side. That sort of fight has to count for something heading into the offseason.
12. New York Red Bulls (9)
The season was a bit sluggish for New York. The club did not particularly stand out, certainly not like it had in 2018 when New York won the Supporters’ Shield. The season looked like it would continue after the Red Bulls took a 3-1 halftime lead over Philadelphia in the conference quarterfinal match. Instead, the Red Bulls could do little to stop the host Union from overcoming the deficit and ultimately winning in extra time. It might be the end of an era as this club is aging in certain spots and in need of a makeover.
13. Portland Timbers (14)
Portland had the best schedule imaginable in terms of momentum for the playoffs, but it did not matter. The Timbers played 11 of their final 12 matches at home but squandered that dream schedule, losing four times over that span. Their reward was a road playoff game against Real Salt Lake and a quick exit from the MLS Cup playoffs. Such a home showing is unacceptable, particularly when a frenzied crowd awaits the Timbers for every match at Providence Park.
14. DC United (10)
The Wayne Rooney era ended in spectacular fashion. DC United allowed four extra-time goals in a close but ultimately humiliating 5-1 loss to Toronto FC. DC United looked sharp in regulation. Once the club fell behind, the players sagged their shoulders and could not stop Toronto. Like the match, DC had its ups and downs. The down moments were rather low, notably a 1-2-6 stretch in the summer. Closing the season with scoreless draws against the Red Bulls and FC Cincinnati were also not great omens for the postseason.
15. Colorado Rapids (16)
Colorado’s final stretch of the season was as good as any club in the league. With a 5-2-0 record, the Rapids closed out the season strongly and sent a message to the rest of the league that this team will contend in 2020. The only two losses were to eventual finalist Toronto FC and juggernaut LAFC. About the only thing that went against Colorado over the last few months was the recent report by Forbes magazine that has Colorado listed as the league’s least-valuable franchise. If that is true, do not expect the club to spend big money on any new acquisitions. New coach Robin Fraser can get a lot from a little, so the team should contend next year no matter what.
16. Columbus Crew (18)
The Crew finished 2019 with a loss, dropping a 1-0 scoreline to eventual finalists Toronto FC on the season’s last match. That was an appropriate finale for the season overall, but not the last stretch. Columbus finished the year with a 5-2-6 record from its final 13 matches, good for 21 points. Spread out over the course of the season, and that sort of production would have netted the Crew roughly 54 points. That would’ve meant 4th-place in the Eastern Conference and a home playoff match. This season was a lost cause, but the Crew did salvage something from it.
17. San Jose Earthquakes (15)
The Earthquakes had a wretched start to the season. They turned things around in a stunning manner only to drop into freefall toward the end. That ultimately cost the team a spot in the postseason. Despite losing its first four and final five matches, San Jose missed out on the playoffs by four points. In fact, had the club beaten Portland on the final day of the season, San Jose would have made the playoffs. That is how strong the turnaround was. Coach Matias Almeyda will return despite some rumors linking him to Mexican club Monterrey.
18. Houston Dynamo (17)
On the final day of the season, Houston beat the LA Galaxy 4-2 and hurt that club’s playoff standing for the second consecutive season. Houston has to stop finishing seasons this way, though, as joyful as it was for the club to end that way. The team needs to do more in games 1-33 to not have the lasting impression be a season-ending win against the Galaxy. That may happen with the arrival of Tab Ramos as coach. Ramos will hopefully guide the Dynamo toward respectability, which used to come easy for this club.
19. Chicago Fire (21)
Chicago accomplished a first in MLS. The Fire became the first team in the league to walk away from a soccer-specific stadium built specifically for the club. Chicago is returning to its roots and will play at Soldier Field next year, which is better for the club as it tries to generate interest downtown. The most interest will come if the team improves drastically. The way the team played in 2019, that seems about as far as Soldier Field is from Bridgeview.
20. Montreal Impact (20)
Montreal finished just four points back of a playoff spot, but the season was far more tumultuous than that. Montreal went through a coaching change midseason, which was odd, then announced that new hire Wilmer Cabrera would not come back for the 2020 season. That sort of instability makes it seem even more amazing that the team was able to get to within four points of a playoff spot. Star Ignacio Piatti is frustrated with his situation there. If he does not return would be a major loss for the Impact.
21. Vancouver Whitecaps (19)
Can Vancouver ever get it right? The club is simply spinning its wheels near the bottom of the Western Conference every season. This year, the Whitecaps finished in dead last and finished ahead of just FC Cincinnati in the entire league. The lone bright spot down the stretch was a 4-3 win at the LA Galaxy in September. The club is reportedly seeking a high-profile Designated Player. Going for a quick-fix scheme like that is only going to ensure the team finishes at the bottom of the table in 2020 again.
22. Sporting KC (23)
Has Peter Vermes lost his touch? Perhaps, but the club is planning a roster overhaul. Turning over much of the roster and the coaching staff is a recipe for disaster, so club management has opted for maintaining some stability to help make the transition as seamless as possible. Still, if Vermes has lost his effectiveness as coach, it will mean another difficult season in Sporting KC. September and October were particularly rough as Sporting KC lost four of five matches and allowed an astounding 22 goals in that stretch. The once-proud Sporting KC franchise can ill afford more of the same in 2020.
23. Orlando City SC (23)
August was a solid month for Orlando, the first half of it anyway. Orlando won its August 14 contest but failed to pick up a win after that. September and October were throwaway months for the fifth-year side. The troubling thing is, Orlando’s roster is not devoid of talent. Sacha Kljestan and Nani form part of a decent midfield while Dom Dwyer and Tesho Akindele are adept strikers. Kljestan, though, has had poor production since coming over from the Red Bulls. In three seasons there his assist totals were 14, 20, and 17. He had six assists a year ago and three this season. The first step toward competing in matches next year is for Kljestan to tally double-digit assists.
24. FC Cincinnati (24)
After seeing expansion teams like Atlanta United and LAFC shoot out of the gate and compete from the start, it was refreshing to see an expansion team struggle mightily. FC Cincinnati was a throwback in that sense, throwing it way back to the Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA expansion horrors of 2005. FC Cincinnati had 24 points while RSL and Chivas USA had 20 and 18, respectively, in their first season. FC Cincinnati should use Minnesota as motivation. Minnesota had a terrible first two seasons but reached the playoffs in season number three and even hosted a playoff game.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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