As another year draws to a close, taking a look back on all of the various soccer matches across the world can give us a good indication as to where the future of the sport may take us.

It’s no secret that soccer has become one of the most beloved sports across the world. And in the United States, while football remains king, the recent boom in Major League Soccer means that more and more homes are interested not only in the outcome of the matches, but which teams prove to have some of the best chances to compete globally.

Soccer is also a complex, far-reaching sport that has many different governing bodies, leagues, teams, and events. To the layman, understanding these terms is an important part of getting a better sense of what the power rankings are all about.

We’ll be taking a close look at the performance of soccer teams both domestic and abroad, and presenting some of the best power rankings to get a good sense of where teams may be heading in the next World Cup.

What Are Soccer Power Rankings?  

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If you’re new to sports or soccer in general, power rankings can be a complex topic.

The easiest way to explain the rankings system is to liken it to political polls or opinion pieces. While some are considered to be more valuable than others, there is no one official ranking system, and many different bodies have different and contrasting opinions on who is the best team.

At the same time, rankings have various levels of scope. Some want to know who may be the best team overall within the league, while others may look to national or international teams. We’ll be getting more into how the leagues break down overall in a moment, but for now, remember, that you’ll need to know what is being compared when looking at rankings.

The most notorious and respected rankings often come from news organizations, which take the time to educate an editorial staff on what to look for in a team. Some of the most often-cited metrics for a good ranking includes:

  • The lineup of the team playing
  • When the matches occurred (time)
  • The quality of the teams played
  • Home-field advantage
  • Offensive and defensive play

These are just a few of the many different ways rankers attempt to bring some order to a chaotic and often unpredictable soccer season. And likewise, the different ways that teams are ordered and ranked play a vital role into who comes in on top and who is left in the dust.

What Teams & Leagues Are Included?

The rankings given online often compare different aspects of soccer. While some ranking systems may give particular focus to the best teams across the world, many others are given by country. This is in large part due to the history of soccer and how its popularity in Europe specifically made rankings by country more of an interest to many.

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For those in larger countries, such as America, finding a ranking system that focuses on teams within a league may be more of an interest than the global rankings system offered by organizations like FIFA. To gain a better understanding, here’s a brief explanation of how soccer teams tend to be organized globally:

Within a country, one or more leagues may be formed to organize different players into different teams across the nation. The easiest way to compare this to American football would be the NCCA, which can host multiple leagues, such as the SEC and AFC, and have them play both themselves as well as each other.

On the national level, soccer plays out generally like most other sports. A schedule is set in place for the many opponents on the field, and performance is ranked alongside either a championship schedule or cup game.

In America, the predominant league is Major League Soccer, which gives teams across the nation a way to play each other and work to uncover who the best team members are.

There’s a bit more complexity as to the way these teams are handled when it comes to international opponents, such as International Spots given to foreign players and otherwise, but generally speaking, American soccer is not quite on the level as it is across the world and particularly in Europe.   

When it comes to international rankings, Europe remains king. International organizations such as FIFA arrange for the best leagues in the best countries to play each other. The most popular of these matches and competitions, the FIFA World Cup, is held every four years and combines the best players from across the world.

To simplify the ranking system and make it easier to understand, we’ll be going over the ranks from MLS teams and FIFA teams separately. The FIFA rankings will also include national rankings that include the best countries as well, for a broader scope and sense of understanding how countries compete against each other.

MLS Soccer Power Rankings   

MLS soccer rankings are given based on the musings of MLS editorial staff, which post their rankings on their official website. Bear in mind that the MLS 2018 season recently ended, with Atlanta United clenching a victory over the Portland Timbers, so the rankings given here were last updated before these events.

Coming in at number one, surprisingly enough are the New York Red Bulls. Transparent marketing aside, the growth and skill of this New York team have been increasingly interesting to watch for fans of the sport. We predict nothing but future success for the Red Bulls as they continue their climb to the top.

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Otherwise, Kansas City Sporting holds a top position just above the Seattle Sounders, but the real highlight remains Atlanta United, who has quickly climbed to the top of the charts after only two years of inception.

D.C. United and the Los Angeles Football Club hold spots soon after them, performing admirably amidst a touch schedule and playoff season, and FC Dallas, Columbus Crew SC, Philadelphia Union, and the Portland Timbers round off the top ten.

FIFA Soccer Power Rankings  

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Moving into international waters, the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking system is one of the most respected in the world. Points are awarded to countries rather than teams, and in the top slots, the competition remains fierce.

Belgium continues to hold the top spot here with over 1700 points—with France right on their tail, with just a point short of tying with Belgium.

Holding up the back of the top pack includes Brazil, Croatia, England, and Portugal, which have all presented World Cup-winning teams in the past and deserve their rankings here. And while the world ranking often remains stagnant, we have to appreciate Portugal’s recent usurping of Uruguay, which, up until recently, held top-six status.

Rounding out the top ten includes Switzerland, Spain, and Denmark. All countries with formidable teams of their own, these three tend not to shift much in the world ranks.

Looking briefly at the rankings of individual teams, FiveThirtyEight’s Global Club Soccer Rankings provides a clear picture of the individual skill found throughout the top ten countries and beyond.

Manchester City remains in top form as in years past and holds the number one spot—helping to push England higher in the world rankings with the number one team all-around.

Barcelona and Liverpool hold their spots in the top three, but the current number four contender, Bayern Munich, comes from Germany—which is currently sixteenth in the world rankings for FIFA.

Otherwise, the top ten is rounded out by Juventus, PSG, the always-interesting Real Madrid, Chelsea, Ajax, and Atletico Madrid. These teams represent the best not only in Europe but throughout the world as well.

Final Thoughts

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Did your favorite team make one of the rankings covered here?

Even if not, there are many different ways for a team to quantify success, and making comparisons from the top brass all of the way down is sure to result in a few bruised egos.

For instance, while MLS is on a major upward swing, their performance in joint ventures such as CONCACAF games, usually shows that the European history with the sport is just too much to tackle in the short lifespan of the league.

Likewise, while countries such as Belgium may have the best overall performance, teams such as Bayern Munich and Juventus show that you don’t need to be a top ten country to have a top ten team.

Moving forward into 2019, these are the teams, countries, and leagues you need to keep an eye on. And who knows? Maybe your favorite team could upset and win big in next year’s matches.