It’s a brand new year in MLS. Every team is hopeful that their off-season moves will be enough to carry them to the promised land of the postseason. Every new signing looks like he will save the day or be the piece that pushes each respective club to new heights. Some of them will, more of them won’t.
The first edition of The Mane Land MLS Power Rankings for 2018 will tell you exactly where your club stands heading into the new year.
1. Toronto FC
It looks like the reigning champions against the field once again. Just one year after breaking all kinds of MLS performance records, the Reds reloaded. Even though they lost starting right back Steven Beitashour to expansion side Los Angeles FC, they upgraded with Dutch international Gregory van der Wiel. Mix in a dash of youth and skill in Ager Aketxe from Athletic Bilbao, and it looks like TFC’s midfield could be even deeper than it was last year. Good luck, everybody else.
2. New York City FC
The Pigeons’ biggest signing was Josué Colmán’s countryman in Paraguayan winger Jesus Medina, who should do well to replace the outgoing production of Jack Harrison after he left for parent club Manchester City in January. But NYCFC also managed to shore up all of its problem areas; Anton Tinnerholm and Saad Abdul-Salaam solve the problems at right back, the club poached plenty of young depth from France in the form of Ismael Tajouri and Cédric Hountondji, and the bearded Viking Jo Inge Berget will fortify the forward line. No other club in MLS may be as poised to challenge Toronto as Patrick Vieira and NYCFC.
3. Portland Timbers
While Portland sold Darlington Nagbe, Caleb Porter might be the biggest loss for the Timbers this off-season. But the majority of the Western Conference table-toppers are back under new gaffer Giovanni Savarese, who has long been one of the top lower-league coaches in the United States.
4. Atlanta United
Atlanta has dominated headlines for the past few months with a transfer debacle over teenage winger Ezequiel Barco, who eventually shattered the MLS transfer record, and a trade for Nagbe. But did this team get better? Nagbe is a significant drop in defensive ability from Carlos Carmona in central midfield and there’s no guarantee Barco will adapt as quickly as Yamil Asad. With Miguel Almirón angling for a summer switch away from MLS, it doesn’t look like Atlanta United will be at the same level as Toronto or NYCFC.
5. Seattle Sounders
The Sounders once again look among the likeliest to emerge from the West. But the core is getting older and there are questions swirling about the longevity of Clint Dempsey and Ozzie Alonso in Seattle. The lone major addition was Norwegian international Magnus Wolff Eikrem, but the midfielder should be able to combine well with the key pieces already in place. Jordan Morris suffering a torn ACL was not the start to 2018 the club was looking for, but with Nicolás Lodeiro, Cristian Roldan, Dempsey, Eikrem, and Alonso should be capable of getting the Sounders back to the top of the West.
6. Sporting Kansas City
Yohan Croizet, Felipe Gutiérrez, and Johnny Russell highlight the incomings for SKC this year but the gaping hole left by Dom Dwyer’s exit remains. While Sporting’s defense should once again be among the best in the league and the offense looks improved, the lack of a true striker limits this team’s ceiling.
7. Houston Dynamo
The high-flying Dynamo return both of the talented wingers that led them all the way to the Western Conference final. Alberth Elis made an homage to the Black Panther last season and Houston may ask him to be a hero similar to his comic book compatriot if the Dynamo want to keep up with their conference foes. The additions of former Lion Darwin Cerén and Arturo Álvarez will bolster the midfield, but will they be enough?
8. Chicago Fire
Chicago traded David Accam away and still has yet to replace him and Michael de Leeuw is still rehabbing a torn ACL he suffered last fall. It looks like the reins of the offense could be placed in the hand of talented Spanish midfielder Jon Bakero, whom the team selected fifth overall in the January SuperDraft. While the Fire look likely to be a playoff team again, they definitely are falling behind the other top Eastern teams.
9. New York Red Bulls
After shocking the league last winter and trading then-captain Dax McCarty to Chicago, the Red Bulls shocked no one and traded then-captain Sacha Kljestan to Orlando City. His replacement is talented youngster Alejandro Romero, better known as Kaku (a play on former Orlando City great Kaká’s nickname). Jesse Marsch and company are hoping youthful exuberance will be able to do what seasoned veterans couldn’t, which may not be the best course of action.
10. Real Salt Lake
Mike Petke’s men nearly made the playoffs last year after a disappointing beginning to the season. Building on that strong finish, RSL brought back talented youngsters Jefferson Savarino and Brooks Lennon and also added Spanish forward Alfredo Ortuño to make another run in the West.
11. Orlando City
On paper, the Lions look like one of the most complete teams in the league after an active off-season, let alone in the East. We’ll find out how true that is this weekend against a rejuvenated D.C. side when Orlando’s newfound depth will be tested with so many starters’ availabilities in flux. The talent is certainly there, it’s just a matter of putting all of the pieces together.
12. Columbus Crew
Gregg Berhalter’s system will seemingly always make the Crew contenders. But I’m not convinced the step down from Ola Kamara and Justin Meram to Gyasi Zardes and Mike Grella is a drastic one. Maybe Berhalter can overcome the personnel issues, but it will be hard to ignore the constant threat of a relocation to Austin. How does that affect the locker room?
13. FC Dallas
Santiago Mosquera will be asked to help lead FC Dallas back to prominence after a woeful 2017 season. Oscar Pareja and company struggled with locker room issues after a handful of players asked out, but that looks to be behind them. The club also kept talented Homegrown Player Kellyn Acosta (currently shelved six to eight weeks after sports hernia surgery), but for how long?
14. LA Galaxy
After one of the most disappointing seasons in the club’s history, the Galaxy did everything they could to patch their problem areas. Ola Kamara will push Giovani dos Santos deeper into midfield where he’ll be able to combine with his brother Jonathan. Sebastian Lletget is back from a lengthy injury spell that kept him out most of last year. Jorgen Skjelvik and Perry Kitchen will solidify the defensive half of the field. It looks like the Galaxy will be back this year, but they didn’t look like Wooden Spoon winners last year, either.
15. San Jose Earthquakes
Yet another new manager in Sweden’s Mikael Stahre, who is looking to bring his Scandinavian influence to the Bay Area. The Swedish league’s top scorer last year in Magnus Eriksson brings a ton of attacking talent to San Jose, but did they do enough to improve after backing into the playoffs in 2017?
16. Montreal Impact
Remi Garde brings plenty of Ligue 1 coaching experience to Quebec but he’s had to deal with the departure of two of his three most important players. Laurent Ciman and Blerim Džemaili are gone, leaving only Ignacio Piatti behind. Algerian international Saphir Taïder is the new top dog in the Impact midfield and they have surrounded him with plenty of Canadian talent. But whether or not that’s enough to keep up in the East is another matter.
17. Vancouver Whitecaps
Fredy Montero, Christian Bolaños, David Ousted, and Matias Laba are all gone. Tim Parker might soon join them after asking out of Vancouver earlier in the off-season and the Canadian side acquiring José Aja from Orlando City last week. The Whitecaps are an almost completely new side this year and that might not be a good thing after securing a playoff place in 2017.
18. D.C. United
D.C. brought in a slew of new talent over the transfer window but ignored the team’s need for a proper striker. Darren Mattocks and Patrick Mullins are two inconsistent options and if neither are in form the Black and Red will be in trouble. But the midfield four behind them with a full season of Paul Arriola and Zoltan Stieber along with the addition of Yamil Asad means D.C. could conceivably be much closer to the red line this year.
19. Philadelphia Union
The bad news is the Union made one new signing with considerable senior-level experience all winter. The good news is that the signing was David Accam. But the addition of the Ghanaian speedster is likely not enough for a Philly side that was underwhelming at best in 2017.
20. New England Revolution
Brad Friedel gets his shot at coaching a senior team for the first time but his locker room is already divided. Star playmaker Lee Nguyen publicly held out in training camp and has shone a negative light on the Revs’ front office and their handling of the situation. Jay Heaps was blamed for New England’s last few years of mediocrity and was summarily fired and we’ll get a chance to test that hypothesis as Friedel has kept the lot mostly intact.
21. Los Angeles FC
LAFC has some fantastic players in its first team, highlighted by Mexican star Carlos Vela and an intimidating center back pairing of Laurent Ciman and Walker Zimmerman. But the expansion team has dire depth and it remains to be seen if the club will be legitimately competitive this year or if they will be have to lean on their starting lineup until the wheels fall off. Even then, the lack of defensive ability in midfield is highly concerning.
22. Colorado Rapids
Would you feel confident fielding a mishmash of the 2017 Colorado Rapids, New Zealand National Team, and a handful of players from the English Championship? Neither would I. But that’s what new boss Anthony Hudson has collected in Colorado in an attempt to change the attitude around the dour Rapids. The outlook is currently not so good.
23. Minnesota United
After a “soft opening” in 2017, Minnesota seems to be going for a repeat performance. The Loons spent yet another transfer window acquiring wingers and ignoring their hole at play-maker while swinging and missing at every potentially big signing. Adrian Heath spent 2017 getting the best out of a roster chock full of mediocre players and he’ll need to do the same again to keep the Loons out of the basement.
What did you think of the first power rankings of the year? Which teams would you change? Let us know in the comments below.