The Original MLS Power Rankings – Preseason 2021

This may very well be the most wide-open season in MLS history since the first one, in terms of all the variables and unknowns. Start with the new kids on the block Austin FC add in all the craziness of the 2020 season and there just really is no solid ground to walk upon. Sure, some teams seem to return more players than others, and some of them are good enough to give them credit coming into the season.

Also, a few teams have such a poor track record that it’s hard to give them any credit. Other than that? We are all just drunk monkeys playing with Ouija boards. And that is usually the case with most MLS season, but most especially this year.

Top Shelf

1. Columbus Crew.

Caleb Porter has built a juggernaut, and it ended with an MLS Cup victory. Returning most of the roster, the Crew have vaulted into this top tier with some scary stability.

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Columbus Crew SC players celebrate winning MLS Cup (Major League Soccer)

2. Los Angeles FC.

While they have fallen short in the playoffs, LAFC has often dominated the regular season despite many opportunities for opposing teams to try to figure out how they do the voodoo that they do.

3. Philadelphia Union.

A team that was built through youth, the 2018 and 2019 teams were on the verge. In 2020, they won the Supporters Shield and made it clear they are a top-tier team.

4. Toronto FC.

One of the best teams through much of last season, injuries caught up with them late and cost them another Shield.

5. Seattle Sounders.

This team is a perennial playoff master, often making the MLS Cup final. There is no reason to think 2021 will be any different.

6. Portland Timbers.

The talent is there. The battles with Seattle are epic. They just happen to stumble a little more often than the Sounders.

Quality

7. Atlanta United.

This is a team that usually was in the top tier, but last year was definitely an exception. They made the offseason moves that might return them to prominence, but we will let them prove it on the field.

8. Minnesota United.

A lot of things went right for Minnesota last year, and they return enough players to keep them in this area.

9. New York City FC.

Typically one of the better teams, NYCFC struggled in the playoffs often enough they were maybe not taken as seriously as they should have been. Unfortunately, its possible that they may be getting older.

10. Sporting Kansas City.

They had a bounce back season last year, and should stay in the top of the West again in 2021.

11. Nashville SC.

This team was built around defense, and the offense clicked enough last year to make a run in the playoffs. Can they keep that level of play? Possibly.

12. New England Revolution.

Third season is a charm? Maybe. This is a team with some flaws, but certainly an improvement over before Bruce Arena’s arrival.

13. Colorado Rapids.

Is this the year Robin Fraser gets them really going? Some signs point in that direction.

Solid

14. New York Red Bulls.

This team was all over the place last year, but more often than not disappointing until a bit of a run late. Does that carry over into 2021?

15. Orlando City.

Oscar Pareja did great things with the team last year, but some of that might have been due to taking advantage of the flow of the season and that teams didn’t have time to really game-plan against The Lions. Now they have a whole offseason to come up with solutions.

16. FC Dallas.

This is the first full, un-crazy season for the new technical director, Andre Zanotta, and he has put his stamp on the team. Gone is fan favorite and team centerpiece Michael Barrios. In are some players who have caught the eye of many who follow the team. The question is can they figure out how to work with Dan Hunt’s choice of Jara? If they can come together and play on the front foot, they can move up and be dangerous.

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Freddy Vargas, Jose Antonio Martinez, and Ryan Hollingshead celebrate the latter’s goal in a 5-0 preseason win over San Antonio FC. (FC Dallas)

17.  LA Galaxy.

This team has been, frankly, a joke relative to its talent level for a number of years now. Can they break out of that? Maybe. Maybe they can.

18. San Jose Earthquakes.

This team will probably be what they have been under Almeyda – unique, dangerous at times, but usually running themselves into the ground, especially against top-tier teams.

Lots of Questions and/or Concerns

19. Vancouver Whitecaps.

This is a team that still seems to think the defense first, rough up the opponents and sneak a goal or two works in the current league. It does not. Until that changes, this team will not move up.

20. D.C. United.

When they put it all out there to be Wayne Rooney’s team, it worked while the England star was playing. Have they done enough to retool? It’s doubtful.

21. Chicago Fire.

How many teams are outdone by issues at the back? Enough that the Fire is not much of an outlier. *waives at Houston*

22. Austin FC.

Josh Wolff leads the expansion side into the 2021 season and seems to have put together something that might catch some teams by surprise. Certainly, they appear to be better than Cincinnati. Question is – how much?

Freddy Vargas drives past Austin FC defender Hector Jimenez. (Courtesy FC Dallas)

23. Inter Miami.

This is probably too low for their talent level, but until they show they can play as a team, it’s just hard to see them as anything but a collection of talented players who have no interest in playing soccer together.

24. Houston Dynamo.

Maybe it’s just how bad they were last year, as they have added some players to address some concerns, but its just hard to see how they could have made up enough ground to move up now.

25. Real Salt Lake.

This team was not good last year and there is little indication things have improved.

26. Montreal Impact.

This team fell hard and lost a lot. It is hard to see them turning things around without some more talent coming on board, and that does not appear en route anytime soon.

27. FC Cincinnati.

Another third time is a charm? Maybe. They made moves. Did they work? Sorry, but the first two seasons make us doubt this club until they really show us something substantive.

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