FOX Soccer Exclusive
MLSPR: Get ready to rumble
With the 2011 Major League Soccer season set to begin, here is a closer look at how the teams stack up heading into the league’s 16th season.
Not much has changed from last year to this year. Real Salt Lake and Los Angeles remain the league’s best teams, while New York is still the class of a weak Eastern Conference. Some teams should rebound, with D.C. United and Houston standing poised to bounce back from forgettable 2010 seasons, while some teams seem destined to struggle, like Chicago and Toronto FC.
MLS: June 23-25
|Thursday, June 23|
|Saturday, June 25|
|San Jose||0-0||LA Galaxy||Recap|
|Real Salt Lake||3-1||Toronto||Recap|
|Sunday, June 26|
|MLS Scores | Table | Fixtures|
Here is a rundown of Fox Soccer’s MLS Power Rankings heading into Week 1:
1. REAL SALT LAKE
Strongest starting lineup and arguably the deepest team in MLS. Led by a record-setting defense and the attacking tandem of Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio, RSL has the look of a team that could win multiple trophies this year.
2. LOS ANGELES GALAXY
The most star-studded squad in the league, the Galaxy is also the oldest and will need to avoid key injuries to surpass Real Salt Lake. Led by a rested Landon Donovan, a David Beckham entering the final year of his contract, and newly-acquired Juan Pablo Angel, the Galaxy is a good bet to be lifting its first MLS Cup since 2005 at its home stadium in November.
3. NEW YORK RED BULLS
After making the risky decision to cut loose Juan Pablo Angel, the Red Bulls set about revamping an already-solid roster and did just that with some smart international signings. New York’s fortunes rest on the knees of Thierry Henry, who needs to be healthy, and at the feet of Juan Agudelo, who needs to grow up quickly. Easily the best team in the East, the Red Bulls stand a good chance of reaching their second MLS Cup final in four years.
4. SEATTLE SOUNDERS
Perennial underachievers, Seattle have too much talent to rank lower, and you could argue the Sounders have as much talent as any team in the league. Seattle must count on Colombian striker Freddy Montero to lead the way, with Designated Player Blaise N’Kufo also needed to deliver double-digit goals. The return of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and addition of midfielder Erik Friberg could be enough to help the Sounders break through and win their first playoff series, and potentially be this year’s surprise champion.
5. FC DALLAS
One of the surprise teams of 2010, FC Dallas put together a record-setting unbeaten streak before making an impressive run to the MLS Cup Final. So why isn’t the team being taken more seriously as a title contender? The losses of Dax McCarty, Heath Pearce and Jeff Cunningham will hurt, and will cut into Dallas’ impressive depth. The acquisition of young Colombian striker Fabian Castillo could be a major boost, and if he’s as good as advertised, then FC Dallas could make another playoff run.
6. COLORADO RAPIDS
The defending champions were impressive in lifting silverware last fall, but it’s tough to picture a group that finished tied for seventh overall in MLS in the 2010 regular season suddenly challenging for the top spot with largely the same roster. The Rapids are a good team, with one of the league’s best forward and central midfield tandems, but with only Sanna Nyassi looking like an impact signing, Colorado looks destined to reside in the second tier, behind the lead pack in the Western Conference.
7. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES
The league’s consummate overachievers in 2010, the Earthquakes surpassed all expectations in reaching a conference final. As much as they were a surprise, and as much as nobody could have projected Chris Wondolowski to lead MLS in goals, the reality is Frank Yallop has stockpiled a nice collection of talent. They’re probably still a striker away from really challenging the West elite, but they’re good enough to return to the playoffs and pull another surprise.
8. HOUSTON DYNAMO
After a rough 2010, the Dynamo set out to rebuild this winter and the result has been one of the most impressive off-seasons in MLS. The Dynamo added imposing Jamaican defender Jermaine Taylor, and scored a pair of blue-chip prospects in Kofi Sarkodie and Will Bruin in the draft. Throw in having Geoff Cameron healthy and having Colin Clark on the comeback trail, and the Dynamo suddenly has enough firepower to take advantage of the move to the Eastern Conference.
9. COLUMBUS CREW
It’s easy to forget now, but the Crew came within penalty kicks of beating the Colorado Rapids in the playoffs. That’s how close Columbus came to a playoff victory. Now, the Crew has dismantled its roster and stands poised to go with a mix of youth and international newcomers to remain near the top of the East. That could be a tough ask, unless the trio of Andres Mendoza, Jeff Cunningham and Emilio Renteria can score goals and the rebuilt defense can slow people down. The Crew won’t challenge for a title, but sneaking into the playoffs is a possibility.
10. D.C. UNITED
The worst team in the league in 2010, D.C. enjoyed the most successful off-season in the league, landing Dax McCarty, Charlie Davies, Josh Wolff and rookie Perry Kitchen to a squad that already had some solid young players to work with. Head coach Ben Olsen will be learning on the job, but he has the personality to guide a young team. With Andy Najar playing the role of star catalyst, D.C. has the look of a team ready to return to the playoffs.
11. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
The Revolution missed the playoffs and endured one of the worst seasons the club has seen in a decade, but the club set out to revamp the roster and while it has yet to land the star striker the team was searching for, the Revs did add some promising pieces. Frenchmen Didier Domi and Ousmane Dabo should provide upgrades, but the Revs still look a bit weak in the attack and will struggle to reach the playoffs.
12. SPORTING KANSAS CITY
A new team, new logo, and this summer a new stadium. Plenty of chance in Kansas City as Sporting looks to erase the recent memories of mediocrity as the Kansas City Wizards. Adding Mexican striker Omar Bravo should help, but concerns about the defense keep Sporting from being a lock playoff team.
13. PHILADELPHIA UNION
The Union heads into its second year of existence looking to break into the playoffs. That isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility, but Philadelphia is probably still a defender or two away from being a serious threat for the post-season. The arrival of goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon should help, and Danny Mwanga should continue to blossom, but the back-line will be an issue that holds the Union back.
14. CHIVAS USA
New head coach Robin Fraser has wasted no time rebuilding Chivas USA. He has already put together a formidable defense, with the additions of Jimmy Conrad and Heath Pearce among others. The offense is a major question mark, with the club still lacking a proven goal-scorer and a playmaker. That will keep the Rojiblancos from challenging for a playoff spot, though the defense should help Chivas USA be in more games.
15. PORTLAND TIMBERS
Head coach John Spencer emphasized offense when building his squad, and what he has compiled is a very impressive collection of attacking talent. The trio of Kenny Cooper, Jorge Perlaza and Darlington Nagbe will be fun to watch, but serious concerns about the defense make the Timbers a tough team to see reaching the playoffs in year one.
16. CHICAGO FIRE
After missing the playoffs for only the second time in club history, the Fire brought back head coach Carlos De Los Cobos, who has responded to his first-year struggles by implementing a 3-5-2 formation that could leave the team struggling to adjust to it. A pair of Uruguayan forwards were brought in to try and boost a weak offense, but that may not be enough to keep the Fire from another forgettable season.
17. TORONTO FC
When Toronto cleaned house in the front office, it was inevitable that new leadership would need to come in and make wholesale changes. That reconstruction effort is what new head coach Aron Winter is undertaking, and the result is a team that looks destined to endure a horrible season.
18. VANCOUVER WHITE CAPS
The expansion Whitecaps have had a strange off-season, adding some good defensive pieces, but holding off on attacking talent. After adding a rather unknown commodity as a Designated Player in Eric Hassli, Vancouver still looks like an incomplete team heading into its first season. The Whitecaps defense should be respectable, but that won’t be enough to keep them from a rough first season.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.