The MLS is Back Tournament has finally arrived, and while there is still a cloud of uncertainty surrounding the competition, 25 teams are ready to try and make a run at some silverware after a four-month break.
Trying to project how the tournament will go is a brutally difficult exercise considering the fact that several top players are set to miss the tournament, and there are also several unidentified players who have tested positive for COVID-19, making it unclear just which players will be available when action begins.
If things stay somewhat normal in terms of teams staying healthy, and top players remaining available, the list of tournament favorites is clear. The Seattle Sounders, Los Angeles FC, Atlanta United and Toronto FC represent the leading candidates to win the competition, though there are several other teams that could make a surprise run.
Here is a look at how we see the 25 teams stacking up heading into the tournament:
MLS IS BACK POWER RANKINGS
1. SEATTLE SOUNDERS
The reigning MLS Cup champions enter as the favorites by virtue of their tournament-winning experience, and improved quality, led by Joao Paulo
2. LOS ANGELES FC
No Carlos Vela, but Bob Bradley still has a plethora of weapons to choose from, including Diego Rossi, Adama Diomande and Eduard Atuesta.
3. TORONTO FC
Michael Bradley and Pablo Piatti are healthy, and TFC has the tournament experience to not only get to the final, but win it.
4. ATLANTA UNITED
Pity Martinez, Ezequiel Barco and Emerson Hyndman lead one of the field’s top midfields, but Atlanta will need a striker to emerge in order to lift the trophy.
5. NEW YORK CITY FC
Don’t let the slow start in league play fool you, NYCFC is a stacked squad capable of making a deep run, and should boast one of the better attacks in the tournament.
6. SPORTING KANSAS CITY
The red-hot start and Alan Pulido’s improving of the attack make SKC a serious challenger, and Peter Vermes has plenty of success leading teams through tournaments.
7. COLUMBUS CREW
Caleb Porter’s side looked sharp at the start of the season, and the attack should be one of the most potent in the tournament, but will the defense be good enough for a title run?
8. PHILADELPHIA UNION
Kacper Przybylko’s recovery from COVID-19 will make all the difference, because with him leading the attack the Union are a handful for anybody in the field.
9. PORTLAND TIMBERS
Questions persist about the Timbers defense, but Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco have shown they love to shine in tournament play and make Portland a sleeper pick in this tournament.
10. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
A healthy Carles Gil turns Bruce Arena’s Revs from also-rans to darkhorse pick to make a deep run, featuring an attack that includes Gustavo Bou and Cristian Penilla.
11. MINNESOTA UNITED (2-0)
If this feels like a really low spot for a team that looked so good at the start of the season, remember that it’s because Ike Opara is missing the tournament. He makes that much of a difference to the Loons defense.
12. MONTREAL IMPACT
Thierry Henry had the Impact looking sharp in his early matches in charge, and Victor Wanyama’s presence boosts Montreal’s chances even more. Having said that, Montreal’s defense still has plenty to prove.
13. NEW YORK RED BULLS
The new era at the Red Bulls had some early mixed results, but Chris Armas’ side will be a handful for everyone it faces thanks to their high-pressing style. The lack of a top-level striker still looms, as does the questions about the players who will try replacing Luis Robles and Kemar Lawrence.
14. COLORADO RAPIDS
Robin Fraser’s team showed some really good glimpses in its early matches, and while the Rapids are in a tough group, it is one they just might be able to survive.
15. LA GALAXY
No Jonathan Dos Santos leaves a big hole in the Galaxy midfield, while Guillermo Barros Schelotto looks to fix an attack that looked lifeless in the team’s early matches of the season. Can Chicharito get rolling? Will the service be there? Will the defense be a strength or weakness? Too many questions to see the Galaxy as a serious contender.
16. INTER MIAMI CF
A healthy Julian Carranza could be just the missing piece to help the Inter Miami attack be a real threat, and while the expansion side won’t compete for the tournament title, a run to the knockout rounds would be a good step forward.
17. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES
Matias Almeyda’s teams are known for starting slow, so will that spell doom in this tournament format, or will San Jose’s comfortable group placement lead to a knockout round place and potential run? The Earthquakes will be competitive, but not dangerous.
18. D.C. UNITED
Even if Federico Higuain can summon some of his familiar magic, it’s tough to see Ben Olsen’s team going very far, though Bill Hamid is good enough to help D.C. snatch some group-stage results.
19. REAL SALT LAKE
This feels like a very low ranking given RSL’s 2019 record, but Group D is stacked and Freddy Juarez’s squad will struggle to survive it, even with Albert Rusnak and Damir Kreilach leading the attack.
20. CHICAGO FIRE
Raphael Wicky’s team showed some promise in its first two matches, but the abundance of new faces will still need time to gel and the challenging group stage won’t be easy for the new-look Fire to navigate.
21. ORLANDO CITY
Oscar Pareja is a sharp manager, and the Lions are technically the home team in the tournament, but there is still lack of weapons and serious questions about Orlando’s revamped defense. Winning the opener against Miami is vital, but the Lions will head into that Florida derby as the underdog.
22. HOUSTON DYNAMO
Tab Ramos has experience coaching in tournament play after four cycles with the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team, but he has adopted a team with serious defensive issues, so even though the Dynamo might be a fun attacking team to watch in the tournament, it will be tough to survive its extremely difficult group assignment.
23. FC CINCINNATI
Can Jaap Stam make a major impact in such a short amount of time. Cincinnati’s new signings need to step up to keep the team from being demolished in its extremely difficult group.
24. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
Marc Dos Santos is in a truly unenviable spot as he is without many of his best players, though being in a three-team group might help the Whitecaps squeeze into the knockout rounds.
25. NASHVILLE SC
With at least a half-dozen positive COVID-19 tests among the squad, according to multiple reports, Nashville’s already difficult challenge as an expansion team will be that much more difficult.