MLS Power Rankings: Portland Timbers Are Still the Team to Beat

Peter Galindo@@GalindoPWFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2016

MLS Power Rankings: Portland Timbers Are Still the Team to Beat

0 of 20

    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    Major League Soccer returned in entertaining fashion on Sunday, with a record 36 goals across 10 games.

    Now that the league is back, it's time for the first power rankings of the 2016 season. Due to the small sample size of games, the criteria used to grade each team will be as follows:

    • Last season's final standing
    • Off-season player acquisitions
    • Injuries
    • Quality of a team's performance

    Here are the MLS power rankings for Week 1.

20. Chicago Fire

1 of 20

    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The Chicago Fire, MLS' worst team a year ago, began 2016 season in the same way that 2015 ended.

    The 4-3 loss to New York City FC was enthralling for neutrals, but it was a very sloppy match; the ball bouncing off two Fire defenders' heads before Tony Taylor's goal was proof of this.

    David Accam, Kennedy Igboananike and Gilberto were very lively, which should please Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic. 

    However, the defense is still a work in progress for Chicago. The starters from Sunday are all new additions and goalkeeper Sean Johnson did not play. As a result, it will take time for the back line to gain chemistry.

19. Philadelphia Union

2 of 20

    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The Philadelphia Union couldn't have asked for a tougher match to open the season. The Union faced FC Dallas on the road and were handily beaten 2-0 on Sunday afternoon. 

    Philadelphia was missing midfielders Maurice Edu and Tranquillo Barnettatwo major losses. Head coach Jim Curtin also started four new players, three of whom were defenders.

    The back line was tasked with containing one of the fastest and most lethal attacks in MLS. By contrast, the offensive output was lacking, and the Union finished with just two shots on target.

    2016 will be a rebuilding year, which means there will be plenty of similar results over the next few months.

18. Colorado Rapids

3 of 20

    John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

    The Colorado Rapids needed to make significant changes during the offseason after finishing at the bottom of the Western Conference in 2015.

    Fourteen players departed the club and 12 were acquired or drafted. The most notable additions were forward Shkelzen Gashi and United States international Jermaine Jones.

    Jones is suspended for the first six games of the season, but Gashi started in the Rapids' 1-0 loss against the San Jose Earthquakes. The Swiss' performance was encouraging despite not scoring.

    The Rapids were actually the superior team on Sunday. They heavily outshot the Earthquakes and controlled the midfield. However, San Jose goalkeeper David Bingham was magnificent and Chris Wondolowski eventually gave the hosts the lead.

    Colorado may become a formidable side once Jones is available. Significant roster turnover will delay the process, but the Rapids may surprise a few teams this year.

17. D.C. United

4 of 20

    Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

    D.C. United was hammered 4-1 by the LA Galaxy on Sunday evening. The four-time MLS Cup winners were leading 1-0 at halftime, but Mike Magee led the remarkable second-half comeback.

    United still had a few quality chances to grab a second goal. LA's starting goalkeeper Dan Kennedy left the game with a leg injury and was replaced by Brian Rowe. Nick DeLeon tested the backup twice, but he hit the post in the 57th minute with the game tied 1-1.

    That was when the United back line unraveled. The defenders left too much space for Magee and the marking on set pieces was woeful. LA scored three of its four goals off a corner, penalty and free kick.

    History is on D.C.'s side. United lost to the Galaxy to start the 2012 and 2014 seasons. The Black and Red ended up in the playoffs. However, without clinical finishing and star goalkeeper Bill Hamid, it may be tougher to repeat the feat in 2016.

16. Houston Dynamo

5 of 20

    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    The Houston Dynamo flaunted its attacking prowess but struggled at the back in their 3-3 draw with the New England Revolution.

    Newcomers Andrew Wenger and Cristian Maidana scored a goal each. Giles Barnes added the Dynamo's third of the game, which should have stood as the winner if not for a Daigo Kobayashi strike in stoppage time.

    It's tantalizing to see Wenger and Maidana clicking with their teammates in the opening match of 2016. With time, the chemistry will only improve between the four attackers.  

    The Dynamo defense was sluggish, which overshadowed an otherwise brilliant performance up front. The back line was caught high up the pitch for the Revolution's second goal, and New England capitalized.

    If Houston can solve these defensive issues, they can seriously improve on their eighth-placed finish in the Western Conference last season.

15. Real Salt Lake

6 of 20

    Alex Menendez/Getty Images

    Real Salt Lake should have earned three points against Orlando City SC, but instead settled for a 2-2 draw despite the visitors holding a 2-0 lead in second-half stoppage time.

    Center back Jamison Olave was slacking throughout the CONCACAF Champions League and was lethargic on Sunday. It could simply be a slow start, but he should be monitored closely by head coach Jeff Cassar.

    Despite the defensive collapse, the attack was clicking. Yura Movsisyan was active and won a penalty. Joao Plata scored both goals, and the rest of the forward corps was electric.

    RSL can feasibly return to the playoffs this season. However, they cannot let valuable road points slip away so easily.

14. New York City FC

7 of 20

    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    New York City defeated the Chicago Fire 4-3 on Sunday at Toyota Park. A stunning strike from Thomas McNamara was the pick of the lot in the highest-scoring match on Sunday.

    NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira was surely encouraged by McNamara and Mix Diskerud. Both players earned a goal and an assist in the victory.

    NYCFC impressed going forward, but the squad is a work in progress under Vieira, especially at the back. The high line was exposed on several occasions, which led to Kennedy Igboananike's goal.

    Jason Hernandez is the only returning defender from last season, which means the defense will concede a lot of scoring chances in the first few games.

    Unlike last year, though, there appears to be a settled back four right from the start of the campaign. It is also a positive sign for NYCFC to record an away win on its first attempt. City failed to win its opening six road matches in 2015.

13. New England Revolution

8 of 20

    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    The New England Revolution struck late to tie the Houston Dynamo 3-3 on Sunday. Daigo Kobayashi, of all players, was the hero at BBVA Compass Stadium.

    Kobayashi had not scored in MLS since September 2013 when he was with the Vancouver Whitecaps. The timing couldn't have been more perfect, because the Revolution deserved a point.

    Diego Fagundez and Lee Nguyen were two of New England's standout performers. The former scored a magnificent goal and assisted twice, while Nguyen created chances and even helped out defensively.

    This was a very open match, so the Revs conceding three goals could be an anomaly. Midfielder Gershon Koffie gives the back line a strong shield and promises to be a valuable addition for the defense this season.

12. Orlando City SC

9 of 20

    Alex Menendez/Getty Images

    Orlando City SC missed the 2015 playoffs by five points. The Floridian side was habitually conceding late goals, especially at home.

    Orlando City managed the polar opposite in its opening game against Real Salt Lake. Cyle Larin and Adrian Winter scored deep in second-half stoppage time to salvage a 2-2 draw.

    The Lions were a strong enough team to make the playoffs in their inaugural season, but they simply lost focus and discipline, which hurt Orlando.

    Darwin Ceren's red card indicates that the team's disciplinary issues have not been resolved. Elbowing an opponent is completely rash and unnecessary. 

    Orlando City players were sent off 10 times last season, more than any other side. This number must be reduced if the team has postseason aspirations.

11. San Jose Earthquakes

10 of 20

    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    The San Jose Earthquakes edged the new-look Colorado Rapids 1-0 on Sunday. If not for a tremendous performance from goalkeeper David Bingham, San Jose would have lost.

    Bingham made five crucial saves before Chris Wondolowski scored the winning goal just after halftime. The forward was named the man of the match, but his goalkeeper deserved the honor.

    This was not a thrilling game, but the Earthquakes earned three points and kept a clean sheet—that is the mantra for head coach Dominic Kinnear.

    Injuries to midfielders Marc Pelosi and Fatai Alashe was supposed to weaken the midfield. Simon Dawkins looked uncomfortable in a central role, and this led to the Rapids attempting 18 shots.

    Once Pelosi and Alashe are fit, the Quakes will have more defensive grit. As a result, they could be a serious threat in the Western Conference.

10. Seattle Sounders

11 of 20

    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    The Seattle Sounders opened their 2016 season with a whimper, losing 1-0 at home to Sporting Kansas City.

    Oniel Fisher's dismissal reduced the Sounders to 10 men for about 50 minutes. Stefan Frei failed to track Nuno Coelho's shot and let it slip into the net, which clinched the win for SKC.

    Despite Frei's error, Seattle's attack should take the blame for the defeat. The Sounders generated just eight shots and looked hapless throughout the game.

    The loss of Obafemi Martins will be massive. He scored 42 goals in 70 regular-season appearances. Jordan Morris is a talented young player, but he's not going to replicate Martins' form.

    Seattle is apparently working on addressing Martins' departure. Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl reported that the Sounders are pursuing an attacking midfielder who can fill the team's final designated player slot.

    Depending on who the Sounders sign, they should still be a playoff team. However, they won't be as strong as they were in previous seasons.

9. Vancouver Whitecaps

12 of 20

    Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

    The Vancouver Whitecaps suffered a 3-2 defeat to the Montreal Impact on Sunday. It was a mistake-laden match from the BC Place side, especially at the back.

    Four players were evaded far too easily by Ignacio Piatti on the opening goal. Goalkeeper David Ousted was caught off his line, collided with center back Kendall Waston, and allowed Dominic Oduro to double the Impact's lead.

    These were uncharacteristic errors for a team that conceded just 36 goals last season. Then again, the Whitecaps opened the 2015 campaign with a 3-1 loss at home to Toronto FC and ended up finishing in second place in the Western Conference.

    The Whitecaps also made five new additions to the team, including right back Fraser Aird and winger Christian Bolanos, who were handed their full debuts. 

    Vancouver is still a top team in the Western Conference, but it might take a few weeks for the entire squad to gain chemistry.

8. Sporting Kansas City

13 of 20

    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Sporting Kansas City earned a vital 1-0 road win over the Seattle Sounders on Sunday. Nuno Coelho's debut goal was the difference.

    Goalkeeper Tim Melia also made a couple of monumental saves, including this brilliant stop on Clint Dempsey

    Sporting KC's midfield was excellent as well, with Roger Espinoza especially impressive. His absence at the end of the 2015 season was clearly felt after SKC won just five of its final 14 games without the Honduran.

    Sporting also announced the loan of Chile international forward Diego Rubio, and he should provide healthy competition for Dom Dwyer, who has scored 12 goals in his last 31 appearances. 

    If Rubio replicates Krisztian Nemeth's output of 10 goals and six assists from 2015, SKC will compete for a top-three seed in the Western Conference.

7. Montreal Impact

14 of 20

    Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

    Didier Drogba was not in Vancouver as the Montreal Impact faced the Whitecaps, but the Impact coped well without their star striker.

    Ignacio Piatti scored two goals and set up another in Montreal's 3-2 victory. Somehow, the Argentine did not earn player-of-the-week honors, despite a strong performance on the road.

    Regardless, this was a top-notch showing from the Impact. Piatti took the plaudits, but goalkeeper Evan Bush was spectacular and defender Laurent Ciman was immense.

    The Impact can very easily finish in third place for a second straight year. As long as Piatti plays consistently well and Lucas Ontivero settles, Montreal will be an MLS Cup contender.

6. LA Galaxy

15 of 20

    Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

    The LA Galaxy's cult hero returned in heroic fashion as Mike Magee guided the Galaxy to a 4-1 win over D.C. United on Sunday night.

    Magee recorded two goals, one assist and won the penalty that Robbie Keane converted.

    The 2013 MVP replaced Giovani dos Santos, who exited the game at halftime with a leg injury. The Mexican and fellow designated player Steven Gerrard struggled mightily in this match, and it was the former Liverpool man's turnover that led to D.C.'s goal.

    Much like every other team, the first few weeks of the campaign are about recovering match fitness. Regular-season matches are far more intense than the preseason games. Dos Santos and Gerrard may become unstoppable.

    LA is still an MLS Cup contender no matter what. Bruce Arena is the league's best coach and this emphatic win should put the Western Conference on notice.

5. New York Red Bulls

16 of 20

    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    The New York Red Bulls lost 2-0 to Toronto FC, but they could have won by a similar score if not for wasteful finishing.

    New York managed just one shot on target out of 11 attempts. Lloyd Sam and Mike Grella were generating chances from inside Toronto's penalty area, but they still could not find that elusive goal.

    Eventually, TFC won a penalty after Kemar Lawrence pushed Tsubasa Endoh in the box. Sebastian Giovinco converted and then set up Marco Delgado for the second goal of the game.

    Center back Gideon Baah, who replaced Matt Miazga, was immense in his debut, which should please Red Bulls fans. Damien Perrinelle is still hurt, which is a massive loss, but defending wasn't the issue on Sunday.

    As long as New York is more lethal in the box, it will challenge for another Supporters' Shield.

4. Columbus Crew

17 of 20

    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    The Columbus Crew suffered a narrow 2-1 loss to the Portland Timbers in a rematch of the 2015 MLS Cup final.

    The Crew nearly left Providence Park with a 1-1 draw after Federico Higuain's bicycle kick, but Fanendo Adi's 79th-minute strike secured the victory for Portland.

    Columbus' attack, especially out wide, was very fluid. The Crew should be exciting to watch again, but the defense was very narrow at times. The Timbers wingers capitalized on a few occasions and nearly scored.

    The Crew suffered a tough loss and managed to threaten the Timbers goal on a few occasions. Columbus should still be regarded as a top-five team despite this defeat.

3. Toronto FC

18 of 20

    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Toronto FC defeated the New York Red Bulls 2-0 to earn its third consecutive win in an MLS season opener. 

    The difference between this victory and the previous two was the defensive grit. Despite the fact that TFC conceded 11 shots to the Red Bulls, the defense was resolute and the Reds fought until the final whistle.

    TFC's last match at Red Bull Arena was the polar opposite. It lost 3-0 in August, played very narrow and the midfield did not bother to track back.

    Michael Bradley was essential to the win as much as Sebastian Giovinco was on Sunday. The American was excellent in a deep-lying role, which MLS' armchair analyst Matthew Doyle broke down in detail.

    With this newly discovered versatility, TFC is a much more dangerous side in 2016, especially after dismantling the Supporters' Shield winners.

2. FC Dallas

19 of 20

    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    FC Dallas' 2-0 win over the Philadelphia Union was no surprise, but it was a convincing performance that resulted in a win and a clean sheet.

    Fabian Castillo and Maximiliano Urruti scored the goals, with Mauro Diaz providing the assists. The strikes were created via a counterattack and a high press, respectively. 

    The Dallas attack has not slowed down, which should scare the opposition. Meanwhile, the defense limited the Union to just two shots on target.

    The Hoops earned the Western Conference's No. 1 seed in 2015, and they are well on their way to repeating the feat this year.

1. Portland Timbers

20 of 20

    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    The Portland Timbers opened 2016 with a 2-1 win over the Columbus Crew in a rematch of last year's MLS Cup final.

    This was a hotly contested match and a draw would have been a fair result. However, Portland's attack was breathtaking. Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi ruled the headlines thanks to their goals, but Dairon Asprilla was a menace.

    The Colombian did not score, but he picked up where he left off in the 2015 playoffs. He'll surely improve on a disappointing regular season last year.

    Seeing as how Portland is the defending champion, the Timbers are still the best team in MLS, barring an unexpected winless skid.

slash iconYour sports. Delivered.

Enjoy our content? Join our newsletter to get the latest in sports news delivered straight to your inbox!