MLS power rankings: Columbus Crew continue to make history (2024)

Welcome back to the Guardian’s MLS Power Rankings, where I have a beef with your specific team and your specific team alone. If you have complaints, toss ‘em in the comments down below, but be warned: I’m better at blocking out negativity than Pedro Gallese has been at stopping shots this season.

Now, as a reminder, these aren’t your standard, run-of-the-mill power rankings. We’re still ranking teams from worst to first. But along with the rankings, we’re diving deep into a handful of teams from around the league who are doing particularly interesting things.

Falling off a cliff

29. New England Revolution

28. San Jose Earthquakes

27. Chicago Fire

26. Nashville SC

25. FC Dallas

24. Orlando City

Stuck in 13th in the East, this version of the Lions looks like a cub compared to the one that finished second in their conference last year.

There are a score of issues behind their struggles, but let’s dig into just a couple.

First, the spine has been a mess. Gritty, defense-first wins with César Araújo and Wilder Cartagena holding things down in midfield played a huge part in Orlando’s success in 2023. But due to injuries and Concacaf Champions Cup squad rotation, coach Óscar Pareja has missed his starting midfield duo for stretches of this year. Robin Jansson is missing a consistent center back partner, too.

Going back one more line, Pedro Gallese has been a problem. Historically, the Peruvian has been an average shot-stopper in MLS. But this year? He’s conceding a third of a goal more than expected every 90 minutes, which is the fourth-worst mark in the league, according to FBref. With a rotating cast of characters in front of him, Gallese has been reeling for much of the season.


— Toronto FC (@TorontoFC) April 28, 2024

The strong defensive foundation that Pareja expected to build on this year is suddenly filled with cracks.

It’s a good thing the attack is filled with three DPs and a striker who could very well represent the USMNT at this summer’s Olympics, right? On paper, Orlando City’s attacking talent pops. But on the field, the pieces don’t fit. Neither Facundo Torres nor Martin Ojeda are true No 10s. Nico Lodeiro isn’t an every-game starter in that spot at this point in his career. Pareja is married to Iván Angulo starting on the wing despite the fact that he brings an absurdly small amount of attacking production to the table.

Then there’s the unfortunate striker situation. The club signed Luis Muriel from Atalanta over the offseason, but the Colombian has been silent on the field. He’s yet to score in nearly 500 league minutes.

All of the weird fits in the attack add up to a whole lot of this for Orlando City:

It’s rough. Only St Louis City are hitting more crosses per 90 this year than Orlando’s 22.2, according to FBref.

This roster isn’t ‘13th in the East’ bad, but it’s absolutely not ‘we’re ready to host a home playoff series’ good. With the primary transfer window closed, expect something of a roster shake-up in the summer.

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This year’s Sporting Kansas City

23. Portland Timbers

22. Sporting Kansas City

21. Austin FC

20. Seattle Sounders

19. Toronto FC

18. Charlotte FC

Things are weird in Seattle. Sitting third-to-last in the West after 10 games, it’s been one bizarre twist after another for the Sounders. They’ve dealt with a huge number of injuries this year — Seattle missed five starters in their season-opener against LAFC and still haven’t gotten back to full fitness thanks to Pedro de la Vega’s recurring lower-body issue. Injuries make up most of Seattle’s player availability issues, but not all of it. They also lead the league in red cards.

Still, I’ll toss out a take: the Sounders will be fine. They’re going to finish comfortably inside the top seven in the Western Conference, good enough for a spot in the first round of the playoffs.

Sure, the slow start hurts. But as we saw last year with an injured Sporting Kansas City team that went winless in their first 10 matches and still made it to the Western Conference semis, there’s plenty of wiggle room for teams to find themselves later in the year. My faith in Seattle isn’t blind, though they’d be close to the top of the list of MLS clubs to have blind faith in given their history of success. No, my faith is based on the fact that the Sounders are actually playing some good soccer.

According to FBref, they’re third in the league in xG differential per 90 on the road this year. They hung around against LAFC on opening weekend and they outplayed the LA Galaxy in Carson last month. They were doing just fine against DC United …right up until a now-reversed red card changed the game. Then they outplayed the Union for 84 minutes in the first midweek MLS game of the year.

Once the suspensions are over and at least most of the squad is fully fit, we’re going to see a rejuvenated Seattle team. Book it.

The younger brother

17. CF Montreal

16. St. Louis City

15. Houston Dynamo

14. Colorado Rapids

13. DC United

12. NYC FC

NYC FC aren’t just a younger brother in the City Football Group family. No, NYC FC are a younger brother in MLS as a whole. They have the youngest team in MLS this year at 24.5, weighted by minutes played. It’s no wonder, then, that they struggled to start the season.

But as we’ve all been reminded over the last five games, NYC FC’s squad isn’t just young. It’s also exceedingly talented. City Football Group’s New York branch is a development factory for a handful of rising stars. This offseason, NYC FC dropped a combined eight-figures to sign Agustín Ojeda (19) and Jovan Mijatović (18). Last summer, it was Julián Fernández (20) who joined for a reported $5m. There is real, expensive quality at Nick Cushing’s disposal — it’s just taken time and a bit of practical thinking for this group to grow together.

Now 10 games into the 2024 campaign, the English manager has landed on a boiler-plate 4-2-3-1 as his chosen shape. He’s largely ditched the back three. He’s also completely dumped the idea of playing Santi Rodríguez as a pseudo-winger, instead allowing him to run the show as a central creator. At last, the pieces are in places that make sense.

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With a clear structure around them, and with a growing set of matches under their belt, some of the youngsters are starting to find themselves: Ojeda and Fernández are both on the scoresheet this year and both started on Saturday in their team’s 2-1 win over Charlotte FC.

You know who wasn’t on the scoresheet? 23-year-old starting striker Monsef Bakrar.

This is a) exceptional transition play from #NYCFC and b) an unacceptable miss from Monsef Bakrar.

— Ben Wright (@benwright) April 22, 2024

After 30 shots, the Algerian still hasn’t found the back of the net and is one of only two players with at least 18 attempts to have not recorded a goal in 2024. If Bakrar starts firing, NYC FC will continue to push up the standings out East. And even if he doesn’t, Mijatović is waiting in the wings.

As the younger brother, NYC FC won’t topple every older sibling this year. But you can bet they’re going to have some fun playing with all of those expensive toys.

Hot dog races

11. Atlanta United

10. Minnesota United

9. LA Galaxy

8. Philadelphia Union

7. Vancouver Whitecaps


You know those hot dog races that happen sometimes as in-game entertainment in Major League Baseball? If you don’t, get ready to jump down the best YouTube rabbit hole you’ll find this month. Even if you do, here’s a quick refresher: at some point during a baseball game, a handful of folks dressed up in hot dog costumes, each with a different condiment, line up on the warning track. Then the hot dogs race. The winner gets eternal glory. It’s a wonderful thing.

The LA Galaxy are kind of like a hot dog race – except it’s the Galaxy’s plethora of extremes racing each other to see which one will change the game first. Will it be their electric transition attack? Their complete inability to defend in open space? Or will it be the fact that they really have a hard time breaking down low blocks?

More often than not, it’s been the first of those three extremes that’s won the proverbial hot dog race in 2024. If that wasn’t the case, they wouldn’t be sitting second in the Western Conference right now.

But make no mistake: the other two extremes have some speed coming around the outside lanes. The Galaxy’s combination of sluggish counter pressing and even more sluggish center-back play played right into Austin FC’s hands in a disappointing 2-0 loss last weekend:

Tuned on the jets. 🏃💨@AustinFC are up 2-0.

— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 27, 2024

At a two-goal deficit inside 20 minutes, their issues against deeper defensive lines popped up for the third time this season.

Every team in the world has the occasional issue against low blocks. Breaking down a compact defense is the hardest thing to do in soccer – and the Galaxy are really selling that point. With their 59% of the ball against a deliberately tight Austin team, they created just 0.6 xG, according to FBref. They also failed to create much danger against LAFC in that 2-1 loss earlier this month and struggled for long stretches against a conservative Nashville team back in March.

As this Galaxy attack continues to build chemistry, I’m still banking on them becoming more efficient against low blocks than most teams in MLS. But the book is officially out on LA: by defending deep and hitting on the break, opponents can minimize the strengths of Greg Vanney’s team and maximize their weaknesses.

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The model club

5. Real Salt Lake

4. FC Cincinnati

3. New York Red Bulls

2. Columbus Crew

1. Inter Miami

If you’re looking for the model club in MLS in the year 2024, look no further than the Columbus Crew.

The Crew are currently in the process of putting together one of the best six-month stretches in league history: they won MLS Cup last December and booked their spot in the Concacaf Champions Cup final with a historic win over CF Monterrey on Wednesday evening.

No MLS team had ever beaten the Liga MX giants in a two-legged series until Columbus pulled it off earlier this week. Only six MLS teams have made it to the CCC final in the modern era. The Crew are now the seventh. Only one MLS team has ever won the CCC in the modern era – that was the Seattle Sounders back in 2022. Columbus want to become the second as they prepare to match up with Pachuca in the final.

The way things are going, they have the tools to claim yet another trophy.

Everything’s coming up Crew right now – and that’s not an accident. From president Tim Bezbatchenko’s player recruitment to an increased focus on the academy to Wilfried Nancy’s clever tactical planning to consistent execution from the players, Columbus have done a better job of stacking the deck in their favor than any MLS team in recent memory.

The most enjoyable part of the Crew’s success for the neutral is, of course, their aesthetics. “It’s all about us,” Nancy said after his team’s success against Tigres. “We respect the opposition, we try to adjust certain things depending on what kind of style of play we’re going to face. But at the end of the day, we try to play our football.”

In their road games against Tigres and Monterrey, Nancy’s team didn’t deviate from their expansive approach. The ball movement, the off-ball running, the clever tempo manipulation, the precision, it was all there for Columbus in their 3-1 win over Monterrey in Wednesday’s second leg. You just don’t see MLS teams try to do this kind of thing on the road against the giants of Concacaf. But the Crew, well, they’re different.

I mean, who goes to one of the two biggest clubs in North America in a semifinal and absolutely embarrasses them with the ball?

— Ben Wright (@benwright) May 2, 2024

No one plays prettier soccer on this side of the Atlantic. More importantly, no one plays more effective soccer in the entire region. And no club in MLS has built a better foundation than the Columbus Crew.

MLS power rankings: Columbus Crew continue to make history (2024)
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