The MLS Is Back

A look at the landscape of the MLS in a bizarre 2020 season.

Reading Time: 10 minutes

The Columbus Crew are the hottest team in the league right now, cruising in front of the pack in the race for the Supporters’ Shield, the award given to the team with the best regular season record.

The Seattle Sounders have been MLS Champions twice in the past four years, and they once again look promising in the West.

The MLS is Back! Just two games into league play back in March, the MLS was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic and forced to come up with a creative solution to play out their season. After a four month hiatus, the MLS hosted a fittingly named “MLS is Back Tournament” in July to kick off the season and restarted league play soon after. Here’s a look at where each of the 26 teams in the MLS stand as the playoff race begins to thicken.


1. Columbus Crew

The Columbus Crew are the hottest team in the league right now, cruising in front of the pack in the race for the Supporters’ Shield, the award given to the team with the best regular season record. In the MLS is Back tournament, the Black and Gold were sent home by Minnesota United FC in the Round of 16 in heartbreaking fashion, with the Loons moving on to the quarterfinals after a 4-3 victory in penalty shootouts. Since the regular season restart, the Crew have lost just one of their last four, including a victory over MLS is Back semifinalists Philadelphia Union. Through 10 matches, the Crew boast a league-leading eight shutouts, the best for an MLS team since the 2010 LA Galaxy. If Columbus can keep it up, they will make a serious run at their fourth Supporters’ Shield in 16 years and their second MLS Cup in club history.

2. Toronto FC

Toronto FC had a strong group stage showing in the MLS is Back Tournament but were limited by injuries to Ayo Akinola and Jozy Altidore, and NYCFC took them down in the Round of 16. Despite this, the Reds remain a perennial heavyweight in the Eastern Conference, sitting at second in the Conference, just two points short of the Crew. Young stars Richie Laryea and Akinola have TFC fans dreaming, justifiably, of another MLS Cup.

3. Philadelphia Union

Philadelphia homegrown player Brendan Aaronson has taken the MLS by storm, and as long as he stays with the Union, they are as good as anyone in the league. The Union made a run to the MLS is Back tournament semis, narrowly falling 2-1 to eventual champions Portland. Since the league’s restart, the Union have lost just one game, a 1-0 defeat to the Eastern Conference-leading Columbus Crew.

4. Orlando City SC

Since entering the league as the MLS’s 21st expansion team, the Lions haven’t made the playoffs once, despite boasting the likes of Kaka and Nani. New head coach Oscar Pareja has transformed a perpetually losing franchise into a viable contender, leading Orlando, which weren’t even expected to make it past the group stage, to a Cinderella run and then, to the MLS is Back Tournament Finals. The magical tournament has proven not to be a fluke as the Lions have only lost one game in the five since the restart.


The Pigeons, expected to build on their tremendous 2019 form under coach Doménec Torrent, had a disastrous start to the season, losing their first four games before squeaking by Inter Miami in the group stage to earn a spot in the knockout round of the MLS is Back Tournament. In the Round of 16, they faced the rival team, Toronto, who had knocked NYC out of the playoffs in ’19. New coach Ronny Delia was under fire for transforming an Eastern Conference favorite into a bottom feeder, but NYC flipped the switch, defeating Toronto handily to advance to the quarter-finals. Since the regular season restart, the Pigeons haven’t looked back, winning their last three, including a win over the Crew, to vault them into a playoff qualification spot. If City can keep it up, look for them to make noise late in the MLS Playoffs.

6. Montreal Impact

The Impact have lost three of the four games since the restart, but they have had a difficult schedule, with three Canadian Classiques against heavyweight Toronto FC. They got an especially sweet 1-0 victory over Toronto in one Classique, however, as they halted Toronto’s run at the record for the longest undefeated streak in MLS history.

7. New England Revolution

The Revs have had a solid, if not unremarkable start to the season, as they’ve tied five games and are currently sitting at fifth place in the Eastern Conference. They are trending down since the restart, having won just one of their last five. To compound their struggles, they will have to fend off emerging teams NYCFC and the Impact for a playoff spot.

8. Atlanta United

Atlanta United have looked nothing like their usual dominant selves this season, but still are just one spot out of a playoff berth. With star Josef Martinez out for the season due to injury and the departure of Pity Martinez, new players will have to step up for the Five Stripes if they want to challenge for a shot at the MLS Playoffs.

9. Nashville SC

In its inaugural season in the MLS, Nashville have surprised many people by winning some games and outperforming expansion cousins Inter Miami. The Band held off Orlando City to a tie in their most recent game, and just before that beat Miami 3-2. Unlike the glitzy Miami, which, led by David Beckham, attracted Blaise Matuidi and other international talents, Nashville consist of a hardworking group of players who can get the job done. Expect them to fall just short of a playoff berth after a relatively successful opening season.

10. New York Red Bulls

The Red Bulls fired coach Chris Armas, but their 2020 losing ways have continued. In the five games since the restart, they have won none, including a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of the Philadelphia Union and a 1-0 loss to rivals NYCFC in the Hudson River Derby. It’s time for the Red Bulls to rechannel their former winning tendencies if they want any chance at a respectable season.

11. Inter Miami

The Herons will welcome French star Blaise Matuidi with open arms, as they are currently sitting at 13th place in the Eastern Conference and in need of a boost. Granted, they have had a string of encouraging results since the restart, winning the Florida Derby against Orlando City 3-2 and drawing in two games. At this point, the playoffs are out of reach for Miami, but they will look to finish the season strong and carry some momentum into their second season in the league.

12. FC Cincinnati

FC Cincinnati were historically bad last season but have taken a small step forward in 2020, sitting at 12th in the league. They haven’t scored a goal in the last five games, an extremely concerning stat, but have maintained a solid defensive line. Coach Jaap Stam has his work cut out for him in Cincinnati for the coming years.

13. DC United

DC have been bad. Really bad. So bad that they became the second team in MLS history to not record a single shot in a game. Despite this, they still are in 10th place in the Eastern Conference due to positive results from before the MLS is Back Tournament over six months ago. With an unprecedented turnaround, the Black and Red could make a run at a spot at the MLS playoffs.

14. Chicago Fire

Through 10 games this season, the Fire have won just two and have a -7 goal differential. Enough said.


1. Seattle Sounders

The Seattle Sounders have been MLS Champions twice in the past four years, and they once again look promising in the West. They started off with an early exit in the Round of 16 of the MLS is Back Tournament, in which LAFC destroyed their tournament run with a 4-1 victory. However, after a month lapse in MLS games for the Sounders, they improved their back line in training and stood their ground as a top competitor in the MLS with a 3-0 win against long term rival and MLS is Back Tournament champions, the Portland Timbers. Even after losing 2-1 at home to the Timbers, the Sounders reminded the league of their prowess with a crushing 7-1 victory against the San Jose Earthquakes, keeping the Sounders as one of the top competitors in the West. They will likely remain at the top of the Western Conference this season and win the Cascadia Derby considering the number of quality players they have, like Nicolás Lodeiro and Raúl Ruidíaz on the squad.

2. LA Galaxy

The Los Angeles Galaxy had a rough start in the MLS is Back Tournament as they could not reach the Round of 16, but they have proven their worth in recent games. With a sudden turnaround, the team has won its last four games, including two matchups against rival LAFC, giving Galaxy the edge in El Tráfico. LA Galaxy are not nearly done with their journey this season and will likely continue their win streak, potentially posing a risk to the Sounders.

3. Houston Dynamo

Similar to LA Galaxy, the Houston Dynamo struggled in the MLS is Back Tournament, facing an early exit in the Group Stage. However, they too regained confidence after three consecutive wins against the then Western Conference leaders, Sporting KC and Minnesota United FC, even without Dynamo star Mauro Manotas at forward for two of the matchups. With a strong desire to win and Tab Ramos at the helm, there is no limit on how far the Dynamo can go.

4. Sporting KC

Sporting Kansas City’s current record as first in the Western Conference is not quite indicative of their true lackluster performance in the MLS. The team reached the quarter-finals of the MLS is Back Tournament, where Philadelphia Union knocked them out with a final score of 3-1. After starting off regular season matches with a win against Minnesota United FC, Sporting went winless for four consecutive games. There is definitely hope for Sporting, however. The squad will likely make the playoffs this season as injuries subside and the team’s confidence grows.

5. Minnesota United FC

Minnesota United FC made a deep run in the MLS is Back Tournament, only facing a defeat against the Orlando City Lions in the semifinals in a disappointing 3-1 match. However, they then struggled with regular season games, losing three consecutive matches until a reinvigorating victory against Real Salt Lake. New addition Emanuel Reynoso settled in well with the club after transferring from Argentina, and he has provided the necessary hope for the Loons to potentially move ahead in the Western Conference despite their rough start.

6. Portland Timbers

After a fantastic beginning to the MLS restart, the Portland Timbers have fallen into a slump. They launched into the MLS is Back Tournament, cruising through the Group Stage straight to the Round of 16. After a few close matches, the Timbers had reached the Final against Orlando City, where they overcame the Lions with a 2-1 victory. Hopes were high for the champions of the MLS is Back Tournament, but the Timbers proceeded to go winless for three consecutive matches. With their lackluster defense and injuries, the Timbers will have difficulty defeating the top teams in the Western Conference.


Los Angeles FC have taken a sharp turn from their performance last season. The club has gone from being at the top of the Western Conference with only four defeats out of 34 matches in 2019 to losing four of five games in a row for the first time in its history. Considering the core issues of injuries, notably Carlos Vela’s absence, and faulty defending, it is unlikely that LAFC will find the same success it had last season to end up a leader of the Western Conference.

8. FC Dallas

FC Dallas have faced some tough losses within the club this season. The team was unable to compete in the MLS is Back Tournament due to a high number of COVID-19 cases amongst the players and staff. Additionally, Dallas midfielder Paxton Pomykal will be out for the rest of the season due to his recent hip surgery. Dallas’s homegrown player Reggie Cannon has now finalized his transfer to Boavista FC, leaving another space in the club. These various changes have prevented Dallas from reaching their true potential this season, and it will not be easy for the team to clinch a top spot in the West.

9. Real Salt Lake

Real Salt Lake have had no problem scoring goals since the MLS is Back Tournament. Starting with the tournament, Salt Lake scored 10 goals over three games. After losing the quarter-finals of the competition to the San Jose Earthquakes, the club continued to play high-scoring matches but couldn’t win. Salt Lake coach Freddy Juarez was quite pleased with the state of the squad after the MLS is Back Tournament, but such satisfaction has not translated onto the pitch as Salt Lake have remained toward the bottom of the Western Conference rankings. Salt Lake will require more training and dedication to truly serve as a threat to the conference top contenders.

10. San Jose Earthquakes

While the San Jose Earthquakes were able to compete in the semifinals of the MLS is Back Tournament, they no longer showcase that same level of performance. The Earthquakes have not won a game since then, and they were ridiculed in a 7-1 defeat against the Seattle Sounders. Unfortunately, if San Jose does not improve its defensive set pieces, they will maintain their low position in the Western Conference and suffer a difficult season.

11. Colorado Rapids

The Colorado Rapids have been winless since the start of the Group Stage of the MLS is Back Tournament. The Rapids have stayed focused in their games, occasionally scoring a last-minute goal, but these efforts have typically been to no avail.

12. Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Vancouver Whitecaps FC have not seen much success lately. After losing to Sporting KC in the MLS is Back Tournament Round of 16, the Whitecaps went winless and scoreless for three consecutive games. The Whitecaps will likely remain at the bottom of the Western Conference.