I got a kick out of reading Bob Sturm’s NFL franchise rankings on The Athletic yesterday so I decided to pay homage to it with an MLS Franchise Ranking in the same style. Don’t worry if you can’t read Sturm’s bit, I’ll explain.
The idea is to assign a point value to winning trophies. Sturm uses the following system for the NFL:
Winning the Super Bowl: 11 points
Losing the Super Bowl: 5 points
Losing AFC/NFC championship game: 3 points
Making the playoffs: 1 point
Teams can only earn one level of points per season. You win the Super Bowl you get 11 points. That’s it. Not 11+5+3+1.
That’s a good system, but soccer has other stuff. The US Open Cup, the Supporters Shield, the Canadian Championship, and the Concacaf Champions League. So here’s my point system.
Winning MLS Cup: 11 points
Losing MLS Cup: 5 points
Losing MLS Final Four Game: 3 points
Making the playoffs: 1 point
Win Concacaf Champions League: 11 points
Lose CCL Final: 5 points
Lose CCL Semifinal: 3 points
Win US Open Up: 5 points
Lose US Open Cup Final: 3 points
Win Supporters Shield: 5 points
Win the other conference: 3 points
Win Concacaf Champions Cup: 2 points
Lose Concacaf Champions Cup Final: 1 point
Win Canadian Championship: 1 point
The thinking behind all these points? The CCL is big, winning that – which no MLS team has ever done – should get big points. But I’m not giving any points for just making it into the CCL at all because teams have already won points just getting in.
The old Concacaf Champions Cup was a knockout tourney and was much easier to win so it’s worth fewer points.
The USOC and the Supporters Shield are great titles to win as well, but I’m making them less valuable than MLS Cup to align with what I think most of the audience feels is the true value relative to MLS Cup.
I’m also giving points in the Cup for the “other conference” winner – not the same as the Shield runner up – as they get a CCL spot.
Lastly, with only three teams (really) fighting for the Canadian Championship, I’m only giving a point for winning it.
Note: I’m only considering teams during their time in MLS. Someone else can do an all-time franchise in the United States if they want.
Thanks to Dan Crooke for helping out with this article.
Total Points versus Points Per Season
Obviously, given the nature of MLS expansion total points aren’t that telling. Yes, it’s fun and I’ll lay them out. But 25 seasons vs. 1 season makes total points irrelevant, so instead, I’m ranking the teams on points per season (pps) basis.
You could go so far as to say the difference in the timeframes of franchises makes the whole thing moot, but I’m going to do it anyway.
Let’s add up some points…
Tier One – The Heavyweights
Atlanta United – 6.67 pps (20 total points)
In just three seasons the 5-Stripes have announced their pressure with authority. Small sample size, can they keep it up?
2018 MLS Cup and 2019 US Open Cup wins.
Seattle Sounders – 6.36 pps (70 total points)
Consistently excellent since joining MLS. One of the first big spending franchises along with Toronto FC.
2 MLS Cups, 1 runner up. 4 US Open Cups with 1 runner up. 1 Supporters Shield and one other conference win. 1 CCL final 4.
LA Galaxy – 6.21 pps (149 total points)
If we were using just total points then the LA Galaxy are the Mac Daddy and it’s not even close. 149 points is a crap ton of winning. Over 25 years they are the kings of winning in MLS by a long shot.
5 MLS Cup, 4 runner ups. 2 US Open Cup, 2 Cup runner ups. 4 Supporters Shields, 3 other conference wins. 1 CCL final four, 1 CCC win and 1 CCC runner up.
Tier Two – The Light Heavyweights
DC United – 4.79 pps (115 total points)
A powerhouse of early MLS and arguably the league’s best franchise over the first decade. They’ve fallen off over the last 10 years from their former heights, although they have made the playoffs 5 of the last 6 years.
4 MLS Cups with 1 runner up. 3 US Open Cups with 2 runner ups. 4 Supporters Shields with 2 other conference wins. 1 CCC Cup.
LAFC – 4.50 pps (9 total points)
A new force in MLS and another example of why total points might not be relevant. The Supporters Shield win in 2019 set the MLS single-season record for points.
Tier Three – The Middleweights
Sporting KC – 3.92 pps (94 total points)
One of the heavyweights in total points, consistently consistent, only 7 playoff misses in 25 years. 2 MLS Cups with 1 runner up. 4 US Open Cups. 1 Supporters Shield with 5 other conference wins.
Houston Dynamo – 3.57 pps (50 total points)
Gifted two MLS Cups (2006, 2007) after San Jose moved to Houston following the 2005 season. Houston has lost MLS Cup twice since then (2011, 2012). Won the 2018 US Open Cup. One other conference win in 2008.
The Dynamo have only made the playoffs once in the last six years.
Chicago Fire – 3.55 pps (78 total points)
4th overall in total points, the Fire were LAFC back in 1998 taking the league by storm as an expansion team winning MLS Cup and the US Open Cup that year.
2 MLS Cup runner ups in 2000 and 2003. 4 total US Open Cups (including that inaugural ’98 Cup) and two more runner ups. 2003 Supporters Shield winners and twice other conference winners.
A brutal last decade though only making the playoffs twice.
Miami Fusion – 3.25 pps (13 total points)
This short-lived franchise was crushing it on the pitch but got closed down as the owner couldn’t hang with the big boys. Playoffs in 3 of 4 seasons, Open Cup runner ups in 2000, and Supporters Shield winners in 2001… when they were contracted.
Toronto FC – 3.23 pps (42 total points)
The highest placing Canadian team. Solid winners since joining MLS and willing to spend money on players. They arguably started the MLS arms race. By-far the best Canadian team.
1 MLS Supporters Shield, 1 MLS Cup, 2 MLS Cup losses, 1 CCL Final loss, and 1 CCL Semifinal. 7-time Canadian Champions!
Portland Timbers – 3.00 pps (27 total points)
The Timbers have figured out how to run in the middle of the pack and peak in the playoffs. 2015 MLS Cup winners, runner ups in 2018. Two other conference wins in 2013 and 2017.
Tier Four – The Welterweights
Columbus Crew – 2.71 pps (65 total points)
A stealthy “massive” club. Three-time Supporters Shield winners. Won the 2008 MLS Cup but lost MLS Cup in 2015. The Crew won the USOC in 2002 and twice finished runners up.
New York Red Bulls – 2.58 pps (62 total points)
The regular-season champs of MLS haven’t been able to convert the winning to trophies. In fact, they’ve only missed the playoffs 4 times in their entire history, the last over a decade ago.
Three Supporters Shields and two other conference wins. Made the 2008 MLS Cup and lost. They got to the CCL Semifinals in 2018.
FC Dallas – 2.38 pps (57 total points)
Two US Open Cups and two Cup runner ups, one Supporters Shield and two other conference wins, an MLS Cup runner up, and a CCL final four. The ex-Burn have only missed the playoffs 7 times in 25 years but are missing the biggest silverware, the MLS Cup.
Real Salt Lake – 2.33 pps (35 total points)
Above-average competitors in their 15 season. Won the 2009 MLS Cup. Lost the 2013 MLS Cup and US Open Cup Final as well as the 2011 CCL Final.
New England Revolution – 2.29 pps (55 total points)
It’s astounding that the Revs have lost MLS Cup a staggering 5 times. They’ve also finished 2nd in the US Open Cup twice and won their “other conference” twice. Only the loan 2007 US Cup win to show for their play.
They’ve also had a tough last decade making the playoffs just four times.
San Jose Earthquakes – 2.00 pps (44 total points)
A really good team from 2001 until they moved to Houston in 2005 – with two MLS Cup wins in 2001 and 2003. A big pile of futility from 1996 to 2000 and since they were restored to MLS in 2008 as an expansion team.
Tier Five – The Lightweights
Tampa Bay Mutiny – 1.83 points (11 total points)
The inaugural Supporters Shield winners in 1996 when Roy Lassiter set the amazing single-season goals mark that wasn’t broken until 2018. Contracted at the end of 2001.
Montreal Impact – 1.63 pps (13 total points)
Three Canadian Championships and three MLS Playoff appearances in 8 seasons. They somehow made it to the CCL final in 2015.
Colorado Rapids – 1.58 pps (38 total points)
The worst of the original MLS franchises but they do have that elusive 2010 MLS Cup they thugged away from FC Dallas in 2010. (No, I’m not biased at all.) One playoff appearance in the last six seasons.
New York City FC – 1.40 pps (7 total points)
It’s funny, I tend to think of NYCFC as a pretty good team as they’ve made the playoffs 4 out of 5 seasons in MLS. But they haven’t managed to get any trophies from their solid regular seasons so far. Toped the other conference in 2019.
Minnesota United FC – 1.33 pps (4 total points)
Made the playoffs for the first time in 2019 and also got to the US Open Cup final. That’s their one good season in their three years of existence.
Philadelphia Union – 1.30 pps (13 total points)
Little to show for their 10 seasons beyond 4 playoff appearances (never advancing to the final four) and 3 runs to the US Open Cup final.
Tier Six – The Featherweights
Vancouver Whitecaps FC – 0.89 pps (8 total points)
The lowest-ranked Canadian team. Their 1 Canadian Championship squeaks them above the bottom three.
Chivas USA – 0.70 pps (7 total points)
They started out fairly well, making the playoffs in 4 of their first 5 seasons and topping the Western Conference in 2007. But boy did it go bad after that. Hard to believe they lasted 10 seasons.
FC Cincinnati – 0.00 pps (0 total points)
Just one season to go by for FCC and it was brutally bad. Might as well be starting over.
Orlando City – 0.00 pps (0 total points)
O-City have never made the playoffs in their 5 seasons of existence.
All-Time Total Points
Newer clubs get hard done by here.
|Sporting Kansas City||94|
|New York Red Bulls||62|
|New England Revolution||55|
|San Jose Earthquakes||44|
|Real Salt Lake||35|
|Tampa Bay Mutiny||11|
|Los Angeles Football Club||9|
|New York City FC||7|
Last 10 Seasons – Points Per Season
This one’s kind of fun, who’s hottest of the last decade.
|Team||Points Per Season|
|Sporting Kansas City||4.9|
|Los Angeles Football Club||4.5|
|New York Red Bulls||4.3|
|Real Salt Lake||2.1|
|New York City FC||1.4|
|New England Revolution||1.1|
|San Jose Earthquakes||1|
Last 10 Seasons – Total Points
And the brutally straight list that doesn’t account as well for teams who haven’t been around 10 years.
|Team||Last 10 Points|
|Sporting Kansas City||49|
|New York Red Bulls||43|
|Real Salt Lake||21|
|New England Revolution||11|
|San Jose Earthquakes||10|
|Los Angeles Football Club||9|
|New York City FC||7|
All the Data – Sortable
Click away to your heart’s content.
Disclaimer: there is a lot of math and excel sheet work here. It’s very possible I’ve made a mistake. But I feel pretty good it’s pretty damn close.
This was a really fun. I love looking at things from a new perspective. More of this please.
Love this system. One of my favorite Sturm articles of the year, and I really like the application to MLS here.
I feel like LAFC and Atlanta are going to have a pretty strong run these next couple years in the franchise rankings.