With most MLS teams having played close to half of their games, we have a pretty good idea of how they play. We’ve learned that the Philadelphia Union are pretty good, aesthetically. Other teams don’t quite reach that level.
So, in an unscientific and subjective format, let’s rank each MLS team based on how fun they are to watch, including factors like on-field ability, the amount at which they score and concede goals, and the general aesthetics of their stadium and broadcast.
This shouldn’t be a huge surprise — LA score a ton of goals and have been far and away the best team in the league this season. Their games are chess matches, with opposing managers scheming to find little advantages, and plenty of goals are scored, though the Black and Gold score most of them — they tout a ridiculous +26 goal differential.
It helps that they have Carlos Vela, the best player in the league.
The only thing holding them back is a mid-to-low-tier local broadcast and a basic set of uniforms. Everything else, including the stadium and atmosphere, is on point.
2. Atlanta United
Atlanta obviously have plenty of talent and can roll out fun lineups that play pretty good soccer. Josef Martinez has a high entertainment value, with his utter determination to score and occasional outbursts of frustration when he doesn’t.
Also: Julian Gressel is my favorite player in the league.
3. Toronto FC
TFC have had a tough past few weeks, but goals are usually scored regardless of whether they are winning or losing. Alejandro Pozuelo and Jozy Altidore are great and TFC’s defenders are a lot less great. We’ll get to watch Omar Gonzalez try to solve that puzzle now.
Michael Bradley and Jonathan Osorio are still elite midfielders in spite of Toronto’s struggles. TFC have advantages in some other areas as well — BMO Field looks good on TV (with good lighting and a solid camera angle) and TSN is the best local(ish) broadcast in MLS.
4. LA Galaxy
That the Galaxy are this high despite poor lighting at their stadium and below-average local commentators is a testament to the draw of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and an interesting team around him. Watching Zlatan yell at teammates and score nice goals, coupled with the Galaxy’s ongoing tactical puzzle, is objectively fun.
5. Philadelphia Union
Philly tend to play open, entertaining games, with a pass-first mentality and skillful attackers. Brenden Aaronson is fun to watch. Jim Curtain plays the kids.
In addition, they have a national TV-level play-by-play commentator in JP Dellacamera and they are one of the only teams in MLS to play a 4-4-2 diamond formation.
6. Seattle Sounders
Nicolas Lodeiro is one of my favorite players to watch in MLS. He makes an impressively concerted effort to find the ball everywhere and dictate as much as he can. Cristian Roldan has taken lessons from him.
Outside of that, Seattle are elite, wear good uniforms, and play at a stadium that looks good on TV (including a nice, wide camera angle).
7. D.C. United
D.C.’s recent skid knocked them down a peg or two, but they have a defined style that prioritizes attacking, with elite attackers to execute it. Luciano Acosta has skill moves and vision. Wayne Rooney is Wayne Rooney. Audi Field is a nice stadium.
8. San Jose Earthquakes
Matias Almeyda’s Earthquakes are the only team I can think of on the entire planet that plays an outright man-marking system, so that goes a long way toward upping their watchability. In addition, they have Chris Wondolowski, the pair of Jackson Yueill and Tommy Thompson, good uniforms, and a top-tier local broadcast. If they won more games, they might rank a bit higher.
9. Portland Timbers
It helps the Timbers here that they played a really game a couple of days before this article was written — Portland lost 3-2 to LAFC in one of the highest-quality matches of the season so far.
The Timbers sit deep and counter, which can make for bad soccer, but they go about it in a way that maximizes their strengths and frees the league’s best transition attack. Diego Chara, the league’s best d-mid, is a joy to watch both defensively and with the ball in space. Brian Fernandez has an eye for goal. Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco are great, and I am firmly on the Jeremy Ebobisse train.
10. Minnesota United
I ranked Minnesota pretty low in my recent MLS local announcer rankings, but upon a couple of recent watches, I’ve softened my opinion a bit — Kyndra St. Aubin is an above-average color commentator, and Jamie Watson is a very useful sideline reporter.
No longer playing on the University of Minnesota football field helps the Loons in these rankings, as does the presence of Darwin Quintero. I like watching that attack, and the Jan Gregus-Ozzie Alonso midfield has been solid. If only Minnesota wore uniforms that took advantage of what could be a nice-looking color scheme.
11. New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls haven’t lost since May 8 and now sit fourth in the Eastern Conference. They are officially good again, which means we get the same press-y NYRB with interesting tactics.
The gray home jerseys have turned out pretty well.
12. Sporting Kansas City
Sporting, though they remain mired in a tough stretch, play pretty good soccer and have Johnny Russell, one of the most electric players in the league. Their uniforms are good and their stadium looks good on TV. They might have been a couple spots higher had this ranking been done earlier in the season.
13. Vancouver Whitecaps
There aren’t many MLS teams that jump out to me as especially poor to watch. That is a good thing! So this part of the list is pretty tight, and a lot of it comes down to what I happen to be feeling right now.
On that note, I’ve enjoyed watching the Whitecaps this year. I’m a fan of In-beom Hwang, their midfield orchestrator, and have been mesmerized at times by attacker Lass Bangoura. Lucas Venuto, while RSL-level inconsistent, can be joy to watch when he wants to be. Ali Adnan is a very nice right back.
Their stadium is great to watch on TV. The field is brightly-lit, the turf glows, and uniform colors stand out. And TSN, as mentioned before, is a fantastic broadcaster.
14. FC Dallas
On one hand, FCD have good and fun youth (Paxton Pomykal, notably) and play attacking soccer. On the other hand, though, their stadium is one of the worst for TV viewing, with a poorly-lit field and a subpar atmosphere, and their games have a tendency to slow down at times. They do have a top-tier local broadcast, however.
15. Houston Dynamo
Houston have Alberth Elis, who is one of the most fun players to watch in MLS, though he can switch off at times. They can be pretty interesting tactically. But like Dallas, some of their games tend to slow down (perhaps due to Texas heat?). The Dynamo’s local broadcast is mid-tier at best.
I will say that Mauro Manotas is quietly a very fun player to watch.
16. FC Cincinnati
Being bad a lot of times doesn’t help in these types of rankings, and FCC are certainly bad. Goals aren’t an especially common occurrence in Cincy games — FCC have scored just 12 goals in 15 games this year, which is extremely bad — and they are losing a lot right now as they figure themselves out under Yoann Damet. I will say that I’ve enjoyed recent Frankie Amaya minutes.
17. Columbus Crew
Like SKC, the Crew would be higher here if I had done this list in late March. But alas, the Crew are falling fast right now and have evidently lost whatever Berhalter carryover magic they conjured in the first month of the season. MAPFRE Stadium’s TV aesthetics are bottom-tier, right alongside FCD’s Toyota Stadium.
The Pigeons have good attackers, an interesting style of play, and high quality home uniforms. Holding them back, as you might guess, is Yankee Stadium, which is obviously tiny and thus makes for a poor viewing experience. Find a stadium!
19. Real Salt Lake
RSL get credit for playing the kids and having a very good home broadcast, but they don’t get consistent production from their mercurial attackers. Not enough to set them apart from some teams above them.
20. Montreal Impact
Like RSL, I can’t find enough to slide them above some teams. The Impact play a fairly basic defensive style of play. Their system isn’t horribly regressive, but it’s not quite beautiful soccer. They do have a nice-looking stadium, a TSN broadcast, and Ignacio Piatti.
21. Chicago Fire
The team itself is okay viewing (with Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger in there as passers, the Fire can’t be too difficult to watch), but I ranked the local broadcast at the very bottom, and Chicago’s stadium has pretty terrible aesthetics.
I also can’t haven’t come around on the “Aleksandar Katai is good” hill.
22. Colorado Rapids
The only reason Colorado find themselves above last place is a recent stretch of good results under Conor Casey. Perhaps the Rapids will be respectable now! Then again, we said that at times last year. Never count out the persistence of Rapids futility.
23. Orlando City SC
A few reasons for OCSC’s low ranking: the camera angle at their stadium is too low to the field, the team is mediocre and not particularly exciting, and I don’t like purple. That’s about all I have to say about the Lions here.
24. New England Revolution
Their home games are kind of depressing, with the massive MLS 1.0-style football field and crappy turf. The team is similar in feel to what it’s been for the last couple of years. It helps that their local broadcast is pretty solid, but Bruce Arena has a job to do to turn this ship around.