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 By Jason Davis

Timbers, Columbus top the MLS Power Rankings ahead of 2016 season

ESPN FC's Alejandro Moreno and Mark Donaldson look ahead to the start of the MLS season, with the LA Galaxy appearing to be early title favourites.

The first edition of the 2016 Major League Soccer Power Rankings looks a lot like the final standings from the 2015 season, and for good reason.

If you don't include No. 1 -- Portland, who earned it with a championship -- the rest of the list turns mostly on how things shook out last year. But this being MLS, we'll find out quickly which teams can maintain a foundation laid in 2015, which teams will fall and which of the also-rans can climb up the ladder.

1. Portland Timbers

Top spot goes to the defending champs, as is only just and right. As the season opens, the biggest question around the Timbers is whether they'll start 2016 half as hot as they finished 2015.

2. Columbus Crew SC

Gregg Berhalter's team will surely enter the new year hungry for redemption after their flat performance in last year's final. All of the weapons are in place for another chance at glory.

3. New York Red Bulls

The Red Bulls lost young star Matt Miazga, but with a team-focused mentality and the leadership they possess across the squad, expect New York to be around the top of the standings all year long.

4. FC Dallas

The FC Dallas squad is still young, but that label can no longer be code for "unready." Last year proved that Oscar Pareja's side is on the verge of something special if it can keep the talented core intact.

5. Vancouver Whitecaps

Vancouver enters the year with significant expectations built on a 2015 campaign that probably didn't show all of their potential. The Caps need consistent goal scoring from Octavio Rivero and a breakout year from Kekuta Manneh to meet the bar.

6. LA Galaxy

A handful of big, somewhat aging, names have joined Steven Gerrard as part of Bruce Arena's rebuild of the Galaxy, and no one quite knows what that means yet. Can the Over the Hill Gang, MLS-style, get it done?

7. Seattle Sounders

With Obafemi Martins flipped for a profit to the Chinese Super League, more of the responsibility for the Sounders' fortunes this year now shift to Nelson Valdez and Jordan Morris. Morris, in particular, is going to face the spotlight.

8. Montreal Impact

No one team in the Power Rankings faces possible swings as dramatic as the Impact. If Didier Drogba is healthy, committed and managed well, Montreal is a contender. If not, it's anyone's guess where they finish.

9. Sporting Kansas City

Sporting suffered quite a bit due to bad luck and some underwhelming performances in what proved to be a disappointing season in 2015. This campaign hinges on finding goals from the forwards, the continued excellence of Benny Feilhaber and that old Sporting swagger appearing again.

10. New England Revolution

Everyone tapped the Revs for another run to MLS Cup last year. Alas, this is MLS, and Jay Heaps' team fell at the first hurdle to D.C. United. Now the task is adjusting to life without Jermaine Jones, no easy task.

Timbers players hoist the MLS Cup trophy as they celebrate their victory.
Reigning champions the Portland Timbers head into the new season as favorites to retain their title.

11. D.C. United

United's offseason probably to be more net loss than net gain. That's how important midfielder Perry Kitchen was to Ben Olsen's grind-it-out style. Can United succeed with the same approach swapping Marcelo Sarvas for Kitchen?

12. Toronto FC

Toronto's Achilles' heel in 2015 was their sieve-like defense, so the club went out and actively addressed the problem in the offseason. With a set of MLS vets in the mix, and their high-profile DPs in the attack, Toronto is raring to go.

13. Orlando City

A very strange offseason in Orlando remains the biggest talking point around a team with the talent to make the playoffs in 2016. Two-times turnover in the front office and what appears to be a question over direction make City a fascinating club to watch.

14. San Jose Earthquakes

Is improvement in the cards for the Quakes? Simon Dawkins, one of the keys to the club's Supporters' Shield season in 2012, is back, and Dom Kinnear has had more time to mold the club in his image.

15. Houston Dynamo

Missing out on the playoffs in the first year under Owen Coyle wasn't all that surprising for the Dynamo. But if the club is right and Coyle is an exception to the foreign-coach-fails-in-MLS rule, 2016 will be telling.

16. New York City FC

Like Houston, New York's biggest story is the adaptation of a foreign manager to the strangeness of MLS. Patrick Vieira doesn't need to be a magician to fix what ails NYCFC, just really, really good in his first year in a new league.

17. Real Salt Lake

The days of RSL being an automatic selection for Western Conference contender might be over. Jeff Cassar does still have the ageless Javier Morales and Yura Movsisyan, however, so there's at least hope for a bounce-back season.

18. Philadelphia Union

Earnie Stewart is remaking the Union in his image, a positive step out of the doom and gloom of the Nick Sakiewicz era. Still, can Philadelphia make the huge strides it will take to get themselves to the playoffs?

19. Chicago Fire

By all accounts, new Fire boss Veljko Paunovic plans to play a go-go pressing style that will, at the very least, make Chicago much more fun to watch this season. Until that style delivers points, however, they remain near the foot of the power rankings.

20. Colorado Rapids

How much difference can a high-priced goalkeeper make in MLS? Colorado did sign a striker during the winter -- Shkelzen Gashi out of the Swiss league -- but the biggest arrival will be USMNT man Tim Howard this summer.

Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.

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