MLS Power Rankings: Atlanta, St. Louis climb into top five as LAFC cement status at the top

ByRyan Rosenblatt ESPN logo
Monday, March 20, 2023

Are we finally getting an idea for how the field of MLS teams stack up? It sure feels like it as sides find their footing, offseason signings have mostly all found the field and new managers' philosophies take hold.

Then again, we have D.C. United adding Lewis O'Brien, Minnesota United bringing in Jeong Sang-bin, the LA Galaxy signing Julian Aude and the Houston Dynamo acquiring Erik Sviatchenko. Those are just a few of the new signings being finalized, plus the many more certain to come with the close of the transfer window still weeks away.

As per usual, you think you have a handle on the league, but do you ever really?

Let's rank these ever-changing teams.

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Previous ranking: 1

The Black and Gold played to their first scoreless draw in more than 100 matches over the weekend, but it was indicative of how much the team has grown in the past couple of years that it could play that type of match against an excellent Seattle team and not look out of sorts. This team is comfortable in so many styles of play now.

2. Seattle Sounders

Previous ranking: 3

What was so telling about the Sounders' draw with LAFC is not just how good both teams are, being able to match each other at such a high level, but how, despite playing in very different ways, they both have the capability to be malleable and meet the style and quality of the opposition. It's a versatility that you don't usually see teams be capable of, especially so early in the season.

3. Atlanta United FC

Previous ranking: 5

Imagine being a defender and having Atlanta United running at you. You have to pick up the numbers coming at you, track their smart runs, be aware of their array of clever passes and scramble in front of any shots. Most of all, you cannot foul them because if you do, Thiago Almada is just going to add to his free kick highlight reel like he did in Atlanta's 5-1 shellacking of Portland. Good luck!

4. FC Cincinnati

Previous ranking: 2

Should Cincy need Luciano Acosta to come off the bench and rescue a draw against Chicago? Probably not, but no team is going to apologize for having a guy who can turn a match on a dime.

5. St. Louis City SC

Previous ranking: 11

A comprehensive win over San Jose and the complete list of expansion teams to win their first four games in the history of MLS is as follows: St. Louis City.

6. Philadelphia Union

Previous ranking: 4

Jim Curtin called their loss to Montreal "a s---show." This may have been the worst example of Philly failing to control games this season, but it's not the only one, which is astounding considering how supremely good at it the Union were a year ago. And somehow, this still feels like a blip and not a serious flaw in the team.

7. Nashville SC

Previous ranking: 7

There's no reason to question Nashville's ability to play when things go its way, but can it chase a game? Nashville couldn't against the Revs when it conceded its first goal of the season and thus took its first loss of the season. Whether it can play from behind may dictate how far this team goes in 2023.

8. FC Dallas

Previous ranking: 10

Shoutout VAR for letting Maarten Paes make not one, but two penalty saves. And also for rescuing him from a red card in Dallas' win over SKC.

9. Orlando City

Previous ranking: 8

Only away goals denied the team a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, and a loss to Charlotte followed. Thus far, Orlando City has gotten a pass for its league form because its continental ambitions have so clearly taken top priority, but starting next week it has got to actually start winning.

10. Austin FC

Previous ranking: 6

Will some decent center-back play please come to the front? No? OK, a 2-0 loss to Houston it is.

11. New York Red Bulls

Previous ranking: 12

RBNY broke from its norm by spending big on a forward instead of continuing to rely on internal options, but we hadn't seen what it could mean for this team because Dante Vanzeir hadn't played yet. Well, he came off the bench on Saturday and immediately bagged his first goal to beat Columbus. If that's a sign of things to come, watch out.

12. Toronto FC

Previous ranking: 15

As always, the question is whether TFC can support their stars enough to win. Federico Bernardeschi got the support he needed to beat Miami and, with it, came the Reds' first win.

13. Columbus Crew

Previous ranking: 9

Cucho Hernandez was hurt, Lucas Zelarayan had an uncharacteristically sloppy performance and the Crew still nearly made it out of New Jersey with a point. The Wilfried Nancy journey is going more smoothly than many expected.

14. New York City FC

Previous ranking: 18

The Pigeons are just pressing teams into oblivion while they wait until the transfer window closes and they have a full team. This week, it was D.C. who was crushed by its press.

15. San Jose Earthquakes

Previous ranking: 13

The Quakes have been hyper-competent this season, but they met a St. Louis team that is as sure of who it is and how it wants to play as any team in the league. Facing that, we got a look at the hard ceiling on San Jose until it adds some more quality to the squad.

16. Minnesota United

Previous ranking: 16

The Loons continued to put up another three points despite a slew of injuries in their win over Colorado, the analytics like them even more than their solid string of results do, Jeong Sang-bin is set to join soon and Emanuel Reynoso could rejoin them again at some point. If you were looking at team to buy low with big potential upside, look no further.

17. Inter Miami CF

Previous ranking: 14

There is no replacement for Gregore in the Inter team, as a loss to TFC showed. It's going to have to be a collective lift to make things hum without its captain, and that's going to take time to sort out.

18. New England Revolution

Previous ranking: 21

Gustavo Bou starts, Gustavo Bou scores, the Revs win. It's not that simple, but it's also not not that simple. Just check that 1-0 scoreline against Nashville.

19. D.C. United

Previous ranking: 19

Wayne Rooney has brought the team a long way in a short time. It's pretty amazing to think how bleak things were in June of last year, but the way the NYCFC press battered D.C. to a loss on Saturday was also a sign of how far United still have to go.

20. LA Galaxy

Previous ranking: 22

If Dejan Joveljic's goal had counted, we'd be talking about the Galaxy's improved wide play fueling a deserved win over Vancouver. Instead, we're still wondering how he could be called for a handball when the ball never hit his arm and looking at another draw for LA.

21. Sporting Kansas City

Previous ranking: 17

SKC got their first goal of the season! Their first win had to wait, though, because they missed not just one penalty but a second on a retake, and then conceded a late winner in Dallas. This team is still waiting on the health of Johnny Russell, Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda to be like the offseason signings it didn't make, which is reasonable, albeit frustrating.

22. Vancouver Whitecaps

Previous ranking: 24

The set-piece routine for the Caps' lone goal in L.A. was a work of art. Their transition defending, not so artistic, but thanks to some fortunate refereeing, they walked away with a point anyway.

23. Houston Dynamo

Previous ranking: 26

The Dynamo have outplayed their results to start the season, so they were past due to actually get a result. Timing it so those elusive first points came against a rival in Austin is a bonus.

24. Charlotte FC

Previous ranking: 22

Charlotte have gotten some things right in its first season and three games of existence, but Designated Players have not been one of them. That Kamil Jozwiak and Karol Swiderski hit the bench and the Crown beat Orlando for their first win of the season was either a very good sign or a very bad sign, depending on how you spin it.

25. Real Salt Lake

Previous ranking: 23

They got the week off to prepare for St. Louis next week. Hopefully it does them some good.

26. Chicago Fire

Previous ranking: 27

On one hand, the Fire played Philly really well a week ago then followed it up with a draw against Cincinnati for two good showings against two of the best teams in the league. On the other hand, they have just one point to show for those performances and blew a late two-goal lead to the Garys. The optimist says there's more quality in Chicago than is reflected in the point total.

27. Portland Timbers

Previous ranking: 20

You'd say burn the tape and forget their 5-1 loss to Atlanta ever happened, except the rest of the season hasn't been so sparkling either.

28. CF Montreal

Previous ranking: 29

A team that hadn't scored a goal all season put three in against Philly? It makes no sense until you see that they were aided by a Union red card and two goals from the 90th minute on, but Montreal have goals and points for the first time this year so nobody is putting any qualifiers on how it happened.

29. Colorado Rapids

Previous ranking: 28

If losing again, this time to Minnesota, wasn't bad enough, they also added a season-ending injury to Jack Price. This team doesn't figure to be very good when fit so injuries are just cruel.