Cookie Consent by Free Privacy Policy Generator Skip to content

MLS tier rankings: Where they stand as the fireworks go off

The Sounders are solidly in the middle of the pack.

Last Updated
5 min read

It’s been awhile since I last did one of these but now feels like as good of a time as any to give an update on how I see the league shaping up. As a reminder, tiers go best to last but the individual teams aren’t in any particular order. Here we go:

Fighting for the Shield

FC Cincinnati
LA Galaxy
Inter Miami
Real Salt Lake

It’s a five-team race for the Shield, with the duo of Eastern Conference teams leading the way.

Miami and Cincinnati have a leg up on the Western Conference trio at better than 2.0 points-per-game, but the advantage has to go to Inter. Matt Miazga’s season-ending injury is the latest blow to the Cincy back line and you may trust Pat Noonan to put together an MLS Cup winner by November, but racking up points to defend the Shield in the meantime is probably a little too much.

Inter will need to keep an eye on LAFC, though. Their chance creation problems from early in the year are gone and they’ve had no problem finding the back of the net despite Denis Bouanga’s finishing woes. Put it all together and you have a two that has dropped a mere two points since May 11.

The Galaxy and RSL are still probably a couple pieces away from being able to keep up with the top teams to the end, but we’ve been saying that for a couple months now and they’re still here. Plus, even if we are right, the transfer window is about to open and those pieces could be on their way in.

Be scared at the top

Columbus Crew

The Crew exist on their own because it’s pretty impossible to argue they’re not as good as the teams in the Shield mix. They have the talent, the pedigree and the underlying numbers. If they are holding the Cup in December, nobody will be surprised. Hell, they may even be the favorites to do it.

But what the Crew don’t have are points. The toll of the Concacaf Champions Cup run in the spring put them in too big of a hole to chase down the five teams in front of them, but damn are they great.

Don’t let them get hot

Charlotte FC
Colorado Rapids
Houston Dynamo
New York City FC
Portland Timbers
Vancouver Whitecaps

All of these teams are good. Except that they have a tendency to be bad sometimes, whether to be when they match up against a top team, or a single player is absent, or it’s a half moon.

Patrick Agyemang has been a revelation, but Charlotte has struck out on too many Designated Players and the Rapids have barely tried for Designated Players. That won’t play when it matters.

NYCFC, Portland and Vancouver are far more interesting teams, because we’ve seen them at their best and know that if the right form comes, they can go on a run in the playoffs. The Timbers, in particular, have all the makings of a team that can get hot at the right time, with Evander really hitting, but do you trust Phil Neville?

And then there’s the Dynamo, the team with the foundation who need top end talent and already signed the man they think will be that. Ezequiel Ponce will debut in a couple weeks and how good he is will determine how high Houston can rise.

Get the summer right and we can dream

Atlanta United
New York Red Bulls
Seattle Sounders

It’s a bit harsh to put RBNY in this group, considering not only their results, but their spectacular underlying numbers. Their defense is as good as any in the league and they don’t struggle for shots, but they still lack the true star like the top teams. Add that guy in the summer and they can truly go toe-to-toe with anyone.

The Sounders have not been as good as the Red Bulls, although you could talk yourself into it based on their recent form. Still, they are dependent on a nearly-34-year-old Raúl Ruidíaz being at his best week in, week out. That’s a tough bet, and they could use some help.

Atlanta have money to burn after selling Giorgos Giakoumakis and Thiago Almada and Caleb Wiley soon to follow. Spinning up what would essentially be a brand new team in a couple months and contending is a big ask, but the Five Stripes will have a chance. After the way the last couple years have gone, they’ll probably be happy to even consider dreaming again.

Gear up to fight for a playoff spot

Austin FC
D.C. United
Minnesota United
Nashville SC
CF Montréal
Orlando City
Philadelphia Union
St. Louis SC
Toronto FC

The Union in this category?! Shockingly, they have a much better argument for being in the next category than anything above this. They need to start building for 2025 now, and that means recognizing that the league has leveled up. But you’d bet on Jim Curtin to figure it out, even for the rest of this season.

Minnesota, Nashville and St. Louis have all undergone coaching changes this year, so it’s no wonder they haven’t found the slightest bit of stability. If any of the trio is going to get it straightened out, bet on St. Louis. While Bradley Carnell was the fall man for an understrength team, Marcel Hartel is leading a crop of new signings that could legitimately level up the team.

Don’t be surprised if Orlando follows the three aforementioned teams by making a change in the dugout next. There’s too much talent for this team to have only won multiple games in a month once this season. And Austin probably would have made a change by now if Josh Wolff didn't have some magical job security that nobody can explain.

That Montréal and Toronto are in the playoff race is a success in its own right. While most of this category has no idea what direction they’re going or who’s in charge, Laurent Courtois and John Herdman are slowly but surely building their teams. A little health could be just what they need to make a surprise playoff appearance and carry some momentum into next season, although CFM will have a tougher time building to 2025 with Joey Saputo having lost his front office … again.

Is it 2025 yet?

Chicago Fire
FC Dallas
Sporting Kansas City
New England Revolution
San Jose Earthquakes

So the thing about MLS is that technically everyone is still in the playoff race. And maybe one of these teams will sneak in. After all, the Revs are only two points below the line. But these are clubs with a hard ceiling, low floor and no real reason to believe they’re going to be much better next season.

That may not exactly be true of Dallas. Once again, they have a bunch of kids so there is hope, but we’ve seen how much good that’s done them before.

The real thing all five of these teams have in common is ownership that either doesn’t care about them at all or only kind of cares. 

SKC say that’s going to change and that they’re going to spend, but whether Peter Vermes is the man to spend it remains an open question. Joe Mansueto can’t decide what the Fire should look like, John Fisher is too busy ruining the A’s to remember he owns a soccer team and the Revs, well, we’ve seen this club for plenty long enough.