By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Mar 4, 2020) US Soccer Players - Two new teams came into MLS this year, but neither figures to be as successful as recent expansion sides LAFC and Atlanta United. Both sides will try not to flop like FC Cincinnati did in its first season a year ago.
The Power Rankings expand to 26 teams with the additions of Inter Miami FC and Nashville SC. In this first edition, it's fairly simple to sort out the bottom three and top three. Teams 4-23 could all have moved up or down several slots and been at home. That could mean that this season will be balanced and hard-fought which would make for an exciting MLS campaign.
1. Seattle Sounders
Nothing has happened much since the last Power Rankings came out unless you count Seattle's untimely ouster from the Champions League. Of course, those results carry no weight here as the focus is solely on MLS play. The side effects of that series could affect the Sounders' standing here, but so far that has been negligible. The club's opener against Chicago was a bit nervy at times. The Sounders collected three points and seem poised to compete for the Supporters' Shield title from the start.
2019's best team from start to just-before-the-finish did not make many substantial moves in the offseason. That doesn't appear to be a negative. Carlos Vela scored a goal of the year candidate in the season-opening win over Inter Miami FC. The club's attack looked deadly against Leon in the Champions League quarterfinal second-leg. The team's biggest challenge in the short term will be balancing league and cup competitions while trying to get some players, like Adame Diomande, back to health.
3. Minnesota United FC
The new and the old will carry Minnesota United FC forward. Newcomer Luis Amarilla scored on his club debut while holdover Kevin Molino started the season off with a brace in a win over Portland. While it was just one match, the victory gives Minnesota hope that there won't be the same scoring issues in 2020. Minnesota had an average attack a year ago. Down the stretch, the team was desperate for goals, scoring six goals in the last six games while getting shut out twice. If Amarilla can score 12-15 goals and Molino can keep it up, the attack could carry the team forward.
4. Columbus Crew
Expectations are high in Columbus, one of the strongest teams down the stretch last season. The club's start was about as strong as it could have been. Columbus controlled NYCFC with newcomer Lucas Zalayaran scoring on his debut. Darlington Nagbe should also flourish under his former college and pro coach. Columbus had a poor showing in 2019, but that is firmly in the past now. Expect the Crew to stay near the top of the Eastern Conference throughout the season.
5. New England Revolution
Bruce Arena hit the ground running in 2019, but this season he just hit the ground hard. New England had a 1-0 lead in Montreal but could not hold on for even a point. The team had a go-ahead goal called back due to offside and had other chances to score late in the game, so the attack was present. The start though, should not be indicative of where the team will wind up this season. New England is still one of the favorites for the Eastern Conference title this season.
6. FC Dallas
There is plenty to feel good about in Frisco lately. Luchi Gonzalez's team will compete for a top spot out West if they can handle opponents like it dealt with the Union in the 2-0 season opener. The midfield was strong with Michael Barrios and Fafa Picualt looking solid. Paxton Pomykal also came off the bench to add spark in the form of a goal. FC Dallas's defensive effort was encouraging against a good Union team.
It is difficult to get a read on NYCFC after one match because of an early red card in their opener. Heber showed well in Champions League play, offering a glimpse of what this season might look like for him. NYCFC plays Tigres UANL in the semifinal round, a series that will be tough to deal with. How the club handles the lineups in MLS around that series is the question.
8. Sporting KC
Sporting KC's horrid 2019 might have been an aberration after all. While the defense looked okay, the team's bite and spirit were back. Alan Pulido paid off from the start, scoring on a nifty header from inside the area. Pulido should score well more than 10 goals this season. That will be the focal point of a strong attack.
9. LA Galaxy
Chicharito Hernandez made highlights, but it was mostly of him gesturing wildly with his hands to where he needed service from his teammates. It was Cristian Pavon who had the lone goal, firing in a laser from the top of the penalty area. The Galaxy's problem continues to be defensive. Given the club's come-from-ahead loss, the backline will likely continue to be a hindrance for this team.
10. Atlanta United
In a crushing blow not just to Atlanta but to MLS, Josef Martinez is out likely for the rest of the year. So, goodbye Josef, goodbye Atlanta? The team relied heavily on him a year ago and rode that all the way to the Eastern Conference final. Whether or not Atlanta succeeds this year could depend on the likes of Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez. Emerson Hyndman will also need to step up. Atlanta should feel the losses of Julian Gressel and Hector Villalba now more than they would have had Martinez not destroyed his knee in the opening game.
11. Toronto FC
Even though Toronto FC competed for the MLS championship not too long ago, the club enters 2020 with questions. Jozy Altidore will be counted on greatly for goals and leadership this season, particularly with Michael Bradley sidelined for a spell. Altidore needs to stay healthy for that to happen. Alejandro Pozuelo scored in the opener, a good sign that he will be able to contribute in the way he did last season. Still, Toronto FC did not find true consistency until the very end of 2019. While it may not bode well for the club during the season, if the team can hit its stride in September and do enough before then to stay competitive, that might be enough to make another MLS Cup run.
12. Real Salt Lake
The club's offseason was mostly quiet until the very end when RSL brought in Giuseppe Rossi to bolster the attack. How much Rossi has left is worth asking, but the 33-year-old could be useful to RSL's offense. The team pulled out a gritty road draw from its season opener, which itself is a positive result as RSL lost nine road matches in 2019. This team is not going to excite people and is not going to play must-see soccer necessarily. The results will come, quietly perhaps, and RSL will compete from start to finish this year.
14. Colorado Rapids
This team will be the surprise team in the Western Conference this season. If that carries over to a playoff spot, it will be an even greater surprise. Colorado will hope not to become this year's San Jose Earthquakes, the 2019 version that surprised many but still fell short of the postseason. The start to the season went quite well for the Rapids with a comeback road win punctuated by Jonathan Lewis' match-winner. The goal itself was nothing special, but the fight behind it will carry this team far this season.
15. San Jose Earthquakes
With Mexican stars like Chicharito and Rodolfo Pizarro joining MLS, it was Oswaldo Alanis who had the biggest impact on his debut. His stunning free kick helped San Jose earn a point on their opener. Alanis is a center back by trade and should help solidify the club's defense. If he can hit free kicks the way he did at the end of the match, then San Jose coach Mathias Almeyda might do well to let Alanis handle set-piece duty for good.
16. New York Red Bulls
If New York remains competitive this season, it will be a bit of magic by coach Chris Armas. Luis Robles and Bradley Wright-Phillips were the latest key players to exit, an annual occurrence with the club over the last couple of seasons. This team has some solid pieces left, such as Kaku and Daniel Royer, who has scored 12, 11, and 11 goals the last three seasons. This team is not putting fear into anyone. Not even FC Cincinnati, who nearly came back to snatch a point from Red Bull Arena.
17. Philadelphia Union
After one game, the Union raised a lot of questions. Philadelphia's attack hardly troubled FC Dallas' goalkeeper while the midfield was a bit of a mess. Such a combination is not helpful. Philadelphia faces a difficult challenge at LAFC before returning home for matches against San Jose and DC United. If the team cannot turn things around, then it could dig itself into an early hole that will be tough to get out of.
18. DC United
About the only thing that looked worse than Audi Field's surface was the home team's late collapse against Colorado in week one. DC opened the scoring on the hour mark but could not hold on and fell 2-1. There was much promise surrounding the club despite Wayne Rooney's departure. After the first match of the season, there are question marks. DC not being able to handle a lightly-regarded Colorado side does not bode well. Still, Julian Gressel looked like he will be a key player for DC this season. Ola Kamara looks good for double-digit goals just like in his previous three full seasons in the league. Getting things right on the field needs getting the field itself right.
19. Portland Timbers
Portland did not learn from its 2019 mistakes. The Timbers had a backloaded home schedule that they squandered. An early playoff exit followed. Portland gave up two late goals in its opener against Minnesota and lost 3-1. There are some things to be excited about in Portland with Yimmi Chara joining brother Diego and newcomer Felipe Mora. Still, the team needs a quick about face to get traction in what promises to be a competitive Western Conference.
20. Houston Dynamo
A draw was perhaps not the way Houston wanted to start out the Tab Ramos era, but the future certainly looks a lot brighter after one match. Houston did fall behind early. The team's fight and eventual equalizer were marks of quality. Houston will be hard-pressed to stay in the Western Conference race all season long, but the team figures to fight in every game. Mauro Manotas should have his fourth consecutive season of double-digit goals.
21. Orlando City
There is a lot of hope around central Florida with the arrival of Oscar Pareja as coach. That hope seems that it will only grow despite a scoreless draw to start the season. Orlando played without Nani and Dom Dwyer but looked dangerous and competitive, characteristics the team has lacked for quite a while now. This is a new team that will attack and will score goals. Pareja's arrival was a positive step forward for Orlando.
22. Chicago Fire
The offseason brought about quite a bit of change for this franchise, but the most noticeable was a rebrand. It met with the derision it deserved. The team the Fire put on the field against Seattle looked better. They didn't win, but they showed that they can compete. The team pulled off the signing of the year though in bringing back play-by-play commentator Arlo White to MLS. At least Fire games will sound great. Shame about the logo.
23. Vancouver Whitecaps
New year, same Caps. It might be something about the Whitecaps though. Erik Hurtado scored in BC Place during Vancouver's opener against Sporting KC. However, he is now entering his second season with Sporting KC after five largely frustrating seasons with Vancouver. His goal was his third in 16 games with Sporting KC over the last two seasons. Vancouver's new signing, Lucas Cavanelli, had the chance to tie the match late but could not find the handle on a ball from close range, which set up Hurtado's late strike. Vancouver is in for another long season.
24. FC Cincinnati
Addition by subtraction is helping out the second-year MLS side. FC Cincinnati sits in the same spot it sat in throughout the Power Rankings a year ago, but 24th a year ago was good for dead last. Now, 24th is two steps up. How long that lasts is up to FC Cincinnati. The team has an unstable coaching situation. What happed last season continues to loom. The bottom might yet await this unlucky side.
25. Inter Miami FC
Rodolfo Pizarro helps separate the penultimate and bottom spots in the Power Rankings. Nashville looks poised to struggle offensively, but Inter Miami should not thanks to the Mexican international. Inter Miami had the misfortune of opening up at LAFC and thus was unable to score its first-ever goal. The team did not look completely inept in their first match. The excitement level is strong in South Florida. Thanks to Pizarro, the team should keep things interesting this season. Of course, interesting will not always translate to competitive.
26. Nashville SC
FC Cincinnati came into the league a year ago and had the whole expansion spotlight on itself. Fortunately for Nashville, that is not the case. Tennesseans turned out quite nicely to welcome their entry into MLS as 59,069 came out to watch Nashville fall to Atlanta. The team has some quality players in Dax McCarty, Joe Willis, and Walker Zimmerman. The attack will rely on ex-FC Dallas man Dominique Badji for goals, but that isn't exactly dangerous or enticing. Nashville might finish right around FC Cincinnati's total of goals scored a year ago with 31. As long as the club does not allow close to 75 goals, then the season will be a bit more successful than it was for last year's expansion side.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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