Power Rankings

Power Rankings: How high can Lionel Messi & Inter Miami soar?

P Rankings 8.18.23

What a month in MLS. Philadelphia came up just short in a tournament, LAFC cruised in a tournament until they ran into a top-tier Liga MX team and NYCFC signed Maxi Moralez. It was truly a month unlike any other.

The Power Rankings are voted on by like 15 people and the author would really like you to know the order is not entirely his fault. We’ve been over this a few times now.

Cincy’s Leagues Cup run ended with a penalty shootout loss to Nashville. I doubt they were too broken up about it. They have a US Open Cup semifinal against Inter Miami on Wednesday along with a shot at breaking the MLS points record. All eyes will be on new DP striker Aaron Boupendza as Cincy look to grab the first, second and third trophies of their MLS tenure.

Previous: 3-1 win vs. NSH | Next: 8/20 at CLB

It’s not ever yet, but let’s recap some highlights here for Nashville’s Leagues Cup run. Over the span of a few weeks, they’ve taken down:

  1. A Cincinnati team set to break the MLS points record
  2. Arguably the biggest club on the continent: Club América
  3. One of the single-most successful North American clubs of the past decade and tournament favorite: Monterrey

Throw in their rout over a red-hot Minnesota side in the quarterfinals and I think we’re talking about one of the single-most impressive runs in MLS history. If they take down Inter Miami in the Final on Saturday, it’s gotta be the best run ever. I don’t think there’s another argument and, if there is, the only folks who remember it are the folks who host Extratime so it barely counts.

That’s a stark turnaround for a team that lost five of six heading into this tournament. It helps, of course, that they’ve added a new DP forward. Sam Surridge has absolutely looked the part so far, even if that part is as straightforward as just finding space when the opposing defense sends four people after Hany Mukhtar. He’s been exactly what Nashville needed and that should put a scare into the rest of the East.

Previous: 3-1 loss at CIN | Next: 8/26 at ATL

LAFC looked rejuvenated for about 250 minutes of Leagues Cup. They pummeled Juárez, rolled over RSL and were up 2-0 on Monterrey. The fun ended there. As good as this team is, they still have a ways to go before they get over the hump against Liga MX’s best.

Still, this team is really good. Really, really good. And they had a fascinating Secondary Transfer Window that saw them bring in winger Cristian Olivera from LaLiga’s UD Almería, forward Mario González from SC Braga in Portugal and midfielder Filip Krastev from Lommel SK in Belgium. That should be enough to make up for the losses of Mahala Opoku and José Cifuentes, but we’ll see. Those are two quality pieces and it feels like LAFC are walking on a wire at times with all of their roster turnover.

But if they got those moves right (again), then they should have more than enough to look their best heading into the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. And we know what a hot LAFC team heading into the playoffs can do.

By the way, it helps when you’re not playing a game every three days. Who knew?

Previous: 1-1 draw at MIN | Next: 8/20 vs. COL

The last time we talked about the Revs in the Power Rankings, things were going well. Dear reader, a lot has changed.

Head coach and sporting director Bruce Arena has been placed on administrative leave, star goalkeeper Djordje Petrovic sat out of training in protest of how the club handled his potential transfer to Europe and starting right back Brandon Bye picked up a season-ending knee injury. All of this contributed to New England losing in the of Leagues Cup Round of 16 against Querétaro.

They’re still second in the East with 11 games to go, but the last few weeks have not necessarily been fun.

Previous: 4-0 win vs. DC | Next: 8/26 at MTL

Leagues Cup wasn’t kind. They got clobbered by Club América and outplayed by Columbus. It’s been a bit of a tough stretch as they continue to try and get healthy. DP midfielder Eduard Löwen is back, but they’re still waiting on DP striker João Klauss. He’s reportedly close to a return.

Even if he wasn’t, St. Louis are playing with house money the rest of the way. They’re a surefire playoff team in year one and that’s a remarkable achievement. If they can hold on to the top spot in the Western Conference, even better. They have a four-point lead as they enter their final 11 games.

Previous: 3-0 win vs. MIA | Next: 8/20 vs. Austin

It seemed like the Union might have a serious chance at being the first team to stop Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami. Then Philly out-created Miami 1.81 xG to 0.73 and still lost 4-1. Don’t really know what to think of that, to be honest.

Either way, the Union are still looking for their first non-Supporters’ Shield trophy since 2020 despite making a final and two semifinals. Something has to break their way eventually. Right? Right???

Previous: 2-1 win vs. NYC | Next: 8/26 at DC

The Crew dropped out of Leagues Cup after falling in a penalty shootout to Minnesota, but they enter this final stretch as one of MLS’s most intriguing teams. They pulled off a trade for Julian Gressel in the most exciting intra-league move of the window, and then somehow ended up sending Lucas Zelarayán away while bringing in former LAFC star Diego Rossi.

Gressel seems like an immediate fit and should thrive. It’s less clear if Rossi will be an upgrade on Zelarayán, a streaky but undeniably talented player. If he hits the ground running along with Gressel, the Crew are going to be even more dangerous in attack. That should terrify the rest of the East.

Previous: 3-2 loss at POR | Next: 8/20 vs. CIN

RSL looked outstanding against Seattle in Leagues Cup and a little less outstanding against Monterrey and LAFC. That feels about right for where this team is. They’re very good, but probably not at the level of the absolute best on the continent. There are far worse places to be. They should have high hopes and high expectations for the rest of the year.

Previous: 3-1 win vs. RBNY | Next: 8/20 at LA

Bad. And not good.

A strange and altogether bleak year for Seattle continued in Leagues Cup as they crashed out with a 3-0 loss at RSL and a 4-2 loss to Monterrey.

This group has cobbled together enough points to stay near the top of the West, but it’s been a struggle for months now. Especially in attack. They’ve been excellent defensively, but have scored multiple goals in a game in just two of their last 16 MLS games. Without a ton of roster flexibility, they couldn’t make moves to try and spark that attack.

It feels like a big offseason is on the way for Seattle. And it may come sooner than expected.*

*Note: It’s Seattle. They could totally win every game from here on out and I wouldn’t even blink. 

Previous: 1-1 draw vs. DAL | Next: 8/20 vs. ATL

Orlando came into Leagues Cup playing good ball and continued to do so throughout Leagues Cup until they ran into Inter Miami. It happens. All it meant was a little extra time to prepare for what is going to be an all-out war for the top spots in the East.

Previous: 2-1 win at ATL | Next: 8/20 at CHI

No team has ever stretched the definition of “Power” in Power Rankings like this Inter Miami team. They’ve clearly turned into something far different over the last few weeks. They’re definitely still in last place in the East though. Kind of seems like the voting collective subconsciously ended up splitting the difference between “Possibly the best team in the league” and “Five wins in 22 games.” By that I mean Inter Miami received a first-place vote and a 27th-place vote. 

Even with some dissenters, they still jumped 16 spots in one go. I’m going to call that a Power Rankings record. So. Hang the banner, Miami. There’s a chance “Up 16 spots in the Power Rankings” looks great next to the 2023 Leagues Cup and US Open Cup trophies. It’s tough to say whether that might potentially include MLS Cup, but, even with a massive gap (12 points) remaining between them and the playoffs, are you really going to count them out right now?

Previous: 3-0 loss at STL | Next: 8/26 at RBNY

Leagues Cup didn’t exactly go well, but it felt like this team needed a moment to reset. I don’t think anyone in Atlanta is complaining about having a couple of weeks to breathe as they integrate a few new pieces.

New DP winger Saba Lobjanidze and new backup striker Jamal Thiaré will join the team soon, while new winger Xande Silva and midfielder Tristan Muyumba have already arrived. Muyumba has already made an appearance for the first team and provided a breath of fresh air for a midfield that desperately needed it.

This team should be improved down the stretch and, at the very least, set itself up for future success as they approach a busy offseason.

Previous: 2-1 loss vs. ORL | Next: 8/20 at SEA

The Whitecaps traded away Julian Gressel. It’s understandable. Gressel is in a contract year and the two parties weren’t able to get an extension done with Gressel wanting to move back east for family reasons. But still. Just ask the last two teams who traded Julian Gressel about how things go when you trade Julian Gressel. It’s going to take some work for Vancouver to stay about the line here without their leading chance creator.

That said, new additions Richie Laryea and Sam Adekugbe should provide a major boost. Two Canadian international fullbacks bombing up and down the flanks sounds like a great replacement strategy.

Previous: 4-2 win vs. LA | Next: 8/20 vs. SJ

Dallas gave Messi & Friends their best shot in Leagues Cup, yet fell just short. Still, it was an impressive showcase. At least in attack.

They should be encouraged by that performance and by adding former Real Madrid and longtime Real Sociedad midfielder Asier Illarramendi on a free transfer. With Jesús Ferreira back in the fold and Illarramendi involved, the issues that led to a rough stretch pre-Leagues Cup should be resolved.

Previous: 1-1 draw at SEA | Next: 8/26 vs. ATX

The Loons had an outstanding Leagues Cup. Emanuel Reynoso went nuclear and delivered six assists, while Bongokuhle Hlongwane continued to make analytics nerds feel very, very smart about their “seems like this guy is going to come to good at any second” takes. Hlongwane scored seven times over four games.

Yeah, they eventually crashed out against Nashville, but there were plenty of encouraging signs. They have some work to do to get back into a playoff spot, but if the Loons can build off their impressive attacking performance during Leagues Cup, that shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

Previous: 1-1 draw vs. LAFC | Next: 8/20 at NYC

DP forward Taxi Fountas is gone. Fountas was placed on administrative leave by MLS on July 21 following what the league determined were credible allegations that he used prohibited and discriminatory language against another player. D.C. United and Fountas parted ways shortly after.

The Black-and-Red will now have to regroup and hold off the six teams below them that will be working to chase down the final playoff spot in the East.

Previous: 4-0 loss at NE | Next: 8/20 at RBNY

The Quakes are turning to loanees Ayo Akinola and Matthew Hoppe to provide a spark in attack to close out the season. We’ll see if it pays off. Both players are talented, but their track records have been less than stellar as of late (and rumors are heating up that Cade Cowell might be transferred to Serie A side Bologna).

The Quakes should still have enough juice to hold onto their playoff spot the rest of the way, but it will probably take a little extra to push them into one of the Western Conference’s top spots.

Previous: 2-0 win vs. SEA | Next: 8/20 at VAN

Austin found themselves with what many considered the easiest draw of Leagues Cup and…well…it all felt a little too Violette AC. It hasn’t been a great year outside of MLS for Austin.

Then they traded away fan favorite Diego Fagúndez to the LA Galaxy and new sporting director Rodolfo Borrell offered a sobering perspective on the third-year club:

The break wasn’t all bad. Austin were shrewd in picking up center back Matt Hedges from Toronto for a decent price. Steadying their backline could go a long way toward staying above the playoff line over this final stretch.

Previous: 2-1 win vs. SKC | Next: 8/20 at STL

Just another week of waiting around for one of the league's best teams, per the underlying numbers, to come good. Any day now. Annnyyyyyy day now.

Maybe their new forward, 19-year-old Watford loanee Jorge Cabezas Hurtado, can spark some life into things?

Previous: 3-1 loss at RSL | Next: 8/20 vs. DC

Houston put together a great Leagues Cup run until they decided to kick the ball into their own net.

That’s not a bit. Look at this:


Anyway, before that, Houston did enough to take down Liga MX's Santos Laguna and Pachuca on penalties. That’s an outstanding pair of results and a sign of progress for a team that seems to be slowly but surely building toward something better. New attacking midfielder Sebastian Kowalczyk is the newest building block for the Dynamo as they look to hold on to one of the West’s last playoff spots.

Previous: 0-0 draw at COL | Next: 8/20 vs. POR

Just a reminder here: With 11 games left to go in their season, the Fire are three points above the playoff line. It’s increasingly plausible their playoff drought comes to an end this year, even if that only means a spot in the Wild Card match.

We’ll see if the current roster has enough gas to get Chicago over the finish line.

Previous: 1-0 win vs. TOR | Next: 8/20 vs. ORL

Montréal exited quickly from Leagues Cup. Now they have to reset and prepare to try and drag themselves up and out of the 10th-place spot in the East. Mahala Opoku should help with that, but Montréal were relatively quiet during the summer transfer window.

Previous: 2-0 win vs. CLT | Next: 8/20 at TOR

They should feel good about taking down Chivas in the group stage of Leagues Cup. That is the extent of my SKC thoughts right now.

Previous: 2-1 loss at Austin | Next: 8/26 vs. SJ

NYCFC put five past a deflated Toronto side in Leagues Cup, but went scoreless in their other two games. It was a mixed bag for a group beginning the process of incorporating a few much-needed reinforcements in attack. They added two U22 players over the window, striker Mounsef Bakrar and winger Julián Fernández. They also pulled off what feels like a minor miracle…

I’m not sure 36-year-old Maxi Moralez will solve everything, but bringing back the best player in team history can’t hurt. It’s felt all season like NYCFC are just a few tweaks away from getting things right in attack. Don’t be surprised if these moves kickstart things at just the right time.

Previous: 2-1 loss at PHI | Next: 8/20 vs. MIN

Things were actually going kind of ok before Leagues Cup. Not great mind you, but pretty ok.

Then midfielder Gastón Brugman tore his meniscus in his left knee and, facing transfer limitations the summer window, they had to get creative. They’ve brought in five players across the last five weeks, including free agents Billy Sharp and Maya Yoshida.

It’s been a long, strange year in LA.

Previous: 4-2 loss at VAN | Next: 8/20 vs. RSL

Portland have three spots and three points to make up to climb above the playoff line. It’s not where they expect to be.

Previous: 3-2 win vs. CLB | Next: 8/20 at HOU

Charlotte put together a decent run in Leagues Cup before understandably crashing out against Inter Miami. It doesn’t feel like much of a coincidence that key parts of the run coincided with Karol Swiderski playing off a No. 9 (often Patrick Agyemang).

In the meantime, Charlotte added a ton of experience to the team: midfielders Scott Arfield and Brecht Dejaegere, as well as left back Jere Uronen. We’ll see if that adds up to a steadier Charlotte side overall. They’ll need it to as they chase a playoff spot.

Previous: 2-0 loss at MTL | Next: 8/26 vs. LAFC

Colorado did not earn a point in Leagues Cup. They are in last place in the West. They really need new DP forward Rafael Navarro (on loan from Palmeiras) and U22 Initiative midfielder Sidnei Tavares (on loan from Porto B) to make immediate and significant impacts.

Previous: 0-0 draw vs. HOU | Next: 8/20 at LAFC

There are 10 games left in Toronto’s season. Whatever happens, a busy winter lies ahead. 

Previous: 1-0 loss at CHI | Next: 8/20 vs. MTL