Posted: Thu February 28, 2013 1:16AM; Updated: Thu February 28, 2013 1:06PM
Avi Creditor
Avi Creditor>INSIDE SOCCER

2013 MLS Preseason Power Rankings

Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
The Houston Dynamo added Omar Cummings, who will start the season late after recovering from knee surgery.
The Houston Dynamo added Omar Cummings, who will start the season late after recovering from knee surgery.
Ron Chenoy/US Presswire

Major League Soccer begins its 18th season Saturday under different circumstances than past seasons.

The March 2 start date is the earliest in league history, and it follows the first December MLS Cup. For the first time since 2005 there is no expansion team. For the first time since 2009, there won't be a new soccer-specific stadium introduced to North American fans. The league's competition format for both the regular season and playoffs has remained the same after a series of tinkering and reworking.

Of course, there is an obvious transition in terms of who is playing on the field. The David Beckham era is over, and MLS moves forward without a number of stars from past seasons. Stalwart players like Brek Shea, Andy Najar, Roger Espinoza, Fredy Montero and Carlos Valdes are either in England or South America. Sporting Kansas City forward Kei Kamara could join Shea and Espinoza in the Premier League should Norwich City complete a full transfer for him when his loan expires May 6. Landon Donovan is still a member of the LA Galaxy, but he won't rejoin the club until late March and won't begin play in matches until after he regains match fitness.

It all adds up to the next step in MLS' evolution, a year in which a new crop stars and recognizable faces will be tasked with rising to the top of the class. That does not necessarily mean a change in the overall league standings though, as the two finalists from the last two MLS Cups kick off 2013 at the top of the SI.com MLS Power Rankings (Last season's record in parentheses):

Preseason MLS Power Rankings
 
Rank Team
1 Houston Dynamo (14-9-11)
The two-time defending MLS Cup runner-up lost nobody, added the likes of forward Omar Cummings (who will start the season late after recovering from knee surgery), center back Eric Brunner and winger Andrew Driver and gets full seasons from last year's in-season signings Oscar Boniek Garcia, Ricardo Clark and Giles Barnes. Make no mistake about it, Dom Kinnear has another championship-caliber squad on his hands.
2 Los Angeles Galaxy (16-12-6)
Nobody will be underestimating the two-time defending champion Galaxy this season, but the club can't possibly be as untouchable playing without David Beckham and Landon Donovan (at least to start the season). This is now Robbie Keane's team, and as long as he and Omar Gonzalez are on the field, the Galaxy have two of the best players at their respective positions in the league. Don't overlook the acquisition of veteran goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini, who takes the reins from Josh Saunders, the backstop for the Galaxy's last two titles.
3 Sporting Kansas City (15-11-5)
Sporting KC's offseason netted some huge gains and some concerning losses. Adding Benny Feilhaber, DP striker Claudio Bieler and center back depth in Ike Opara are huge pluses. Losing Roger Espinoza to Wigan Athletic, and potentially losing Kei Kamara permanently to Norwich City when his loan expires in May, though, negates the enormity of those additions. Either way, Sporting KC should be a top contender all season considering the return of maestro Graham Zusi and its entire defensive unit, but it remains to be seen whether the club has enough to compensate for its losses and complete the ascent up the league mountain.
4 D.C. United (17-10-7)
D.C. came within one game of hosting the MLS Cup final last season, and the club brings back its entire nucleus, save for Andy Najar, who was sold to Anderlecht. Having Dwayne De Rosario and Chris Pontius fully healthy to kick off the season is a huge positive for Ben Olsen's club, which has a leg up on most of its competition in terms of lineup chemistry and continuity.
5 San Jose Earthquakes (19-6-9)
Early injury worries to Marvin Chavez, Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon present concerns from the start, as does the failure to bring back Simon Dawkins. Still, there is plenty of quality up and down this roster to complement the most lethal goal-scorer in the league, Chris Wondolowski. San Jose may not be Supporters' Shield-good in 2013, but Frank Yallop's side will challenge for a top postseason seed yet again.
6 Seattle Sounders (15-8-11)
Chances are, the Sounders have enough quality up and down the roster -- with Mario Martinez and a fully fit Steve Zakuani joining recent newcomer Shalrie Joseph -- to be a top contender yet again, but is anybody else worried about the Sounders potentially taking a step back after losing starters Fredy Montero and Jeff Parke? Montero was good for double digits in goals every year, and Parke was the anchor of the back line. Both will be missed.
7 New York Red Bulls (16-9-9)
Following a wild offseason in which the entire club was essentially reworked from top to bottom, New York wound up with a rather impressive-looking roster. Thierry Henry is fully fit, Tim Cahill is on board for a full season, and proven MLS winners in Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola bring a different element to provide a boost to club great Mike Petke in his first year as head coach. Veteran Brazilian Juninho's ability to create in the midfield could prove to be the big difference this season.
8 Chicago Fire (17-11-6)
The Fire completely worked its midfield, acquiring Jeff Larentowicz, Joel Lindpere and Dilly Duka in the offseason to give Frank Klopas' side a new look in the heart of its formation. The attacking duo of Sherjill MacDonald and Chris Rolfe returns, though, along with a completely intact back line that still features German veteran Arne Freidrich and 2012 Rookie of the Year Austin Berry. Like in 2012, Chicago is a daunting side on paper, but it has to show that it can tangle with the league's best on a consistent basis, something that did not occur a season ago.
9 Real Salt Lake (17-11-6)
There is a bit of a changing of the guard at Rio Tinto Stadium. Gone are veterans Olave, Espindola and Will Johnson. RSL has eager replacements in waiting like Chris Schuler, returning forward Robbie Findley and U.S. U-20 star Luis Gil, but even with the club's stated intentions at making another run at MLS Cup it would only be natural for there to be somewhat of a dropoff given the personnel losses. As long as captain Kyle Beckerman, goalkeeper Nick Rimando, forward Alvaro Saborio and playmaker Javier Morales are healthy and in form, RSL will be able to compete with anyone.
10 Vancouver Whitecaps (11-13-10)
Vancouver quietly had a top-notch offseason, concluding with a swoop for Japanese playmaker Daigo Kobayashi, young Honduran defender Johnny Leveron and Premier League veteran midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker. The club addressed its weaknesses and depth needs across the aging back line, possesses plenty of attacking prowess with second-year phenom Darren Mattocks leading the charge and is line to take a step forward after making the postseason in just its second year.
11 Columbus Crew (15-12-7)
The Crew missed out on the playoffs by one point last season, and having Federico Higuain and Jairo Arrieta for a full season bodes well for the team's chances at making sure that does not happen again. The two provided a midseason spark that made Crew matches entertaining and thrilling affairs, but manager Robert Warzycha will need more from his supporting cast to ensure a return to success. Other additions like midfielder Matias Sanchez, speedy winger/forward Dominic Oduro and center back Glauber will each need to make a vital impact to carry this team forward.
12 Portland Timbers (8-16-10)
The Caleb Porter era kicks off in the Rose City, with the coach and his players having everything to prove for a fanbase just dying to support a winner. Shrewd acquisitions like Diego Valeri, Ryan Johnson and newly minted captain Will Johnson, along with the signing of veteran defender Mikael Silvestre, give the Timbers an improved outlook in what is going to be an important year for one of the most boldly supported clubs in the league.
13 FC Dallas (9-13-12)
Brek Shea is off to Stoke City, but FC Dallas wasted little time in spending some of the money it received for his transfer, acquiring lumbering forwards Kenny Cooper and Eric Hassli to add to a front line that already boasted Panamanian star Blas Perez. Shea wasn't the only key figure to leave Dallas, either. Veteran goalkeeper Kevin Hartman is also out (and shockingly has not found his way to another MLS roster), as is DP midfielder Julian de Guzman. A breakout season from Colombian Fabian Castillo and a fully healthy campaign from David Ferreira would go a long way in getting FCD back to the postseason.
14 Philadelphia Union (10-18-6)
Suffice it to say, things are way more stable in Union camp now than they were entering last season, which began in a tailspin and didn't get corrected until it was way too late. The return of Sebastian Le Toux combined with the acquisition of seasoned veterans Conor Casey and Jeff Parke and extra seasoning for the club's young core make Philadelphia an improved side. Losing captain and center back Carlos Valdes to Independiente Santa Fe for the year is a definite blow, though, and the Freddy Adu situation has to be dealt with, as he is eating up a giant chunk of the club's salary cap while not being in manager John Hackworth's plans.
15 Colorado Rapids (11-19-4)
There was so much turnover in Colorado that it's hard to see the Rapids meshing from the start and really knowing what they have until Edson Buddle, Martin Rivero and Jaime Castrillon are fully ready to contribute. On paper, Colorado has the makings of a team prepared to return to the postseason, but it may take a little while for this club to sort out its personnel while turning the page on the era of MLS Cup-winning stars Casey, Cummings and Larentowicz.
16 Montreal Impact (12-16-6)
There was not a whole lot of change personnel wise on the field for the Impact, but a major shift involved jettisoning coach Jesse Marsch after one season in favor of Marco Schallibaum. Foreign coaches have not had the greatest track record in MLS, especially those without prior experience with or knowledge of the North American game. Schallibaum has a talented second-year team with which to work, but there is sure to be a learning curve for him and his staff.
17 New England Revolution (9-17-8)
The Revolution won't have the services of Saer Sene as he recovers from his torn ACL suffered in late August, meaning all the pressure falls on Honduran forward Jerry Bengtson to deliver the scoring punch. Andy Dorman's return to the midfield after his European odyssey is a welcome addition for Jay Heaps, and No. 1 overall SuperDraft pick Andrew Farrell will be looked upon to help solidify what has been a shaky back line in recent seasons.
18 Chivas USA (7-18-9)
The Chelis Era should be an entertaining and revealing one if nothing else. The club's roster purge and mass signings of players with Hispanic origin has made Chivas one of the more unique stories of the offseason, and if the club's bold, if not brazen, experiment happens to work, then it will be an amazing accomplishment. It's hard to see this roster making waves in a stacked Western Conference, though, and it may be on goalkeeper Dan Kennedy's shoulders to help the club accumulate points during the transition period.
19 Toronto FC (5-21-8)
If it seems as if Toronto FC is perpetually building from the ground up, it's because it is. There is reason for optimism north of the border given some acquisitions and departures that have freed up salary space and some of the new energy surrounding the club, but the first season of the Kevin Payne/Ryan Nelsen era is going to require patience from a fan base that is running quite thin on its supply.
 
 
SI.com
Hot Topics: Sammy Watkins NFL Draft Rick Adelman NFL Questions Aaron Hernandez Donald Trump
TM & © 2014 Time Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved. Terms under which this service is provided to you. Read our privacy guidelines and ad choices.
SI CoverRead All ArticlesBuy Cover Reprint