Power Rankings

Power Rankings: New England, Colorado end 2021 MLS regular season as teams to beat

One last time. One last time to get it all wrong and feel dumb for having attempted it in the first place. Breathe in that final whiff of Power Rankings and then question whether or not the air surrounding them is actually quite toxic and then choose to worry about that later.

Because we only get one more chance to rank teams in order with little to no context or defined criteria for what “Power” actually means. And that’s the kind of chance you have to cherish. Until we just roll this thing back out next year like Hannibal Lecter. Anyway, thanks for reading.

What a week in MLS. LAFC couldn’t hold up defensively, Hany Mukhtar and Taty Castellanos scored, and Vanni Sartini was the most amazing human on the planet. It was truly a week unlike any other.

Disclaimer: The Power Rankings are voted on by the entirety of the MLSsoccer.com editorial staff. You should probably be gently made fun of if you still think the actual rankings are made by just one person. Except for this week. Where Tom Bogert jokingly put FC Cincinnati in first and I just kind of kept it there. Because I’m personally determined to ruin the sanctity of the most sacred tradition in sports: The MLS Power Rankings. Anyway, you should really recognize that the stakes have never been lower.

Couldn’t even beat Inter Miami

Previous: 1-0 loss vs. MIA | Next: 11/30 vs. TBD

RAAAPPPPPPPSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!! (not calling them the “‘pids”)

For the first time all year, they take the second spot in the rankings. They finish the regular season tied with Columbus for distance between their highest and lowest ranking, going from as low as 22 to where they are now. Which doesn’t mean a whole lot, but it’s still kind of cool. 

The Rapids went from being a team regarded with equal parts optimism and hesitancy to Decision Day heroes, mercilessly vanquishing the looming specter of an LAFC playoff run and jumping to first place in the West. And they did it with the lowest payroll in the league and the smallest DP contribution of any team in MLS. The difference between the total minutes their lone DP, Younes Namli, played compared to the minutes the Revs’ three DPs played ended up at 6154. Yet, here both of them are with a Round One bye. MLS! 

“We don’t look at it (in terms of DPs)," Rapids general manager Padraig Smith said in a 2020 press conference. "We look at in terms of: What is our overall budget and how do we best utilize MLS mechanisms for building rosters to put the most competitive team on the field? We’re excited about what we’re doing, we’re excited about the group we have and we’re excited about the targets we’re looking to add.”

Seems like a good call. But hey, you know, who also made a good call? The Power Rankings all the way back in April.

“Colorado have quietly turned into a dark-horse pick to make some noise this season. Matt Doyle has compared the current group to be a potential Union-esque team … if everything goes right. But even having that chance seems good to me. They may be a year away from ascending … or they may not be. Either way, a lot of room for optimism here.”

Look, if y’all are going to torch me for what I said about Columbus, you gotta let me have these things too.

Previous: 5-2 win vs. LAFC | Next: 11/25 vs. TBD

Sooooooooooooooooooooooooo….Going winless over your last six games is certainly one way to end the season and head into the playoffs. It sure seemed like Seattle had that Round One bye locked up and then, ya know, they went winless over their last six games including losses to SKC, LAFC and Houston. It all happened so quickly. And so easily. A little too easily.

I’m not saying this is exactly what happened, but if Brian Schmetzer comes out 10 years from now and releases a tell-all book called like “Sounding Off” or something and says “I totally tried to keep the team from getting a Round One bye in 2021 because the byes are too long and ruin a team’s ability to stay sharp," just know you heard it here first and that you shouldn’t be surprised. I’m not putting anything past him at this point.

But what I will say is that, secret conspiracy to fall to number two or not, you probably shouldn’t worry too much about Seattle’s form over the final couple of weeks of the season. First and foremost, now is the part of each thing I write over the next two weeks where I mention there’s no correlation between end-of-year performance and playoff performance. Being hot or cold at the end of the year doesn’t seem to mean anything across all sports. You can google this over and over again in different ways like I have and you’ll almost exclusively find someone smart saying something about how the final few games of the season in Sport X don’t translate to the postseason. Playoffs are extremely weird.

But even if momentum isn’t a thing, injuries are. Fortunately, Seattle get a chance over the international break to recoup and continue loading up super-sub super-weapon Jordan Morris, while hopefully having enough time to get Joao Paulo and Raul Ruidiaz ready to go from hamstring problems. It just doesn’t seem like it’s in the cards this season for Nico Lodeiro to make a full return, so we might not see this team at 100% at any point this season. Which is honestly a bummer considering how impressive they could be. But there’s a reason you can throw out conspiracy theories about Seattle setting themselves up to win by losing and have them feel slightly plausible. If anyone deserves the benefit of the doubt, it’s them.

Previous: 1-1 draw at VAN | Next: 11/23 vs, RSL

Oh hey, speaking of conspiracies.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Peter Vermes instructing his team to kick the ball in their own net just to make sure they got to face Seattle in Seattle if the time came in the playoffs and well….I mean that’s not exactly what happened, but losing three straight to close the year while the Sounders were also flatlining and finishing one spot below them feels a bit COINCIDENTAL don’t you think??

No. Soccer is hard. MLS is harder. But in my head, Vermes and Schmetzer outdueling each other in a lose-off is canon. It’s just more fun that way.

Anyway, hey, remember that whole thing in the Seattle section about how momentum isn’t real? SKC fans should keep that handy too. And for more good news, they should remember they get an international break to rest some tired legs and get Johnny Russell, Gadi Kinda and Ilie Sanchez back to full health. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll see Alan Pulido healthy as well.

Previous: 1-0 loss vs. RSL | Next: 11/20 vs. VAN

Well. A year after winning the Supporters’ Shield, here we are in a rebuilding year for Philadelphia after losing Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie annnddddddd they finished second in the East after trotting out an excellent midfield along with an army of future excellent midfielders made in the same Union midfielder lab as Aaronson and watching Jack Elliot put together a career year at center back alongside Jakob Glesnes. 

At some point this year I wrote I didn’t like to worry about the Union because they always prove me wrong. And then I started worrying about the Union. And then they proved me wrong. 

Somehow, a loss in the CCL semifinal to Club America ignited something in this team and they took six wins, one loss and four draws from there on out. It’s possible Jim Curtin and Ernst Tanner have become a little too good at this and we’re going to end up hating the perpetually top-four Union by the end of their reign. But for now, we get to keep marveling at this team’s linear progression to one of the best clubs in the league and we get to keep reminding ourselves it’s a bad idea to worry about the Union.

Previous: 1-1 draw at NYC | Next: 11/20 vs. RBNY

Alright, we’re back to another top team that ended the year struggling. So, back to the Seattle section for the whole momentum thing again. Nashville won just two games over their final 11 on their way to setting an MLS record for draws in a season. First off: Hang the banner. Second: That was good enough for third place in the East, but is...whatever it is they do that lets them set an MLS record for draws going to be good enough to make a run in the playoffs?

It’s not the worst way to approach things in a single-elimination format. But it doesn’t leave much margin for error. Of course, their opponents in the playoffs have to deal with MLS goal contributions leader Hany Mukhtar (16 goals, 12 assists is some Diego Valeri-level insanity), so that kind of helps with the whole margin of error thing.

Previous: 1-1 draw vs. RBNY | Next: 11/23 vs. ORL

NYCFC went down to 10 men against Philly, but still got the job done thanks to Taty Castellanos picking up his Golden Boot presented by Audi-winning 19th goal. The (correct) narrative around him for most of the season was he didn’t finish well enough, but by the end of the year, his xG numbers — the best in the league — exactly matched his total output. NYCFC will need that to stay about the same to make a run in the playoffs. At this point, it’s hard to think they won’t. This team has played some of the best soccer in the league when they’re on and their underlying numbers reflect that. They’re entering the playoffs with the best xGD of any playoff team.

Unfortunately for them, there’s no potential chance of avoiding New England on their way to an MLS Cup run. A win over Atlanta in Round One sends them to Foxborough. But of all the teams in the East, I may just like their chances the most against the Revs.

Can’t wait for that last line to end up on some “Old Takes That Lead to No Context Unfortunate Events” Twitter account when New England beats them by five. Or maybe this line will? Yeah, that’s right, I’ve got you in a corner now.

Previous: 1-1 draw vs. PHI | Next: 11/21 vs. ATL

Gonna let Doyle take this one.

Blanco hasn’t quite been to that level this season as he’s still recovering from ACL surgery, but here are the Argentine No. 10’s on/off numbers:

  • Without him they are 3-7-0 with a -8 goal differential
  • With him they are 14-6-4 with a +12 goal differential

Portland, in their two-thirds of a season with Blanco, have picked up almost two points per game. That is better than anyone in MLS outside of New England.

Portland are different with Sebastian Blanco. It’s understandable to not trust their backline, but Blanco’s effect on the team makes their job easier. As long as he’s on the field, they can make a playoff run.

Previous: 3-0 win vs. ATX | Next: 11/21 vs. MIN

That was close.

They were an LA Galaxy Decision Day goal away from missing out entirely. Instead, they survived, despite Franco Fragapane’s missed PK and whatever this was...

Minnesota are going to need him to be far sharper or Robin Lod and Adrien Hunou to be on top of their game or Emanuel Reynoso to somehow be even better in this year’s playoffs if they’re going to recreate last year’s run. They just didn’t score consistently enough this season to convince anyone that matching 2020 is a real possibility.

Previous: 3-3 draw at LA | Next: 11/21 at POR

I have absolutely no idea what to think of an Orlando City team that squeaked into the playoffs on a 2-0 Decision Day win where they lost the xG battle 1.8 to 0.6. That kind of result is honestly perfect for a team that feels like they haven’t come close to reaching their full potential, but have gotten by anyway.

Sebas Mendez and Daryl Dike showed up for moments of brilliance on Decision Day. Orlando will either need to keep hoping for those kinds of moments throughout the playoffs or the rest of the group will need to catch up in some way. Nani has been lifeless for the last three months, Chris Mueller has struggled and Mauricio Pereyra hasn’t looked the same. They absolutely have it in them to make it deep into the playoffs, but it’s hard to say that they’re suddenly going to put it all together in November.

Previous: 2-0 win at MTL | Next: 11/23 at NSH

All hail Vanni Sartini. All hail America’s team, the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Previous: 1-1 draw vs. SEA | Next: 11/20 at SKC

Atlanta United spent the week being a combination of pragmatic and wholly ineffective against the Red Bulls, then spending a half being totally ineffective against Cincinnati. A switch from a back three to a back four sent them on their way through against Cincy and they finished Decision Day in fifth place.

It’s clear at this point it’s far easier for this team to get on the front foot with another midfielder on the field. Now the question becomes whether or not they feel a need or an ability to be able to get on the front foot in the playoffs. It wouldn’t be surprising to rely on the safety blanket of a back three the rest of the way. Especially at Yankee Stadium in Round One. The question is whether or not that safety blanket and the lack of connective tissue from back to front that comes with it will be enough for them to get by.

It hasn’t been against good teams this season. Atlanta had just one win in 15 tries against playoff teams. But there’s always a chance that moments of individual brilliance from their exorbitantly expensive attacking front can power them through while the defense holds steady. And if Josef Martinez is as confident as he should be after his stunning 12th goal of the season on Sunday, that feels like a real possibility.

Previous: 2-1 win at CIN | Next: 11/21 at NYC

This Red Bulls team is so remarkably Red Bulls that you can’t help but admire it. For a while it seemed like they had lost their way, but then they bullied their way into the playoffs by giving up five goals over their last 11 games on their way to picking up seven wins in that same span. If there were ever a team primed to win MLS Cup after winning each playoff game 1-0, it’s this one. 

It’s getting colder, they get an international break to rest and the energy drink press should be in full effect for Round One in Philadelphia. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see them make life very difficult for the Union and any opponents thereafter.

Previous: 1-1 draw at NSH | Next: 11/20 at PHI


Anyway, congrats to RSL. Now they get to potentially complete one of the weirdest arcs in MLS history when they face their former manager – remember when Freddy Juarez left midseason to be an assistant in Seattle? – in Round One. The narrative is almost a little too strong with this team.

Previous: 1-0 win at SKC | Next: 11/23 at SEA

It wasn’t the roughest Decision Day execution for an MLS team, but D.C. fans got the opportunity to torture themselves by screaming at Nashville for a good hour or so to score a goal that just wasn’t coming against New York. They can take solace in the fact that the transition to Hernan Losada from Ben Olsen has been a remarkable success and there is a genuine foundation to build on in Losada’s system.

They came up just short this year despite finishing third in expected goal differential across the league. The expectations for next year will be as high as they’ve been in D.C. for a long time.

Previous: 3-1 win at TOR | Next: End of season

Remember how D.C. didn’t have the roughest Decision Day execution? 

The Galaxy were doomed by Damir Kreilach’s late winner and some awful defensive moments that included an own goal from the excellent and probably best non-Chicharito player on the team this year, Julian Araujo

It shouldn’t have come down to that in the first place though. The Galaxy won just three times over their last 16 games. That’s almost three months of soccer and a win for each month. This team was near the top of the conference for the first half of the year. It’s gotta be close to an all-time level faceplant.

Previous: 3-3 draw vs. MIN | Nest: End of season

I genuinely feel for Wilfried Nancy and CF Montréal here. That’s a helluva season no matter what. But I know it has to hurt to come up short.

To lose your manager weeks before the season began, spend half the year in Florida and stay above the line for most of the season anyway is a stunning accomplishment. Montréal have the right guy in Nancy and Montréal fans should be hopeful he’s given whatever resources he asks for in year two.

Previous: 2-0 loss vs. ORL | Next: End of season

The team that started the year on top finally comes to Power Rankings rest at 18.

One more time. Lighters in the air.

“I don't care what people think, honestly. That's no disrespect to what people think. I respect everybody's opinions and I think it's great for our game that people have opinions. I think it's great that people write articles and do the power rankings and all that. I look at a lot of some of those things and wonder sometimes if anybody actually watches the games and really looks at the lineups and looks [at] who's out,” Porter said.

“When you are the champion the last season, people look for holes in you. Instead of talking about us being the best defensive team and the fact that we've lost one game in 10 and we've got five wins and four draws, instead of talking about that, they'll talk about why we're not scoring more goals. They always look for the negative and that's because when you're good, the tallest tree the wind blows the strongest against. So when you're the tallest tree, people try to chop you down and, yeah, I don't agree with it all. At the end of the day, we have Artur out, Gyasi [Zardes] out, Luis Diaz, we have Josh Williams out, we have Milton Valenzuela. So I don't know if anybody ever even looks at that and I don't care if they do, to be honest with you.”

Anyway, Columbus are a good team that hit too many roadblocks this year and Caleb Porter is a very good coach who will likely have things back on track next year. I’d be shocked if an excellent organization like Columbus didn’t.

Either way, I’ve got to remind them one last time: they’ll always have 2020.

Previous: 2-0 win vs. CHI | Next: End of season

Perhaps mercifully, LAFC’s late push for the playoffs came to a close at the hands of the Rapids. Cristian Arango still scored his 14th goal in 15 starts and there’s a good chance he’ll take home Newcomer of the Year. This might have been the last chance for this particular core of LAFC players, but the next one can be built around Arango. He’s a star.

LAFC have some soul searching to do now though. They simply haven’t been effective enough over the last two years, despite finishing this year on top of the league in expected goal differential. It will be fascinating to see how they course correct and which manager will be around to steer things.

On a related note, here’s your final LAFC Catastrophic Moment of the Week for 2021.

Previous: 5-2 loss at COL | Next: End of season

Wondo forever.

Previous: 1-1 draw vs. DAL | Next: End of season

There are worse ways to end the season than beating New England. Now the task of retooling this roster under sanctions begins.

Previous: 1-0 win at NE | Next: End of season

Previous: 2-0 loss at CLB | Next: End of season

Let’s sit back and see how much money FC Dallas get for Ricardo Pepi and how well they use it.

Previous: 1-1 draw at SJ | Next: End of season

Austin couldn’t pull off the trifecta against Portland. But there’s a foundation there. In the roster and in the club culture and in the fan base. There are far worse ways to start your existence in MLS. You have to think year two will be a step forward.

Previous: 3-0 loss at POR | Next: End of season

A new manager is coming at some point. And a revamped roster should be on the way too. In fact, Toronto may have the most fascinating offseason ahead of them of any team. 

Previous: 3-1 loss vs. DC | Next: End of season

New ownership and a new GM are there to pick out a new manager. Houston might look very, very different in 2022.

Previous: 2-0 loss at MTL | Next: End of season

For the sake of an incredible fan base, here’s hoping they finally get this offseason right.

Previous: 2-1 loss vs. ATL | Next: End of season