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Quarterly Review: Updated MLS Rankings

by on 4 May 2017

With over a quarter of the 2017 MLS season gone, we can start to assess the teams and our own evaluations of those teams. At the beginning of the season our writer poll made some bold predictions: some correct and some dead wrong. In our quarterly review, we adjust those rankings, no doubt to be proven completely wrong yet again.

A quick note about our methodology: this time around each writer ranked the teams based on how good they thought each one was at this point in the season. These are not, then, updated predictions. We then put those rankings together for an aggregated ranking, valuing the group wisdom rather than any one person’s opinion.

Western Conference

Our preseason poll

When we conducted our preseason poll, we thought that the league would be dominated by Dallas and Seattle, who are currently ranked 3rd and 7th. Meanwhile, Minnesota, Houston, and San Jose looked like they would have long, sad seasons. Jeff Rueter made the perhaps jinxing statement: “While we don’t see Minnesota as the WORST TEAM IN MLS HISTORY™, the Loons are definite underdogs in 2017.” Thanks, Jeff. Both the Dynamo and Earthquakes are within the playoff range and Minnesota opened the season as the “WORST TEAM IN MLS HISTORY™.”

Though some of us saw the LA Galaxy as struggling this season, the overall feeling was that they would still do better than the middle-of-the-pack teams. And no one could quite bring themselves to see Colorado falling as far as they have.

In our updated poll (in which we’ve bravely decided to actually attach our names), there is a good amount of agreement: Colorado seems doomed, Dallas is fantastic, and San Jose will plummet back to Earth. The predictions can again be broken into four tiers.

Tier I: The Contenders

1. FC Dallas
2. Portland Timbers
3. Sporting Kansas City

Despite the distraction of the CONCACAF Champions League, FC Dallas have been impressive and dominant. They set the tone with an away win against the LA Galaxy to start the season (which in retrospect seems less impressive) and have gone undefeated in their seven matches. Their only dropped points have been to their fellow contenders (Timbers and Sporting) and away to San Jose.

The Portland Timbers started their season with Liam Ridgewell and a bucket of sand as their starting center backs and yet they have been stalwart despite also losing their No. 10 and Argentine rabbit’s foot, Diego Valeri. They look to be one of the teams fighting for the top of the Western table.

Our preseason poll saw Sporting Kansas City in the second tier of teams that would likely have a playoff spot. No one foresaw SKC’s puritanical defense, though. In their first nine matches, the Fighting Sporks have let in only three goals. They have done enough to change our writers’ opinions and join the contenders.

Tier II: Post-Season Planners

4. Seattle Sounders
5. Houston Dynamo

Carrying a championship hangover, the Seattle Sounders failed to wake up to their season alarm. While they haven’t yet regained their 2016 swagger, our writers envision an eventual return to form. Seattle will make the playoffs. (That of course may be due to the lack of talent below them. More on that later.)

The Houston Dynamo have been a poor team for some time. They kicked off their season in style with wins against Seattle and Columbus. They will likely resort to the mean, somewhere below their current fourth place spot, but our writers are pretty confident that Houston will be in the playoffs.

Tier III: Red Line Chasers

6. Vancouver Whitecaps
7. Real Salt Lake
8. San Jose Earthquakes

Our writers see these three teams as finishing somewhere in the range of sixth to tenth. Vancouver seem the most likely to nab that final playoff spot. They posted their most impressive result with a win against the Seattle Sounders, but have also been dealt with handily by Real Salt Lake in a 3-0 loss.

Real Salt Lake fired their manager and now have Mike Petke, cheerleading them forward. Since arriving, Petke got the aforementioned win over Vancouver, but the team looks like it will limp forward with just the faintest glimpse of a playoff spot.

None of our writers see the San Jose Earthquakes getting the last playoff spot, but the Quakes are still in a different tier than the damned teams below.

Tier IV: The Damned

9. Los Angeles Galaxy
10. Minnesota United
11. Colorado Rapids

The Los Angeles Galaxy are currently abysmal. Lacking Robbie Keane, Bruce Arena, and a reason to live, they look rudderless under Curt Onalfo. Only one writer (yours truly) sees an escape path for them, but on the whole our writers think the Galaxy will continue to stink up the joint all season long.

The question for Minnesota United is really only: how? How bad will they be: Grant Wahl bad or just bad? None of our writers could bring themselves to imagine Minnesota as the worst team in the league, but everyone believes that the playoffs are simply not happening.

According to our predictions, the Colorado Rapids will be the worst team in the West by a country mile. Had they not gotten drunk one night and decided that Josh Gatt and Mohammed Saeid were equivalent to Marc Burch and Sam Cronin, these last two spots would almost certainly be traded.

Eastern Conference

Our preseason poll

In the preseason, our writers seemed very confident that Toronto would run away with the East and that Orlando would largely mess their pants. One out of two?

Our current rankings for the East break into three distinct tiers, showing our writers have much more cohesive estimations of those teams. Perhaps, one could look at the numbers and break the conference into two categories since there is a clear distinction between the top five and the bottom six. Our writers remain undeterred on Toronto and have finally accepted how terrible Philadelphia is.

 

Tier I: The Contenders

1. Toronto FC
2. New York Red Bulls
3. NYCFC

4. Orlando City

Toronto FC suffered a crushing championship loss, but unlike the champions Seattle, they haven’t shown much of a hangover. They have only lost once and just beat high-flying Orlando City. They still haven’t seen Sebastian Giovinco live up to his previous self, either, showing they may have another gear left.

The New York Red Bulls came into this season having jettisoned their midfield stalwart, Dax McCarty. Despite four losses, they find themselves second in the East (both in the standings and our valuations).

NYCFC has not exactly taken 2017 by storm, but our writers seem to think that the team will eventually find its footing. They suffered two losses to Orlando City and have only put in one really dominant performance in a 4-0 drubbing of DC United.

Orlando City has not been catastrophically bad as our writers predicted. In fact, they have been outright impressive. Riding the wave of their new stadium, the team has been perfect at home. On the road, however, we can start to see the cracks show as the club has lost two of three away from home.

Tier II: Playoff Chasers

5. Columbus Crew
6. Atlanta United
7. Chicago Fire

The Columbus Crew has already posted some impressive results this season. They have beaten Portland, Orlando, and Toronto and have yet to play the East’s bottom-feeders. Our writers see them as somewhat set apart from the other two teams in this group and very likely to secure a playoff spot.

Atlanta United has far exceeded expansion club expectations. Most impressively, they walloped Minnesota 6-1 in the snow and followed it up with a 4-0 win over Chicago. However, losses to Montreal and DC United have brought reality back to the new team. Atlanta looks best poised to pull off that final playoff spot.

The Chicago Fire has Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty. They have also failed to beat any of the top teams, with their best result coming in a 1-0 victory over Columbus. Our writers see Chicago as coming close to, but not achieving the playoffs.

Tier III: The Damned

8. DC United
9. New England Revolution
10. Montreal Impact
11. Philadelphia Union

It feels wrong to write off roughly a third of the Eastern conference after only a quarter of a season, but the bottom tier looks very unimpressive. Perhaps the most hard-done by this ranking is DC United. While they struggled to get going early on, they have beaten Atlanta away from home (not an easy task) and NYCFC. DC has come back from the dead before and the team could still get out of the troubles they’re in, but our writers don’t seem to think it will.

Yes, New England beat Minnesota United 5-2 and then beat the Houston Dynamo. Other than those results, the Revolution have sleep-walked to four draws and two losses. Our writers appear to think that even those draws were punching above their weight.

The Montreal Impact lost to the LA Galaxy. That is a difficult task these days. They did notch a good win over Atlanta, but they have been otherwise unable to genetically clone Ignacio Piatti, thus making their task ahead very difficult.

The Philadelphia Union are existentially adrift. They are a terrible team, absolutely bereft of spirit and make reading Albert Camus in prison seem like a joyful alternative. It has been roughly 250 days since they last won a game and it could be just as long until the club wins again.

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