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Major League Soccer's first kick of 2011 is just hours away, and there's no better time to reveal SBI's MLS Power Rankings heading into the new season.
Some of last year's disappointments have made quite the impression during the offseason, as D.C. United and the Houston Dynamo both crack the top 10 after revamping their rosters in an effort to return to the postseason.
Sitting atop the initial rankings is Real Salt Lake, a team favored by many to make a deep postseason run and perhaps secure its second MLS Cup in three years. There's a reason they play the games, though, and there are a number of very talented teams in the waiting, eager to capture the top spot MLS.
Here are the SBI Power Rankings (as voted by members of the SBI staff):
SBI MLS POWER RANKINGS
1. REAL SALT LAKE
Last season's record: 15-4-11, second in West
This week: 3/19 at San Jose Earthquakes, 10:30 p.m.
Outlook: Perhaps the league's most deep and balanced team in the league, RSL is challenging for a championship on as many as three fronts this season.
2. LOS ANGELES GALAXY
Last season's record: 18-7-5, first in West
This week: 3/15, at Seattle Sounders, 9:30 p.m., ESPN/ESPN3.com
Outlook: With Juan Pablo Angel replacing Edson Buddle, David Beckham at full fitness and Landon Donovan rested and ready to go, the Galaxy's high-powered attack shouldn't miss a beat in 2011.
3. NEW YORK RED BULLS
Last season's record: 15-9-6, first in East
This week: 3/19 vs. Seattle Sounders, 7:30 p.m.
Outlook: With a healthy Thierry Henry leading the way, more European influence in the midfield and Rafael Marquez and Tim Ream partnering in central defense, the Red Bulls are the favorites to capture the East again.
T-4. FC DALLAS
Last season's record: 12-4-14, third in West, MLS Cup finalst
This week: 3/19 vs. Chicago Fire, 8:30 p.m.
Outlook: A number of young players will have to step up in the absence of Dax McCarty, Heath Pearce and Jeff Cunningham, but Schellas Hyndman has some intriguing replacements in Eric Alexander, Zach Loyd and Fabian Castillo, who will try and lead FCD back to MLS Cup.
T-4. SEATTLE SOUNDERS
Last season's record: 14-10-6, fourth in West
This week: 3/15 vs. Los Angeles Galaxy, 9:30 p.m., ESPN/ESPN3.com
Outlook: Is this the year it all comes together for the Sounders? With an attacking nucleus of Fredy Montero, Steve Zakuani and Blaise Nkufo and the return of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado to centerback, it very well could be.
6. COLORADO RAPIDS
Last season's record: 12-8-10, fifth in West, MLS Cup champions
This week: 3/19 vs. Portland Timbers, 9 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel
Outlook: The MLS Cup champions are not getting a whole lot of love entering their title defense, but Gary Smith's side boasts the same starting XI as the one that shocked the league in 2010.
7. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES
Last season's record: 13-10-7, sixth in West
This week: 3/19 vs. Real Salt Lake, 10:30 p.m.
Outlook: All eyes will be on Chris Wondolowski, to see if he can replicate his Golden Boot-winning feat from a year ago. Perhaps more significant to the Quakes this season, though, is the return of centerback Ike Opara from a broken foot.
T-8. HOUSTON DYNAMO
Last season's record: 9-15-6, seventh in West
This week: 3/19, vs. Philadelphia Union, 8:30 p.m.
Outlook: The Dynamo added a bunch of pieces in Will Bruin, Kofi Sarkodie, Jermaine Taylor and Hunter Freeman in the hopes of proving that 2010 was an anomaly. The bad news for the club: Brian Ching already has a hamstring injury.
T-8. D.C. UNITED
Last season's record: 6-20-4, eighth in East
This week: 3/19, vs. Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.
Outlook: No team did more to improve itself in the offseason than D.C., which acquired the likes of Dax McCarty, Charlie Davies and Perry Kitchen to give first-year coach Ben Olsen the tools necessary to get the team out of the league's cellar and back in the limelight.
10. SPORTING KANSAS CITY
Last season's record: 11-13-6, third in East
This week: 3/19 at Chivas USA, 10:30 p.m.
Outlook: Expectations are raised a bit in Kansas City, with the arrival of DP striker Omar Bravo, the emergence of forward Teal Bunbury and the opening of a brand new soccer-specific stadium, which will open this summer. How the team navigates its 10-game, season-opening road trip will go a long way in determining its fate in 2011.
11. PHILADELPHIA UNION
Last season's record: 8-15-7, seventh in East
This week: 3/19 at Houston Dynamo, 8:30 p.m.
Outlook: With Faryd Mondragon anchoring things in goal and pieces like Carlos Ruiz, Brian Carroll and Chris Agorsor brought into the fold, the Union should improve on its expansion season and contend for a playoff berth.
12. COLUMBUS CREW
Last season's record: 14-8-8, second in East
This week: 3/19 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.
Outlook: Gone are Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Frankie Hejduk, Brian Carroll and Steven Lenhart, just to name a few. In order for the Crew to not fall off the map completely, Robbie Rogers, Eddie Gaven, Andres Mendoza and Jeff Cunningham will have to assume bigger roles.
13. CHIVAS USA
Last season's record: 8-18-4, eighth in West
This week: 3/19 vs. Sporting Kansas City, 10:30 p.m.
Outlook: Robin Fraser's influence on the team can already be felt, as the renovated back line includes Heath Pearce, Jimmy Conrad, Zarek Valentin and Seth Owusu. The lack of goal scorers up top, especially while Justin Braun regains fitness from a January Achilles' injury, is the real issue for the Goats.
14. PORTLAND TIMBERS
Last season's record: N/A
This week: 3/19 at Colorado Rapids, 9 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel
Outlook: The Timbers should be one of the more entertaining teams in the league, with Kenny Cooper, Jorge Perlaza and Darlington Nagbe leading the attack. Questions linger in defense, but the Timbers shouldn't be a pushover in their expansion year.
15. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
Last season's record: 9-16-5, sixth in East
This week: 3/20 at Los Angeles Galaxy, 8 p.m., Telefutura
Outlook: The Revolution missed the playoffs for the first time in Steve Nicol's tenure as coach in 2010, and the club hopes that acquisitions like A.J. Soares, Ousmane Dabo and Didier Domi and a rejuvenated Shalrie Joseph can help right the ship in 2011. Rumors of a DP forward signing are flying around, but goals may be hard to come by in New England.
16. CHICAGO FIRE
Last season's record: 9-12-9, fourth in East
This week: 3/19 at FC Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Outlook: A bunch of underachieving big names were replaced with a number of unknown commodities, making Chicago very much a work in progress. Is Carlos de los Cobos' shift to a 3-5-2 the answer? Midfielder Marco Pappa and rookie centerback Jalil Anibaba are two players Fire fans can get excited about.
17. TORONTO FC
Last season's record: 9-13-8, fifth in East
This week: 3/19 at Vancouver Whitecaps, 6:30 p.m.
Outlook: Aron Winter's plan to bring Total Football north of the border might take some time to implement, especially with a young team still learning to play together. The Reds still boast one of the league's top overall talents in Dwayne De Rosario.
18. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
Last season's record: N/A
This week: 3/19 vs. Toronto FC, 6:30 p.m.
Outlook: The Whitecaps are built for the future, but with Jay DeMerit anchoring the back line in front of veteran goalkeeper Joe Cannon, the defense should be able to keep the expansion side in its games. Much depends on the ability of DP striker Eric Hassli to acclimate himself to MLS and produce immediately.