MLS Rankings: Week 1

Every week, the New England Soccer Today crew will look beyond the standings to rank each of the 18 Major League Soccer (MLS) teams. This week Brian O’Connell, Sean Donahue, Carl Setterlund, and Julian Cardillo contributed rankings. Comments are followed by the ranker’s name and the rank they gave that team.

T1. Los Angeles Galaxy (2 first place votes) (1-0-1, 4 points) – They’ve had the star power the past few years with Donovan and Beckham, but I really think this season, especially with the addition of Juan Pablo Angel, is the best Galaxy squad in a while. This is my early favorite to win the MLS Cup. (Carl – 1) … The Galaxy are only in first because they collected points from both of their opening matches.  But it showed against New England that finishing has to improve and Beckham needs to find his stride. (Julian – 1) … The Galaxy opened the season with an impressive 1-0 away win over the Seattle Sounders. Their 1-1 home draw with New England will leave the team disappointed. The Galaxy could’ve and should’ve scored more in both games and Juan Pablo Angel’s return should help alleviate their finishing problems. (Sean – 2) … Clinched a sound 1-0 victory in Seattle in a match that could’ve seen them score a few more. Same thing against New England on Sunday after they had two goals disallowed in the first half. (Brian – 3)

T1. Real Salt Lake (1 first place vote) (1-0-0, 3 points) –Salt Lake continued to show their class in the CONCACAF Champions League with a 2-0 win over Costa Rica’s Deportivo Saprissa on Tuesday. The team still had enough in the tank to grind out a 1-0 win over an underrated San Jose squad on the road on Saturday. (Sean – 1) … The only thing keeping them from the number one spot is the rain-soaked affair in San Jose that seemed to stymie both clubs in the guests’ 1-0 win. Their 2-0 victory over Saprissa during CONCACAF Champions League was impressive, but it also seemed limit them later in the week. (Brian – 2) … Everyone is expecting a huge season out of Alvaro Saborio and barring injury you can bet he’ll be in the MVP conversation. Saborio definitely has the supporting cast behind him and he won’t need to put the team on his back (even though he might anyways). RSL is one of the title contenders this year and they know it, too. (Carl – 2) … Real Salt Lake silenced a Quakes crowd.  This well-rounded squad may not have had an off-season makeover, but they still continue to play attractive soccer. (Julian – 2)

3. Colorado Rapids (1 first place vote) (1-0-0, 3 points) – The defending MLS Champion comes out of the gate ready to prove that there’s nothing fluky about them. Although they may have beaten up on an expansion team, three goals out of the gate is a sure sign that no one in Commerce City is sitting on their laurels. (Brian – 1) … The defending MLS Cup champs are out to show last season was more than luck. A comprehensive victory over Portland was a good start, but the team will need to do more to rise above Salt Lake and the Galaxy. (Sean – 3) …  I’ve never been a big fan of the Rapids’ forwards. That’s actually a backhanded complement though because this is about as low as I think I could rank Colorado fairly. Hey Jeff, miss you bro. (Carl – 3) … The defending champs Colorado were dynamite at home.  However, it was against a new and lacking expansion side Portland Timbers.  Still, a good performance. (Julian – 6)

4. New York Red Bulls (1-0-0, 3 points) – Few would bet against the Red Bulls at home, even against the Seattle Sounders.  Henry’s missed penalty was interesting, but New York is proving that they have the depth to do well in 2011. (Julian – 3) … If game one is any indication, a full preseason together has done the Red Bulls, and their stars, a great deal of good.  (Sean – 4) … Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez, Tim Ream, Joel Lindpere, Juan Agudelo and Tony Tchani. Need I say anything more? However, I will caution that I don’t think the supporting cast is fully there yet and the Red Bulls may still be a little bit better on paper than on the pitch, as usual. (Carl – 4) … Juan Agudelo kicked off a season brimming with expectations with the only goal of the game, as the Red Bulls gored a tough-luck Seattle side who find themselves suddenly starving for goals. (Brian – 6)

5. D.C. United (1-0-0, 3 points) – Charlie Davies has arrived in DC.  The new changes brought on by Ben Olsen certainly seem to be what the doctor ordered in Our Nation’s Capital. (Julian – 4) … This is where it gets trickier for me. Sort of going on a hunch with this one, or maybe it’s just that I want to believe in Charlie Davies. Either way, I love the personnel changes they made this offseason in the nation’s capital and think D.C. will likely be back in the playoffs in 2011. (Carl – 5) … Talk about starting anew. With Charlie Davies bagging a brace in his MLS debut, Ben Olsen’s bunch look like a team reborn and ready to reclaim their glory days after a 3-1 hammering of a crumbling Crew. (Brian – 5) … United could be this season’s surprise. Comprehensively beating even a much changed Columbus side is no easy task. The pacy duo of Charlie Davies and Josh Wolff could be deadly. (Sean – 6)

6. Sporting Kansas City (1-0-0, 3 points) –  Victory by Bravo – Omar, to be exact. The newcomer made his presence immediately thanks to a pair of goals which helped lead an up-and-coming KC to three points against the Goats. (Brian – 4) … Omar Bravo made an immediate impact in his debut and Teal Bunbury’s return will only help the attack. As poor as Chivas USA is, a road win at the Home Depot Center is never easy. (Sean – 5) … Sporting Kansas City looks like a dark horse.  Omar Bravo is this week’s player of the week.  Will people figure out his Mexican dance or are he and KC just getting started? (Julian – 5) … I just don’t see it. I could always be wrong, but I’m not buying into Bravomania just yet. This could be a good team yet, but I think it’s more of a decent team. (Carl – 8 )

7. FC Dallas (0-0-1, 1 point) – A home draw against Chicago Is hardly impressive for a potential title contender, but playing down a man for 35 minutes certainly didn’t help Dallas’ cause. (Sean – 7) … After getting upset by Colorado in last year’s MLS Cup, the Hoops are hoping to get more out of their youngsters. Unfortunately, a red card to Brek Shea wasn’t what they had in mind in their 1-1 draw to Chi-town. (Brian – 7) … David Ferreira or not, I think the Hoops have taken a step back. They’ve subtracted too many key contributors and I think this will end up being more of a transition year. (Carl – 10) … Not an ideal start for FCD.  But a point is better than a loss.  Still too early to decipher whether or not they will have the same year as 2010. (Julian – 10)

8. Philadelphia Union (1-0-0, 3 points) – Danny Califf’s goal to lift Philly over Houston proved that the veterans are the backbone in the city of brotherly love.  Will the youngsters like Farfan be singing “Where is the Love” or will this positive trend continue to the youngsters too? (Julian – 8 ) …  Really like what they’re doing down there in Philly. I think with the veteran additions and Le Toux pulling the strings, the Union will take another step forward this season. It’s also right about time for the young talent Piotr Nowak focused on acquiring to start paying dividends. (Carl – 9) … Pushed aside a weak Houston squad at home for the victory, but a win’s a win. We’ll see how they fare on the road this weekend in Vancouver. (Brian – 9) … The Union began to improve throughout the second half of last season, their first year in the league. Getting a win against a two-time MLS Cup Champion on the road, albeit a rebuilding one, should build confidence to start the season. (Sean – 10)

9. New England Revolution (0-0-1, 1 point) – They got rid of a bunch of nothing in the offseason and added some good depth. I don’t think they’re much of a title contender (a DP could change that), but I think this squad is back in the playoffs again. Give Steve Nicol the parts and he’ll put it all together in the end. The Revs are no Maserati, but they could be quite a Volvo. (Carl -7) … The Revolution may have walked a tight rope in Los Angeles.  But to be fair, two of the Ref’s three calls were right.  Make Shalrie’s shot off the post go in, and suddenly it’s 2-2. (Julian – 9) … Shalrie Joseph’s early score gave the Revs a surprise lead in the 3rd minute, but let’s face it: three disallowed goals preserved the road point against a potent L.A. attack that seemed snakebitten for much of the match. (Brian – 10) …. The Revolution certainly had some luck on their side in their 1-1 draw with the Galaxy, but grabbing a point against one of the league’s top teams on the road is a positive sign for a team starting the season with a roster already plagued by injury. (Sean – 12)

T10. Seattle Sounders FC (0-2-0, 0 points) – I think the Sounders’ early results are more a result of their competition than an indication that this is a middling team. Blaise Nkufo may be gone, but Jhon Kennedy Hurtado is back, baby. I’m bullish on Seattle and it’s still too early for me to budge on that.  (Carl – 6) …Dropping the first two games of the season has the Sounders in an early hole, but the team can’t be too ashamed at falling in close matches to two of the top three teams in the league. (Sean – 8 ) …  The Sounders went silent with zero goals in their first two matches. They’re too talented to remain quiet for long, so long as Fredy Montero and Steve Zakuani are on the pitch. (Brian – 13) … Seattle’s crowd won’t win them games.  The Sounders have not been able to finish as they have now lost two games by 1-0 score lines.  To be fair, they were against the Galaxy and Red Bulls. (Julian – 15)

T10. San Jose Earthquakes (0-1-0, 0 points) – Ran with Real Salt Lake for much of the match, but couldn’t keep up in the end. But, a 1-0 loss to a championship contender isn’t the worst thing in the world. They attacked at will in the final 15, and had Nick Rimando not been in net, it may have ended differently. (Brian – 8 ) … Suffered a home loss to the league’s best, but played them close all the way, just couldn’t find the back of the net.  Nothing to worry about yet. (Sean – 9) … I don’t think Wondo pulls another rabbit out of his hat this season. The Earthquakes have some good parts though and this team will be competitive. (Carl -11) … San Jose certainly didn’t look as sharp as the team that made conference finals last year.  Wondo could be a known presence with Convey needing to free himself up. (Julian 13)

12. Vancouver Whitecaps (1-0-0, 3 points) – The Vancouver Whitecaps appear to be set to compete in MLS.  With 4 goals against TFC, they scored more than any other team in week 1.  Not bad from an expansion side. (Julian – 7) … The Whitecaps couldn’t have asked for a better start in their expansions season, beating Canadian rivals Toronto 4-2. They’ll need to do the same against better opposition, however, before I start moving them up the rankings. (Sean – 11) … The Whitecaps crashed their Canadian counterparts with a 4-2 throttling in their MLS debut. With Eric Hassli and Atiba Harris, they’ve got the firepower to put a few more smackdowns on some American sides this summer. (Brian – 12) … Vancouver is the lowest-ranked team out of those that won their first game. That’s me saying let’s not go nuts here just yet. I honestly thought Portland would be the better of the two expansion squads. Early returns on Eric Hassli sure are encouraging though. (Carl – 15)

13. Chicago Fire (0-0-1, 1 point) – Diego Chaves scored his first goal to give the Fire a brief lead, but couldn’t put away the go-ahead with the man advantage. A road match at KC will provide a strong challenge for Chicago on Saturday. (Brian – 11) … Chicago seemed to be ready for action.  But can they compete in such a competitive Eastern Conference? (Julian – 11) … The talent exodus in Chicago has been a little exaggerated in my opinion. Well, not really, but it was time to move on from Blanco and McBride and I think the Fire has young players capable of stepping it up. (Carl – 12) … The Fire earned an impressive road draw against FC Dallas, but would’ve hoped for more with a man advantage for over a third of the match. Still, a positive start for a team that lost a lot of key pieces in the offseason.  (Sean – 13)

14. Columbus Crew (0-1-0, 0 points) – Are Columbus this year’s DC? Probably not. But with Guillermo Barros Schelloto gone, Saturday’s loss to DCU wasn’t an encouraging sign. They’ve got Emmanual Ekpo and Eddie Gaven, and Jeff Cunningham should prevent them from falling too far down the table. (Brian – 14) … The exodus of veterans has certainly hurt this team and their rough season opening loss to D.C. will have done little to boost this young team’s confidence heading into the season. (Sean – 14) … How the mighty have fallen, right? Eddie Gaven is a stud though and I think Jeff Cunningham still has one more decent season in him. The Crew will stay afloat, but I don’t think it’ll do much more than that. (Carl – 14) … The Crew fell out of grace with that performance against DC.  Is Warzycha going to do poorly this year as man in charge? (Julian – 16)

15. Houston Dynamo (0-1-0, 0 points) –  Well, the glory days are over, but I do still think highly of Dom Kinnear. The Dynamo won’t be any better than average at best unless Brian Ching can come back strong and that’s a real coin flip. (Carl – 13) … Houston got off to the wrong start, but it is only week one.  Same question as Chicago: can they compete in such a competitive Eastern Conference? (Julian – 13) … Injuries have certainly taken their toll on the team already, but even so, falling at home to Philadelphia shows just how far this team has fallen over the last few seasons.  (Sean – 16) … Lethargic effort all around. Dominic Kinner needed his players to step up without Brian Ching. Instead, they took a two-hour snooze and walked away without a sliver of hope that this year will be different than 2010. (Brian – 17)

16. Chivas USA (0-1-0, 0 points) – Chivas USA proved they could score, but their defense lacked enough edge to hold off Omar Bravo.  The season is still young and Robin Fraser’s changes may continue. (Julian – 12) … Losing 3-2 to KC reinforces the fact that the defense still needs work. Heath Pearce and Jimmy Conrad can’t do it alone. The Goats still need help across the pitch. (Brian – 16) … An offseason overhaul may have left Chivas needing more time to prepare for the season, but if they can’t improve from their season opening performance against Kansas City, this squad is in for a long year. (Sean – 17) … The Goats aren’t going to score many goals and Sporting KC showed they can be scored on. Carl – 17)

17. Portland Timbers (0-1-0, 0 points)  -  Coughing up three goals in the first frame isn’t the opening scene Timbers fans were hoping for, but it wasn’t unexpected against the defending champs. They still need time to gel before they can start breaking out the chainsaw. (Brian – 15). … As I said, I rated the Timbers higher than the Whitecaps and I think Kenny Cooper and Darlington Nagbe will be one of the top forward pairings in the league sooner than later. (Carl – 16) … Tough loss to open the season showed this team still has a lot of work to do. Portland may need a few more pieces before they can compete. (Sean – 16) … The Portland Timbers still have work to do.  But they have the players and administration to get work done.  Kenny Cooper is the first bright spot. (Julian – 17)

18. Toronto FC (0-1-0, 0 points) – There is some talent there, but the new coaching staff is having just as much trouble piecing it together as every other Toronto coach has. With stars such as Dwayne De Rosario unhappy, there is little to be positive about up in Toronto. (Sean – 18) …  Yup, for me this is the worst team in the league until it proves otherwise. (Carl – 18) … The downward spiral continues. So talented, yet so temperamental. Changes to the technical staff may create some growing pains, but these are grown men getting stomped on. This just gets more ridiculous every season. (Brian – 18) … The woes continue for Toronto FC.  Oh? DeRo scored the 8,000th league goal?  Big whoop.  Could have been anybody. (Julian – 18)

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About Sean Donahue

Sean Donahue has been covering the New England Revolution since 2002 for various publications. He has covered four MLS Cups, in addition to covering various international matches, including World Cup Qualifying and the CONCACAF Gold Cup. He has done freelance work for the AP and ESPN Boston. Sean hosted Revolution Recap, a weekly radio program covering the New England Revolution and U.S. Men's National Team from 2005-2008. He is a member of the North American Soccer Reporters. Sean can be reached at nesoccertoday@gmail.com or followed on twitter @SeanLDonahue