By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Mar 2, 2022) US Soccer Players – In the first Power Rankings of the year, the MLS Cup holders sit at the top of the table. Considering what we saw on the opening weekend of the season, that could change quickly. The carryover from last season is still in play early in 2022, even with some teams making significant upgrades. Eventually, that should show in the rankings. For now, the best teams in MLS should look familiar.
1. New York City FC
Winning MLS Cup has to matter. The defending champs will always get the top spot in the first rankings of the season. How long NYCFC can hold onto 1st-place is the question. NYCFC probably deserved a draw, but a late turnover led to a goal and eventually a 1-0 loss at the LA Galaxy. Things happen, but it doesn’t take away from the feeling that NYCFC needs to prove it can contend in the regular season.
2. New England Revolution
New England had a tough fixture right out of the gate. While that 2-2 draw at Portland may have felt like a loss, it was a solid result. New England had to travel and adapt to tricky conditions in a hostile environment. They still came away with a point. Newcomer Sebastian Lletget paid immediate dividends with a goal, while Jozy Altidore also debuted and looked good in a Revs jersey.
3. Nashville SC
Nashville was a hard team to beat last year and may have already made a breakthrough in its first game of 2022. At Seattle, they didn’t settle for a road point. How important that is depends on what you remember about last season. Nashville led MLS with 18 draws. Turn a handful of those into three points, and they’re a contender for the Western Conference title. That’s also worth the reminder. Nashville is the club that switched conferences in another MLS expansion season.
4. Seattle Sounders
While the club did not suffer any major losses in the offseason, Seattle did have to make do without Raul Ruidiaz for the opener. The Sounders lacked punch in a 1-0 loss to Nashville. Albert Rusnak was a major addition, but it will take time for him to settle in and become the force he was with RSL. Once that happens, expect the Sounders to reach or even surpass its 2021 level of play.
The Crew stalled early in its title defense last season. Columbus was shut out in four of its first five games last year, had just six wins through late July, and took a summer nosedive toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference table. This season, though, the Crew looks determined to challenge for conference superiority. Columbus routed Vancouver and looked stronger than it did at any point in 2021.
6. Portland Timbers
There’s no doubt Portland is undergoing a revamp, but they might have already found an answer in Yimmy Chara. His thrilling bicycle kick salvaged a 2-2 draw against reigning Supporters’ Shield winners New England. With lots of goals scored on both ends and in front of a raucous environment, Portland has picked up where it left off last season.
LAFC threw it all the way back to 2019, and the results were amazing. Carlos Vela had a hat-trick in LAFC’s 3-0 rout of Colorado, giving a quick answer to anyone who questioned him last season. Vela’s contract is up in June, but for now he’s leading the Steve Cherundolo era in LA. We already know what LAFC looks like with and without Vela, putting the pressure on the club to keep him in the squad.
8. Philadelphia Union
The Union was fairly consistent a year ago, maintaining a solid level of play and contending for the Eastern title all the way through. The club got rid of leading scorer Kacper Przybylko and his team-high 12 goals. To replace him, the Union acquired Designated Players Mikael Uhre and Julian Carranza. They’ll need to pick up the scoring load if the Union is to contend for the conference title once more.
9. Atlanta United
Welcome back, Atlanta United. The MLS Cup 2018 champions returned to the land of title contenders with a 3-1 thumping of Sporting KC. Atlanta is a much different team on the field now than it was during its magical 2018 season, but the club could run the table this season like it did then. Luiz Araujo, who left with a hamstring injury, and Dom Dwyer scored goals and could help take some of the scoring burden off Josef Martinez’s shoulders.
10. Colorado Rapids
The Rapids are already failing at what is likely their season-long mission, proving 2021 that was no fluke. Colorado was flattened by the same LAFC team it beat 5-2 in the 2021 season finale. While it didn’t factor in these rankings because it’s not a league affair, the Rapids were also the only MLS team to exit the Champions League in the round of 16.
11. Orlando City
Orlando City revamped its attack after Nani, Daryl Dike, and Chris Mueller all left in the offseason. Alexandre Pato picked up the slack, at least for one game, in the season-opening 2-0 win over Montreal. Facundo Torres is also key to their offense. Meanwhile, the defense should be as solid as it was a year ago, but how the attack fares early in the season could set the team up for failure or success the rest of the way.
12. Minnesota United
Considering Minnesota earned zero points from its first four outings in 2021, the club’s 1-1 draw at Philadelphia is already a vast improvement. Robin Lod picked up where he left off a year ago, scoring a goal after leading the team in goals in 2021. Still, Minnesota did not have anyone score double-digit goals a year ago and could use someone else to step up and take charge in that department.
13. LA Galaxy
Like LAFC, the Galaxy also had a bit of a throwback. The club did not play particularly well and needed a late turnover to score a goal. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez’s goal at the death gave the Galaxy a win over MLS Cup holders NYCFC. During the Galaxy’s last heyday, the club had many of these kinds of victories. The Galaxy would grind all game long and somehow find a way to win, especially at home. Whether or not this game is a harbinger of a return to that era or a fluky win immediately becomes the question.
14. Sporting KC
Alan Pulido is out for the 2022 season with a knee injury, and the club will miss his presence up top. That much was evident in the 3-1 loss at Atlanta. Sporting KC looked a bit disjointed and only found the back of the net with five minutes to spare. The midfield looked particularly off. Midfield stalwart Ilie Sanchez left for LAFC, and his absence showed.
15. DC United
DC got to be the first team to beat Charlotte FC. The expansion team looked just like one as DC rolled to a 3-0 win. Michael Estrada hit the ground running with DC as he scored twice on his MLS debut. Ola Kamara added another as the duo gave hope that DC will have reliable scorers this season. Kamara had 19 goals a year ago, but the second-leading scorer had just six. A more balanced attack will help carry DC this season.
Toronto FC took many years to go from the bottom to the top, but it took just one season to go right back down. Years of contending for MLS Cup titles departed the club with ex-coach Greg Vanney as Toronto FC threw it back to the late 2000s and early 2010s with its play a year ago. Enter Bob Bradley. The club has handed the keys over to one of the best coaches in league history. The Bradley era began with a come-from-behind road draw.
17. Austin FC
Was the team’s opening 5-0 win more of a reflection of its own strength and growth from year one to year two? Or was it just the result of playing one of the league’s worst teams in recent history? The answer is somewhere in between, but Austin is happy to go with the former. Cecilio Dominguez had a brace on the team’s debut this season and Austin FC did well to put on a show for its home supporters.
18. Real Salt Lake
Seemingly every year RSL exceeds expectations and shows everyone up come the postseason. The team will have to pull some magic out of a hat for that to happen this year. Albert Rusnak is gone but Damir Kreilach is a top sniper in MLS. He scored 16 goals a year ago and added nine assists. However, Kreilach will need assistance to guide the team, help he did not get on Saturday in a listless 0-0 draw at Houston. With no Rusnak and its mediocre play on Saturday, RSL will have an uphill climb just to get close to where it was a year ago.
19. CF Montreal
The energy Montreal had from its midweek win over Liga MX side Santos in Concacaf Champions League did not give the Canadians a boost to start the season. Already Montreal had questions about goal scoring. Romell Quioto led the team in goals a year ago with eight goals, hardly an exciting figure for the team leader in goals. Montreal did face one of the toughest defenses on the road to start the season.
20. New York Red Bulls
The roster is still coming together for New York and they opened against a team notorious for shipping goals. Still, a 3-0 win in San Jose bodes well. They added DP Luquinhas and striker Ashley Fletcher within the last ten days, so this could be a team that steadily rises up the ranks this season.
21. FC Dallas
FC Dallas spent a reported $7 million to bring in 19-year-old Alan Velasco from Argentine side Independiente. Paul Arriola also joins to try and boost the attack. FC Dallas did not have Velasco available for the opener and was able to get out with a 1-1 draw. That’s not the best result from a home opener but positive in that the team looked settled and competent, which was a change from last season.
22. Chicago Fire
Drawing 0-0 at Inter Miami isn’t the first impression this latest version of the Chicago Fire probably wanted to make. Xherdan Shaqiri and Kacper Przybylko looked good in Fire jerseys and will surely make a difference at some point soon. Things don’t look terrible for the Fire. Still, given its recent history, it could all go downhill quickly.
23. Vancouver Whitecaps
The Whitecaps were one of the league’s more pleasant surprises in 2021, reaching the playoffs after a solid year in which the team overcame many obstacles on and off the field. After one game, it’s back to the same old ‘Caps, at least for one game. Vancouver looked awful in the 4-0 loss at Columbus. Not even a half-hour in, and the ‘Caps were already down 2-0 and then had to play with 10 men for most of the second-half.
24. San Jose Earthquakes
Chaos has been a major part of Matias Almeyda’s tenure in San Jose. Mostly it’s a controlled chaos. Still, there have been times, like the season opener against New York, where it loses that control. San Jose yielded three goals against a weak offense and lost 3-1. San Jose’s defense already looks tattered, something that could prove difficult to address in the short-term.
25. Houston Dynamo
Perhaps the season-opening 0-0 draw against RSL sparked Houston management to do something to its roster. Days after a horrible outing to start the season, Houston signed Mexico international Hector Herrera. That changes things for the Dynamo, but by how much is still a fair question.
26. Inter Miami
At least the uniforms looked good on opening day. Another tumultuous offseason led to a scoreless home draw with Chicago. Inter Miami needs to find a rhythm, and quickly. A clean sheet still counts, of course, but this team needs to show there’s more in play than last season.
27. FC Cincinnati
If the city’s NFL team can end up playing in a Super Bowl, anything can happen. That’s the polite way of saying it may be difficult for FC Cincinnati to play its way out of the cellar. The 5-0 loss at Austin sent the same kind of message as last season. Credit Cincinnati for trying to make crucial changes, and maybe they get a do-over in week 2.
28. Charlotte FC
Welcome to MLS. The only way to go is up. That might be a bit refreshing, considering how poorly the club’s debut turned out. Charlotte was never a factor in its 3-0 loss to DC United, but they also weren’t at full strength. And it wasn’t the most lopsided loss of the opening weekend in Major League Soccer.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
More From Luis Bueno:
- The Galaxy and LAFC in a city now used to champions
- The Western Conference in the Concacaf Champions League
- Is another championship or bust season approaching for the LA Galaxy?
- Familiar expectations for LAFC
Photo by Michael Janosz – ISIPhotos.com