The race for the 2020 MLS Cup title officially begins a week from Saturday, but the best teams in the league will begin their new year of competition this week in Concacaf Champions League.
The top four teams in Major League Soccer, according to SBI’s new power rankings, will kick off their years in CCL knockout round action this week, giving the league its best chance in a long time of shaking Liga MX’s hold on Concacaf supremacy.
Los Angeles FC didn’t win the 2019 MLS Cup, but that doesn’t change the team’s status as the clear-cut top MLS team heading into 2020. With Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi and Eduard Atuesta back to lead Bob Bradley’s side, LAFC could break the MLS points record it set last season.
The Seattle Sounders return as defending MLS Cup champions, and welcome back all of their key stars, including Nicolas Lodeiro, Raul Ruidiaz, Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan. The additions of DP midfielder Joao Paulo and Yeimar Gomez Andrade should help the Sounders boast an even stronger team in 2020 than the one that lifted the title last year.
Atlanta United underwent plenty of roster turnover this winter, but Frank DeBoer’s squad still boasts as talented a nucleus of top stars as there is in MLS. Josef Martinez, Pity Martinez, Ezequiel Barco, Miles Robinson and Brad Guzan give the Five Stripes a solid core to go with an influx of promising newcomers who have the tall task of replacing difference-makers like Darlington Nagbe, Julian Gressel and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez.
New York City FC welcomes back all of the key pieces from the squad that finished in first place in the East during the 2019 regular season, but the one big departure was head coach Domenec Torrent. He has been replaced by Ronny Deila, who will have the benefit of inheriting a group that is almost intact from last season.
The LA Galaxy said goodbye to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but hello to Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. The return of dazzling attacker Cristian Pavon should help the Galaxy remain one of the most dangerous teams in the league, but Guillermo Barros Schelotto must solidify a defense that was the weak link in 2019.
Expansion teams enjoying strong first seasons is nothing new. We have seen it in the past decade with LAFC, Atlanta United and the Seattle Sounders all performing well in year one. Inter Miami has the makings of a team capable of following that path. David Beckham’s team features some impressive MLS veterans such as Luis Robles and Wil Trapp, a marquee playmaker in Rodolfo Pizarro, a title-winning coach in Diego Alonso. and owners who aren’t done spending on the roster.
Which teams will enjoy bounce-back seasons after rough 2019 campaigns? Sporting Kansas City and the Columbus Crew are your leading candidates, and both are bolstered by the addition of stars at key positions. Alan Pulido’s arrival at SKC gives Peter Vermes the star striker he has yearned for while Darlington Nagbe’s arrival in Columbus should pay immediate dividends as Caleb Porter looks to turn the Crew into a force.
Which teams are poised to take a step back? Real Salt Lake had an excellent 2019, but the loss of Jefferson Savarino, Sebastian Saucedo and Nick Rimando could be too much to overcome. D.C. United is another team that could find itself missing the playoffs after saying goodbye to Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta (and after recently losing Paul Arriola to a major knee injury). The New York Red Bulls could also take a major step back after bidding farewell to Luis Robles, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Kemar Lawrence.
Here are the SBI MLS Power Rankings heading into the 2020 MLS season:
(2019 records listed)
SBI MLS POWER RANKINGS
1. LOS ANGELES FC (21-4-9; 72 pts)
2. SEATTLE SOUNDERS ( 16-10-8, MLS Cup)
3. ATLANTA UNITED ( 18-12-4)
4. NEW YORK CITY FC (18-6-10)
5. TORONTO FC (13-10-11)
6. LA GALAXY (16-15-3)
7. INTER MIAMI CF (1st Season)
8. PORTLAND TIMBERS (14-13-7)
9. PHILADELPHIA UNION (16-11-7)
10. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (11-11-12)
11. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (10-16-8)
12. MINNESOTA UNITED (15-11-8)
13. COLUMBUS CREW (10-16-8)
14. NEW YORK RED BULLS (14-14-6)
15. FC DALLAS (13-12-9)
16. D.C. UNITED (13-10-11)
17. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (13-16-5)
18. REAL SALT LAKE (16-13-5)
19. HOUSTON DYNAMO (12-18-4)
20. COLORADO RAPIDS (12-16-6)
21. MONTREAL IMPACT (12-17-5)
22. NASHVILLE SC (1st Season)
23. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (8-16-10)
24. ORLANDO CITY (9-15-10)
25. CHICAGO FIRE (10-12-12)
26. FC CINCINNATI (6-22-6)