The MLS Watchability Rankings are back for a third time. The league has gained a team (welcome, Charlotte FC!) and this season has been fun, fast and chaotic.
There are a lot of games in MLS. So these highly subjective, very unscientific rankings, based on the elusive, nebulous “watchability” factor, can help the decision-making process when a handful of games overlap on a Saturday. One important note: this list is not based exclusively on quality – a team can be watchable while not actually being competent.
Here’s the list, from worst to first.
28) Vancouver Whitecaps
Somebody had to be last. Last year’s VIBES team completely lost their magic after a feelgood run to the playoffs. But there’s ample reason to watch even the bottom team on this list, thanks to Ryan Gauld, once dubbed the Scottish Messi by the media, and Brian White, once dubbed the New Jersey Mario Gomez by, well, me.
27) Toronto FC
Injuries have exacerbated problems on a roster already harmed by a rash of bad contracts. Not even 2020 MLS MVP Alejandro Pozuelo and legendary USMNT father-son duo Bob and Michael Bradley move the needle enough, yet*.
*Important caveat: Italian star Lorenzo Insigne joins in July. He should make TFC a lot more entertaining.
26) Columbus Crew
The Crew’s attack is painfully methodical and, whenever Lucas Zelarayan has been unavailable, almost unwatchable. Zelarayan’s penchant for goals from distance (and a shoot-on-sight policy) moves the Crew up a bit. They aim to sign a legitimate big-time center-forward this summer, though.
25) Sporting KC
On one hand, you have a defensive spine weakened by injury and age, which leads to open games. On the other, SKC’s attack hasn’t been able to keep them competitive. Goals don’t always equal great games, particularly if they’re one-sided. Bonus points for Peter Vermes being the most gif-able manager in the league.
24) Minnesota United
Emanuel Reynoso is an elite No 10 in this league. He’s among the smoothest creators, and has next-level vision. The problem? Minnesota have failed to pair him with an above-average forward, so it’s truly a one-man show. Allianz Field, hosting the MLS All-Star Game in August, is a delight.
23) Chicago Fire
Xherdan Shaqiri does not yet look like the player he was even 12 months ago, which wasn’t near what he was 24 months ago playing a regular squad role with Liverpool. Still, his star power and potential to produce a golazo makes me keep coming back. The Fire also have rising American teenage keeper Gaga Slonina, who will be bought by a European club soon.
22) DC United
Taxi Fountas is a star, and does a lot of heavy lifting here. Julian Gressel is a nonstop, effervescent force at wingback. Unfortunately, even after firing head coach Hernan Losada, a fondness for all out, car crash soccer remains. And they’re not as successful as the other teams who have little interest in building via possession.
21) Real Salt Lake
Quotes from head coach Pablo Mastroeni are always philosophical and the team follows his vibe. After getting the full-time job, he said: “I don’t look at it like a profession. For me, it’s a way of life. And it’s also my sanctuary. It’s also my religion. It’s everything.”
Can’t beat that.
20) Inter Miami
Star power typically plays well here, but Miami are infinitely more watchable when Gonzalo Higuain is on the bench rather than walking around the center circle yelling at everybody for whatever he believes to be subpar (everything). Miami’s second team has a whiff of nepotism about it, with Romeo Beckham and Harvey Neville playing key roles, but you could argue it gives the team a little extra glamor.
19) New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls are good! And John Tolkin is a cult hero! Their boringly excellent defense and lack of a killer No 9 leaves can make for dull games.
18) Nashville SC
A beautiful new stadium with wonderfully loud fans, and the underused yellow as a primary color, helps. On the field? Nashville’s identity is gritty and defense-minded, which resulted in great success to significantly less fanfare than Inter Miami last season. But it isn’t free-flowing, open soccer, despite Hany Mukhtar’s individual excellence.
17) Houston Dynamo
The Houston Dynamo resurgence is well underway after the team had become stuck in obscurity seemingly for years. New ownership, a competitive team and Mexico star Hector Herrera joining in July? That’s good. Full orange kits are nice to break up the black/white hegemony, too.
16) New England Revolution
Reigning MLS MVP Carles Gil is a menace, one of a handful of extremely talented and aesthetic No 10s in this league. Adam Buksa is Poland’s likely partner to Robert Lewandowski at the World Cup(!). Bruce Arena’s involuntary comedy on the sidelines is incredible.
15) Portland Timbers
One of the teams most cursed with injury luck in recent years, the best version of the Portland Timbers is the one that made MLS Cup last year. But “best version” has been elusive, with star attacker Sebastian Blanco rarely able to start in 2022 and further injuries complicating matters.
14) Colorado Rapids
Smack-dab in the middle feels about right for the Rapids. They’re too good and well coached to not watch, but they lack the high-end star power to truly pop. Mark-Anthony Kaye is criminally underrated and the Lalas Abubakar experience is controlled chaos.
13) Orlando City
Orlando are fun because you don’t know which version you’re going to get. They are challenging in the East despite having the second worst expected goal difference. They have great wins and abysmal losses, with high-end talent in Uruguay international Facundo Torres and former Brazil international Alexandre Pato.
12) LA Galaxy
Chicharito is still very good and – a surprise to many US fans who watched him terrorize their team with Mexico – extremely likable and easy to root for. He’s been a one-man show in attack, though, with his co-stars failing to pick up the slack. If Douglas Costa lives up to expectations, this could be a top-tier team.
11) Charlotte FC
The newest club in MLS, and the intrigue factor is high. Head coach Miguel Angel Ramirez infamously gave a quote before the season, translated from Spanish, saying “we’re screwed!”, but Charlotte have been competitive. Ramirez’s sideline mannerisms are Pep Guardiola-like (and not just because they’re both bald, Spanish managers).
10) FC Dallas
Dallas have some legit ballers (hello, Alan Velasco!). They also do a decent impersonation of the USMNT: former national team assistant Nico Estevez runs similar tactics, with USA regulars Jesus Ferreira and Paul Arriola thriving. FCD’s stadium/atmosphere doesn’t do much to help their case on the fringes, though.
9) Philadelphia Union
Jose Martinez is a must-watch: an eccentric defensive midfielder hardman born for the spotlight. Admittedly, pointing immediately to a DM isn’t the strongest case for a team’s excitement, but Philly are still fun. Jim Curtin’s burgeoning sneaker game on the touchline, youth development and delightful blue-and-yellow kits help a lot, too.
8) CF Montreal
The artists formerly known as the Montreal Impact play an uptempo 3-4-2-1 with Djordje Mihailovic thriving in the half-space in attack. Mix in some excellent Victor Wanyama play here, rising teenage Canadian international Ismael Kone there, and it’s a smooth blend.
7) Austin FC
Where else in the world can you get Matthew McConaughey in a verde green suit, strapped with his infamous djembe drum? Nowhere. Absolutely nowhere. On the field, the team are aggressive and try to be ball-dominant and intricate in attack, led by MVP candidate Sebastian Driussi.
6) Seattle Sounders
Fresh off their Concacaf Champions League title, 2022 is a success for Seattle no matter what. While (correctly) prioritizing that competition, they dug a bit of a hole in league play. So, the onus is on the Sounders to chase teams ahead of them and pick up points. As always, Seattle have perhaps the best atmosphere in MLS and kits that are quickly becoming beloved.
5) FC Cincinnati
Finally, Cincy’s three-year dynasty of “worst team in MLS” is coming to an end. They’re fun! And pretty good! Maybe! The defense is still extremely suspect, but the team press high and games routinely open up. They currently lead the league in expected goals for plus expected goals against. And Lucho Acosta is a joy.
4) San Jose Earthquakes
Coach Matias Almeyda is gone, but the Quakes still can’t take away the pure, uncut kilos of chaos they are so addicted to. Tactics are at least normal now, but Francisco Calvo’s positioning remains an absolute trip. Cade Cowell’s flow, a suspect defense and talented attack add up for fun West Coast action.
3) Atlanta United
Atlanta United are a fascinating case study for watchability. The league’s all-time most expensive signing, Thiago Almada, and Luiz Araujo in attack. At the other end, goalkeeper (Brad Guzan), star center-back (Miles Robinson) and the team’s only true defensive midfielder (Ozzie Alonso) are out with season-ending injuries. That’s a must-watch combo.
Back to winning ways, with LAFC’s attack-minded, high-energy ethos in full force under a new head coach and core. The kits are lovely and there is a wonderful home atmosphere, with a pregame ritual in which a different special guest (such as Will Ferrell) releases a falcon to fly around the stadium to hype up the crowd. If only Carlos Vela could stay consistently healthy.
1) NYC FC
NYC FC are capable of the most beautiful soccer in MLS when everything goes right for them. In possession, high-pressing or in transition, they do it all. Taty Castellanos is electric and Talles Magno is a potential Brazil international. All this in spite of playing home games at Yankee Stadium, which isn’t exactly ideal for football romantics.