The Power Rankings are back. You’re welcome. (I’m so, so sorry.)
A few things to address before you ignore all of this and skip down to see where your favorite team is.
- Like always, this is not my fault. The Power Rankings are voted on by a collection of Major League Soccer soccer dot com editors, writers and personalities. You want to get mad at me for not properly forecasting the impact your team’s third-string striker will have? Sure. Fire away. You’re mad at me that your team is 13th and not 11th? You do you.
- Any and all complaints can be brought to my alter ego, Tom Bogert, on the internet website known as Twitter.
- Apologies in advance that LAFC are already in the top spot. (Not really, but you were annoyed for a second there, huh?)
To the rankings.
A really good way to top the first Power Rankings of the year is to win MLS Cup. An even better way to do it is to win MLS Cup, keep most of your core together, re-sign playmaker Maxi Moralez on a team-friendly deal, address your biggest need by signing new DP center back Thiago Martins, and then seemingly hold onto last year’s Golden Boot presented by Audi winner, Taty Castellanos, at least until this summer. This group is good.
Some might object and say voters are basing too much on Audi MLS Cup Playoffs performance, and they’re just falling into the same trap they did last year with the Columbus Crew. To that, I point out how NYCFC finished fourth in the East standings. They played some of the league’s most visually attractive soccer at times, too.
We’ll see if they can put together a more consistent season in 2022 while balancing Concacaf Champions League, trophy hangover, high expectations for young attacking players and a looming deal for Taty. Even if they can’t find consistency throughout the season, their ceiling is still sky-high.
Next: 2/27 at LA
For me, this is the best team on paper in MLS. When fully healthy, the weakest link in their starting XI might be…Nouhou? Xavier Arreaga?? Stefan Frei??? These are guys who would start and be effective on almost any team in the league.
But can they be fully healthy? Jordan Morris is ready to see significant minutes this year, but what kind of production can we reasonably expect from a player coming off a second ACL tear? Nico Lodeiro started in Seattle’s CCL draw with Motagua, but he struggled to find the field with consistency last year and is coming off multiple knee surgeries at age 32. We know how good these two can be, we just don’t know how close they’ll be to the Best XI-caliber version of themselves.
Honestly though, that may not matter all that much as long as they can contribute above replacement level. Seattle added Albert Rusnak to the team after an 11-goal, 11-assist season with Real Salt Lake and, even with a litany of injuries last season, they finished with 60 points. They seem like a lock to surpass that number this season.
Next: 2/27 vs. NSH
I’m sure no one will have any opinions on last year’s record-setting Supporters’ Shield winners checking in at number three to start the year. It’s probably fair to assume future projections played a part here.
Matt Turner will be gone in the summer. Considering the record-setting amount of one-goal games New England won last season and the fact they outperformed their expected points total by 20 points, losing the best shot-stopper in league history feels like a big deal. For now, Turner (and Adam Buksa) is still there, this team is absolutely loaded, and they have a legitimate shot at breaking the league’s CCL drought.
They’ll be loaded when Turner leaves too. Tajon Buchanan is gone, but Sebastian Lletget is in and Jozy Altidore is here to provide some backup. The rest of this group is largely unchanged from the one that put up 73 points last year.
That includes MVP-candidate (in my heart) Henry Kessler.
Next: 2/26 at POR
The Union finished second in the East last season and are entering 2022 exactly how you would expect: With general continuity across the board and a collection of talented homegrown players you may or may not have heard of yet that may or not be made in an underground lab in Chester.
There are two major changes to keep an eye on, though. First: Jamiro Monteiro is gone after a mixed tenure as a DP… but they’re still two-deep at every position in their midfield diamond. That includes the preseason league leader in almost every major statistical category.
I wouldn’t be too worried about Philly’s midfield.
The other major development is the departure of striker Kacper Przybylko (trade to Chicago) and the arrival of two new DP forwards. Mikael Uhre comes from Brondby as the club’s new record signing, and Julian Carranza comes on loan from Inter Miami CF. If either Uhre or Carranza raise the No. 9 situation a level or two, then the Union may take a major step forward from 2021.
Next: 2/26 vs. MIN
Nashville spent last season becoming the seventh team in MLS history to go undefeated at home and tied the MLS record for fewest losses in a season. They also drew 18 times in the regular season and technically drew one more time in the playoffs before sending a couple of penalty kicks into the Delaware River. Things could have been far worse. Things could have been just a little bit better and we could have been talking about Nashville in the same tier as 2018 Atlanta United and 2019 LAFC in the second-year expansion team pantheon.
Fortunately, Nashville have gotten a little bit better this offseason. Almost all the core pieces are back this year except for defender Alistair Johnston. Nashville’s offseason maneuvering for what felt like all of the league’s remaining GAM should give them the ability to replace Johnston when the right player comes along. Maybe someone like Shaq Moore?
Additionally, they added former New York Red Bulls captain Sean Davis via free agency in one of the quietly excellent moves of the offseason. Davis is a prolific ball-winner and should help make Nashville’s midfield one of the most effective in the league. Everything is set for the Coyotes/Boys in Gold/whatever we’re calling them now to succeed in the Western Conference. They’ll put up major points as long as the travel doesn’t wear them down.
And if preseason whispers of DP striker Ake Loba beginning to look like the club-record signing they paid for are true? Well, then this is comfortably a top-three team in the conference.
Next: 2/27 at SEA
Last year’s regular-season Western Conference champs lost Cole Bassett and Kellyn Acosta, will lose Auston Trusty in the summer, and didn’t add a DP despite having three available spots. I’m going to keep harping on it because I’m not mad, I just hoped for more. The midfield shouldn’t suffer considerably considering Mark Anthony-Kaye and Jack Price are still excellent and they brought in Bryan Acosta and Brazilian U22 signing Max as reinforcements to round out the group. They’re still a very good team.
But they didn’t get better, in my view. This all may correct itself with time and maybe this group makes a whole bunch of “experts” look dumb again. However, it feels like everyone is keenly aware of this team’s weaknesses and we’re waiting for the ball to drop.
Robin Fraser is a fantastic head coach. Now imagine him with the cavalry to really push the Rapids forward another level or two. That’s what fans are dreaming about, too.
Next: 2/26 at LAFC
Am I allowed to say anything about Portland after I spent last year being wrong about literally everything Portland, over and over again? I mean, it’s never stopped me before. Let’s give it a shot.
I don’t know how confident I can be in a team that spent the last two seasons outperforming their expected goals numbers by considerably more than every other team and is depending on Sebastian Blanco to be healthy. That doesn’t mean I think they’ll be bad. I just can’t find the bravery to pencil them in among the West’s elite teams at the start of 2022.
I still worry about their backline, they lost goalkeeper Steve Clark, and Felipe Mora, Larrys Mabiala and Dario Zuparic are already hurt. And, genuine question here: Am I allowed to feel iffy about a team based on…just…vibes?
Again, all of that could be put to bed quickly and the world can return to making fun of me for being wrong about Portland. In fact, that’s probably the most likely outcome. But I don’t think it’s unfair to say there are questions to answer.
Next: 2/26 vs. NE
Last year, this team’s lack of balance and connective tissue got exposed by teams with even comparable amounts of talent. They beat just one team that finished above the playoff line. One. In large part because you can get away with trying to dribble through bad teams in a way you can’t against good teams.
The central question for Atlanta is whether or not that connective tissue has formed in a full offseason under Gonzalo Pineda. The group is largely the same except for the addition of Andrew Gutman at left back (an objective upgrade), Ozzie Alonso in midfield (an upgrade but for how many minutes?) and Thiago Almada (the league-record $16 million price tag could be a heavy burden). We’ll see if those additions, plus some stability, add up to something special.
Pineda is on record as saying he didn’t want to or have the time to come in and change too much last season. Now Atlanta are primed to move to a back four and play in a way that I imagine looks very, very Sounders when it reaches its final form.
If Luiz Araujo lives up to his MVP-caliber potential, Josef Martinez continues to look as he has during preseason and Almada provides the consistent productivity that Ezequiel Barco couldn’t, then this team can win trophies. But a lot of that depends on whether Atlanta looks cohesive and assured in transition, or stuck trying to dribble through a gauntlet to make anything happen.
Next: 2/27 vs. SKC
Did…did LAFC quietly have the best offseason in the league? I’m not saying either way, just throwing a genuine question out here. In one offseason, they added Franco Escobar, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Ilie Sanchez, Kellyn Acosta, Ryan Hollingshead and Maxime Crepeau. At least four of those guys are genuinely good and two of them can be effective. For a team that had a feature segment every week last year in this column entitled “The Catastrophic LAFC Defensive Moment of the Week” and never ran out of content, these seem like moves that should really, really keep that from happening.
Sanchez was solid last year, Acosta is Acosta, Hollingshead has been under-discussed for years and Crepeau might be the single-most-important addition to any team this offseason. LAFC led the league in expected goal differential last season and still missed the playoffs. Largely due to those catastrophic defensive moments aided by shoddy goalkeeping.
Last year, Crepeau finished third in the league in American Soccer Analysis’ all-encompassing “goals added” metric per 96 minutes played, just behind Andre Blake and Matt Turner. A tier below those two, but still far better than what LAFC had in goal. All these additions, including new manager Steve Cherundolo, might end up making LAFC more boring. They also might make them far more effective. They really didn’t need much besides rolling Carlos Vela, Brian Rodriguez and Cristian Arango out for a full season and some adjustments at the back. They went ahead and (theoretically) solidified themselves defensively in a way they’ve maybe never been.
Next: 2/26 vs. COL
What to do without Alan Pulido? It may be Khiry Shelton’s job for the year. Or maybe new signing Nikola Vujnovic takes over. Either way, Pulido’s season-long absence considerably lowers this team’s ceiling.
Of course, it’s SKC and Peter Vermes and the floor is, as always, higher than most. But if you’re an SKC fan, how good are you feeling about having to rely on Johnny Russell and Daniel Salloi having career seasons again to reach the same level as last season? It’s not the worst bet you could make, but it’d be a lot easier to envision with Pulido drawing defenders. On top of that, there are questions about who starts and how effective they can be in midfield. Some key pieces are a bit on the older side, too. And I question whether the depth has improved on the league’s least substituted team in 2021 to make rotation seem a little more viable.
This year could potentially look quite similar for SKC fans. That being said, a lot of fans elsewhere in the league would take a standard SKC season without a second thought.
Next: 2/27 at ATL
I have no idea what to think of this team. I have no idea what to think of them largely staying pat this offseason except for adding Mark Delgado and Douglas Costa. I have no idea what to think of Douglas Costa. I have no idea what to think of preseason all-star Kevin Cabral. I have no idea how Sebastian Lletget and Jonathan dos Santos leaving really impacts them. I have no idea what to think about this team’s potential to progress in year two under Greg Vanney with a largely unchanged roster from the group that fell just short of the playoffs on Decision Day. I have no idea if the defense will be improved.
Next: 2/27 vs. NYC
Orlando took some of their Daryl Dike transfer money and the roster spaces opened by Nani and Chris Mueller’s exits to splash some cash on young South American talent. Young DP winger Facundo Torres is the big one, coming on a reported $7.5 million deal from Penarol in Uruguay. They also brought in Uruguayan U22 Initiative midfielder Cesar Araujo from Montevideo Wanderers.
They even went out and added another DP forward, bringing in Rapid Vienna’s Ercan Kara. Those signings, attacking midfielder Mauricio Pereyra’s new deal and a solid defensive setup that’s almost entirely unchanged make Orlando one of the most intriguing teams of the season. We know they’ll be able to keep teams from scoring. But will the new signings provide the spark they were missing for most of last year in attack?
Next: 2/27 vs. MTL
Not a ton of major consequences to report this offseason for CF Montréal. The biggest addition is likely former Nashville defender and Canada standout, Alistair Johnston. He should fit in nicely, while Bologna loanee Gabriele Corbo could be an effective backline addition. And Kei Kamara is back! He could reach third on the league’s all-time scoring chart.
General continuity should be a good thing for a team that nearly made the playoffs last season. Especially considering they don’t have to start the season playing home games in Florida, like in 2021. No one should be sleeping on Djordje Mihailovic, Romell Quioto or Wilfried Nancy at this point. They’re going to push for a playoff spot.
Next: 2/27 at ORL
Ozzie Alonso and Jan Gregus are gone and there haven’t been a lot of reinforcements brought into midfield (shoutout Kervin Arriaga, still). There have been strikers, though. The Loons went out and got U22 Initiative forward Bongokuhle Hlongwane while also adding DP striker Luis Amarilla last week. It’s…an interesting signing to say the least.
Amarilla already played for the Loons back in 2020 before an ankle injury and “2020” kept him off the field. He publicly promised 25 goals before the 2020 season. He still needs 23 goals to get there.
He joins Adrien Hunou and Hlongwane up top in a position group that now runs two DPs and a U22 player deep. It will be interesting to see how they’re used and if how they’re used provides a spark to a team that prides itself on an underdog mentality.
Next: 2/26 at PHI
It’s pretty simple for the Whitecaps. If Ryan Gauld and Brian White live up to the expectations they set for themselves during last season’s second-half playoff run, this is a team that can not only make the playoffs, but could even host a home playoff game. If they’re not quite at that level, the Caps may be on the fringes. Especially now that Maxime Crepeau is in LA.
And if nothing else, always trust what Vanni Sartini says. Andiamo.
Next: 2/26 at CLB
At first glance, you look at Columbus’s transactions this offseason and it almost looks like a major overhaul. Then you look at their current projected XI and you kind of realize that not a whole lot changed from a team that didn’t put up much of a title defense last year.
Then again, there are worse ideas than banking on a group that won MLS Cup two years ago to simply be healthy this year. That didn’t happen last year and it hobbled them. Maybe more than any other team. Now, their 2020 team has garnered a reputation as one that got hot at the right time rather than being a world-beating juggernaut. We’ll see if being healthy and a couple of changes along the backline and at winger are enough to get Caleb Porter’s back into the playoffs.
Maybe Miguel Berry ends up carrying them there?
Next: 2/26 vs. VAN
Albert Rusnak and his 11 goals and 11 assists are gone. That’s enough to dampen expectations for a team that nearly went to MLS Cup last year. Pablo Mastroeni’s men proved me wrong last year, though. Both late in the regular season and with their impressive playoff run.
Real Salt Lake clearly had good moments in 2021. The problem is I’m just not sure how they build on those moments without Rusnak and no clear replacement production-wise. It just feels like they need more than Sergio Cordova, ya know? Still banking on that Gustavo Cuellar report coming to fruition, by the way.
Next: 2/27 at HOU
There are a bunch of players out and a bunch of players in for New York this year. And honestly, I’m not sure how much any of it matters. Red Bulls are Red Bulls, right? There’s a certain floor and expectation that comes with their style of play. We’ll see if their biggest additions – Lewis Morgan from Inter Miami, Dylan Nealis from Nashville and new DP Luquinhas from Legia Warsaw – are enough to replace losing the likes of Sean Davis, Fabio and Andrew Gutman.
They might very well be! And this team might take a step forward in year two under Gerhard Struber. Maybe Patryk Klimala takes that step forward too and really begins to produce at striker. It’s all possible. All I really know is RBNY haven’t missed the playoffs since 2009. I'm not sure now is the time to confidently count them out.
Next: 2/26 at SJ
Lorenzo Insigne isn’t here yet, but new DP center back Carlos Salcedo is. Bob Bradley is here too. Are any of these three enough to take a struggling team from 2021 and make them good in 2022? I don’t know, but I’m kind of doubting it happens quickly. Let’s give it a few months and see what happens.
Also: Holy roster turnover.
Next: 2/26 at DAL
FC Dallas spent some Ricardo Pepi cash to bring in highly-rated Argentine forward Alan Velasco on a club-record deal. They also spent a record amount of allocation money to bring in Paul Arriola. Those moves, plus Jesus Ferreira’s new Young DP contract, indicate FCD aren’t sitting idle. We’ll find out how it all fits together under new head coach Nico Estevez. In my eyes, they’re the best bet in Texas to make the playoffs.
Next: 2/26 vs. TOR
This blurb is basically just the Red Bulls’ blurb, but exchange Hernan Losada for Gerhard Struber and switch some other names around and don’t mention the part where New York consistently makes the playoffs. I might just copy and paste that sentence the entire year, we’ll see.
Anyway, Paul Arriola, Kevin Paredes and Yordy Reyna are gone, among others. Brad Smith is here from Seattle to play wingback, Michael Estrada looks like their new No. 9 and new DP forward Taxi Fountas will be here in July (possibly sooner).
I’m not sure those signings and year two of Losada-ball will be enough to get D.C. a playoff spot. Although, we should probably keep in mind D.C. underperformed their underlying numbers by a shocking amount last season. Maybe they were better than we thought? Maybe they’ll prove that this year?
Next: 2/26 vs. CLT
Chicago made another DP signing over the weekend, with Mexican winger Jairo Torres arriving from Liga MX’s Atlas on May 1. It’s the cherry on top of one of the most exciting offseasons in Fire FC history. In addition to bringing in new manager Ezra Hendrickson, the Fire also brought in Philadelphia striker Kacper Przybylko.
Oh, and, no joke, Xherdan Shaqiri as well.
This team may still be a year away from truly pushing for the playoffs, but they’re as fun a dark horse pick as any right now.
Next: 2/26 at MIA
It’s likely one last chance to get it right for Matias Almeyda and company. I don’t know if new signings Jan Gregus, Francisco Calvo and Jamiro Monteiro are going to get them where they need to be. But it’s worth a shot?
Next: 2/26 vs. RBNY
It…kind of feels like Austin are banking on a year two bump for a lot of people. Things at least seemed to get better last year when Austin finally brought in a striker, but Moussa Djitte scored just once in 606 minutes. He does a lot of other things well though and it seems like Sebastian Driussi and Cecilio Dominguez could be set for productive second seasons as well.
On top of that, new defensive midfielder Jhojan Valencia and new center back Ruben Gabrielsen should help solidify things at the back. I don’t think it was unfair to hope for a little more in the club’s first offseason. Especially since they did show promise at times in 2021.
Next: 2/26 vs. CIN
Has anyone ever deconstructed and rebuilt a roster like Chris Henderson did this offseason? Seriously, I’m wondering.
Next: 2/26 vs. CHI
This isn’t a great ranking to start the year. However, if you’ve been paying attention, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about Houston’s future.
New ownership and new GM Pat Onstad started the offseason by bringing in defender Daniel Steres and goalkeeper Steve Clark after solid 2021s. Then they went out and bought club-record signing Sebastian Ferreira from Libertad. And now they’re reportedly in for Atletico Madrid and Mexican national team midfielder Hector Herrera.
They’re aiming big and moving towards something better. It’s just not going to come immediately.
Next: 2/27 vs. RSL
Cincy hardly made any changes. But they did bring in a new GM (Chris Albright), a new manager (Pat Noonan) and a new goalkeeper (Alec Kann). Kann may be the most important part of all of this in the near term after three straight wooden spoons.
Next: 2/26 at ATX
Expectations are going to be low after manager Miguel Angel Ramirez didn’t speak with glowing optimism about his roster heading into the season. There are worse things though than an expansion team struggling out of the gate.
What’s important right now is Charlotte seem on track to set an MLS record for attendance when they face the Galaxy March 5 (7:30 pm ET | FOX, FOX Deportes) at Bank of America Stadium. That’s an incredible introduction to the league. And the on-field product will come eventually. Right?
Next: 2/26 at DC