If you observe the league that is Major League Soccer for very long, you can begin to categorize how teams operate. You can see their trajectory, if you will. Generally speaking, teams fall into one (or more) of four categories:
A) Let's get some foreign stars and see what happens. LA is the poster-child for this category, but several other teams also fall here. Think Montreal, Toronto, and NYCFC.
B) Let's get a solid core of underrated stars and let it ride for a few years. Dallas, Portland, Kansas City, Columbus, Vancouver, and RSL all fall here, for example. This is probably the best way to cultivate a team, if you ask me. Having a solid core that plays together for years creates a consistent playing style, establishes roles and leaders within the team, and helps to build and maintain a relationship between the fans and the players on the field.
C) Are you gonna eat that? Rather then create a core and stick with it for a few years, these teams tend to pick off players that made their names or careers for other teams to maintain a level of competitiveness. They'll grab players as the need arises but haven't exhibited quite the long-term stability of category B teams. D.C. most aptly fits into this category but other teams are here too.
D) Do we really have to pay this electricity bill? These teams have no idea what they are doing and would be better off if they made decision by throwing darts at a board. Colorado is the only permanent resident of this neighborhood currently, but Philly and Chicago also have owned houses in the area recently and might move back soon.
Certainly I would agree that a team's direction and plan isn't perfectly pigeon-holed into that list of categories, but generally speaking I think every team in the league falls into one category or another. This off-season has seen just about everybody in the league stick to the script and stay in character.
If you missed last year's TML MLS Power Rankings, shame on you. Not only were they a good time for all (sometimes there's beer and pizza, I promise) they were also pretty accurate. They were rated as the second least biased power rankings on the web for a large chunk of the season and also rated highly in accuracy week after week, per our friends over at RSL Soapbox.
(Last Season's Power Ranking Finish reflects last year's final power rankings, which came at the conclusion of the regular season.)
1. FC Dallas (Last Season Power Ranking Finish: 1st)
Dallas' young core excelled last season and only figures to build on that momentum this season. Oscar Pareja continues to build a particularly strong resume as a coach. If I'm the coach of some MLS team, I'm having nightmares about this squad the week before we play them.
2. New York Red Bulls (Last Season Finish: 2nd)
The surprising Red Bulls won the Supporters Shield last season and bring back every significant contributor except for the now departed Matt Miazga. Can they get over the playoff hump that saw them give up a goal in nine seconds against Columbus last year? That's the million dollar question.
3. Portland Timbers (Last Season Finish: 4th)
The Champs hit a hot streak at the right time heading into the postseason last year and came away with the crown. Can they duplicate that this year, or will the Disease of More come to roost in Hipsterville, USA?
4. Columbus Crew SC (Last Season Finish: 3rd)
The Crew are out for revenge after a loss at home in the MLS Cup Final. Let's see if they can roll last year's chemistry over another year.
5. Vancouver Whitecaps (Last Season Finish: 5th)
Vancouver added a few key pieces to a squad that avoided any sort of rough patch until the end of the year. Will the Whitecaps peak at the right time this year like their one of their Cascadia rivals?
6. LA Galaxy (Last Season Finish: 6th)
LA certainly won the off-season, but will their experiment in name value stars be successful in 2016? I have my doubts after leading the LA bandwagon last season. They could be spectacular, or they could flame out into a hot mess of overpriced egos. Either way, the Galaxy will not be boring this year.
7. Seattle Sounders (Last Season Finish: 7th)
Goodbye Obafemi Martins, hello Jordan Morris. Seattle failed expectations last year, including an injury fueled midsummer drought that saw them drop 10 of 13 points at one stretch. Let's see what kind of old-man game Clint Dempsey has.
8. Montreal Impact (Last Season Finish: 8th)
It's about time Montreal brought back the black and blue stripes to its home jersey. Drogba's gonna look really good in that while he doesn't train with the rest of his teammates.
9. Sporting Kansas City (Last Season Finish: 11th)
They just keep rolling along in Kansas. With Brad Davis in tow, expect SKC to make another run at some silverware this year.
10. Toronto FC (Last Season Finish: 9th)
Carnac the Magnificent: "Jozy Altidore's hamstrings, Ikea furniture"
*Pauses while crowd giggles in anticipation*
Carnac opens envelope and reads: "Name two things that fall apart as soon as you put any weight on them."
11. New England Revolution (Last Season Finish: 10th)
Hey look, it's PSG!
12. Orlando City (Last Season Finish: 13th)
Hello there, reader that just scrolled down to the Orlando section. I'm glad you're here.
Los Leones (because giving your team a Spanish nickname in soccer is cool, right?) figure to be a playoff contender this year, assuming they can avoid some of the pitfalls of last season, like injuries and lineup inconsistencies. Last year I predicted playoffs for Orlando, and was wrong. In a "fool me twice, shame on me" move, I'm predicting playoffs again in year two. If you believe in jinxes, I'll be happy to combat your hate-comments below.
13. Houston Dynamo (Last Season Finish: 16th)
I really want to believe in Houston. They've made some bold moves in the off-season (saying goodbye to Brad Davis, bringing in Cristian Maidana and Andrew Wenger from Philly) and now it's time to start seeing results on the field.
14. D.C. United (Last Season Finish: 12th)
File D.C. next to San Jose as "Teams least likely to have an HBO doc or 30 for 30 made about them 20 years down the road."
15. Real Salt Lake (Last Season Finish: 15th)
RSL's championship window is closed shut. Its core of Javier Morales and Kyle Beckerman is aging, and the squad is in desperate need of a youth injection or a new direction.
Bold Prediction: Jeff Cassar doesn't survive the season and management brings back the erstwhile Jason Kreis to the job he never should have left.
16. San Jose Earthquakes (Last Season Finish: 14th)
The Quakes play nine nationally televised games this season, seven of which are on UDN. Thank God my cable-company doesn't carry UDN.
17. New York City FC (Last Season Finish: 17th)
The best going joke in MLS since Chivas USA got even funnier in the off-season after Jason Kreis got the boot in favor of Patrick Vieira of Thierry Henry-era Arsenal fame. The most interesting part about this move is that you could've predicted it before the Kreis era even began. Remember when Kreis got hired by NYCFC and was sent to Manchester to learn the ways of being a "City Manager?" Instead of letting him shadow Manuel Pelligrini and the first team, Kreis was sent to learn under the youth coaching staff. At the time it seemed to me that this was an example of how Manchester City viewed NYCFC -- as a farm team. The head coach of the Manchester City youth setup at the time? You guessed it -- Patrick Vieira.
NYCFC hired Kreis away from RSL, sent him off to England to learn the "City Philosophy" under a guy without first-team management experience, and then fired and replaced him with that same guy after a ridiculous season in which he had to integrate two aging midfielders into a team that was 2/3 of the way through the season, while also playing on a cramped surface on a baseball field. Jeezus. Talk about raw deals. It makes you wonder why they wanted Kreis in the first place.
I really, truly do not understand how you can be a fan of this team. Everything about it flies in the face of what MLS proclaims it wants to be.
18. Philadelphia Union (Last Season Finish: 18th)
Earnie Stewart is in charge now, promising to bring Moneyball to Major League Soccer. I like the sound of both of those ideas, but patience will be necessary. This Philly team isn't built to win just yet, but at least there seems to be a plan.
Bridgeview Dumpster Fire Chicago Fire (Last Season Finish: 20th)
Last year, I often called the Fire the "Fightin' Harry Shipps" but no more. Chicago's got a new GM and a new coach, and Mr. Shipp has a new language to learn for his new home in Montreal.