Who is Building a Dynasty in MLS as of 2018?

A little over a year ago, I asked Extra Time Radio : “What past MLS teams constituted dynasties?” (56th minute of the linked podcast if you want to hear their discussion). The consensus was that the 1996 – 1999 DC United (3 MLS Cups, 2 Supporter’s Shields and 1 US Open Cup) and the 2010 – 2014 LA Galxy teams (3 MLS Cups, and 2 Supporter’s Shield) were definitely dynasties. Teams that come close were 2009-2016 Seattle Sounders (1 MLS Cup, 1 Supporter’s Shield and 4 US Open Cups), 1998-2000 Chicago Fire (1 MLS Cup, 2 US Open Cups), and the 2012 – 2017 Sporting Kansas City (1 MLS Cup, 3 US Open Cups).

Since then, whether a team is building a dynasty or not has been a recurrent discussion on the show. Here I am going to look at what teams have won trophies over the last few years and rank how close each team is to becoming an MLS Dynasty. My *loose* definition for an MLS Dynasty, based on the two examples given above, has six qualifications:

1. It spans 5 seasons (You could talk me into 4 being enough)

2. The team wins 1 trophy or more per year on average.

3. At least one of those trophies has to be MLS Cup.

4. The team has to win a trophy in a majority of their dynasty years.

5. The dynasty has to begin and end in years where the team won a trophy.

6. The team has a core set of key players that are present for most of the dynasty

This definition excludes the teams above that were close: 2009-2016 Seattle Sounders had 6 trophies over 8 years (Less than 1 trophy per year), 1998-2000 Chicago Fire had 3 trophies over 3 years (not long enough), and the 2012-2017 Sporting Kansas City had 4 trophies over 6 years (Less than 1 trophy per year). You’ll see below why I included the fourth and fifth criteria.

The sixth criteria comes from the ExtraTime Radio discussion. When one thinks of a dynasty, one usually thinks of certain figures who lead said dynasty. These can be a coach and/or a few players. If a team, somehow, met every other requirement while shipping big players in and out every year without a semblance of continuity, then perhaps they could still be considered a dynasty. But I highly doubt that would be possible. For example, the New England Patriots of the NFL, a league with massive year-to-year turnover, have had Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at the center of their success.

A few more ground rules for the sake of this discussion:

  • Due to the 4/5 year requirement, I will only be looking as far back as 2015.
  • Only teams that have won trophies will even be mentioned.
  • Only MLS Cup, US Open Cup, Supporter’s Shield and the Canadian Championship are being considered as relevant trophies. If an MLS team were to win CONCACAF Champions League, that would also be considered. I am not counting what I’ll refer to as “Rivalry Trophies” such as The Cascadia Cup, the Atlantic Cup, etc. Some teams have more rivalries with trophies on the line than others and so it doesn’t seem fair to count those towards these rankings. Plus rivalries games tend to be a coin flip even if one team is having a bad year, so they aren’t a great indication of success. If someone can convince me otherwise I am open to listening to your argument.

Honorable Mentions

Vancouver Whitecaps (1 Canadian Championship in 2015), Portland Timbers (1 MLS Cup in 2015), Seattle Sounders (1 MLS Cup in 2016), FC Dallas (1 Supporter’s Shield and 1 US Open Cup both in 2016)

These teams have all won a trophy in the last four years, but their opportunities to add to the trophy case and create an argument for a dynasty have come and gone. I realize Seattle or Dallas could still win trophies next year and their 2016 trophies would still be within a four/five year times span. So let’s imagine either team were to win the 2019 treble (2019 MLS Cup, Supporter’s Shield, and US Open Cup). Then they would technically have 4 years where they won 4+ trophies, and at least one of the trophies would be MLS Cup, meeting my first three criteria set above. However, for a team to win 2 sets of trophies with a two year gap in the middle doesn’t feel like a dynasty. This is why I added the fourth criterion that a team has to win trophies in a majority of the years during their dynasty. Of course If they won any trophy in 2020 after getting the treble in 2019 then that’s a new discussion. However, if they did win 3 trophies in 2019 and 1 trophy in 2020, then the 2016 trophy probably shouldn’t be included in their years as a dynasty. That is, it seems deceptive to include the 2016 trophy and say “they won 5 trophies over the course of 5 years” when there were two trophy-less years. Dallas are in the same boat as Seattle here.

5. Sporting Kansas City (2 US Open Cups one in 2015 and one in 2017)

SKC were close to boosting their Dynasty status with an MLS Cup victory this year. Their 2015 US Open Cup victory will become more or less irrelevant come the start of next season. If SKC want their 2017 US Open Cup to be included in a dynasty they’ll need some silverware next year. Kansas City are usually in contention for a trophy or two so I think they have a chance to do so.

4. Houston Dynamo (1 US Open Cup in 2018)

At least Houston have the potential for consecutive trophy years. However, considering that Houston is currently the lowest spending team in the league, and this was their first trophy since 2007, I won’t be holding my breath. They only edge out SKC by winning a trophy this year rather than last year

3. New York Red Bulls (2 Supporter’s Shields one in 2018, one in 2015)

The Red Bulls are in a similar place to SKC, two recent non-MLS Cup trophies and just missing MLS Cup this year. They get the edge over SKC due to winning a trophy this year as opposed to last year. Of recent, the red side of New York have been Would-Be-Kings: losing in the US Open Cup Final in 2017 to Sporting Kansas City, losing in the playoffs last year on away goals to eventual champions Toronto FC, losing in the semi-final of CONCACAF Champions League against Chivas earlier in 2018, and losing the Eastern Conference Championship not long ago to Atlanta United. If the Red Bulls caught a few more lucky breaks they would be sitting on 4 more trophies over the last 2 years. Alas, the same could be said for many of these teams. Since the Red Bulls haven’t missed the playoffs since 2007, I suspect they have a decent chance to add to their trophy case next year.

2. Atlanta United (1 MLS Cup in 2018)

There’s definitely something special going on in Atlanta. The Five Stripes place higher than the previous teams ranked because they already have MLS Cup in their possession and that is the one essential trophy. While Atlanta’s spending suggests that they could have a dynasty in the making, Head Coach Tata Martino is leaving and it seems talisman Almiron may also leave this winter. Assuming the rumors of their respective departures are true, I am interested to see how the team replaces those two. If they nail those replacements, which seems likely, then they may have a dynasty-in-the-making. Atlanta are the only team that could really challenge this 6th criteria I added above. But even after losing Tata, Almiron, and Garza, the team still has key players like Martinez, (likely) Parkhurst, Nagbe, and Pirez on the books for next year. So they still have some level of continuity, and still meet the 6th criteria.

1. Tornto FC (1 MLS Cup, 1 Supporter’s Shield, 3 Canadian Championships since 2016)

As of 2018, Toronto are easily the closest team to a building an MLS Dynasty. Currently, Toronto have 5 trophies over the course of 3 years. While it is tempting to extend their dynasty backward/forward 2 years in order to meet the 5 year requirement it would violate the 5th criteria I included. It doesn’t really make sense to count a year at the beginning and/or end where a trophy was not won. Therefore, I would not call them a dynasty right now. Any trophy won in 2019 and/or 2020 would change that. I’m also not totally against a dynasty that lasts only 4 years. Toronto definitely meet the 6th criteria as Bradley, Jozy, and Giovinco were centerpieces of this team for the last 3 years.

There are those who would devalue the Canadian Championship because it is “easier to win” than the US Open Cup. I don’t like this argument but I have to admit there is some logic to it. In 2018, there were 20 MLS teams and 22 USL teams that competed for the US Open Cup. Meanwhile there were 3 MLS teams and 1 USL team that competed for the Canadian Championship. That’s a 1/42 chance of any team winning US Open Cup vs. a 1/4 chance of any team winning the Canadian Championship. That being said, a trophy is a trophy is a trophy. For now I weigh the Canadian Championship as much as the US Open Cup.

That’s all I have for now! Let me know if you have any questions about my definition/ranking. I am more than willing to have a nice, level-headed discussion about it 🙂

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Who takes over after Brady?

I hate to break it to you Patriots fans, but Tom Brady can’t play forever. The legendary New England quarterback is in his 16th year in the league, and while he hasn’t shown signs of slowing down, at age 39, you have to think he will be looking to hang up those cleats in the next 2-3 years.

Tom_Brady
Brady surpassed Peyton Manning’s record of 200 career wins this season. (Wikimedia Commons)

With Brady being the undisputed (or as close as you can ever get to undisputed in sports) best quarterback in the league, his eventual retirement will open the door for someone else to take that crown.

Brady represents the end of a very dominant era, where he and Peyton Manning rewrote the record books practically every year. They squared off in some of the most memorable games of the last decade and consistently drew in viewers whenever the two matched up. Manning is already gone and with Brady set to follow in the near future, who exactly will step up to fill the void.

It is kind of hard to say. The iconic 2004 draft class of quarterbacks featuring Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers likely still have a few more years in them. However, Rivers turned 35 today, Roethlisberger will be 35 in March and Eli Manning turns 36 in January. That group likely won’t be around for a whole lot longer to constitute an era or start an awe-inspiring rivalry. Most of their time in the league will be remembered as part of the legendary Brady-Peyton era.

Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers has an MVP award and a Super Bowl ring to his name since taking over for Brett Favre in Green Bay. (Wikimedia Commons)

You next look to Aaron Rodgers, who joined the league in 2005. Rodgers just turned 33 last week, so he might be able to hang around a little longer than the three I just mentioned. However, he might have already started showing signs of slowing down with his rocky start to 2016. I could see Rodgers having a three-year run as the unquestioned top signal-caller. He might be the best-suited to succeed Brady in the short term. Keep in mind that even though this is his 12th NFL season, Rodgers did not start his first three years in the league, so he might have a bit more left in the tank than we think.

After Rodgers, well I’m kind of stuck. Drew Brees is a Hall of Famer, but approaching 38, I’m not expecting him to take over. Carson Palmer is on his way out as well. As will Alex Smith.

There is an interesting crop of three quarterbacks that offer some intrigue. Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton all bring a lot to the table. All three of them are 28 years old or younger, all three are rather mobile and all three have the ability to take over a football game.

The major knocks against Newton are his ball security and his completion percentage. For his career, Newton sits at around 59 percent through almost 6 seasons. While he may be a huge asset with his legs, he is prone to fumbling and trying to do too much with the ball, often leading to mistakes. Another big red flag is that despite tossing 35 touchdowns in 2015, it is the only season he has thrown more than 25 scores. This year, he has just 14 through 12 games. Those numbers don’t exactly scream elite.

Luck was named the heir apparent to the NFL quarterback throne around his junior year of college. He started with two solid campaigns, followed by an outstanding 2014, only to fall into a weird funk for the last year and a half. 2015 was a lost season for Luck as he only played 7 games and likely played all of them hurt. The big knock against him has to be his lackluster completion percentage, which is only fractionally better than Newton’s. He also has a tendency for interceptions, with 63 picks in 66 career games. Part of that is due to the amount of pressure he faces. Luck is the most sacked quarterback in the league despite missing a game already this year. Luck is actually trending up after the last few weeks we’ve seen him play. Even though he has a poor supporting cast, Luck has failed to live up to Manning-sized expectations laid on him back in 2012.

Russell_Wilson_with_Lombardi_Trophy
Wilson has already played in two Super Bowls, winning one. (Wikimedia Commons)

Then there is Wilson. He already has a Super Bowl ring. Point all you want to a great run game and defense, but that’s a good chunk of why Brady got his first three rings. Of these three, he seems the most poised to take the throne. Wilson has only 39 interceptions in 72 career games. He is closing in on his second consecutive 4,000-yard season and his career completion percentage is around 65 percent. However, when Wilson is off, he is really off. In Seattle’s three losses this year, he has thrown zero touchdowns, three picks and has a yards per attempt average under 6.5. If I had to pick someone long term when it comes to taking up the quarterback mantel, it would be Wilson. He already has that championship background and I could see him getting more.

And he might just have a West Coast rival to deal with as well. There are a number of intriguing young quaterbacks in the league right now in Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott. Long term, we might see a really fun rivalry between Prescott and Wentz, both being in the NFC East. However, there is one young quarterback that stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Derek Carr
Carr was the fourth quarterback in the 2014 draft, but looks to be the best one selected that year. (Wikimedia Commons)

Derek Carr is in the midst of an MVP-caliber season. At only 25 years old, Carr has been lighting up NFL defenses all year long. He launched 32 touchdown passes a year ago, in just his second NFL season and threw for just shy of 4,000 yards. This year though, Carr is set to break that 4,000-yard mark and throw for close to 32 touchdowns again. What is more impressive though is the increased completion percentage and absence of turnovers. The young Raiders quarterback has only thrown five interceptions this year and raised his completion percentage four plus points to a healthy 65.5 percent. This is just one year for Carr, but based on the jump he has made in each of his first two seasons, I am beginning to think that this kid is for real.

I would be remiss not to mention Matt Ryan in this conversation. Ryan is in the midst of a career year at age 31. He is on pace to set career highs in completion percentage, passing touchdowns and yards per attempt as well as set a personal best for fewest interceptions thrown. If Carr is considered an MVP candidate, Ryan certainly has to be in the mix. He currently sits second in passing yards and passer rating, third in touchdowns, fourth in completion percentage and leads the league in yards per attempt. Given that he has a host of offensive weapons and a young offensive line, Ryan is set to play at a high level for the next several years. The tough thing is figuring out if 2016 is an anomaly based on his normal level of play or a sign of things to come. Also, if Brady hangs on for three more years, Ryan will already be 34 himself and running out of time to capture the league’s attention.

The world without Brady is kind of hazy and there is no telling if we will ever see the type of rivalry we saw between he and Manning. The league seems to be running out of elite quarterbacks, but we will have to wait and see who steps up to the plate in the next few years.

Chill on Dak Prescott

Everyone just relax. No seriously, take a deep breath and stop calling him the second coming of Tom Brady. The NFL world has exploded over the past month as Dak Prescott tortured NFL defenses during the preseason. His emergence in his first three preseason games was impressive, but not indicative of anything.

dak-prescott
Prescott is a fourth round pick from Mississippi State. (Wikimedia Commons)

To start with, it was three preseason games where he played about half of each one. None of these games count for anything. Prescott also played most of the second game against Miami’s backups on defense. Defenses aren’t sending full blitz packages, coverage schemes are still being implemented and top defensive stars likely aren’t even playing. So yes, while the performance was impressive, it has to be taken with a grain of salt.

Looking past that, Prescott was never going to touch the field in the regular season unless Tony Romo got injured. This was not a quarterback competition. Romo is in no danger of losing his starting job once he is fully healthy. One day we might see Prescott as the preferred starter under center, but it won’t be until Romo retires or leaves Dallas.

And even when we do see him play, we don’t have any guarantee that he will put up the same video game-like numbers we saw during the preseason. Odds are, he will be outplayed by his New York counterpart Eli Manning. Prescott’s sample size is tiny and that should be a red flag to anyone proclaiming him as the next great quarterback. This article I found today from CBS Sports is already calling Prescott a future Super Bowl-winning passer. He hasn’t played a snap of a regular season game yet!

And what even more people seem to forget is that this is Tony Romo we are talking about. The same guy who was an MVP candidate in 2014 and lead Dallas to the divisional round of the playoffs. You know, Romo, who has over 34,000 career passing yards and 247 career touchdown passes, both franchise records. This is the same team that Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach played for I will remind you. Tony Romo is right on the cusp of being a Hall of Famer. His numbers are better than those of Staubach and Aikman who are both in Canton. You don’t just kick your Pro Bowl quarterback to the curb because a rookie has a couple of impressive preseason games.

Tony_Romo
Romo is out several week with a broken bone in his back. (Wikimedia Commons)

This article is not just so I can hate on Dak Prescott. In fact, with the pieces that are around him, I do think Prescott has a bright future. He has shown flashes of brilliance, shows that he has most of the physical tools to play the position at a high level and he is on a team with a recipe for him to be successful. Between that stellar offensive line and fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott, Prescott has some nice pieces to grow with and compliment him. Hopefully, by the time he takes over as the starter, (if we reach that point) the Cowboys will have found another receiver to either aid or replace Dez Bryant.

Prescott will be under center Sunday for Dallas as they take on the Giants. New York had the worst statistical defense in the league a year ago, so this might be the perfect way to east him into regular season football. But even if does have a great game against the Giants, let’s hold off on anointing him a Hall of Famer until maybe he finishes his first season in the pros.

NBA balance of power has flipped

Hassan Whiteside
Whiteside leads the NBA with 4 blocks per game.

We are nearing the halfway point in the NBA season and certain things are abundantly clear. The Warriors are the best team in the NBA. The 76ers are still terrible. Oh and don’t try shooting near Hassan Whiteside. Those were pretty much expected coming into the season, but we have seen an interesting flip between the Eastern and Western conferences.

In years past, the East has been top heavy while the West has been a gauntlet. You could say with almost certainty which teams from the East would be in the conference final while the West was a toss up. This year has been a bit backwards. The teams in the Eastern Conference are all clumped together while the West is very spread out. Every team in a playoff spot for the East has a winning record, but the seventh and eighth seeds in the West are below .500.

The Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic are currently tied for the final spot in the Eastern conference playoffs. They sit just 5.5 games behind the Cavaliers, who are on top of the conference. The Utah Jazz have a losing record but hold the last spot in the Western Conference playoff picture. They sit 16.5 games behind the first place Warriors.

To further the point, the Oklahoma City Thunder missed the playoffs last season with a record of 45-37. That record would have made them the sixth seed in the East. The seventh-seeded Mavericks in the West had the same record as the third-seeded Bulls in the East. The Spurs were the sixth seed in the West but would’ve been second in the East. It was clear that the West was the much stronger of the conferences.

Sure it isn’t realistic to compare finishing spots across conferences, but they didn’t have inflated records because the bottom of the West was just that bad. The bottom of the East was actually worse.

The question now is why was there a switch. There weren’t too many big name free agents who left the West. The biggest ones were probably Aaron Afflalo, Robin Lopez and Monta Ellis. None of them are future Hall of Famers or even All-Stars for that matter.

New York Knicks
Lopez (8) and Porzingis (6) have been a part of a largely improved Knicks team from a season ago.

The draft has seemed to produce a couple of talented players. Kristaps Porzingis for the Knicks, Jahlil Okafor for the 76ers and Karl-Anthony Towns for the Timberwolves. None of those teams are even in the playoff picture though, so that doesn’t seem to explain it either.

Could it be that some trade deadline movements are finally starting to make an impact? Gorgan Dragic moved from Phoenix to Miami. Reggie Jackson also joined the Pistons from the Thunder. Thaddeus Young left Minnesota for Brooklyn. Boston landed Isiah Thomas in a deal with Phoenix. Thomas, Dragic and Jackson have all become very valuable pieces on their new teams.

There is no definite answer right now. The East has suddenly just turned itself around and become the more competitive of the two conferences. My best guess is that some combination of trades, draft picks and free agent signings combined have had some impact on the change. I really don’t think that explains it all.

It is still early enough that we could see the tables turn and the West could have a strong second half. To this point though, the East seems to be reigning supreme.

Dos Santos rumors show us what the “core player” can mean to growing MLS

Another stepping stone in the continued growth of MLS.

ProSoccerTalk

Major League Soccer’s limiting of three Designated Players per team is a tool to allow marquee players to join the league without crushing competitive balance too much, but will the new “core player” be the straw that breaks the camel’s back when it comes to parity?

If the first expected use of the “core player” tag is any indication, it’s a distinct possibility.

[ MLS: Power Rankings | Player, Team of the Week ]

If you missed it, Mexican star Giovani dos Santos could be headed to the dynasty that is the Los Angeles Galaxy. Winners of three titles in four years, Bruce Arena is about to add Dos Santos to a lineup that includes Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez and newcomer Steven Gerrard as DPs.

L.A. was already sixth in our power rankings with neither Gerrard nor Dos Santos, and the idea of an attack that could use…

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