MLS Power Rankings: Where Every Team Stands Ahead of MLS Is Back Final

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistAugust 7, 2020

MLS Power Rankings: Where Every Team Stands Ahead of MLS Is Back Final

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    The MLS is Back tournament field has been narrowed to two teams, both of whom could make the claim to be MLS Cup contenders for the rest of 2020.

    Portland Timbers and Orlando City outclassed most of their opponents at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex and should deliver a worthwhile final. 

    The other 24 MLS clubs are back in their respective markets preparing for the regular-season return, which is expected to begin with two meetings between FC Dallas and Nashville SC.

    The pair of withdrawn sides from MLS is Back are slated to face off August 12 and 16, per The Athletic's Sam Stejskal and Paul Tenorio.

    Steven Goff of the Washington Post reported each team will be scheduled to play six matches from August 21 to September 13 in the next phase of the season. 

    Portland and Orlando will have the upper hand because of games played, while Columbus and Sporting Kansas City have the edge in the standings. The three group-stage games counted toward regular-season play. 

    As of now, there are a handful of clubs that could join Portland and Orlando as legitimate MLS Cup contenders, but as we know with this unexpected league, those titles can change fast. 

No. 26-No. 21: Atlanta, LA Galaxy Struggling so Far

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    26. Inter Miami (0-5-0; 0 points)

    After years of anticipation for its debut, Inter Miami failed to live up to expectations in its first five games.

    The expansion side was knocked out of MLS is Back without a victory, but it did produce two goals in Group A, which produced a trio of quarterfinalists.

    The good news for Miami is it has a star attacker in place in Rodolfo Pizarro, and there is hope Matias Pellegrini, Julian Carranza and others come into form with more games together.

    The addition of former Atlanta United center back Leandro Gonzalez Pirez should help ease some defensive concerns and bring more stability in front of Luis Robles.

                   

    25. L.A. Galaxy (0-3-2; 2 points)

    Well, the good news for the L.A. Galaxy is they are not restarting the season without a point.

    Guillermo Barros Schelotto's side produced a draw in Group F and another in one of its two regular-season contests, but it still resides at the bottom of the Western Conference.

    To escape the West basement, the Galaxy have to improve their defense, which has conceded 11 goals in five games.

    If that happens, the Galaxy could slide into the playoff positions if Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez recovers well from the calf injury that took him out of MLS is Back.

                 

    24. Nashville SC (0-2-0; 0 points)

    Even though Nashville SC lost its first two regular-season games, it showed some promise in defeats to Atlanta United and Portland Timbers.

    Unfortunately, the expansion side has not taken the field since March 8 after it was withdrawn from MLS is Back because of a high number of positive COVID-19 cases.

    Nashville has a solid spine with center backs Walker Zimmerman and David Romney as well as defensive midfielder Dax McCarty, but it may take a few weeks to get into full game shape.

               

    23. Atlanta United (2-3-0; 6 points)

    Atlanta's pair of wins over Nashville and FC Cincinnati seem like an eternity ago, given everything the club has been through since then.

    The Five Stripes' abrupt exit from the MLS is Back group stage cost Frank de Boer his job and raised questions about how the club can achieve success without striker Josef Martinez.

    Adding Erick "Cubo" Torres will be a boost to the attack since the Mexican forward carries experience from two previous stints in MLS. Even if Torres scores in bunches, though, Atlanta needs more out of Ezequiel Barco and Gonzalo "Pity" Martinez to reclaim its spot atop the East.

               

    22. Colorado Rapids (2-2-1; 7 points)

    Colorado entered MLS is Back as the sexy sleeper pick from some experts, but it did not follow up on that title.

    The Rapids finished last in Group D because of a pair of losses and a 2-2 draw with Minnesota United.

    Robin Fraser's side has a foundation to build on from opening wins over D.C. United and Orlando City, as well as the Group D finale result against the Loons, but it has to be more consistent to rise up the West standings.

                

    21. Houston Dynamo (0-2-3; 3 points)

    Houston is another team that could develop from sleeper to playoff contender with more games under Tab Ramos.

    The Dynamo have a pair of consistent scorers in Mauro Manotas and Alberth Elis, and Memo Rodriguez took another step in his development at MLS is Back.

    Just like Colorado, Houston displayed some positive things in Orlando, but it needs to have a more complete product to beat some of the other teams that are further along in their development.

No. 20-No. 17: D.C. United, Red Bulls Looking for Answers

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    20. D.C. United (1-2-2; 5 points)

    D.C. was heading in the wrong direction during the MLS is Back tournament.  

    Ben Olsen's side was poor throughout Group C and twice had to rely on super-sub Federico Higuain to rescue points.

    D.C. looked lost in the final third in its group-stage finale loss to Montreal. It could improve with more production out of Ola Kamara, but there is not much depth behind him at the moment.

                 

    19. FC Dallas (1-0-1; 4 points)

    Before FC Dallas were withdrawn from MLS is Back, they generated some early momentum with a win over Philadelphia and a draw with Montreal.

    In those matches, Tanner Tessmann drew attention for his performances alongside Paxton Pomykal and others, and the respective 18- and 20-year-olds could create a good number of results.

    FC Dallas has a strong forward in Zdenek Ondrasek and consistent winger in Michael Barrios to complement the young core and cause plenty of issues for opposing defenses.

                 

    18. New York Red Bulls (2-2-1; 7 points)

    The New York Red Bulls and D.C. United should be placed in the same category as Eastern Conference mainstays that could get washed away by the success of others.

    Chris Armas' side had a good game plan for its group-stage win over Atlanta, which is diminished in hindsight given Atlanta's performance after that match.

    But at that juncture of the competition, it was viewed as an important victory, and it's one the Red Bulls have to rally around to create internal confidence going into the rest of the schedule.

                     

    17. Chicago Fire (1-3-1; 4 points)

    Chicago was the most pleasant surprise of the teams that did not qualify for the MLS is Back knockout round.

    The Fire showed well in their opening win over Seattle, a team they lost to March 1 at CenturyLink Field.

    It could take some more time for Raphael Wicky's imprint to show on the field, but offseason acquisitions such as Robert Beric have played well enough to believe they can move up in the East.

No. 16-No. 11: Vancouver, FC Cincinnati Leave Bubble with Confidence

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    16. Vancouver Whitecaps (2-3-0; 6 points)

    Vancouver is one of two teams eliminated in the round of 16 that will enter the next phase of competition with a wealth of confidence.

    The Whitecaps displayed an immense amount of heart in their penalty-kick loss to Sporting Kansas City, during which third-string goalkeeper Thomas Hasal marveled in an unexpected appearance.

    When they return to play, the Whitecaps should have Fredy Montero, Lucas Cavallini and others back after they opted out for Orlando.

    Their return, combined with the confidence gained in Florida, should boost Vancouver over other struggling sides in the West.

            

    15. FC Cincinnati (2-3-0; 6 points)

    FC Cincinnati finally has the clear direction it was lacking in its expansion season.

    New manager Jaap Stam has installed a defense-first mindset that allowed the club to advance to the round of 16 and frustrate finalist Portland.

    The second-year side needs to develop more of an attacking identity to contend moving forward, but it deserves credit for the defensive organization that led to a surprising advancement to the knockout round.

         

    14. Montreal Impact (2-2-1; 7 points)

    Montreal has to come away from MLS is Back pleased with its continued development under Thierry Henry.

    The Impact recovered from a pair of tough games to beat D.C. United in their group-stage finale and push into the round of 16. They withstood much of an attacking onslaught from Orlando in the round of 16 but could not find the final product at the other end of the pitch, falling to a 1-0 defeat.

    Similar to Cincinnati, Montreal's defensive organization will win games moving forward while the attack works things out.

           

    13. New England Revolution (1-1-3; 6 points)

    New England worked its way through a tricky Group C, but it came at a high cost.

    Carles Gil, who led the team in assists in 2019, was injured in Orlando and underwent surgery for an Achilles injury Thursday.

    Bruce Arena will find a way to manage without Gil since he has some nice attacking pieces in Gustavo Bou, Cristian Penilla and Adam Buksa, but navigating the middle of the field could be tough in some cases without the diminutive 27-year-old.

            

    12. Toronto FC (2-0-3; 9 points)

    If Toronto FC were fully healthy for the knockout round, they may have gotten past New York City FC in the round of 16—and possibly gone further.

    Ayo Akinola was the biggest revelation of the tournament up front, and if he provides support behind Jozy Altidore for the rest of the campaign, the Reds could challenge for the top spot in the East.

    Only Columbus carries more points than Greg Vanney's side at the moment, and if it returns to play with matchups against Montreal and Vancouver, it could remain at or near the top through September.

           

    11. Real Salt Lake (1-1-3; 6 points)

    Real Salt Lake sits exactly where we expect it to be.

    The Claret and Cobalt have at most an above-average team in the West and will not overwhelm you with flashy attacking talent.

    Freddy Juarez has a handful of top young defensive prospects like Justen Glad and Aaron Herrera to work with, and his side is going to win most games by scoring one or two goals.

    At MLS is Back, it ground out a 2-0 win over Colorado and played to a scoreless draw with Minnesota before it was outclassed by Sporting KC and San Jose.

No. 10-No. 6: Inconsistent MLS Cup Contenders

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    Reinhold Matay/Associated Press

    10. New York City FC (1-4-0; 3 points)

    The New York City FC side we've become accustomed to seeing finally showed up in the round of 16. The Pigeons took advantage of their multifaceted attack to tear apart a depleted Toronto side.

    Ronny Deila's team performed well against Portland, but like so many before them, NYCFC were frustrated by the Timbers' midfield destroyers.

    If the same NYCFC from the knockout round shows up, it should be in the mix to repeat as the East's regular-season winner.

           

    9. Seattle Sounders (2-1-2; 8 points)

    The same line about NYCFC's attack showing up applies to the Seattle Sounders.

    Seattle's play in the final third was hit-or-miss throughout the tournament, but when it showed up, Jordan Morris looked like one of the best wingers in the league.

    The dreadful performance against LAFC in the round of 16 should be viewed as an outlier compared to what Seattle is capable of over an entire season.

    It wouldn't come as a surprise to see Seattle peak in September and October, as it has done in recent years, to become one of the top contenders for the MLS Cup.

           

    8. Sporting Kansas City (4-1-0; 12 points)

    Sporting KC sits in an ideal position atop the West with 12 points, six of which were earned in Group D.

    Peter Vermes' side has already proved last year's failure to reach the playoffs was nothing but a fluke.

    The addition of Alan Pulido and the return of Khiry Shelton to MLS have bolstered a forward line that has some of the best depth in the league.

    With Tim Melia in goal, Matt Besler and others in defense and Ilie, Roger Espinoza and Gadi Kinda marauding in the midfield, Sporting KC has enough experience and talent to compete with the best teams in the West.

           

    7. Columbus Crew (4-0-1; 13 points)

    Columbus' excellent group-stage performance was erased by a round-of-16 exit at the hands of Minnesota.

    Despite the surprise exit, the Crew deserve credit for turning things around in Caleb Porter's second season in charge.

    Gyasi Zardes has been a perfect fit up top in Porter's system, and Darlington Nagbe is featuring in a starring midfield role for his third MLS team, the second under the direction of Porter.

    Zardes and Nagbe are the stars of the squad, but the Crew have received so much more from Lucas Zelarayan and others who help make them a true contender in the East.

           

    6. San Jose Earthquakes (2-1-2; 8 points)

    San Jose reinforced the beliefs surrounding it going into MLS is Back.

    Matias Almeyda's man-marking system can make the Quakes one of the most exciting teams to watch, but there are also flaws that can be exploited, as Minnesota has proved twice this season.

    If the Quakes can find a way to not look fatigued toward the back end of competitions, they could be one of the most difficult outs in MLS.

    But for now, they have to be considered in the second tier of contenders for the MLS Cup until they can avoid the letdown.

5. Philadelphia Union (2-1-2; 8 Points)

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    While most observers will focus on the development of Brenden Aaronson as the Union's top takeaway from Orlando, the real answer is its better defensive production.

    The Union produced a pair of clean sheets, and Andre Blake rebounded from a rough 2019 to put himself in contention for tournament MVP.

    But those improvements will be pushed aside until the sting of the semifinal loss wears off.

    The Union failed to break down Portland's organized defense, and on some of the chances they received, Kacper Przybylko did not look sharp in the final third.

    Jim Curtin's side can fix those mistakes, and if it does, it could win more than one playoff game in 2020.

4. Los Angeles FC (2-0-3; 9 Points)

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Even though Los Angeles FC crashed out in the quarterfinals on penalties to Orlando City, it still has to be viewed as the MLS Cup favorite.

    The shrewd signing of Bradley Wright-Phillips added depth to an already deep attack led by Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez in Orlando.

    If the Black and Gold's attack was not scary enough, now it adds Carlos Vela after he opted out of MLS is Back.

    Bob Bradley's side can score with any team in the league, but its only concern is its inability to finish in knockout-round competitions.

3. Minnesota United (3-0-2; 11 Points)

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Minnesota played the underdog role to perfection in its first two knockout-round games to produce victories over Columbus and San Jose.

    The Loons have found the perfect formula to unlock the Quakes' unique system, as they beat them by a combined score of 9-3.

    Even though they were knocked out in the semifinals, the Loons should go back home with plenty of confidence for the regular season.

    Like a few other teams, Adrian Heath's side will get a personnel boost moving forward with Ike Opara back after he opted out of MLS is Back.

2. Orlando City (2-1-2; 8 Points)

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Nani and Orlando City have made a statement throughout the MLS is Back tournament, showing that the franchise's past is just that.

    The Portuguese designated player put home a pair of goals in the semifinal win over Minnesota United to put the club one step away from its first trophy in franchise history.

    Nani's reinvigorated form and the new mentality instilled by Oscar Pareja have enacted drastic changes from a team that struggled just to be in playoff contention in 2019.

    Regardless of what happens Tuesday, Orlando has to look at its results in the tournament as a massive success.

1. Portland Timbers (3-1-1; 10 Points)

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    The Timbers have been the class of the tournament.

    Giovanni Savarese has found the perfect combination in central midfield with Diego Chara supported by Eryk Williamson, who is one of the breakout stars of the competition.

    In attack, Sebastian Blanco has provided similar support to Diego Valeri and has made a case to be the tournament's MVP alongside Blake and Nani.

    Jeremy Ebobisse has been clinical up top, and Jaroslaw Niezgoda appears to be a good find as a second forward.

    Portland has not displayed flaws in Orlando and deserves the favorite title going into Tuesday night.