Toronto FC, Atlanta United start new season atop MLS Power Rankings
A look at how the teams in Major League Soccer stack up ahead of the new season.
1. Toronto FC
When you're the champs, you start the season at No. 1. While the Reds didn't make any splashy moves during the offseason, they did manage to add a couple of new signings that have the potential to make them even better than they were in 2017.
2. Atlanta United
Atlanta measured up to outsize expectations with a playoff berth in their inaugural season. The bar doesn't lower in year two as the league's new high-profile side dropped a league-record transfer fee to sign 18-year old Ezequiel Barco out of Argentina.
3. Seattle Sounders
The back-to-back Western Conference champions get the benefit of the doubt coming into the new year, but there is reason to worry about the Sounders' ability to stay on top. Key pieces of the lineup are a year older, and striker Jordan Morris will be out of commission for most of the season after tearing his ACL.
City's 2017 season ended in disappointment, the result of a bad away leg in the conference semifinals. The club has the tools to make it back to the postseason, but until proven otherwise, there will be doubts about Patrick Vieira's ability to navigate the tournament.
5. Chicago Fire
The Fire made a drastic improvement over 2016 thanks to a number of high-profile additions. Now counted among the best in the league, the Fire come into the new year with expectations. Bastian Schweinsteiger's ability to contribute all season bears watching, as does the problem of replacing David Accam.
6. Columbus Crew
Gregg Berhalter must overcome the loss of Justin Meram and Ola Kamara, who were shipped out via trade. Gyasi Zardes has shown extremely well in the preseason and will need to carry that form in the regular season if the Crew are going to maintain their place among the East's playoff teams.
7. Portland Timbers
It's a new era in Portland after a tumultuous postseason. The first-place finisher in the West gets some benefit of the doubt, but there are questions surrounding the Timbers' ability to replace Darlington Nagbe's midfield work and how well new coach Giovanni Savarese adapts to the league.
8. New York Red Bulls
Sacha Kljestan is gone, but New York fought through the drama and landed Alejandro Romero Gamarra, aka Kaku. The Argentine will play under an intense spotlight as the Red Bulls execute yet another transition in the midfield. Looming: Will Tyler Adams be in New York after the summer?
9. Houston Dynamo
Wilmer Cabrera's first season in the Bayou City delivered a Dynamo playoff appearance for the first time since 2013. In order to hold to a spot among the postseason finishers, Cabrera will have to improve on last year's foundation with Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto and Mauro Manotas playing big roles.
10. Sporting Kansas City
Sporting Kansas City is remarkably consistent, and the club again looks like a playoff team on paper. Defender of the Year Ike Opara returns, and defense is rarely a problem for Sporting. So if the goals come, the club could challenge for a first-round bye come playoff time.
11. Vancouver Whitecaps
The Caps enter 2018 as something of an unknown quantity. Several major figures, the incoming group of players and chemistry all could be factors in their success or failure. Vancouver might also be on the verge of breaking up one of the league's top center back tandems, with reports swirling that an unhappy Tim Parker wants out of British Columbia.
12. San Jose Earthquakes
The Quakes are one of five teams with a new coach. The smart money is on San Jose looking much different under Mikael Stahre than they did under Dom Kinnear and Chris Leitch last year, though just how different is unclear.
13. Real Salt Lake
Mike Petke enters his first full year as RSL's coach, looking to build on last year's strong finish. The Utah team is chock full of young talent, balanced against a few long-serving veterans. There's a lot of promise for a team in the wide-open Western Conference.
14. FC Dallas
Oscar Pareja's team took a massive step backward in 2017. Still focusing on young players, the club signed players from Bulgaria, Colombia and elsewhere in a bid to get better. With locker room drama settled, is FC Dallas primed for a return to the playoffs?
15. New England Revolution
Brad Friedel is still dealing with a tug-of-war with Lee Nguyen over the midfielder's demand for a trade, casting something of a pall of the start of his tenure as coach of the Revs. With Nguyen's status in limbo, the attacking burden may fall to Kelyn Rowe -- a player who spent time at left back last year.
16. Orlando City
No returning team did more business during the offseason than the Lions. There's a feeling of "postseason or bust," with so much money committed to a group of incoming players that includes Sacha Kljestan and Justin Meram. On paper, Orlando looks like a contender for a playoff spot in the East.
17. Philadelphia Union
The offseason was a slow burn for a club that finished well off the pace in the East. The one big, early acquisition was winger David Accam, who moves over from Chicago. The Ghana international will be expected to be the catalyst for the Union attack, scoring goals and setting up lead striker CJ Sapong.
18. Montreal Impact
An aging roster fell flat in 2017, despite high expectations off the back of a conference final appearance the year before. Some of that age is gone, replaced by several names with unclear ceilings. New coach Remi Garde will have to learn the league quickly for the Impact to succeed.
19. LA Galaxy
The post-Arena tradition year was a disaster for the Galaxy, resulting in the firing of Curt Onalfo and a last-place finish. The club has overhauled the roster and made several smart trades, giving the impression that while LA probably isn't a title contender, they'll at least be competitive.
20. D.C. United
Whatever financial help moving into Audi Field will give United has yet to hit the roster in a big way. Ben Olsen's team looks improved from 2017, but there are concerns about the striker corps and a difficult early-season schedule that could derail the team no matter the improvement.
21. Minnesota United
Minnesota natives are restless over the Loons' seeming lack of ambition, with offseason signings not measuring up to rising league standards. If the "soft launch" mentality holds, it's difficult to see Adrian Heath taking MNUFC to the playoffs in year two.
22. Colorado Rapids
Colorado's new coach seems well-equipped to deal with the club's meager spending thanks to his experience with the New Zealand national team. The Rapids talk about playing more entertaining soccer but don't appear to have the horses to do it.
As the lone expansion club for 2018, LAFC gets the ignominious spot at the bottom of the rankings. There's talent on the roster for the Black & Gold, and Bob Bradley certainly knows the league: will that be enough to help them avoid the usual struggles for expansion sides?
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.