By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (May 3, 2018) US Soccer Players - Like a midseason coaching change, I am taking over the MLS Power Rankings. Two months in means there is still plenty of time this season to formulate opinions, change those opinions and in the process show where my deficiencies lie.
Being based in Southern California forces me to take a harder and longer look at the Western Conference teams, particularly the teams in the Pacific time zone, but that does not necessarily mean I favor those teams. Unfortunately, the Western Conference is not the stronger of the two, limiting the love I'll be showing to the teams on this side of the country.
With that, here’s my first installment of the MLS Power Rankings.
1. Atlanta United SC (2)
The class of Major League Soccer. Only dropped points in April came from a 2-2 draw with fellow Eastern powers NYCFC. Atlanta leads the league with 21 goals and is the only team with a double-digit goal-differential at +12.
2. NYCFC (1)
Every team is entitled to a slip-up, and NYCFC certainly had one in a 3-0 loss at Portland. David Villa had a brace last time out in a 3-1 win over FC Dallas, and he will keep the team near the top all season.
3. NY Red Bulls (5)
Feels a bit dirty ranking two New York teams this high but the Red Bulls left StubHub Center with an impressive 3-2 win over the Galaxy, even though they got a hand from the officiating. Two massive tests await this month: NYCFC on Saturday and Atlanta United on May 20.
4. Sporting KC (6)
Might have been higher but dropping a 1-0 match at New England was not great. Felipe Gutierrez is out for up to three months, which will hurt the club. Whether or not Johnny Russell (five goals in nine games) can keep up his pace remains to be seen.
5. LAFC (8)
Not exactly a deft game-winning goal against Seattle to open Banc of California Stadium with but LAFC is not complaining. First-game jitters are out of the way, and now LAFC will settle in with four of five games in May at home. Oh, and welcome, Lee Nguyen.
6. Orlando City (18)
The Lions enjoyed a perfect month, winning all of their April games. The only downside - the wins came against teams that have a combined seven wins from 28 games this season. Games against Atlanta (May 13) and at Toronto FC (May 18) will be major hurdles for Jason Kreis’s men.
7. New England Revolution (19)
All is looking up for the Revs. Two wins and a draw from April pushed the club to 14 points on the season. Trading Nguyen also ended that saga.
8. Columbus Crew (2)
The Crew scored four goals in April. One came from Gyasi Zardes. The others came from a defender, a substitute, and an opponent’s own-goal. If Columbus can get it right on the attack, the team should climb back up the table.
9. FC Dallas (10)
Kellyn Acosta was an unused substitute in the 3-1 loss at NYCFC and could make his season debut at LAFC on Saturday. If he can regain his match fitness quickly, FC Dallas could get into the Western Conference’s top three and stay there for good this season.
10. Toronto FC (4)
Last place is not where Toronto FC expected to be two months into the season. Concacaf distractions over, the club now can focus all of its attention to league play. Will the sting of losing the Champions League final linger? Perhaps. RSL’s 2011 side lost the final and won just two of its 10 subsequent league games.
11. Portland Timbers (14)
Through five games, Portland certainly seemed better than their record. Maybe the club isn’t "three-goal winners over NYCFC" better, but Portland is no slouch. The transition from the Caleb Porter Era to the Giovanni Savarese Era has been rough, but the club may have turned a corner.
12. Seattle Sounders (13)
It’s okay, Stefan Frei. We know you usually make that save at the end of the LAFC match. A draw certainly would have been deserved there. On the bright side, Seattle does not play LAFC again this season.
13. LA Galaxy (7)
Team Zlatan got no help from the officials against New York, but the defense is a bit of a mess. Seven goals allowed in April all at home. Losing defender Rolf Feltscher for four months with a shoulder injury is an issue.
14. Chicago Fire (23)
Good luck stopping Alan Gordon. He scored a stoppage-time equalizer in Toronto on Saturday to lift the Fire from last-place in the rankings to the 14th spot.
15. Real Salt Lake (15)
Not an overly impressive month for Real Salt Lake but two wins is good enough to climb one spot in the rankings. Joao Plata needs some help up front though. RSL cannot rely solely on him for goals.
16. Minnesota United (17)
The Loons snapped a four-game slide with a 2-1 win over Houston. Darwin Quintero has two goals in three games with the club and will help the team climb in a weak Western Conference.
17. Houston Dynamo (12)
A 5-1 win against Toronto FC was great, but a 2-1 loss at Minnesota was not. Mauro Manotas is scoring goals though, and that's a good thing for the Dynamo.
18. Philadelphia Union (20)
It wasn’t so much that the Union rose on its own. Instead, it's the teams that were above them in the rankings had such poor showings last month that they pushed the Union up. Still, the 3-2 win over DC was encouraging in that it matched the Union’s previous goal output in 2018.
19. DC United (22)
DC United’s biggest challenge - avoid rust. The club will play next on May 12, and that will be just its third league game in a 42-day stretch.
20. San Jose (16)
Another uninspired month. San Jose is scoring goals though, avoiding being shutout this season. Still, the defense needs to get better fast.
21. Vancouver Whitecaps (11)
The 2-1 win over RSL to close out April did nothing to take away the sting from the first three games of the month. The 6-0 debacle at Sporting KC was particularly embarrassing.
22. Montreal Impact (9)
Montreal went from feeling good about themselves at the end of March to reeling at the end of April. Four consecutive losses last month sent the Impact tumbling down the rankings. Montreal earned those losses, giving up a combined 16 goals in those games.
23. Colorado Rapids (21)
Colorado and last place go together like the Rocky Mountains and altitude. It’s a natural and obvious fit. Still, the Rapids did beat Toronto FC in April, so there is that. Still, this team is destined for last-place in the table by season’s end.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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(Photo by David Bernal - ISIPhotos.com)