|1||Real Salt Lake|
Jason Kreis' team, talented and motivated, has an additional early edge in 2011: RSL has already played in two competitive matches, dispatching Columbus in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. Confidence is high at Rio Tinto Stadium.
|2||Los Angeles Galaxy|
David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Juan Pablo Angel provide the Galaxy with an embarrassment of offensive riches, perhaps the best offensive trio ever seen in MLS. There's been less talk about the Galaxy's ample defensive depth; they're pretty salty back there, too.
|3||New York Red Bulls|
Injuries at striker have temporarily chinked the Red Bulls' armor. But it won't hurt much in the long run, especially since the defense is strong (with Rafa Marquez now in charge), the midfield is deep and Thierry Henry is well rested. Besides all that, the East stinks once you get past the Red Bulls.
Gary Smith's league champions kept every starter from MLS Cup 2010. But is that enough? The team was good during the regular season, but not great. Meanwhile, Los Angeles, New York and a few others got better while the Rapids more or less ran in place.
|5||FC Dallas |
The offseason saw curious few reinforcements imported to replace three prominent losses. So there's a lot of "stepping up" to be done by youngsters around Pizza Hut Park. Eric Alexander, Eric Avila, Brek Shea, Zach Loyd, George John ... your time has come.
|6||Seattle Sounders FC |
The big guns finally fired in preseason. But why did it take until the final tuneup for Blaise Nkufo, Fredy Montero or Steve Zakuani to find a goal in the run of play? You could write it off as preseason sluggishness, but poor finishing also marred 2010 around Qwest Field. Otherwise things look OK for coach Sigi Schmid and crew.
|7||Houston Dynamo |
Bolstering the back line was the top offseason target, and coach Dominic Kinnear can hang the "Mission Accomplished" banner on that account. The midfield still has holes, and Brian Ching needs to stay healthy. In all, things look better for the former, perennial power after a wayward 2010.
|8||New England Revolution |
A few 2010 starters have fallen into backup roles as the talent meter shot up a few notches for coach Steve Nicol's team. The club still wants to add a big-name striker. If they succeed, the Revs are a playoff team.
|9||D.C. United |
Ben Olsen is on the coaching clock at RFK, where he has a younger, pacier team than the historically impotent 2010 group. Hint: Keep your eye on attacking dynamo Andy Najar. If his sophomore campaign mirrors his Rookie of the Year performance, the young man could be playing in Europe sooner rather than later.
|10||San Jose Earthquakes|
Everyone wants to know if Chris Wondolowski's torrid form in latter 2010 will hold? It had better. Otherwise the Earthquakes look mighty thin in striking power. The defense is rock solid, so they'll be tough to score against if nothing else.
|11||Sporting Kansas City |
The stadium is the star for the newly renamed club, where Livestrong Sporting Park will set the new standard for MLS grounds once open in June. Coach Peter Vermes' job is to make sure SKC isn't beyond contention by then; that 10-game road trip to start the season is a real bear.
|12||Philadelphia Union |
The goalkeeping should improve, as should a front line now under Carlos Ruiz's control. Throw in industrious attacker Sebastien Le Toux, that's a fine place to start. Still, Philly checks in at No. 12 in the rankings because the midfield and defense require further improvement.
|13||Chicago Fire |
Chicago is MLS' mystery team of 2011, where a slew of new names could go either way. Whichever way it falls, everyone is now watching goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who could help matters with a big sophomore season.
|14||Columbus Crew |
Robbie Rogers and Eddie Gaven once represented a big part of U.S. Soccer's future. Now they just need to step up enough to make Columbus respectable. That's a tall order given an offseason of extraordinary roster churn for the Crew.
|15||Portland Timbers |
Strikers Kenny Cooper and rookie Darlington Nagbe will keep things exciting in the Rose City, where the supporters at PGE Park should do their part to keep the three-way Pacific Northwest rivalry on a roiling boil.
|16||Chivas USA |
New coach Robin Fraser is building from the back, and the defense already looks better. But the attack appears painfully anemic. Justin Braun's injury, which forced him to miss most of the preseason, isn't helping matters one bit.
After years of personnel decisions that ranged from impetuous to inane, the new management is being extra cautious about roster choices. That might mean hard times initially. At least the style under Dutch coach Aron Winter should be easier on the eyes than what we've typically seen previously.
|18||Vancouver Whitecaps |
They're building slowly in British Columbia. But what serves the Whitecaps' future might sting a little this year. Oh ... and will anybody who believes he can score a goal in British Columbia please pick up a white courtesy phone? They're gonna need you.