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Saturday, March 10, 2012
MLS Power Rankings: Galaxy on top

By Scott French

Our first power rankings of the Major League Soccer season, in advance of this weekend's openers, looks a lot like our pre-playoff list last year. Totally by chance.

Not at the top perhaps. The Galaxy and Seattle were a clear 1-2 last year (before the Sounders tanked in the playoffs), and they're a clear 1-2 this year, too. Eastern Conference regular-season champ Sporting Kansas City checks in again at fourth, and five more teams -- No. 7 Houston, No. 8 Columbus, No. 15 Chivas USA, No. 17 Vancouver and No. 18 New England-- are in the same spot, too.

Teams on the rise? We like the Portland Timbers and Toronto FC. And we expect a lot more from the New York Red Bulls, especially if Luke Rodgers gets his visa.

Here's everyone, from No. 1 to 19 (new kids Montreal Impact):

1. GALAXY (Last year's final regular-season ranking: 1)
In 2011: 19-5-10, won the Western Conference regular-season title, Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup, advanced to the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal (and tied Toronto FC, 2-2, in their away leg Wednesday).
We say: The best front six in MLS history? Could be.
Key offseason pickup: Forward Edson Buddle (returning from FC Ingolstadt/Germany).
Next: Saturday vs. Real Salt Lake at Home Depot Center, 7:30 p.m. (KWHY/Channel 22 and KDOC/Channel 56); Wednesday in a Champions League quarterfinal second leg vs. Toronto FC at Home Depot Center, 7 p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel and Galavision).

2. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (Last year: 2)
In 2011:
18-7-9, second in the West, won the U.S. Open Cup, advanced to the quarterfinals of the Champions League (and beat Mexico's Santos Laguna, 2-1, in their home leg Wednesday).
We say: Deep and dynamic Sounders might be the team to beat if Eddie Johnson finds his best game.
Key offseason pickup: Forward Johnson (from Fulham/England, via Preston North End/England after nearly signing with Puebla/Mexico).
Next: Wednesday in a Champions League quarterfinal second leg at Santos Laguna (Mexico), 5 p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel and Galavision).

3. REAL SALT LAKE (Last year: 5)
In 2011:
15-11-8, third in the West, beat Seattle in the first round of the playoffs, lost to the Galaxy in the Western Conference final.
We say: A healthy Javier Morales? Don't count Utah's team out.
Key offseason pickup: Northern Irish midfielder Jonny Steele (from the NASL's Carolina RailHawks).
Next: Saturday vs. the Galaxy at Home Depot Center, 7:30 p.m. (KWHY/Channel 22 and KDOC/Channel 56).

4. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (Last year: 4)
In 2011:
13-9-12, won the Eastern Conference regular-season title, beat Colorado in the first round of the playoffs, lost to Houston in the Eastern Conference title.
We say: Speedy, athletic ex-Wizards contend if they mature.
Key offseason pickup: Winger Bobby Convey (from the San Jose Earthquakes).
Next: Saturday at D.C. United, 4:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

5. FC DALLAS (Last year: 11)
In 2011:
15-12-7, fourth in the West, lost to New York in a wild-card playoff.
We say: David Ferreira returns (now?), George John is back, and Brek Shea isn't gone yet. Big aspirations.
Key offseason pickup: Panamanian forward Blas Perez (from Indios de Ciudad Juarez/Mexico).
Next: Sunday vs. New York, noon (NBC Sports Network).

6. NEW YORK RED BULLS (Last year: 9)
In 2011:
10-8-16, fifth in the East, beat FC Dallas in the wild-card round and lost to the Galaxy in the first round of the playoffs.
We say: Last year's underachievers have so much talent. More if Rodgers returns.
Key offseason pickup: Forward Kenny Cooper (from the Portland Timbers).
Next: Sunday at FC Dallas, noon (NBC Sports Network).

7. HOUSTON DYNAMO (Last year: 7)
In 2011:
12-9-13, second in the East, beat Philadelphia and Sporting Kansas City in the first-round of the playoffs and Eastern Conference final, then lost to the Galaxy in the MLS Cup title game.
We say: Brian Ching's return to Houston might have been preseason's best story.
Key offseason pickup: Senegalese forward Macoumba Kandji (from the Colorado Rapids).
Next: Sunday vs. Chivas USA at Home Depot Center, 4 p.m. (Prime Ticket and Galavision).

8. COLUMBUS CREW (Last year: 8)
In 2011:
13-13-8, fourth in the East, lost to Colorado in a wild-card playoff.
We say: Robert Warzycha has the makings of a very good side, but there's work to be done.
Key offseason pickup: Chilean midfielder Milovan Mirosevic (from Universidad Catolica/Chile).
Next: Saturday at Colorado, 3 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

9. PORTLAND TIMBERS (Last year: 13)
In 2011:
11-14-9, sixth in the West.
We say: Kris Boyd and Franck Songo'o bring class to the Lumbermen.
Key offseason pickup: Scottish forward Boyd (from Eskisehirspor/Turkey.
Next: Monday vs. Philadelphia, 6:30 p.mm. (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes).

10. COLORADO RAPIDS (Last year: 6)
In 2011:
12-9-13, fifth in the West, beat Columbus in the wild-round round and lost to Sporting K.C. in the first round of the playoffs.
We say: Oscar Pareja could have the Rapids humming come playoff time.
Key offseason pickup: Colombian midfielder Jaime Castrillon (from Independiente Medellin/Colombia).
Next: Saturday vs. Columbus, 3 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

11. PHILADELPHIA UNION (Last year: 3)
In 2011:
11-8-15, third in the East, lost to Houston in the first round of the playoffs.
We say: If the youngsters are ready, Union could be great.
Key offseason pickup: Costa Rican forward Josue Martinez (from Saprissa/Costa Rica).
Next: Monday at Portland, 6:30 p.mm. (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes).

12. TORONTO FC (Last year: 16)
In 2011:
6-13-15, eighth in the East. Advanced to the quarterfinals of the Champions League (and tied the Galaxy, 2-2, in its home leg Wednesday).
We say: Aron Winter has more moves to make, but Reds should compete.
Key offseason pickup: Midfielder Luis Silva (from UC Santa Barbara in the MLS SuperDraft).
Next: Wednesday in a Champions League quarterfinal second leg vs. the Galaxy at Home Depot Center, 7 p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel and Galavision).

13. CHICAGO FIRE (Last year: 10)
In 2011:
9-9-16, sixth in the East.
We say: If these attackers click, Fire will have a vibrant attack. If not, they'll struggle.
Key offseason pickup: German defender Arne Friedrich (from VfL Wolfsburg/Germany).
Next: March 17 at Montreal, 11 a.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

14. D.C. UNITED (Last year: 12)
In 2011:
9-13-12, seventh in the East.
We say: MVP Dwayne De Rosario and Albanian newcomer Hamdi Salihi could be a dynamic duo.
Key offseason pickup: Salihi (from Rapid Vienna/Austria).
Next: Saturday vs. Sporting Kansas City, 4:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

15. CHIVAS USA (Last year: 15)
In 2011:
8-14-12, eighth in the West.
We say: There's the core of a fine team, we think. We'll see.
Key offseason pickup: Ecuadoran midfielder Oswaldo Minda (from Deportivo Quito/Ecuador).
Next: Sunday vs. Houston at Home Depot Center, 4 p.m. (Prime Ticket and Galavision).

16. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (Last year: 14)
In 2011:
8-12-14, seventh in the West.
We say: Lots of L.A.-area talent in the Bay Area.
Key offseason pickup: Honduran winger Marvin Chavez (from FC Dallas).
Next: Saturday vs. New England, 7:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

17. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (Last year: 17)
In 2011:
6-18-10, last in the West.
We say: Martin Rennie an excellent hire, 'Caps could rise.
Key offseason pickup: French forward Sebastien Le Toux (from the Philadelphia Union).
Next: Saturday vs. Montreal, 3 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

18. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (Last year: 18)
In 2011:
5-16-13, last in the East.
We say: Jay Heaps will need time to settle into a coaching role.
Key offseason pickup: Midfielder Kelyn Rowe (from UCLA in the MLS SuperDraft).
Next: Saturday at San Jose, 7:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

19. MONTREAL IMPACT (Last year: NA)
In 2011:
9-11-8, seventh in the (eight-team) North American Soccer League, the U.S./Canadian second division.
We say: Only two expansion teams (Chicago 1998, Seattle 2009) have been winners. That won't change.
Key offseason pickup: Jamaican goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts (from the Galaxy).
Next: Saturday at Vancouver, 3 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).