By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Apr 6, 2022) US Soccer Players – It’s still early in the 2022 season but not early enough where these results don’t matter. There’s a way of looking at this point in the season as more about trying not to screw up. It doesn’t matter how low in the conference table a contender might be since there’s plenty of time for the quality to show. For teams that lack that quality? Dropped points count. Sooner than those teams would like, that will be the story.
Clubs across the league are starting to sort themselves out into tiers comprised of championship contenders, playoff hopefuls, imposters, and strugglers turning into stragglers.
1. Philadelphia Union (8 in March)
Results have been impressive for the Union early on. They’ve got 13 points from five matches on a 4-0-2 record, nine goals scored, and two allowed. Still, the only blemish thus far is those results have come against lesser sides. The Union can only play who is on the schedule, and the teams on the schedule haven’t been the greatest. That will really only change in May when they get Nashville, LAFC, and New York in succession.
2. LAFC (7)
Maybe Bob Bradley wasn’t the only reason why LAFC has had one of the league’s top offenses since joining MLS in 2018. LAFC has already scored 13 goals this season. That includes a 4-2 win over Orlando City last time out. Carlos Vela has four goals and two assists, but LAFC is a balanced attacking side as the club has scored seven goals without Vela contributing.
3. Seattle Sounders (4)
Seattle might not have the results it has wanted from the early part of the season, but there is no question this is one of the league’s top teams. Seattle’s 2-1 win against Minnesota showed that. With a vital Concacaf Champions League contest coming up, Seattle went on the road and took a result from a solid conference foe. MLS did Seattle a solid by not having the Sounders play on the weekend between its semifinal games against NYCFC, so the league campaign won’t have to suffer much, if at all.
4. Columbus Crew (5)
The Crew has regressed in every game this season, at least in one aspect. The season started off with a 4-0 win over Vancouver. Since then, the Crew has scored one fewer goal in every subsequent outing, bottoming out with a 1-0 loss to Nashville. That is probably more of a statistical oddity than anything. Still, it might show this team hasn’t quite figured out if it will be a high-octane attacking team or an inconsistent side struggling to score.
5. Chicago Fire (22)
For the first time in years, the Chicago Fire look competent. They’re better than competent, actually. Chicago looks like a force in the East. Kacper Przybyłko has scored twice in five games, but more than his output, his presence up top has been tough for opponents to handle. The team hasn’t been the most exciting to watch with three scoreless draws this season, but they’re also undefeated.
6. New York Red Bulls (20)
New York has shown it can have success as a high-flying attacking side as well as a grind-it-out defensive stalwart. The Red Bulls started the season with wins of 4-1 and 3-1 and have turned two goals in the three games since into four points. More impressively, the Red Bulls have nine points in its first three road games for the first time in its history. That’s not bad for an MLS original.
7. Real Salt Lake (18)
RSL had an exhilarating victory over Nashville SC. They weren’t able to turn that into a run of form, losing to Sporting KC the next time out. They started April off with a 1-1 draw against Colorado. Still, RSL is here to stay. The club gets Toronto FC and NYCFC in April before tests against Portland and the LA Galaxy.
8. Colorado Rapids (10)
That 3-0 season-opening loss to LAFC was a bit of a mirage. Since then, the Rapids have been much like the 2021 version, with two shutout wins and a pair of gritty 1-1 draws. Colorado though is already overshadowed in the west with LAFC’s rise, the Galaxy’s excitement, and venerable Seattle’s strength. Once again, Colorado might be the best team that nobody rates.
9. LA Galaxy (13)
Chicharito Hernandez will keep the Galaxy near the top of the table as long as he stays healthy this season. Hernandez might somehow not be on the Mexican national team’s radar, but he can still score goals with regularity. He took out Portland with a brace on the weekend to double his output this season. What that does is take the burden and focus off of the Galaxy’s porous defense.
10. Atlanta United (9)
Atlanta is climbing in the table, but the team needs more competition to see where it really stands. The lone win in March was a tight 2-1 win over expansion Charlotte at home. Atlanta has yet to play a team that made the Eastern Conference playoffs a year ago, and won’t until May 15. They did split against two 2021 Western playoff teams, beating Sporting KC and losing to Colorado.
11. New England Revolution (2)
Last season is over, and this one is already different. That much has been hammered home time and again with New England. The club’s magical 2021 campaign did not carry over into 2022 at all. New England carries a three-match losing streak into its next game. That already beats the longest such streak from a year ago.
12. New York City FC
NYCFC seemed energized from hoisting its MLS Cup banner, however tiny it was, in front of its supporters in its home opener on March 12. That day NYCFC beat Montreal 4-1 for its lone win thus far in 2022. In the other four games since, NYCFC has scored just one goal and has accumulated just one point. Perhaps the club will trade some early regular-season struggles for Concacaf Champions League glory, but this hole could become a chasm too deep to climb out of.
13. FC Dallas (21)
FC Dallas tied Chicago 0-0 to start April. That was fitting as each team is the biggest surprise of the season in their respective conferences. FC Dallas’ defense hasn’t been as lights-out as Chicago but it’s close. They’ve allowed three goals in five games with no more than one in any of them. Jesus Ferreira has picked up the title of young American breakout scorer that Ricardo Pepi left behind with three goals this season.
14. Minnesota United (12)
The Loons have a solid enough defense to have been competitive early this season. If the club wants to contend for the top spot in the Western Conference, either the defense must be a brick wall or the offense must improve. Minnesota has yet to be shutout but also has not scored more than one goal in any of its five games. Seattle broke through for two goals, which is normally enough to beat United.
15. Nashville SC (3)
Nashville’s move out west hasn’t been smooth, with the conference proving tougher than anticipated. A return to playing against Eastern foes got them their first win, a 1-0 over Columbus last time out. Otherwise, Nashville is 0-3-1 and all four of those games have come against Western rivals.
16. Sporting Kansas City (14)
Which is the real Sporting Kansas City? Is it the one that gutted out a 1-0 win over RSL? Or is it the one that went to Vancouver and lost by the same score? Allowing one goal in the last two games is a step forward after allowing eight goals in the first four games. The club gets Nashville next. After that, the high-powered offenses of LAFC and Columbus are ready to test Sporting KC’s defense.
17. Austin FC (17)
Ten goals from its first two games was too much to sustain, but Austin’s offense should be one of the top offenses in the Western Conference. The club needs to learn to hold onto wins, though. Austin dropped points in letting San Jose overturn a 2-0 second-half lead. However, the point snapped a 10-game road losing streak, so that’s something to take away from the result.
18. Houston Dynamo (25)
It might just be akin to looking at something from an odd angle that produces a bit of a mirage, but Houston so far doesn’t look too bad. Houston sits in 7th-place in the Western Conference table with eight points with a 2-1-2 record. Its most impressive stat thus far is its four goals allowed, considering the team yielded 54 a year ago. Still, Houston’s wins have come against Vancouver and Inter Miami, two of the worst teams in this early season. It really may not matter, though, as Houston will take some stability and success to build on.
19. Orlando City SC (11)
Orlando did the unthinkable last month and lost to FC Cincinnati. They went down 2-1 early in the second-half and failed to score a goal against a team that has leaked them since joining MLS. April got off to a poor start with a 4-2 loss to LAFC. To compound matters, both losses came at home. The club plays consecutive games against the three teams in front of them. The bottom could fall out of this season quickly.
20. Toronto FC (16)
Toronto FC hit a rough patch to start the season, but the hope is that it quickly becomes an abberation. They’ve won two in a row after that ugly opening stretch. The latest was a 2-1 triumph over NYCFC, leading 2-0 until three minutes into stoppage time. New coach Bob Bradley would like to stabilize the defense and that appears to be happening.
21. Portland Timbers (6)
There’s no separating off the field for Portland, and that may be adding to their consistency problems. The team looked hapless against the Galaxy as the defense continues to struggle. Until that’s straightened out, any opponent with the ability to put together multiple goals will likely add three points. Next up are Vancouver and Houston, presenting significant tests for this version of the Timbers.
22. CF Montreal (19)
Perhaps CF Montreal really got into March Madness and wanted to participate in high-scoring back-and-forth contests. CF Montreal has allowed 14 goals and somehow has four points to show for its efforts. CF Montreal let a 3-0 lead slip away at Atlanta in a 3-3 draw, then learned from that to beat FC Cincinnati 4-3. At least CF Montreal games aren’t boring.
23. DC United (15)
A 3-0 win to start the season gave hope that the attack would be strong this season. Instead, the only thing that did was to give false hope. DC has scored just two goals in four games since. The goals are concentrated – Michael Estrada and Ola Kamara have two apiece. At least DC knows who its scorers are. They just need help getting the ball and having others contribute.
24. Charlotte FC (28)
Charlotte got its first-ever win last month in beating of all teams New England. Then the club doubled down in a 2-0 win over FC Cincinnati. Polish standout Karol Swiderski is emerging as one of the top-scoring threats in the league this season with four goals so far. For expansion teams, though, it is typically how quickly the defense can come together that determines success or failure. Charlotte has allowed nine goals in six games, as that part of the field still needs work.
25. San Jose Earthquakes (24)
Matias Almeyda has certainly brought some roller coaster levels of highs and lows to San Jose. This season is no different, although the highs haven’t quite been as high. Already the Quakes have overcome a pair of 2-0 second-half deficits to salvage draws this season (3-3 against Columbus, 2-2 against Austin). Somehow the front office expects supporters to make it through this season without any heart attacks.
26. FC Cincinnati (27)
FC Cincinnati is no longer a cellar dweller. In the Eastern Conference table, FC Cincinnati is a respectable 10th-place, with six points through six games. It is that progress and not the fact that Charlotte was an expansion team and thus worthy of the 28th-spot in these rankings that got FC Cincinnati out of the last place in these rankings. Whether or not it’s for good is worth asking, but the club finally has signs of life.
27. Vancouver Whitecaps (23)
Maybe Vancouver’s shutout win over Sporting KC was a fluke. Or, perhaps it was a sign that things will improve. Whatever the case, Vancouver will take it. The Whitecaps lost three of four to start the season off as the defense looked poor and the attack lifeless. The club is counting on Lucas Cavallini for goals, but so far the Canadian international has responded with just one. Cavallini needs to produce but also needs help.
28. Inter Miami (26)
Inter Miami’s fall in the rankings was not that steep, but Inter Miami hit the bottom with a thud. After a season-opening scoreless draw with Chicago, Inter Miami has flailed aimlessly and is powerless to stop opponents from scoring. Its 13 goals allowed is not the worst in the league but its three goals scored is. It is not even close to May, and the season already seems like a lost cause in South Florida.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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Photo by David Silverman – New England Revolution