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MLS Power Rankings: Galaxy still team to beat

Power Play
Real Salt Lake and Seattle should be Galaxy's main challengers.
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Ives Galarcep

Ives Galarcep is a 14-year veteran of the American soccer beat. He created and operates the popular American soccer blog, Soccer By Ives, which was voted Best American Soccer Blog by US Soccer in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Ives was also voted Best Football Writer by SoccerLens in 2010. 


Much as they began and ended 2011, the Los Angeles Galaxy enter the 2012 MLS season as the team to beat. They won the Supporters Shield and MLS Cup and just might be even stronger this season.

The Galaxy will face familiar competition for the top spot from fellow West Coast powers Seattle and Real Salt Lake, while Sporting Kansas City looks like the strongest East Coast contender.

The middle of the pack in MLS is a big group, with as many as 16 teams having realistic chances of making a playoff push. Second-year clubs Portland and Vancouver are two teams who stand poised to make big improvements this season, while D.C. United looks like another team ready to return to the playoffs.

Quickly, here are the MLS Power Rankings heading into the 2012 MLS season:


The defending champions just might be stronger this year. No team has ever won an American treble, but the Galaxy just might become the first MLS team to win three major trophies in one year. The return of David Beckham and Juninho, coupled with the surprising return of Edson Buddle make the Galaxy


Another strong team that got even stronger in the off-season, the Sounders are good enough to push the Galaxy, and take advantage if they falter. If Eddie Johnson and Steve Zakuani recapture their old form, Seattle will be the most fun team in the league to watch.


The nucleus of the 2009 MLS Cup championship team is still together, but the window to add another trophy is beginning to close. There is still as much talent in their starting lineup as any team in MLS, but they didn’t do as much to bolster their roster this winter to earn a higher spot in the rankings.


The favorites in the East, Sporting Kansas City should be even stronger this year, with their nucleus of young standouts gaining a year of maturity. They are strong all over the field, and also have impressive depth. If there is a team that can challenge to break the West’s hold on the top spots in the rankings, it’s Sporting KC.


With a healthy David Ferreira, and the addition of Blas Perez, FC Dallas suddenly goes from a team that had to rely too much on Brek Shea last year to a team with a potentially lethal attack. If George John can regain the form he showed in early 2011, he Dallas defense could be good enough to help make Dallas a darkhorse pick in the West.


The team has plenty of attacking talent, but too many question marks defensively and in goal to be called a sure thing. Thierry Henry should have another big year, but it will be up to Rafa Marquez to step up if the Red Bulls are to be taken seriously as a title contender. The only team in MLS who could either win it all, or potentially miss the playoffs if the team’s new additions don’t pan out.


The Timbers are the team most likely to make the playoffs after just barely missing out in 2011. The additions of Kris Boyd, Hanyer Mosquero and Franck Songo’o should help fill three key needs with significant upgrades, while Diego Chara and Darlington Nagbe should be poised for big years after adapting to their first seasons in MLS. If the defense can come together and be a strength rather than a weakness, Portland will definitely merit this ranking.


Returning MLS Cup finalist ranked eighth? The team’s failure to land any big signings this winter keep the Dynamo from being higher to start the season. The defense should still be among the league’s tougher units, but there are just too many question marks about the offense to put them among the elite. The new stadium should provide a major boost heading toward the summer, but not as much as signing a high-profile forward.


Losing Sebastian LeToux and Faryd Mondragon, the team’s two best players in 2011, is brutal, but the Union may be better equipped to deal with those losses than people realize. Replacing LeToux’s impact in the attack won’t be easy, but the Union offense should be more balanced, with Freddy Adu serving as lead playmaker. If the Union’s newcomers, like Gabriel Gomez, Lionard Pajoy and Porfirio Lopez, can step in and play well, Philadelphia could remain among the East’s top teams.


D.C. United need to make some major additions this off-season, and appear to have struck gold in the transfer market with the signing of playmaker Hamdi Sahili. He should help boost an attack that already features Dwayne DeRosario, Andy Najar and Chris Pontius, but the bigger question for D.C. is whether the defense has improved significantly after a rough 2011. New additions Emiliano Dudar and Robbie Russell should help D.C. solidify the back-line and get Ben Olsen’s team into the playoffs.


The Oscar Pareja era begins in Colorado, with the Rapids trying to keep up with the ever-improving Western Conference. The addition of Colombian playmaker Jaime Castrillon could help Colorado stay in the thick of the chase for a playoff spot in the West, but it will be up to how the Rapids adapt to Pareja’s 4-3-3, and how the defense holds up, to determine if Colorado will make the playoffs again.


The Fire performed extremely well under head coach Frank Klopas when he took over for Carlos De Los Cobos last season. Now it will be up to Klopas to do it over the course of a season. Chicago didn’t make any big signings in the winter, which may wind up hurting their playoff chances. It will be up to the trio of Dom Oduro, Patrick Nyarko and Marco Pappa to lead the attack, and Sean Johnson to keep improving for Chicago to push into an East playoff spot.


Based on pre-season results, the Whitecaps look poised for a big jump after a rough inaugural season. The reality is Vancouver didn’t play too badly in the first half of the season, and new head coach Martin Rennie inherited a good amount of talent. The additions of Sebastian LeToux and defenders Martin Bonjour and Lee Young-Pyo should help Vancouver hold its own in the stacked Western Conference.


The Crew overachieved in 2011 with a young team and without any players who could be described as superstars. Another off-season has gone by and Columbus has once again moved into a pre-season without any high-profile signings. Chilean midfielder Milovan Mirosevic is a promising playmaker, while forward Olman Vargas has been brought in to replace Andres Mendoza. Is that enough to improve on 2011, when they finished with the ninth-best record in MLS? It may not be.


Coming off a thoroughly disappointing 2011 campaign, the Earthquakes are talking like a team ready to rebound. The additions of Tressor Moreno, Marvin Chavez and Victor Bernardez should help, as should the return to health of Ike Opara and Steven Lenhart. So why are they ranked just 15th? Truth is they are comparable to the five or six teams ahead of them, but we’re more sold on the improvements made by other teams above them.


The additions of Danny Koevermans and Torsten Frings last summer helped TFC improve in the second half of 2011, and reach the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. If Aron Winter’s side is going to build on that good finish, TFC will need its defense to be better, something Miguel Aceval will be asked to do. TFC should score goals, but time will tell how much better the defense is.


The Stevie Nicol era in New England ended with a whimper, but new head coach Jay Heaps put the team through an unbeaten pre-season and has the squad looking confident heading into 2012. That said, it’s tough to say the Revs have revamped their roster enough to climb out of the bottom part of the Eastern Conference standings.


The Goats showed some flashes in 2011, with major help from the addition of Juan Pablo Angel, but another winter has gone by without the Goats adding big-time signings. Miller Bolanos, John Valencia and Oswaldo Minda have been brought in to revamp the squad, but it will take more than that to give Chivas USA any chance of reaching the playoffs.


The first-year club made some impressive additions to the roster this winter, and may be stronger than some past MLS expansion teams, but Jesse Marsch’s side is still probably year away from being a real threat. Players like Donovan Ricketts, Justin Braun, Davy Arnaud, Patrice Bernier and Zarek Valentin should help keep the Impact competitive, but the lack of a proven goal scorer and question marks about their defense could doom the Impact to a rough first season.

Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for covering Major League Soccer and the US National Team.

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