This is such a fun time of year. The transfer window is closing with the pace – and feeling of dread – in an Indiana Jones movie and teams within the league are moving pieces left and right for lots and lots of TAM and GAM. A few have done it already but let us take a look at an early Top 10 for MLS as preseason creeps up on us. Who knows, maybe we can make this weekly.
- Toronto FC
This is your defending MLS Cup champions and they locked up a treble in the process. They’re number one until someone says otherwise over a 90-minute span. The best season in MLS history gets that luxury. They are still insanely deep and decided to make up for losing Steven Beitashour by grabbing Dutch international Gregory van der Wiel. Jozy is still there. Bradley is still there (both despite everyone’s boos.) Also, Giovinco can still strike a dead ball better than just about anyone on this particular tectonic plate. They will get challenged in 2018, do not worry about that, but just remember: You come at the king, you best not miss.
- Atlanta United
Oh, what a difference a year makes. Last year at this time Atlanta had a young and talented roster with hopes of changing what it meant to be an expansion side. This year they are a young and talented roster with hopes of having a parade down Peachtree Street. Make no mistake about it, even though this club is in its second season, silverware is an expectation. That is why you go get Darlington Nagbe and ask him to do what he does best. That is also why you go smash the MLS transfer record and bring in one of the best 18-year-olds in the world. For all the talk of the offense, the defense finished 4th in the league in goals allowed and upgraded as a unit while having arguably the best goalkeeper depth in the league with Guzan starting and hometown kid Alec Kann more than capable of running things. Everything about this team is dynamic and fun and should put people on a thrill ride every week. They will most likely compete year in and year out but this particular roster may have a limited window if Europe comes calling like people expect them to.
- New York City FC
The Pigeons are still loaded and got rid of the resident traffic cone/winemaker/good-looking man Andrea Pirlo and replaced him with Paraguayan Jesus Medina because who doesn’t need more speed and skill down the left? Jack Harrison might be going to England but they are still talented and adding Jo Inge Berget might be the ‘well that was an insanely good move’ move of 2018 by the time autumn rolls around. Atlanta getting better in the midfield with players who can break you down when you bunker is the only thing pushing NYC to 3rd for me. You could make a case for them to be 2nd and I probably would buy it. If that argument included Tommy McNamara then I would buy it without a second thought.
- Seattle Sounders
Amidst all of the talk about the East becoming a powerhouse (it is) the west could be a lot of fun and at the top of their rankings is the two-time defending conference champions. Their path in 2017 was made a bit easier because at some point Houston decided to start buying all of their goods from ACME after they dispatched the Timbers in Portland. That said they are still really talented if a bit long in the tooth. Jordan Morris could stand for things to go right, but even if they don’t Will Bruin will happily tag in and punch you in the stomach and casually stroll off. They also still have Alonso and Roldan to hurt you both physically and emotionally. Oh, and that Lodeiro guy who dragged them from the grave in 2016. This team has earned their spot in the rankings to start but it will be fascinating to see how they start and more importantly how they react.
- Portland Timbers
Cascadia stays tied together like Kevin Kline and Will Smith in Wild Wild West: Sure, not everyone loves it and even now people roll their eyes, but it sells/sold tickets and if it is on, are you really going to get up to change the channel or are you going to enjoy it despite yourself? The Timbers are still loaded in the attack and, for my money, did as good a job as you could have asked by replacing Caleb Porter with Giovani Savarese. There is some with guys like Chara (also a broken foot) but they’ve gotten by and added Julio Cascante for the defense. Andy Polo and Jeremy Ebobisse add to an already fantastic attack that features the reigning MVP. Portland will be fine and I suspect a few clubs will be wondering why they didn’t call Savarese in the past.
- Orlando City
I don’t want to do this.
This is really painful, but right now, before a ball is kicked, Orlando is demanding your respect. The transfer saga of Cyle Larin is over, Jason Kreis is still the coach who everyone was excited about a few years ago (despite the bad returns so far), Joe Bendik still stops more shots than any man should have to and…well they’ve just gotten better on paper. Orlando needed a playmaker, so they got Sasha Kljestan. Orlando needed a deadly winger, so they got Justin Meram. Orlando needs help in the defensive midfield, and it looks like they are going to land Uri Rosell. These moves are not cheap and who knows if the players they gave to New York will come back to bite them but this team needs to win and they need to win now. They’ve done all the right things in this offseason to be in these rankings, like it or not. Kaka might be gone, but the playoffs might finally be here for Orlando.
- Real Salt Lake
Mike Petke got his revenge by taking over a rudderless club and turning it into something fun at the end of 2017 and scary going into 2018. That is where we are at. It is that scene from Star Wars The Phantom Menace where Liam Neeson is waiting for the forcefield to open before he fights Darth Maul. That forcefield is the offseason. The west is Liam Neeson/Qui-Gon Jinn and RSL is Darth Maul. They lost Taylor Booth to Bayern but kept Brooks Lennon and still have Justen Glad. Beckerman may have lost 20 pounds and maybe a few years when he cut his hair, and Nick Rimando is a legend who is watching the sun drop below the horizon. Adding Ortuno and possibly Duenas makes them even better. They are a double-bladed lightsaber. One end is the youth and veterans working out and cutting a hole through the west. The other end is the youth and veterans struggling/falling off the cliff and slicing off their own leg.
- Sporting KC
Kansas City gave up 29 goals last year. Twenty. Nine. That is absurd.
That said all of the other teams mentioned so far have at least one big #9 who can score goals in bunches and Kansas City might be willing to sell a soul or two for one of those. Right now, it feels like that is all that is missing. Defense and keeper are set, Johnny Russell is a shiny new piece in the Scottish Invasion as well. For all of the great defending a true goal scorer would make this team terrifying. Until then they are good. Good might win you the west, but there is room for improvement.
- Houston Dynamo
Oh Houston, never go full Wile E. Coyote. And that is exactly what you did against Seattle. Still, the future is bright. Cubo Torres is out the door it seems and a DP slot is now open to the potential of splashing the cash. Do they do that now or wait until Summer? While they are at it, a warm body might be needed for right back as opposed to a TBD sign. If nothing else they could just try to outscore everyone, which would be fun for those of us not emotionally invested. Either way, Wilmer Cabrera has been a miracle worker and we shall see if that miracle rolls over to year two.
- San Jose Quakes
Ah yes, another team that ended 2017 with high hopes for 2018. There were lots of moves for the Quakes on the staff and on the field and a lot of this ranking is based on my hopes that they harness the attacking talent they have properly and the defensive changes take hold. It is a terrifying team if it all works. If not, then at least we still have Tommy Thompson to watch and yell about how he doesn’t get enough minutes when he scores a goal. Also, there is Wondo and Belgium jokes. Jokes aside, there is Vako, Erikson, Thompson, Yueill, and Godoy. I have absolutely talked myself into this team hosting a first-round game in the west.
Chicago: Please get a winger. Asad is available perhaps? (seriously they were neck-and-neck with San Jose for me at 10)
Columbus: Please stop selling players I love to teams I don’t.
Dallas: I want to believe…