Major League Soccer

SBI MLS Power Rankings

Crew Champions (Reuters)

The 2009 MLS season just a few days away from kicking off, meaning it is time to look at how the league's 15 teams stack up heading into the new campaign.

As is the case every season, there will be surprises, disappointments and team performances we just didn't see coming. Just like the MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew, which went from out of the playoffs to league champions, and Real Salt Lake, which went from last place in the West to a within a goalpost of the MLS Cup Final. We also saw D.C. United go from Supporters Shield winner to not even making the playoffs.

With that in mind, here are the first installment of the SBI MLS Power Rankings. These rankings are based on how I see the 2009 MLS season shaking out (although the team at No. 1 isn't necessarily my pick to win it all). There are some teams much higher than you might expect, and some that are lower than you are used to seeing them. Once we get into the season the rankings will adjust to represent a team's performance in the season to date.

Now, without further ado, here are the first 2009 SBI MLS Power Rankings:

SBI MLS Power Rankings

1.  Columbus Crew


This Week: at Houston Dynamo on Saturday (8pm, Fox Soccer Channel).

Outlook: Most key players from MLS Cup-winning squad are back as Columbus attempts to become the first Eastern Conference team to repeat as champion since 1997 D.C. United.

2. Chicago Fire


This Week: at FC Dallas on Saturday (8:30pm, Direct Kick)

Outlook: The deepest team in MLS, the Fire will have Brian McBride from the start of the season and youngsters Patrick Nyarko and Marco Pappa ready to take on bigger roles.

3. Real Salt Lake


This Week: Bye week (at Seattle on March 28th)

Outlook: After coming so close to reaching MLS Cup in 2008, RSL brings all its key players back and looks poised to unseat Houston as the class of the Western Conference.

4. Toronto FC


This Week: at Kansas City Wizards on Saturday (8:30pm, Direct Kick).

Outlook: Led by Dwayne DeRosario, revamped TFC could be this year's Columbus Crew. Questions about the defense persist, but Toronto's front six is loaded and another defender is on the way.

5. New York Red Bulls


This Week: at Seattle Sounders FC on Thursday (9pm, ESPN2).

Outlook: Another team that remade its roster, Red Bulls made some bold off-season moves and now boast a deeper team because of it. If Jorge Rojas and Albert Celades play at a high level, the Red Bulls could be a legitimate title contender.

6. Houston Dynamo


This Week: vs. Columbus Crew on Saturday (8pm, Fox Soccer Channel)

Outlook: Traded away Dwayne DeRosario, and lost Eddie Robinson for an extended period due to injury. Will need Stuart Holden to be an all-star to avoid dropping too far down the league pecking order.

7. Kansas City Wizards


This Week: vs. Toronto FC on Saturday (8:30pm, Direct Kick)

Outlook: New addition Adam Cristman is already hurt again, but Wizards still boast a young and talented team. Rookie Graham Zusi could wind up being the steal of the draft while Argentine newcomer Santiago Hirsig should be in the conversation for MLS newcomer of the year.

8. New England Revolution


This Week: at San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday (10:30pm, Direct Kick)

Outlook: After years as an Eastern Conference playoff fixture, this is the season the Revs suffer for losing top talent for so many years. Replacing Michael Parkhurst will be too much for even Steve Nicol to pull off.

9. Seattle Sounders


This Week: vs. New York Red Bulls on Thursday (9pm, ESPN2)

Outlook: Can an expansion team really finish in third place in the West? Have you seen the West? Sigi Schmid's team is strong and more than capable of reaching the postseason in year one. Fredy Montero has Golden Boot ability and we're projecting him to have a 14-goal season (17 was probably a bit too generous).

10. FC Dallas


This Week: vs Chicago Fire on Saturday (8:30pm, Direct Kick)

Outlook: Yes, FC Dallas has added David Van Den Bergh and Colombian playmaker David Ferreira, but the Dallas defense is still questionable at best and Schellas Hyndman has yet to prove himself as a quality tactician on the pro level.

11. Chivas USA


This Week: vs. Colorado Rapids on Saturday (10:30pm, Fox Soccer Channel).

Outlook: The Goats just didn't do enough this off-season to improve enough to merit a higher ranking. With Sacha Kljestan a very real threat to leave for Europe this summer, we see Chivas having a disappointing season.

12. Colorado Rapids


This Week: at Chivas USA on Saturday (10:30pm, Fox Soccer Channel).

Outlook: We were ready to have Colorado be 15th when the pre-season began, but the Rapids kept putting up good pre-season results against MLS competition, leaving us to wonder if maybe, just maybe, Gary Smith will work some magic. Don't bet on it. Colorado simply didn't do enough in the off-season to improve the team.

13. D.C. United


This Week: at Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday (3pm, Telefutura)

Outlook: D.C. replaced Marcelo Gallardo with Christian Gomez, which should help, but the defense remains a serious question mark. There is also the question of how much longer Jaime Moreno has left and whether Luciano Emilio can regain his MVP form. In a loaded Eastern Conference, D.C. will struggle to avoid the basement.

14. San Jose Earthquakes


This Week: vs. New England Revolution on Saturday (10:30pm, Direct Kick)

Outlook: Yes, San Jose added Cam Weaver and Bobby Convey, and the Earthquakes did enjoy that strong second-half run last season, but we just don't see San Jose being a force this year. The defense is decent but not great (Joe Cannon deserves as much credit as anybody for San Jose's low goals-against average), Convey wasn't exactly a dominant force in his last MLS go-round and other teams did more in the off-season to improve.

15. Los Angeles Galaxy


This Week:  vs. D.C. United on Sunday (3pm, Telefutura)

Outlook:  Bruce Arena is going to turn things around in LA eventually, but the possibility of fielding a defense with two rookies and an aging veteran who hasn't played since 2007 doesn't exactly instill confidence. The Galaxy could be a second-half force, but the question is how deep a hole will LA be in by the time Beckham returns?


So yes, Real Salt Lake and Toronto FC start off very high. With all due respect to the Dynamo, I see RSL as the favorite in the West. TFC is locked and loaded and I could absolutely see them being this year's Columbus. Yes, there are still concerns about the defense, but I'm hearing a centerback is on the way, and if he's as good as I'm hearing, Toronto will absolutely be a force in 2009.

I'm sure there are plenty of people who aren't sold on the Red Bulls, but after seeing Juan Carlos Osorio lead a patch-work team to an MLS Cup final, it is scary to think what he will do if his truck-load of acquisitions actually pays off.

Among the teams I see disappointing this year are New England, D.C. United and Chivas USA. I know there are some people on the FC Dallas bandwagon, but I'm not one of them, even with the addition of standout winger Dave Van Den Bergh. Colorado is 11th on this list but I could just as easily had them 15th.

I'm sure folks on the West Coast will accuse me of having an East Coast bias (what with six of the top eight teams being from the East), but considering how the East did last season, and given how much more East teams did in the off-season to improve than the West teams did, I have no reason to believe that the balance of power will be shifting away from the East this year.

What team could I see myself being completely wrong about? The Red Bulls, if Rojas flops and Celades fails to make an impact; D.C. United, if the defense somehow comes together and Gomez and Moreno go nuts; Chivas USA if Ante Razov and Maykel Galindo stay healthy and Sacha Kljestan stays; San Jose if Bobby Convey stays healthy and Cam Weaver is a monster; and the Galaxy if Bruce Arena builds himself a respectable defense and Edson Buddle has another big year.

For those of you wondering about last year's ratings to start the season, here they are. I was completely wrong about D.C. United (as were most people). Six of my top eight teams did make the playoffs. Who was I off with? Real Salt Lake and the Columbus Crew (as were most people), although I do feel better after having read this prediction:

"If there is a lower ranked team I can see putting it together it's Columbus. The Crew has a good nucleus of young players who just might be ready to grow up and turn the Crew into a serious playoff contender."

Actually, of my post-ranking observations, the only one I was wrong about was Real Salt Lake. You can see by RSL's ranking this time around that I have been converted.

So what do you think of the first installment of the SBI MLS Power Rankings? Think your team is ranked too low? is there a team you think is ranked too highly? Who is your surprise team for 2009?

Feel free to share your thoughts, and your rankings, below.

  • JC

    I can’t believe it took someone all day to realize that Conway was listed as the Quakes keeper last year. I know you meant Cannon Ives, but the readers here totally dropped the ball.


  • Palouse

    Ives, Wow! I’ll take ninth, but my bet is the Sounders at 2nd in the West behind RSL. Seems to be a pattern, but it all hinges on defense & you just don’t know what you’ve got until the whistle blows. BTW, and word on Parkes’ availability?


  • Ives

    Joseph, I obviously meant Joe Cannon. I had Conway on the brain for reasons obvious to anyone reading the site today, but it was Joe Cannon who stood on his head for much of 2008 for San Jose. You should probably spend more time making a real point than trying to get your giggles by pointing out a mistake.


  • Carl Setterlund

    Ives, start taking notes, nobody will ever catch up with Steve Nicol and Paul Mariner.


  • Joel

    I think LA Galaxy will be better than everyone thinks. Sometimes teams find their way through adversity. So we shall see, I am excited for the start of a new MLS Season!


  • Supsam

    Ives, i respect your opinion just like you respect mine. Lets agree to disagree. I cant wait for the season to start so my quakes can drastically change your rankings. Keep up the great work!


  • Brant

    “The Gal’s will be fighting regulation all season.”

    What regulations are they fighting? Seat belts? Controlled substances? Deduction of mortgage interest from taxes for first-time homebuyers? FCC broadcast indecency?
    :) :) :)


  • Brokenbil

    Good luck, Columbus. It sucks being the defending champion. Everyone expects you to repeat. Just ask the two-time defending MLS Cup champion Houston Dynamo. Not only did they not three-peat, but they lost every competiton they entered last season (Pan-Pacific Championship, US Open Cup, Superliga, Supporters Shield, MLS Cup playoffs, and, most recently, CONCACAF Champions League). Last season Houston finished 2nd in the league and now Ives puts them at 6th? Ouch.


  • Ben!

    Good job on the East Coast bias. I can’t wait for the Rapids to prove you wrong.


  • DrunkenGoon

    1. Chicago
    2. Columbus
    …solid droppoff here
    3. Houston
    4. Real Salt Lake
    …another dropoff here
    5. Toronto
    6. DC United
    7. Chivas USA
    8. Kansas City
    9. San Jose
    10. New England
    11. New York
    12. Dallas
    13. Colorado
    14. Seattle
    15. Los Angeles

    Chicago and Columbus are the class of the league, they just need to sort out who hosts the eastern final. Tough one to call.

    Houston has too much depth and too good a coach to let RSL take the west from them. Keep in mind that RSL was very good on that bad pitch as opponents rested a lot of star players due to threat of injury.

    Toronto should be improved, they continue to have that home field advantage, I think they are good for 30 points at home this season, if they are 1/2 way decent on the road they do finish 3rd in the east.

    I know most will think I have DC too high, but they have a GK now which they didn’t in the first 20 games last year. And there might be addition by subtraction on defense.

    Chivas had a lot of injuries last season and have some this year, they will do ok up to a point, then Kljestan leaves for Europe and it’s up for Preki to sort out the offense from there.

    Someone tell me how KC will score, their MF looks more brutal than last season and with a coach that doesn’t let them venture past midfield on the road, it’s gonna be the same ugly road record and some set play goals at home.

    San Jose I have trouble ranking because they have the potential to move up or down. they will miss Obrien more than they think in my opinion but they have a solid defense and timely scoring.

    New England has a coach, a GK and a couple of physical mids. Aside from that, it’s all about holes and hope than they can fill those holes. Not enough, they miss the playoffs as Reis can’t be as good as he was last season with a sham of a defense in front of him.

    NY – Short and to the point: Celades on astro turf. see Reyna LY.

    Dallas has madman Hyndman in charge and that’s enough to keep them out of the playoffs. Think Sala taking free kicks and Cunningham tending net as his upcoming experiments.

    The rest of the west is just not worth talking about. Seattle is all hype, LA is all bull and Colorado… does anybody actually care in Colorado?


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