MLS Power Rankings: Philly, Seattle come out the gate hot; Vancouver, Colorado already stumble

ByRyan Rosenblatt ESPN logo
Monday, March 6, 2023

MLS is back! And not in the "we really named a tournament this" way. Just in the "first weekend of the season, everyone is really excited and every team is still dreaming of glory" way.

With the start of every season comes the dreaded question for the all-important power rankings: how much stock do you put in the first results?

On one hand, 90 minutes is a laughably small sample size -- and are you really going to toss out last season, winter transfers and basic beliefs that the players who have played well in recent years are probably going to keep playing well, even if matchweek one didn't go according to plan?

On the other hand, one match is the entirety of the sample size we've got, and we've seen how quickly teams can turn over from year to year or how preseason led us astray. So, a real, live, actual game that matters can be persuasive.

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Simply put, there is no good answer. How much you move teams up and down in the first month of the season is mostly about vibes. So without further ado, here are the first thoughts and vibes ranking of 2023.

(Editor's Note: This ranking has been updated after the Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City played their weather-delayed opener on Monday night).

1. Philadelphia Union

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: at Inter Miami, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

What's more convincing than bringing back every starter from a team that tied for the most points in the league last season with plenty of young talent that only figures to get better? Beating a pretty good Crew team, 4-1, to open the season.


Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: vs. Portland Timbers, Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET

The last time we saw LAFC, they were lifting MLS Cup, so really who could stop this team? Mother Nature, apparently, after torrential rain forced their season opener to be postponed.

3. Seattle Sounders

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: vs. Real Salt Lake, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET

The season really got away from the Sounders after their CONCACAF Champions League run last season, but when healthy, the roster was still mostly very good. They're mostly healthy now, and rested, and this weekend's 4-0 shellacking of Colorado is a good way to keep the season from getting away from you at the start.

4. Orlando City

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: vs. FC Cincinnati, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

The Lions won the offseason with approximately 692 moves, most of which were very good. Their 1-0 win over RBNY didn't set the world on fire, but with so many new players to integrate, the early part of the season is just about getting enough points to keep the train on the tracks until everything starts clicking. Job done.

5. FC Cincinnati

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: at Orlando City, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

Cincy drew a lot of games they probably should have won last season, so while some might see being outplayed by Houston for large stretches a problem, that they came out 2-1 winners anyway is probably a good sign. With a solid team in tow, FCC will probably play good enough soccer week in, week out. It's about turning performances into points that is the question, and they answered it in Week 1.

6. Austin FC

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: vs. CF Montreal, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET

Austin were clearly good last season, but they also needed a little magic to rack up points. Is it reasonable to expect more of that this season? Because St. Louis had all the magic in knocking of the Verde at Q2 Stadium on Saturday.

7. Nashville SC

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: at New York Red Bulls, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

Can Nashville outwork, outrun and outfight teams for an entire season? When they had the energy last season, they were pretty good. When there were lulls, it was ugly. That said, they had the juice in a 2-0 win over NYCFC to kick off the season.

8. Atlanta United FC

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: vs. Toronto FC, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

Will Thiago Almada be wearing black and red after the summer transfer window? Who knows, but he was when he scored two goals in stoppage time to beat the Quakes.

9. New York Red Bulls

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: vs. Nashville SC, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

The Red Bulls conceded just one shot in Orlando. Unfortunately, that shot turned into the only goal of the game, but the defense was good and let's see what the attack looks like when Dante Vanzeir joins up.

10. Columbus Crew

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: vs. D.C. United, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

It's been one week, but the rule from 2022 is already being applied to 2023: getting beat by Philly doesn't count against you because that's what Philly does.

11.Sporting Kansas City

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: at Colorado Rapids, Saturday, 9:30 p.m. ET

SKC gave us reason to dream down the stretch last season, strengthened the team in the winter and got healthy. There's reason to believe in this team and while the scoreline in their loss to Portland wasn't encouraging, their play for much of the match absolutely was.

12. FC Dallas

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: vs. LA Galaxy, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET

Dallas had most of the ball, dictated where the match would be played, looked in control and generated very little in a loss to MNUFC. What is old is new again.

13. LA Galaxy

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: at FC Dallas, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET

Mother Nature has done some cruel things of late; add depriving us of Riqui Puig for another week to her list.

14. New England Revolution

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match vs. Houston Dynamo, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

There's a lot to like about the Revs if their midfield can hold up. For one week, it did and they won in Charlotte.

15.Portland Timbers

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: at LAFC, Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET

Winning is good and PTFC will cherish the three points they earned over SKC on Monday night, but they were outplayed for most of the match and there was little to suggest that this team is meaningfully better than last season's edition.

16. Inter Miami CF

Previous ranking: NA

Next MLS match: vs. Philadelphia Union, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

On one hand, you have a team that was very dependent on Gonzalo Higuain and Alejandro Pozuelo, two players who no longer wear pink. On the other hand, the defense was leaky a year ago and they seem to have made some good moves to shore things up at the back. A 2-0 win over Montreal is a good way to convince people that the changes at the back may make up for the losses at the front.

17. Toronto FC

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: at Atlanta United, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

TFC seem to be built upon the belief that everything will go just right. Their stars will stay healthy to hide weaker depth and they'll be so tidy on the ball that they won't get burned in transition. Well, they got burned in transition plenty as they lost in D.C. to open their season.

18. Real Salt Lake

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: at Seattle Sounders, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET

The first half of RSL's win in Vancouver would have them ranked near the bottom, but their second half can put them in single digits. We'll split the difference.

19. New York City FC

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: at Chicago Fire, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET

NYCFC is this high because of belief in the City Football Group's scouting network because at first blush, the roster does not inspire confidence and their loss in Nashville didn't either.

20. Minnesota United

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: vs. New York Red Bulls, March 11, 8:30 p.m. ET

Emanuel Reynoso is still not with the team and considering that the entire attack ran through him in ways that was not true of any other player and club in the league, that is concerning, but the rest of the team isn't bad. There's a lot of reliable pieces around that raise the floor of this team, as evidenced by their win in Dallas, even if they'll absolutely need Reynoso to have any sort of ceiling worth considering.

21. San Jose Earthquakes

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET

For the first time in a long time, the Earthquakes squad and approach make sense. That's an admittedly low bar, but it's the one they've set in recent years. They lost in Atlanta, but it took an Almada circus in stoppage time to do it and San Jose played pretty well. Things are looking up.

22. Charlotte FC

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: at St. Louis City, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET

There are some things to like in Charlotte, but the top-end talent is a question mark, to be kind. Back that up with questions in goal and you have a 1-0 home loss to the Revs looking like a potential harbinger of the season to come.

23. D.C. United

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: at Columbus Crew, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

D.C.'s goals were scored by two Designated Players, Mateusz Klich and Christian Benteke, and a homegrown player, Ted Ku-DiPietro. That's what you need to orchestrate a massive turnaround and their 3-2 win over TFC showed the blueprint.

24. CF Montreal

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: at Austin FC, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET

There's reason to believe that the talent and manager style doesn't quite line up in Montréal and their opening loss to Miami didn't do much to quell those concerns.

25. Houston Dynamo

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: at New England Revolution, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

The Dynamo looked about as good as they could have in defeat. They had Cincy on the back foot for chunks of the game and not only should they have taken a point, there's an argument to be made that they deserved all three.

26. Vancouver Whitecaps

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: at San Jose Earthquakes, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET

Soccer is a 90-minute game. The Caps only played 45 against RSL. The math on that is not strong.

27. Colorado Rapids

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: vs. Sporting Kansas City, Saturday, 9:30 p.m. ET

The Rapids really are betting on Kévin Cabral. It's been a whole offseason, and a 4-0 loss to the Sounders, and that still hasn't sunk in.

28. St. Louis City SC

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: vs. Charlotte FC, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET

The league's newest club had a first match to remember. There wasn't a lot in there that portends long-term success, but who cares. Game No. 1, win No. 1. And they did it in dramatic fashion at one of the Western Conference favorites in Austin. Check back in after the season and this might still be one of the top moments of 2023 anywhere in MLS.

29. Chicago Fire

Previous ranking: N/A

Next MLS match: vs. New York City FC, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET

Shout-out to the schedule gods for keeping the Fire's record unblemished for another week.

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