Power Rankings

Power Rankings: Columbus Crew, Seattle Sounders surge into playoffs

Power Rankings - 10.24.23

What a year in MLS.

  • The Red Bulls made the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
  • Chicago just missed out on the playoffs.
  • Nashville and Seattle were among the best defensive teams in the league.
  • An expansion team (hi, St. Louis) captured the attention of the league thanks in part to their outstanding crowds.
  • LA and Toronto struggled despite their high spending.
  • Teams who overperformed their underlying numbers last season regressed to the mean (hi, Austin).
  • An LAFC player won the Golden Boot presented by Audi.
  • An Orlando striker from the SuperDraft excelled.
  • New England sent a goalkeeper to one of London’s biggest clubs.
  • A Garth Lagerwey-led team (Atlanta) had one of the league’s best summer windows.
  • The league’s best No. 10 (Luciano Acosta) is probably going to win the Landon Donovan MLS MVP award.

It was truly a season unlike any other.

For the last time (this year), the Power Rankings are voted on by like 15 people and are not solely the fault of the column’s author. He, for one, is shocked these didn’t actually determine who made the playoffs. It all seemed so important at the time…

Cincinnati had nothing to play for on Decision Day and still ended up in a relatively high-intensity game against Atlanta. Real winners can’t turn it off, right?

Anyway, they tied the Five Stripes to fall just short of a 70-point season. They’ll face the winner of New York and Charlotte in Round One. Whoever they face, Cincy will deal with the double-edged sword of having all the pressure on them. They’re the clear favorite heading into the playoffs.

Orlando have been the hottest team in the league over the second half of the season. Still, there was reason to wonder if they had a true match-winner on the squad who could carry them in big moments in the playoffs. Duncan McGuire seemed like the most likely candidate over the second half, but we needed more data points. Well, we keep getting some really damn good data points.

McGuire ended the season just behind Giorgos Giakoumakis in goals per 90. He scored the fifth-most non-penalty goals in the league this year despite making only 17 starts. But his underlying numbers suggest he might be running a little hot. Then again, he keeps doing things like he did to Toronto on Saturday. If he can stay hot as the playoffs begin, the Lions are as good a bet as any to make a run.

Previous: 2-0 win at TOR | Next: 10/30 vs. NSH

The Crew took care of business against Montréal and jumped into third in the East. They’ll face Atlanta in Round One in what promises to be one of the highest-scoring matchups of the postseason. Hopefully, it will feature more beautiful goals like this…

And this…

There’s a pretty good argument Columbus should be the second favorite in the East and maybe the entire competition. Per FBref, they finished second in the league in expected goal differential and first in the East. They have multiple match winners. And they create chances at a higher rate than anyone else in the league.

Previous: 2-1 win vs. MTL | Next: 11/1 vs. ATL

St. Louis didn’t have much to play for, but Seattle still did enough in a 2-0 win to worry everyone else in the West. It’s that time of year after all. With a mostly healthy lineup, Seattle took control early and largely stayed in control. They finished second in the West thanks to the win and earned a very favorable Round One matchup with FC Dallas.

They’ve been the best team in the West defensively this year and have even started to find the net down the stretch. At least a little bit. They aren’t Columbus, but they have scored multiple goals in five of their last eight games. I would be very, very worried about running into this Sounders team over the next few weeks.

Previous: 2-0 win at STL | Next: 10/30 vs. DAL

Welp. Guess it wouldn’t be the Power Rankings if the voting process didn’t deliver a bit of controversy to end the year. Seattle over St. Louis is a choice, even with Seattle getting the better of CITY over the weekend.

Still, St. Louis came away injury-free against Seattle and that’s all that matters. They have all of their best pieces available heading into the playoffs, where they’ll face the winner of SKC and San Jose in Round One. We might be looking at an all-time excellent playoff atmosphere if SKC have to come to St. Louis for one or two games.

Folks, your 2023 Golden Boot winner.

The good news for LAFC is Dénis Bouanga has scored six goals in the last three games. If he stays hot, they’re as dangerous as any team in the league. The bad news is they couldn't pull out a win at Vancouver and will enter the playoffs as the third seed. They’ll take on… Vancouver. That went pretty well for them in CCL, but both teams have a different feel to them a few months later. It won’t be an easy matchup.

Previous: 1-1 draw at VAN | Next: 10/28 vs. VAN

It’s not clear what to think about the Union heading into the playoffs. They look a lot like the Union we’ve come to know over the last few years. They play a lot like them, too. But something has been missing. They earned just three wins over their 11 post-Leagues Cup games, including a 2-1 loss to New England last weekend.

They’ll face the Revs again in Round One, and this time, they’ll have home-field advantage. They’re probably going to make any concerns feel silly in the end because that’s kind of what they do. Still, it’s weird going into the end of the year feeling this unsure about this team.

Previous: 2-1 loss at NE | Next: 10/28 vs. NE

Houston beat the ever-living hell out of Portland on Decision Day. Somehow that dropped them three spots (I don’t agree with it either).

They’re extremely dangerous and they haven’t taken a step back at all since winning the US Open Cup. With the West feeling wide open and the Dynamo earning a winnable Round One matchup with RSL, it’s easy to talk yourself into a deep Houston run in the postseason.

Previous: 3-1 win at POR | Next: 10/29 vs. RSL

Atlanta United spent the final game of the season packing the entire 2023 Atlanta United experience into 90 minutes. They played outstanding attacking soccer against the best team in the league, turned around and conceded preventable goals after going ahead, then dug in late to earn a result anyway in a game that left everyone wondering how good they actually are. It’s still kind of unclear 34 games in.

However, we do know this team runs their attack through Thiago Almada. That’s bad news for their Round One matchup with Columbus. Almada inexplicably picked up a second yellow away from the play and will miss the first game of the Best-of-3 series. Atlanta’s creative midfield options without him are limited.

Previous: 2-2 draw at CIN | Next: 11/1 at CLB

The Revs entered Decision Day having lost three straight to playoff teams in the East. Gustavo Bou decided there wouldn’t be a fourth.

Bou’s brace gave the Revs a much-needed momentum boost heading into the playoffs. It also handed them an instant rematch with Philadelphia. The Union will potentially have two chances to win in Chester though. New England will likely need Bou, Carles Gil and Tomás Chancalay at their best to pull off the upset.

Previous: 2-1 win vs. PHI | Next: 10/28 at PHI

A few months ago, the Whitecaps faced LAFC in Concacaf Champions League. That didn’t go so well. LAFC and Bouanga pummeled the Whitecaps in Vancouver in the first leg and that was that. Things feel a whole lot different now.

The Whitecaps have been up and down at times, but have improved more than they’ve regressed. LAFC seemed to have taken a half step or two backward. On Saturday, in a high-stakes Decision Day game against LAFC, the Whitecaps looked far from the overwhelmed group that got run off the field in early April. Yeah, Bouanga still got one over on them, but just the one. Vancouver earned a 1-1 draw and a rematch with LAFC in Round One. This time, they might have a little bit more to offer.

Previous: 1-1 draw vs. LAFC | Next: 10/28 at LAFC

Nashville had a chance to reach sixth place in the East, but Red Bulls Regular-Season Magic is one of the most potent forces in the league. In the end, it almost feels like they got the better Round One matchup for their personal brand of defense-first (second and third) soccer. In theory, it’s going to be a little easier to keep Orlando off the board than Columbus. In theory.

Of course, even if they do that, they’ll eventually have to score. The Coyotes were shut out in five of their final 10 games. That includes a 1-0 loss to Orlando earlier this month.

Previous: 1-0 loss vs. RBNY | Next: 10/30 at ORL

RSL are going to need all the help they can get if Chicho Arango isn’t available for Round One. Diego Luna seems up for it.

RSL ended the weekend in fifth place. Their reward is a tough Round One matchup against Houston. The Dynamo have spent all season scoring by committee and now RSL will have to do the same if Arango is out. That might end up making it one of the most exciting series of the playoffs.

Previous: 1-0 win at COL | Next: 10/29 at HOU

Sporting KC knew they needed a win against Minnesota and some help going into Decision Day. They got some help from Houston and Austin. They got their win in style.

After going winless through their first 10 games, Sporting KC got healthy, got settled and pushed until the final day of the season. Their reward is a Wild Card game at home and a potential Round One matchup with their new nearby rival.

All things considered, SKC feel about as dangerous as any team in the West heading into those matchups. Since that 10-game winless streak, they’ve earned the fifth-most points in MLS and the most points in the West. Yes, even more than St. Louis. They aren’t simply hot at the right time; they’re pretty good.

Previous: 3-1 win vs. MIN | Next: 10/25 vs. SJ

Dallas were gifted a Decision Day matchup with the Galaxy and took full advantage.

Bernard Kamungo earned a brace for his fifth and sixth goals of the season in this one, then exited just before halftime with an injury. Maybe he can recover and be a factor for Dallas as they take on second-seeded Seattle in Round One.

Previous: 4-1 win at LA | Next: 10/30 at SEA


They’re going to make the playoffs every year until the sun explodes. Anyone who thought this would go any differently on Decision Day was misguided at best. John Tolkin’s stoppage-time penalty sent the Red Bulls into the postseason for the 14th-straight year, the longest streak in major American men’s sports.

Now that they’re here again, it’s time to remind everyone they’ve been due all season. By nearly every model and metric, they’ve been one of the single-best teams in the league according to the underlying numbers. You shouldn’t be counting this team out.

Previous: 1-0 win at NSH | Next: 10/25 vs. CLT

The Quakes went up early on Austin thanks to Cristian Espinoza, realized Austin had no real interest in trying to earn more than a draw, and packed up shop to earn a 1-1 finish that gave them the West’s final Wild Card spot.

They’ll now travel to Sporting KC to face one of the hottest teams in the league in a hostile environment. Feels like they’ll need someone besides Espinoza to step up if they want to make it out alive. Then again, Espinoza is as capable as anyone of carrying a team. He’s been the best chance creator in MLS this season.

Previous: 1-1 draw vs. ATX | Next: 10/25 at SKC


Our tiny-handed soccer ball king is playoff-bound after a roller-coaster week that saw Charlotte blow a late lead in Miami, then hold onto a late lead with everything they had against the Herons in Charlotte.

A hectic ending where everything finally broke their way is poetic for a team that dropped more points from winning positions than any other team this season. They’ll head to New York to face the Red Bulls in the Wild Card round for their first-ever playoff game on Wednesday night.

Previous: 1-0 win vs. MIA | Next: 10/25 at RBNY

The Timbers needed a win against Houston to cap a remarkable post-Gio Savarese run to the playoffs. In the end, they didn’t have enough juice.

A 3-1 loss to the Dynamo ended their season and sent them into an offseason where they’ll need to find Savarese’s replacement and potentially revamp their roster. It won’t be totally clear what direction they’re going until they confirm their new head coach, but hopefully, it involves a more dynamic game model than in past years. It feels like Timbers fans deserve some fun.

Previous: 3-1 loss vs. HOU | Next: Season complete

NYCFC did what they had to on Decision Day. Especially, Julián Fernández. But it wasn't enough.

Previous: 1-0 win vs. CHI | Next: Season complete

Hernán Losada’s first season in charge came to a close with a loss at Columbus and a late Red Bulls penalty in Nashville. Step one this offseason will be figuring out how to make sure the results they got at home this season translate on the road in 2024. The eight points they earned away from Montréal was the second-lowest mark in the league this season.

Previous: 2-1 loss at CLB | Next: Season complete

Lionel Messi got one more regular-season start in. It didn’t matter. The Herons went scoreless against Charlotte on Saturday. Now, they’re heading into a fascinating offseason that should see them bring in even more reinforcements for Messi and friends. They should have a bit of room to work.

Previous: 1-0 loss at CLT | Next: Season complete

The Loons were gifted one last opportunity to make the playoffs against Sporting KC last weekend. They face-planted in a 3-1 loss. The lesson, as always, is you’ve got to win your home games, folks.

The club now enters an offseason in which they’ll need to add a new manager and a new technical director/CSO. More changes are almost certainly on the way once those decisions are made. They’re right at the top of the list when it comes to the league’s most fascinating offseasons.

Previous: 3-1 loss at SKC | Next: Season complete

Nothing to report here. We’re just waiting on D.C. to make moves in the front office and at manager now. It’s going to be a busy offseason.

Previous: 2-0 win vs. NYC | Next: Season complete

Well. Y’all probably know what time it is.

Once more. With feeling.

I can see it → Oh, no → Oh, yikes, no → Well, maybe → Nope → But let’s just… → Oh, ok immediate no on that → But what if they tweak this → This looks better! → OH NO. THEY GOT ME AGAIN → No. → I’m not falling for that → No, forever. → Offseason → I can see it.

The Fire lost a must-win game to NYCFC last weekend. They have made the playoffs twice since 2009.

Previous: 1-0 loss at NYC | Next: Season complete

The Galaxy went out of 2023 with one more disappointing defensive performance in a 4-1 loss to FC Dallas. They’ll enter the upcoming offseason without the transfer sanctions that hamstrung them during the summer window. They clearly need to take full advantage of that.

Previous: 4-1 loss vs. DAL | Next: Season complete

Austin’s strange 2023 came to a close with a 1-1 draw at San Jose. It’s a year that will be remembered for disappointing tournament losses, injuries at center back and just generally taking a step backward. It feels like major changes are on the way under new sporting director Rodolfo Borrell.

Previous: 1-1 draw at SJ | Next: Season complete

It’s onto the offseason after falling to RSL (again) over the weekend. They’ll need to find a new head coach and add some key pieces to the roster if they want 2024 to go differently.

Previous: 1-0 loss vs. RSL | Next: Season complete

Previous: 2-0 loss vs. ORL | Next: Season complete