MLS 2020 is upon us later this week and it’s not officially official without an MLSguys Power Rankings. To arrive at this conclusion, our staff writers voted on each team’s rankings and the average of each team’s position is below. Let the games begin!
The Pigeons have returned a majority of their absolutely loaded roster that claimed the first seed in the Eastern Conference last year. Starting striker Heber has already bagged a hat trick in the club’s inaugural CCL match of 2020 and can easily be a dark horse Golden Boot candidate. NYCFC has four starting caliber midfielders (and are currently in the market for a fifth) giving them, in my opinion, the most talented and deepest midfield in MLS. Although Ben Sweat departs the club, all defensive starting positions have returned and Sean Johnson looks to build on a tremendous shot stopping career. The only thing that worries me with NYCFC is that they have TOO much depth and players like Valentin Castellanos, Jesus Medina, and Keaton Parks could find themselves on the bench more often than they would like. First year coach Ronny Deila has all the pieces in front of him to make another run at first seed in the East in 2020.
In a coin flip loss to NYCFC, we have LAFC lumbering in at a strong second place finish despite the fact that anything short of 1st seems like a loss for them. Dominant in 2019, LAFC is returning a good chunk of their lineup that led them to crush the league in points, however stud CB Walker Zimmerman looks to be replaced by an at times mediocre Tristan Blackmon. New midfield prospects Ginella and Cifuentes will be fighting for time in an already elite midfield, and Palacios will look to earn the starting LB spot. This team will be great, but Carlos Vela will not achieve the same stat line as last year, and that may be the difference between 1st and 2nd seeding. Don’t forget that the team’s three DP’s are wingers that looked awful as a trio in their CCL debut, and they will be kicking off the season as the entire attack until Diomande returns.
3. Seattle Sounders
The reigning MLS Cup Champions return with a deeper roster than what we saw last year. Raul Ruidiaz and Jordan Morris make up a huge part of Seattle’s attack and each have 15 goal potential if they can stay on the field all season. Entering his fifth season for the club, attacking midfielder Nico Lodeiro has been one of the most consistent no. 10’s in the league and will be searching for a fourth straight season with double digit assists. The Sounders added CB depth after the departure of Kim-Kee-Hee and brought in Yeimar Gomez Andrade to fill the void. At a reported 3.85m dollar fee, Andrade was one of the biggest CB acquisitions in the Winter transfer window and should pair well next to Arreaga. Joao Paulo also arrives from Brazil’s Serie A side Botafogo on a DP contract and should slide nicely into the midfield rotation.
4. Atlanta United
LGP is gone and Meza is left to fill the void, which many believe he will do in flying colors. The missing piece without a replacement is Julian Gressel. He accounted for 34 assists in three years, and was a player with true crossing chemistry to Josef Martinez. Brooks Lennon does not count as a true replacement, but should replicate a similar style. Josef is still a lock for 20 goals, and Pity simply has to be better than he was last year. This team should still be feared, but they do not fill me with top-3 confidence at this point.
5. Portland Timbers
One of the Timber’s most exciting players from 2019 is gone as Brian Fernandez was forced to deal with off the field issues and could never get back on track for 2020. So the Timber’s answer was to go out and get two goal-scoring strikers in Felipe Mora and Jaroslaw Niezgoda. The two have combined for 31 goals total since their prior season of play before joining the Timbers (Mora had 15 in Liga MX, Niezgoda had 16 in the Ekstraklasa). Blanco and Valeri return as the some of the league’s deadliest midfield pairings when it comes to setting up teammates and finishing chances themselves. If all of this isn’t good enough, we get the Chara bros as Diego’s brother Yimmy should slot in on the right side on the opening Matchday. Jorge Moreira is also one of the top right backs in the league and will be hoping to build on an incredible run of form in 2019. As the Timbers aren’t typically a dual striker team, it will be interesting to see how Savarese manages his offensive talent heading into the season.
6. LA Galaxy
It has been a long time coming, but Chicharito and MLS are finally one. However, the story of the Galaxy this season is about a lot more than the Mexican icon. Pavon is primed for a Best XI season after Ibra’s departure, as the former is a focal point of this team’s new attack. Even if Chicharito isn’t a 20 goal scorer, Pavon and Katai should shoulder the weight of the attack with ease. I’m a lot less bullish on LA’s new striker than most based on his recent stat lines, but he still has a solid floor in a league known for abhorrent defenses. Speaking of such, this team’s defense is still lacking heavily, but the experience of Insua and a fully fit Giancarlo Gonzalez should warrant improvement. Anyone instead of Skjelvik should be an improvement.
7. Toronto FC
An injured Altidore, mid-season transfers, goalkeeper changes; it almost never seems to matter who takes the field for Toronto but that Vanney and co. get the job done. They had a tremendous 2019 MLS Cup Playoff run by knocking off the #1 and #2 seeds in the East, NYCFC and Atlanta respectively, but ultimately failed to bring home the silverware. This year they’ll return a majority of starters but also will get a little help from incoming Espanyol transfer Pablo Piatti. The Spanish attacking midfielder has seen a drop-off in form since his younger days, but at 30 years old is still a marquee abroad signing who should compliment the play of the other midfielders like Bradley, Osorio and Delgado. The aforementioned Altidore is a huge piece in Toronto’s puzzle and if he stays on the field is one of the deadliest strikers in the league. Since arriving in Toronto in 2015, Altidore has scored one goal per 143 minutes, a mark well above average.
8. Philadelphia Union
It was quite a year for this team and Jim Curtin last season, and there is no reason to suspect that the Union will not be even better. Fafa Picault is gone, and it looks as though Sergio Santos will have a real shot to show what he can do through an extended period of play. Medunjanin is out as well, but 21 year old Matej Oravec is expected to be the guy going forward at CDM. If you think Jamiro Montero isn’t a top-5 CM in this league, you weren’t watching the Union last season. The bottom line for this club is that Brenden Aaronson is, with one season more experienced than he was last year. He is one of the most exciting young Americans to watch right now, and should he manage to rack up a chunk of stats, we’re looking at a dangerous team. After coming in 5th last season, 8th place looks to be their floor.
9. Minnesota United
Adrian Heath’s Minnesota United took huge leaps in 2019 but ultimately were bounced early in the postseason. Regardless, it’s exactly the kind of season that Minnesota needed to put them in the next tier of clubs in MLS. A huge part of last year’s glory was young prospective American striker Mason Toye, as he pitched in six goals in under 1000 minutes. New loan signing from Club Atlético Vélez Sarsfield, Luis Amarilla has already publicly stated that his target is “25 goals,” so there should be no shortage of production in front of goal. The Loons also boast one of the most exciting midfields as Jan Gregus was a revelation at CM and was tied for 7th in the league with 12 assists. One of the areas that made Minnesota successful was their incredibly stingy backline and starters Chase Gasper, Ike Opara, Michael Boxall and Romain Metanire all return to fill their positions. New goalkeeper Tyler Miller has already shown that he’s very reliable between the sticks with his time at LAFC and should be a solid replacement for the departed Mannone. I don’t think Minnesota will miss Quintero (aside from his glorious chip-shot goals) as much as once thought, as a healthy Molino, improving Dotson and newcomer Amarilla seem to be healthy fill-ins.
10. Columbus Crew
The Crew are one of the deepest teams at CB, and will be getting Milton Valenzuela back after a year off with an ACL tear. They brought in Darlington Nagbe, a player who instantly elevates the players around him by his distribution and ability to not lose the ball. Club record fee signing Lucas Zelarayan will be “the guy” at the 10 spot, replacing Crew legend Federico Higuain. The signing of Zelarayan takes pressure off of Pedro Santos, a player who does not operate at max potential as the guy that defenses look to shut down. Now he can stay wide and deliver MLS record number crosses to Zardes.
11. New England Revolution
Bruce Arena comes into 2020 with a full season/preseason to mesh and gel with the squad and implement his tactics from the start. That probably is the best things the Revs could have asked for. When Arena replaced Brad Friedel in 2019, he took a bottom place team to the seventh seed and nearly knocked out Atlanta United in the postseason. The Revs only got better as they brought in a young, exciting striker in Adam Buksa from the Polish top flight. Along with their new no. 9 the Revs addressed their hole at LB by grabbing Alex Buttner, an ex-Man United player who should shore up a sometimes spotty defense. Gil and Bou show glimpses of “Lucho-Roo,” and can easily be argued as the best offensive duo in the league. With Gil achieving the MLS Newcomer of the Year award and Bou bagging nine goals in under 1200 minutes the Revs attack could be one of the more fun to watch in 2020. Central midfield has been at times a glaring issue for the Revs and that’s a spot where I could see them faltering, and possibly giving up valuable points late in games; a contagious problem that has followed them season to season.
12. D.C. United
Bad news is that Paul Arriola won’t be seeing the field for a long time. Good news is it will be slightly easier for this team to have all their top talent on the field. Julian Gressel was a steal at around a million dollars, and that is a fact. Ola Kamara seems absolutely ready to rock and roll after slipping into the roster midway through last season. Edison Flores is expected to fill the gap left by Acosta. With 18 stats in 47 appearances for Monarcas Morelia, his statistical history ranks higher than many other recent MLS signings from Liga MX. Don’t forget, the return of Yamil Asad means that this team has one of the most exciting attacking forces in the league. A playoff berth is all but guaranteed.
13. Sporting Kansas City
Sporting KC’s expectation unfortunately did not become a reality in 2019 and they ultimately missed out on the playoffs ending with a lowly 38 points and 11th place in the West. In unlike Sporting KC fashion they conceded the second most goals for any club in the league, just edging out new expansion side FC Cincinnati last season. Regardless, Vermes is back for another season in charge and it looks like he’s won the trust of the KC faithful (for now). It wasn’t defense that Sporting adressed right away, rather they got their new starting striker in Alan Pulido from Chivas of Liga MX for a club record sale. Up until joining SKC, Pulido had racked up 12 goals in 18 matches and at 28, is in the perfect stage of his career to make the move. Ex-Premier League CB Winston Reid comes over in a loan deal to help shore up the backline, but other than that there aren’t a whole lot of top transfers to hit on. But there doesn’t necessarily have to be. This is still a club who had the first overall seed in 2018 and players like Graham Zusi, Tim Melia, Johnny Russell, Gerso Fernandes, Felipe Gutierrez, Matt Besler and more are all returning. With a possible 20+ goal scoring striker in the cards and an ignited squad who knows what it takes to win, don’t be surprised to see SKC playing postseason football come November.
14. Real Salt Lake
RSL has lost legendary goalkeeper Nick Rimando as well as the rising talent of Jefferson Savarino, but in turn have brought in the latter’s supposed successor in Jeizon Ramirez. Additionally, the experience of Justin Meram and the coin flip that is Giuseppe Rossi, will add to the solid attacking core of RSL. This team managed to skirt into 3rd in the West last season, and look to push for the playoffs again with the core of the team returning. If Rossi gets fit and manages to return to some semblance of his Serie A self, then RSL could repeat a top-3 Western performance.
15. Colorado Rapids
Although the Rapids had an exciting playoff run come to an abrupt end, they managed to finish in 9th place in the Western Conference in 2019, but were a completely different team in the in the final months under Robin Fraser after relieving Anthony Hudson of his head coaching duties. What makes Colorado dangerous and a potential playoff team in a crowded West is a combination of their potential last season, along with some impressive incoming transfers in the Winter window. Younes Namli comes over from FC Krasnodar on loan and gives Colorado an immediate impact player at the no. 10 role which should relive the pressure off Jack Price and Kellyn Acosta in terms of offensive production. Along with Namli, Nicolas Benezet arrives after a brief stint with Toronto, who showed he can show up in important matches as he was a huge part in Toronto’s MLS Cup run last season. As what’s been a theme in recent seasons, Colorado finished with one of the worst defensive records last year. In comes Austin Trusty who studied under a very stingy defensive team in the Philadelphia Union and Jim Curtin, who should slot nicely next to Lalas Abubakar to help put out some of the fires.
16. FC Dallas
In July, FCD will have their No. 9 slot locked in with Pachuca striker Franco Jara. Until that time, they will rely on the fan-favorite Zdenek Ondrasek (or maybe test Ricardo Pepi). They brought in Fafa Picault to play opposite Barrios, and that makes for a very quick attack that can support the Cobra. Of course this team will use their homegrown studs to create a young, yet impressive midfield, headlined by Paxton Pomykal. This team can be something special, but the one thing you can count on is AT LEAST a mid table finish. There is lots of potential here, especially with a fully returning defense that saw Ryan Hollingshead play as a top-5 fullback last year. This team can go above our rankings, but it would be shocking if they dipped below.
17. Inter Miami
David Beckham’s new project has been watched under a microscope since it’s inception a couple years back, but now in 2020 it’s time to put it to the test. Miami started hot out of the gate and grabbed a couple of young Argentine attackers in Julian Carranza and Matias Pellegrini, both over a 5m sale each. That in itself would be a pretty solid start but Rodolfo Pizarro came over from Monterrey for a reported 12m dollar fee and will slot right in the playmaking role of the midfield. Although Pizzaro hasn’t necessarily been lighting it up in recent years, he is in the heart of his prime at 25 years old and will look to gain the spotlight in Miami. With the attack set Jorge Figal was bought from Club Atletico Independiente and was not just the highest profile defender brought in, but could end up being the very best CB in MLS. With a strong supporting cast of depth players and MLS-experienced players like Luis Robles and Lee Nguyen to fill out the squad, the question isn’t whether Inter Miami has the talent, but whether or not it can all fall into place in 2020.
18. San Jose Earthquakes
Under Matias Almeyda and his man marking system, San Jose had its ups and downs but managed to be one of the most entertaining teams to watch last season. As the system started to come together and the team adjusted to itself and the fitness that it required, San Jose started to look very dangerous at times. Vako is inconsistent, but truly has the ability to win games for his team that shouldn’t be won. Espinoza will need to be better than he was last year if this team is looking to make the playoffs, but if those two and Eriksson can play at a consistently high level, the lack of a top-15 striker will not be an issue. Jackson Yuiell looks primed to make a run at Best XI, and Oswaldo Alanis was brought in to solidify a sometimes leaky defense. This club could land anywhere in the rankings, but do to their inconsistencies, the middle of the pack seems like a decent probability.
19. New York Red Bulls
This year’s Red Bulls will be much different than fans of MLS have been familiar with. Out goes long time club legends Bradley Wright-Phillips and Luis Robles who’s production won’t just be missed, but their on-the-field leadership and presence is what encompassed the “Red-Bull way.” Surely the Red Bulls needed to find replacements, but their off-season wasn’t exactly what most would expect. Besides Josh Sims coming in to play right-wing from Premier League side Southampton on loan, there isn’t another seemingly starting attacking player to replace the goalscoring void left by Wright-Phillips. What the Red Bulls did last year was get away with goals by a committee approach from players like Daniel Royer and Brian White but I’m not sure if that plan can hold out for a 34 game season. Defense is what the Red Bulls have been able to pride themselves in during the past couple of years with Parker and Long forming one of the strongest bonds in the league. It isn’t the defense or even the midfield play that concerns me, it’s whether the Red Bulls can hang with some very improved attacks in MLS 3.0
20. Vancouver Whitecaps
Everybody loves to hate on the Whitecaps even after they signed Lucas Cavallini. 20th place is no kind ranking, but there continues to be concerns with this team. While Adnan is a pleasure to watch, this defensive line managed the second worst goal differential in the league next to FC Cincinnati. Cavallini will be a game changer, but it all depends on whether the team can get service to him. Unless the defense improves heavily, this team will never be in the playoffs, but I do expect them to finish higher than most projections may say, even ours.
21. FC Cincinnati
Okay. Let’s not hide the fact that they were bad last year, and we can talk stats and production but for time’s sake we’ll leave that statement how it is. In 2020 there is going to be a much different team in West Ohio and most specifically and importantly their offense. Ex-Brighton striker Jurgen Locadia is the second highest profile transfer to arrive in the Winter and provides immediate goalscoring threat. Incoming Designated Player Yaya Kubo and Adrien Regattin should slot nicely underneath and provide complimentary offense for the big man up top. Ex-Union defensive midfielder Haris Medunjanin has made a living on feeding attackers with pinpoint through balls and often opens up gaps that would never have been found otherwise. The defense was a major concern in 2019 and Cincinnati did address that by wiping away starters Alvas Powell and most of their depth pieces. Now they have brought in Tom Pettersson on a free transfer formerly playing his soccer with Ostersund of the Swiss top flight. With Ron Jahns out unexpectedly due to racist comments it will be interesting to see how long it takes all of these new pieces to fit together on the pitch.
22. Orlando City SC
Another team everyone loves to hate, Orlando did only miss the playoff line by eight points in 2019. The team improves at GK with Gallese, at CB with Antonio Carlos, CM with Junior Urso, and will have a full season with Pereyra. Will the Cardiac Cats choke a few games? Sure. Will there be times that they are mocked around social media? Absolutely. Will they surpass the community’s expectations? I say probably. There is some serious potential for improvement, but this team has lacked a quality system/coaching direction since its inception. It is hard to see them making the playoffs because every team around them also improved, and with their history of poor defensive play. Ruan and Carlos may be enough, but that remains to be seen.
23. Montreal Impact
Thierry Henry is the first talking point for this club as Henry comes from experience of the highest degree of footballing in the world, and also spent time in MLS with the New York Red Bulls. The first year coach seemed to have this plan of attack to bring in and retain a plethora of attacking players. By my count, the Impact have eight to nine striker/wingers/outside midfielders all jockeying for about four positions. On the defensive side of the ball, only one change was made as Zachary Brault-Guillard was officially transferred from Lyon and will slot in at RB after the departure of Sagna. This is bad news in my opinion since 3/4 defensive starters in 2019 have moved on to new clubs while 21 year old Brault-Gillard and Canadian Premier League CB Joel Waterman were the only primary additions. Ex-Tottenham youth Lewis Binks arrived in the Winter as well, but it will be unkown if he is set to take the field come Feb. 29th. Maybe Henry has different ideas and is taking a new approach, but the imbalance between both sides leaves me to believe that Montreal will find it hard to come by results in 2020.
24. Nashville SC
In case you haven’t noticed, Nashville is off to an amazing start with what they have built off the field. Supporters are dying to have the stadium packed every week, and there is just a great culture being built around the team. On the field there is a clear system that looks to be designed for keeping games as low scoring as possible. With big money being spent on Walker Zimmerman, along with Superdraft picks and Expansion Draft picks for defenders, this team wants to bunker down and pretend they are Atletico Madrid. There will be no FCC style -44 goal differential, but it remains to be seen how much their attack will be able to put away on the counter. Hany Mukhtar will need to exceed his lofty expectations and carry this attack if the team wants any chance at an impressive debut season.
25. Chicago Fire
Where to begin with the Fire. New logo, new stadium, new coach, new management, basically we can treat this club like a third expansion team in 2020. First year coach Raphael Wicky actually did a decent job in his roster build, but I still see plenty of holes especially on the defensive side. Starting with the bad, I think goals could be hard to come by for the Fire. Slovenian international Robert Beric comes over from Ligue One side Saint-Ettiene where he’s had decent success finding the goal 12 times in limited action in France. Other than that the Fire really don’t pose too much of a threat in the wing play and advanced midfield play. Newcomer Gaston Gimenez comes over from Velez Sarsfield and fills a desperately needed hole formerly vacated by Dax McCarty in defensive midfield. Alvaro Medran leaves La Liga side Valencia and should pair nicely with Gimenez in that floating center midfield role. The defense is a major liability for me as Bastian Schweinsteiger and Marcelo who made up much of their CB minutes last year have left the club. I’m not saying this team doesn’t have a talented roster who can win some games, there’s just so much unknown that I think it’s safer to give clubs with identities the benefit of the doubt before we solely judge a roster on paper.
26. Houston Dynamo
If there is one team that may ruin this power ranking’s credibility, it is the Houston Dynamo. They have a brilliant attacking force with Manotas, Elis, Rodriguez, Martinez, Ramirez, and potential game changer Darwin Quintero. However, they have made no substantial adjustments to their porous defense. I have faith in Zarek Valentin as a solid incoming transfer, but they need to put some money into their back six if they want a shot at the playoffs. If their top 5-6 players weren’t all forwards, we may be having a different discussion, but the way the league is progressing, it looks like they are being left behind. For them to have a top half finish, their attackers would need to click like 2019 LAFC.