MLS Power Rankings: Seattle surges, Cincinnati plummets

Week five of the 2021 MLS season wrapped up yesterday. With each side in the league having between four and six matches under their belts, we have a large enough sample size to begin rolling out our weekly MLS power rankings.

How the rankings work

These power rankings aren’t subjective, but use a stats-based model for each team to get a more in-depth look at where clubs actually stand. The model leans heavily on points per game and strength of schedule, but also factors in goal difference and expected goal difference so show how good teams are aside from just points on the table.

Our power rankings aren’t an attempt to predict the final table, just to provide readers with a different angle from which to judge teams. As the season progresses, we’ll being to incorporate a projected standings table. More on that later.

Week 5 power rankings

1: Seattle Sounders. One of just three unbeaten sides in MLS, the Sounders dispatched two solid sides this week. The beat San Jose 1-0 on the road before rolling over LAFC at Lumen Field. Averaging 2.67 PPG and with an insane 11 goal difference through six matches, they’re the best in the league by a long shot.

2 (tied): Nashville SC. The Boys In Gold went on the road for the first time in 2021 and drew 0-0 against Real Salt Lake. They’re one of the last unbeaten sides in MLS, and get a boost from the third toughest strength of schedule rating to date.

2 (tied): NYCFC. New York picked up a decent point at home against Toronto to stay towards the top of the Eastern conference table. With the best goal difference in the East, they’re off to a strong start.

4: Real Salt Lake. RSL are one of the surprises of the young season. The Claret and Cobalt were held without a shot on target by Nashville, but are in playoff position despite having played the fewest matches in the Western conference. That their one loss on the year came to San Jose doesn’t hurt.

5: LA Galaxy. LA picked up a solid 2-0 win over Austin on Saturday, even with a missed penalty from in-form Chicharito. Their goal and xG difference is pretty average, but they have the second-highest PPG average in the league.

6: San Jose Earthquakes. A 1-0 midweek loss to Seattle didn’t hurt their rating much, but losing 2-0 at home to Portland dragged them down a bit. They take on Sporting KC next weekend, which will serve as a great measuring stick.

7: New England Revolution. The Eastern conference leaders picked up a well-earned win over Columbus courtesy of a late Adam Buksa goal. They should start climbing the ranking again after their loss to Nashville knocked them down a bit.

8: Sporting KC. Sporting took a nosedive this week. Last week’s leaders lost 1-0 to Houston, and a 3-0 win against Vancouver only slightly improved their score.

9: Orlando City. Orlando continue their steady trajectory with a 1-0 win over DC United. The result didn’t do much for their strength of schedule, but they’ve consistently gotten results so far.

10: LAFC. LAFC are the biggest discrepancy between this model and the actual standings. While last in the Western Conference table, they’ve had the toughest schedule according to our model. They’ll start dropping soon if they don’t get actual results, though.

11: Atlanta United. Atlanta picked up a big 1-0 over Montreal. They haven’t necessarily played well this season, but they’ve managed to get results.

12: Colorado Rapids. Colorado have been exceptional this season, earning 10 points from five matches this season. Despite sitting in fourth in the West, they’ve had a fairly easy schedule according to the model: Dallas, Austin, Vancouver, Minnesota and Houston. A win next week against LAFC would give them a sizeable boost.

13: Portland Timbers. Portland look like they’ve had a CCL hangover to start the year, but they got a really impressive 2-0 win against San Jose this weekend. They should move up the rankings fairly quickly.

14: New York Red Bulls. They got dinged pretty good in this model after a 1-0 loss to Philadelphia. The rankings and the table aren’t too out of sync here.

15: Houston Dynamo. Whatever points they built up with a 1-0 midweek win over Sporting KC was thrown away with a really poor performance against Colorado. A really poor -3.74 xGD doesn’t help them at all.

16: Toronto FC. Toronto started the season poorly, but made strides this week. A 2-0 win over Columbus and a draw with NYCFC pushed them up a couple spots.

17: CF Montréal. Montréal have been all over the place this season, and middle-of-the-pack in the rankings certainly matches the eye test. After trashing Miami on the road midweek, they dropped points to Atlanta this weekend. They’re a tough read this early in the year.

18: Inter Miami CF. Another inconsistent side. Their midweek loss at home to Montréal hurt their score heavily, and while they bounced back with a thrilling win over Cincinnati, a single-goal victory over the worst team in the league didn’t do much for their score.

19: Philadelphia Union. One of the surprise strugglers of the season, they pushed into playoff position with a win over New York Red Bulls. Their strength of schedule hasn’t helped them much, but they’ve been decent in their last three matches. They should move up in the model fairly soon.

20: Columbus (Crew) SC. Everyone had this team pegged as the best in the league. They haven’t been that. Last year’s MLS Cup champions have struggled mightily this season, with one win, two draws and two losses in five games. They looked better for stretches against New England and clearly have the talent to compete at the top of the table, but they have to get results soon or the hole may be too deep to climb from.

21: FC Dallas. Their best moment of the season was a 4-1 win over a heavily rotated Timbers side. They lost this week to a Minnesota side that’s been really poor to start the season, and that took a big toll on their score.

22: Minnesota United. The Loons desperately needed results this week, and they got two. Wins over Vancouver and Dallas boosted their score. Similar to Columbus, they have the talent to be a top team in the league, but can’t afford to earn one point per match.

23: Austin FC. Austin may be Verde, but this model isn’t. After winning two of their first three matches in MLS, they’ve come back down to earth with losses to Sporting KC and LA Galaxy. It doesn’t get easier next week, with a prime time road trip to Nashville on the books.

24: DC United. After an opening day win over NYCFC, DC have struggled. They bounced back a bit with a midweek win over Chicago, and played well against Orlando on Sunday, but couldn’t turn promise into points.

25: Vancouver Whitecaps. On the table, Vancouver aren’t in bad shape, sitting in eighth place and tied on points with RSL. But a double game week featuring losses to Minnesota and Sporting KC dinged their score, and their xG difference is the worst in the West.

26: Chicago Fire. These last two sides are significantly removed from the rest of the league, and are the only teams the model has given a negative score. Chicago’s week one draw with New England turned heads for a second, but it’s been downhill since then. They’ve lost to Atlanta, Red Bulls, Philadelphia and now DC United. They have a lot of work to do.

27: FC Cincinnati. The model’s worst-rated team by a long stretch. They’ve had moments, including a 2-2 draw with Nashville and pulling level for three minutes with Miami yesterday. But they can’t put points on the table, and have the worst goal difference (-9) and xG difference (-5.78) in the league. They have a lot of work to do to get on the model’s good side.


Do you disagree with the rankings? Let us know which teams our model has wrong on Twitter or in the comments!

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