MLS Preseason Power Rankings: Keys to success for each team
In Major League Soccer more than perhaps any other league in the world, the previous season means little. Every year, the parity of the league ensures that even the teams that finished outside the playoffs just a few months prior could be the ones in the hunt for the trophy in December.
It doesn’t happen magically or by accident, though. Teams have plenty of chances to overhaul their squad if necessary, or hire a new coach, between seasons, but stagnation is still possible.
The MLS off-season is about ambition as much as anything. How good do teams think they can be? What do they need to tweak to get them over the hump this year?
Here’s where each team stands heading into the 2016 season and its key to success in the new year (previous ranking based on playoff exit or regular-season finish):
Repeating as champion will be tough, and the Timbers will have to handle the pressure of having a target on their back from the start of the season–while working in a slew of new faces–if they hope to do so in 2016.
Columbus should have a chip on its shoulder after the way 2015 ended, and this season will be about making good on the promise that the team, with its lineup kept largely intact, showed a year ago. A happy Kei Kamara will also go a long way, and reports that he's nearing a lucrative new contract should handle that.
Dallas should again put its faith in youth, but those younger players are now a year more experienced and have a deep playoff run to their name, making their play this season even more important.
After the way last season ended and losing Matt Miazga to Chelsea, the Red Bulls’ biggest question leading into 2016 is whether the back line can keep up with the rest of the squad and Jesse Marsch’s high-pressure system.
Bruce Arena’s team is geared up to win now, with the acquisition of more veteran players over the offseason, making physical resilience and longevity the biggest question surrounding the team again.
The Whitecaps were dangerous on the counterattack all of 2015 but struggled when opponents allowed them the majority of possession, so Vancouver must be be better with the ball this year.
Didier Drogba is back, and the Impact will need consistent scoring from their star man again to have a chance of seeing the same kind of attacking production as they did at the end of 2015.
Seattle’s system change to fit Jordan Morris into the lineup means the attack–which lost Obafemi Martins to China–will be under constant scrutiny this season, as will an aging defensive core anchored by multiple players in their 30s.
Traditionally a hard-nosed defensive team, D.C. showed in its loss to Querétaro in Champions League play how reliant it may be on the back again have to be if the attack can’t finish its chances. Can the club survive an early spell as goalkeeping ace Bill Hamid recovers from a knee injury?
SKC acquired a couple of experienced wingers in Justin Mapp and Brad Davis this offseason, but after losing Krisztian Németh to Qatar, the biggest question will be who, aside from Dom Dwyer, finishes the chances they—and Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber—create.
Consistency, not quality, was the issue for Orlando in its inaugural year, making it a burning question for the team as it kicks off its second season in MLS as well.
The Jermaine Jones saga overshadowed much of the Revs’ offseason, but whether Gershon Koffie and Xavier Kouassi (the Designated Player with a torn ACL) are viable replacements remains to be seen.
Patrick Vieira’s transition into MLS will be an interesting story to follow, as the foreign manager looks to shirk the supposed curse that follows newcomer coaches into the league. Will a full year of David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo playing together make the difference?
RSL spent much of 2015 looking for a new identity in the post-Jason Kreis era, and that remains its biggest task as it tries to rebound from missing the playoffs for the first time in eight years. Yura Movsisyan's return should help the Western Conference's second-worst attack in 2015.
The Earthquakes look set for more of the same long-ball style that remains mildly successful in MLS, but any sort of evolution would likely mean a higher rate of success in 2016. Can they adapt?
Houston brought in 10 players in the offseason and shipped out 12, a massive overhaul that will leave the team needing to gel quickly for success. Cubo Torres lingers at the front of the attack, and he could be a missing piece if he can re-discover his top form.
New sporting director Earnie Stewart engineered a superb SuperDraft for his new team, and its new acquisitions (including Chris Pontius) will spearhead any change in the team’s course as it tries to make the playoffs for only the second time.
The club's woes aren't in the back, where Tim Howard is reportedly on his way to assume the role of anchor. Marco Pappa, Swiss league 2014-15 top scorer Shkëlzen Gashi and D.C. transfer Conor Doyle will need to act quickly to turn around a dismal 2015 season in which the Rapids scored a league-low 33 goals.