A new year is set to begin this weekend and it’s that time, once again, to see where each team stands entering the 2019 campaign.
The winter saw a lot of changes – new head coaches, players leaving and coming in, new stadiums set to debut and a new club with FC Cincinnati.
Everyone in the East, let alone the league, will be chasing the defending MLS Cup champion Atlanta United after they took the cup home in just their second year in MLS. While the Red Bulls once again look to make an MLS Cup run, their cross-river rival NYCFC are figuring out how to move on from David Villa’s departure. With an expanded playoff bracket, is this the year Orlando City finally reaches postseason play, or will newcomer FC Cincinnati join the ranks of strong recent expansion teams like LAFC and Atlanta United?
The biggest news in the Western Conference is the San Jose Earthquakes luring former Chivas Guadalajara manager Matias Almeyda to take over as their new head coach. With all of the additions the Quakes made, will San Jose become Almeyda’s latest “worst-to-first” masterpiece, or will this all be a bigger bust than Mikael Stahre’s short tenure at the helm? LAFC kept a majority of the roster intact for Year Two, but can the Black and Gold make a deeper run for the MLS Cup this time around?
Here are the SBI MLS Power Rankings heading into the 2019 MLS season:
(2018 records listed)
SBI MLS POWER RANKINGS
1. ATLANTA UNITED (21-7-6, 69 POINTS)
The defending MLS Cup champs might’ve lost Almiron (Newcastle United) and Tata Martino (Mexico) in the offseason, but they still enter the season as the strongest team in the league.
2. NEW YORK RED BULLS (22-7-5, 71 POINTS)
The loss of Tyler Adams to Leipzig is big, but “the system” hasn’t necessarily failed the Red Bulls in the regular season. Playoffs? That’s a different story. But with a new single-elimination playoff format, is this the year the Red Bulls go the distance?
3. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (18-8-8, 62 POINTS)
Sporting Kansas City’s CONCACAF Champions League run could dictate how they start their MLS campaign. After their 5-0 win on aggregate over Toluca in CCL play, Sporting is the hottest team entering the start of MLS play this weekend. How that translates going into the rest of the season will have to be seen.
4. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (18-11-5, 59 POINTS)
Jordan Morris is back and looking to make up for lost time. Expect Seattle to make a push against LAFC and SKC for the top spot in the West.
5. LOS ANGELES FC (16-9-9, 57 POINTS)
All eyes will be on downtown Los Angeles to see what LAFC has in store for Year Two. With a majority of their roster from last season coming back, the black and gold could write a better script for Hollywood in 2019.
6. D.C. UNITED (14-11-9, 51 POINTS)
D.C. United was the perfect example of the saying “it’s not how you start, but how you finish.” After starting the season as the worst teams in the league in 2018, they finished as one of the best, finding their way into the playoffs as the fourth seed. The question is; can D.C. build on that momentum from the latter half of 2018?
7. PORTLAND TIMBERS (15-10-9, 54 POINTS)
Coming off of a disappointing 2-0 loss in the MLS Cup Finals to Atlanta and with a long road trip to start the year as construction continues on Providence Park, the Timbers don’t seem like a team that could fire out of the gates to start the season. But, at the same time, long road trips aren’t necessarily a killer for MLS teams. MLS Cup hangovers, maybe?
8. LA GALAXY (13-12-9, 48 POINTS)
With a full offseason and training camp behind him, will Zlatan outdo his 22 goal performance from a year ago and will it be enough to get the Galaxy back into the postseason?
9. COLUMBUS CREW (14-11-9, 51 POINTS)
The Crew were saved in 2018. Now they need to make that count. With Caleb Porter in charge for Gregg Berhalter who left for the USMNT, Columbus could be a fun team to watch in 2019.
10. NEW YORK CITY FC (16-10-8, 56 POINTS)
Dome Torrent will either lead them to their fourth straight playoff appearance or will prevent them from going to it.
11. PHILADELPHIA UNION (15-14-5, 50 POINTS)
Marco… playoffs? The Union was a solid side until the end of the season last year, but now with Marco Fabian in the mix from Eintracht Frankfurt, if healthy, Philly could find themselves in the top five of the East.
12. TORONTO FC (10-18-6, 36 POINTS)
They re-signed Jozy Altidore through 2022, and Laurent Ciman should help reinforce the backline. But it might not be enough to cover for Sebastian Giovinco’s departure.
13. REAL SALT LAKE (14-13-7, 49 POINTS)
RSL has a good mix of youth and experience. It came together well in the playoffs last year when they upset LAFC and gave Sporting Kansas City a good run in the semis, but they also entered the playoffs winning just one of their final five games. So the question is, which side shows up in Week 1?
14. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (4-21-9, 21 POINTS)
Matias Almeyda is the biggest hiring by the club ever and rebuilding and reviving San Jose could be his greatest masterpiece yet, in time. They filled their needs throughout the roster and added necessary youth to build upon for the future. The 2019 season will certainly be better than 2018, guaranteed.
15. FC DALLAS (16-9-9, 57 POINTS)
FC Dallas faces the start of a new, even younger era this year. New head coach Luchi Gonzalez will play his youth, which can go either way, and with the departure of Maxi Urruti to Montreal, Dallas could be in for an interesting year.
16. MINNESOTA UNITED (11-20-3, 36 POINTS)
A new stadium and two massive new signings in Ike Opara and Osvaldo Alonso should help the Loons. At least Allianz Field is looking like a gem of a stadium.
17. COLORADO RAPIDS (8-19-7, 31 POINTS)
Tim Howard’s unwanted but maybe deserved farewell tour could be a distraction overall, but Colorado addressed attacking needs bringing in Kei Kamara, Benny Feilhaber, and Diego Rubio during the winter. But the question mark is their defense. Even with Keegan Rosenberry brought in to solidify the right back spot, Colorado’s defensive side is a concern entering 2019.
18. HOUSTON DYNAMO (10-16-8, 38 POINTS)
They have an attack that can be as dangerous as anyone in the Western Conference, maybe even the league, but their success will depend on how well their back four play, and how healthy they can stay. It also doesn’t help that they have to also manage CCL play as well.
19. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (10-13-11, 41 POINTS)
The Revs addressed their attack, bringing in the likes of Carles Gil and Juan Fernando Caicedo, but their defense is still suspect, especially once teams figured out their press, the Revs were done. That was the same during the preseason and looks to be the same to start the year.
20. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (13-13-8, 47 POINTS)
The Whitecaps had a complete reset this winter with a new head coach, 15 new players in and 21 players out. It hurt to lose rising-star Alfonso Davies to FC Bayern and replacing him won’t be easy.
21. ORLANDO CITY (8-22-4, 28 POINTS)
Orlando City should score more than 43 goals with Nani in the mix now, but didn’t address their defense, which after allowing a league-record 74 goals in 2018, was kind of an issue. Year Five doesn’t look to be the charm for the Lions as their playoff-drought looks to continue in 2019.
22. MONTREAL IMPACT (14-16-4, 46 POINTS)
This team can go as far as Ignacio Piatti and newcomer Maxi Urruti can take them. It’ll be a better story if they can win in Piatti’s last year in the league.
23. CHICAGO FIRE (8-18-8, 32 POINTS)
Chicago is happy to have Veljko Paunovic and Bastian Schweinsteiger return to the lineup but have to hope injuries don’t return. There’s optimism within the roster, particularly with the rumored move for Nico Gaitan, but optimism can only go so far.
24. FC CINCINNATI (23-8-3, 77 POINTS/ USL)
Welcome to MLS Cincinnati.