The best teams in MLS are, in fact, very good.
It's no surprise that the Seattle Sounders and LAFC are at the top. They were expected to be among the best teams in the league and have the early results to confirm such lofty prognostications. And still both teams have been arguably better than most thought, especially so early in the campaign. They're showing a well-roundedness that doesn't usually come until the summer, leaving us to wonder how much better they can get as the season rolls on.
The fight right now is for who checks in after them, with the state of Ohio waging a furious battle for No. 3 and us eagerly away that May 20 Hell Is Real Derby.
How does the rest of the league stack up? Let's dive in.
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1. Seattle Sounders
Previous ranking: 1
It's no surprise that the Sounders were able to capably handle the St. Louis press. They are, after all, one of the best teams on the ball in the league. What was eye-opening is how many second balls they won, showing off a pace and physicality that, combined with their skill on the ball, makes Seattle truly exceptional. The Sounders dismantled a good City side 3-0.
Previous ranking: 2
Denis Bouanga is living up to the designated player tag and then some, scoring a hat trick to beat Austin and push his goal total to six on the season. Last season's finishing struggles are but a speck in the rearview mirror now.
3. FC Cincinnati
Previous ranking: 3
The Garys showed, once again, they have the ability to grind out a win in beating Philly 1-0, but the attack still hasn't found its footing and now Luciano Acosta is going to be out for a bit with a shoulder injury. They've needed only one goal to win each of their past three, at least.
4. Columbus Crew
Previous ranking: 6
How do you cope without Cucho Hernandez? By having Christian Ramirez as your backup. Oh, and Lucas Zelarayan behind him. Plus Darlington Nagbe in midfield. And Aidan Morris already playing like one of the best No. 6s in MLS. Wilfried Nancy is one hell of a coach, and he's got a lot of toys to play with, as D.C. found out this week.
5. St. Louis City SC
Previous ranking: 4
The schedule cranked up, the team had to play opponents that were well suited to handling the press and St. Louis took back-to-back losses. Last week it was Minnesota, this week Seattle. Plan A may work against most teams in the league, but what happens against the sides that can pass and exploit space? Now we'll see how the team evolves, and what Plan B is.
6. Nashville SC
Previous ranking: 5
What happens when Nashville isn't afforded chances on the counter? That's a question we continue to have about this team and what separates it from the very top sides in the league. But not being able to get much going and still walking away with a point against a solid TFC side is also proof of the very high floor this team has.
7. Atlanta United FC
Previous ranking: 7
The Five Stripes played the last half hour with 10 men after Franco Ibarra's red card and probably still deserved to walk away with the win over NYCFC. They'll take the point, though.
8. FC Dallas
Previous ranking: 8
Stop if you've heard this one before: Dallas was playing really well and should have been up multiple goals, but it led by just one and had to hang on for dear life late. Fortunately for Dallas, VAR did it a solid so it didn't concede a 98th-minute penalty and left Miami with a win.
9. New England Revolution
Previous ranking: 10
The Revs were this week's beneficiary of the CF Montreal Bump™, in which whoever plays CFM comes out of the weekend with a giant bump in analytics, as well as three points.
10. Minnesota United
Previous ranking: 9
The loss had to come eventually, but you wouldn't have expected it to come because of the breakdowns at the back the team experienced in Chicago.
11. Orlando City
Previous ranking: 11
The Lions got the week off before heading to Minnesota next week.
12. San Jose Earthquakes
Previous ranking: 12
The Quakes drew RBNY, but the match was beset by a Red Bull player allegedly uttering a racial slur. Make time to listen to Jeremy Ebobisse's comments afterward.
13. Toronto FC
Previous ranking: 14
At some point TFC will have to turn these draws into wins, but it should be content with its scoreless tussle against Nashville. Toronto showed the ability to not just keep the ball, but also dictate where on the pitch the game would be played without exposing itself to the counters that Nashville usually obliterates teams with. It was an overall mature showing from a Reds side that is still growing.
14. Vancouver Whitecaps
Previous ranking: 19
For the second week in a row, the Caps turned that good play in the first two thirds into a little something in the final third. With two straight wins, the latest over Portland, Vancouver's place in the table is starting to look more like the pretty good team the analytics have been saying it is. The question now is what happens when the schedule toughens up?
15. Houston Dynamo
Previous ranking: 18
It has been 11 years since the Dynamo and Galaxy were squaring off in MLS Cup, and while neither team is anywhere near that level now, there's no doubt which team is better. The Dynamo smoked the Galaxy 3-0 on Saturday and are deservedly sitting in the middle of the Western Conference as Ben Olsen continues to transform a club that is looking better than it has in ages.
16. New York Red Bulls
Previous ranking: 16
RBNY drew San Jose. The focus of the contest is rightfully on the racial slur allegedly said by a Red Bull player. The team's supporters have already made their feelings on the matter clear.
17. New York City FC
Previous ranking: 17
The Pigeons won't be too thrilled to have drawn Atlanta at home despite having played most of the second half up a man, but if James Sands didn't suffer any serious injury on the tackle that gave them the man advantage, they'll take it.
18. Philadelphia Union
Previous ranking: 13
Another loss, this time in Cincinnati, but at least the U17s won the Generation adidas Cup, so there's another generation of wildly talented Unionites on their way.
19. Austin FC
Previous ranking: 15
The center back play didn't get a whole lot better in the loss to LAFC, while the inability to create chances continued. There is still plenty of talent on the roster, though. A soft spot in the schedule is on tap so it's time for Austin to go on a run.
20. Chicago Fire
Previous ranking: 26
The year is 2093, and in a stadium levitating over a burning Earth, Kei Kamara makes his debut for MLS expansion club Rochester Rhinos, scoring the match-winner to beat Minnesota United just as he did 70 years earlier for the Chicago Fire.
Galaxy are fully a meme team. It's official. pic.twitter.com/C3Uxz8HmrA— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) April 9, 2023
21. Colorado Rapids
Previous ranking: 25
Are the Rapids good? Not really, but they are pretty competent. They have a shape, they stay organized and they understand how to react in critical moments. That is sometimes enough, and it was more than enough to beat SKC this week.
22. LA Galaxy
Previous ranking: 22
Is it bad when the most entertaining thing you've done this season is find a hilarious way to get a red card? The Galaxy are still in search of their first win of the season after losing to Houston.
23. D.C. United
Previous ranking: 20
Wayne Rooney directed his ire Saturday at the refereeing, but it's not as if D.C. did much on its own to feel like it deserved a result against Columbus. The debut of midfielder Lewis O'Brien is reason for optimism going forward, though.
24. Inter Miami CF
Previous ranking: 23
Inter thought it was going to be able to notch its first point since March 4, then VAR snatched away a 98th-minute penalty and it lost to Dallas 1-0. It's a cold world.
25. Sporting Kansas City
Previous ranking: 21
Alan Pulido started and he was flanked by Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russell, but it didn't help the putrid SKC attack in a loss to Colorado. There are pieces there, but there is no danger on the ball and, with the team increasingly healthy, it can't point at the injury list as an excuse anymore.
26. Charlotte FC
Previous ranking: 24
Four points from its past two away matches indicated that Charlotte's road woes may be a thing of the past. A fairly thorough beating in Salt Lake City over the weekend indicates otherwise.
27. Real Salt Lake
Previous ranking: 28
Welcome the RSL attack to the 2023 season. The DPs led the way, but the whole Salt Lake side finally looked dangerous in the final third and it got a much-needed 3-1 win over Charlotte for its efforts.
28. Portland Timbers
Previous ranking: 27
The Timbers defense has been merely pretty bad, but that looks sparkling relative to an attack that put up just two shots in a loss to Vancouver and is comfortably the worst in the league right now.
29. CF Montreal
Previous ranking: 29
Asking for results is a little too much for CFM at this point. Some progress would be enough, but the team showed none of that in New England.