By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Jun 7, 2018) US Soccer Players - The unofficial halfway point of the 2018 MLS season - the World Cup - is nearly upon us. MLS teams will shut it down for the duration of the tournament’s group stage. During that time, teams will either try and get things right or continue building on what works.
There are more teams mired in the muck than there are in the first category in the June MLS Power Rankings. Once this list hits double digits, the quality drops off drastically, which in some ways makes sense given the number of playoff spots available at the end of the season. The quality is desperately lacking in the bottom half of the table. For many of those clubs the season may already be a lost cause.
Still, that does not mean teams cannot rise. Just look at who is in the top spot in this month's rankings. There's still a lot of games to play. As it stands now, on the cusp of the World Cup, the league’s quality is top-heavy.
1. Columbus Crew (8)
Columbus has not lost since mid-April and did not allow a single goal in five matches played in May. Starting June off with a 3-3 draw against Toronto FC is not ideal, but Columbus is the class of the league heading into the summer months.
2. Atlanta United (1)
Atlanta stumbled a bit in losses to Sporting KC and the New York Red Bulls last month. That didn't send them tumbling down the Eastern Conference standings. Atlanta is still very much dangerous, leading the league in goals with 30, boasting the league’s top scorer in Josef Martinez (12 goals) and holders of the best road record in the league (4-1-1).
3. NY Red Bulls (3)
New York had an outstanding month, beating both NYCFC and Atlanta, but that's not enough to move up our rankings. The win against Atlanta was great, but a stumble against New England to start off June is a bit worrisome. A Saturday clash against Columbus looms large. It will be telling to see which of these sides can compete with Atlanta and NYCFC over the long haul.
4. NYCFC (2)
A less-than-impressive May knocked NYCFC down a couple of pegs. A win over Colorado was the only noteworthy result in a lackluster month. A clash against Atlanta could have a lasting effect on the table and playoff positioning.
5. Sporting KC (4)
Sporting KC dropped one spot. That was mostly due to the Eastern congestion up top and Columbus’ rise. Sporting KC is still the class of the Western Conference. Their stingy defense has allowed just three combined goals over the last seven games.
6. Portland Timbers (11)
Portland flipped a switch sometime in April. Since then the team has been nearly unstoppable. The Timbers picked up 12 of a possible 12 points in May and ran its win streak to six games before Saturday’s 1-1 draw against the Galaxy. Sebastian Blanco (five goals) has been stellar while newcomer Samuel Armenteros (three goals in the last three games) is just starting to figure this league out.
7. FC Dallas (9)
The FC Dallas defense is beatable to be sure, but the attack is ready to respond. When Carlos Gruezo is able to score, that is the sign of a productive and balanced attack. Maxi Urruti and Roland Lamah have combined for 12 goals and the FC Dallas defense has been good enough to convert those into wins. The club has not lost in its last six league games.
8. LAFC (5)
LAFC has had just one victory over its last six games as it enters a difficult stretch. Missing will be Carlos Vela, Marco Urena, Omar Gaber, and possibly Laurent Ciman due to World Cup duty. Lee Nguyen (no goals or assists in 112 minutes) must pick up some of the scoring slack to help the club stay afloat.
9. New England Revolution (7)
The Revs played Atlanta and Columbus in May, so the difficulty level was high. Regardless, the results must be more consistent if the club is to compete in the East. The goals came quickly against New England as well, 11 goals in five games. A win over the Red Bulls on Saturday was encouraging.
10. Houston Dynamo (17)
We are going to pretend that the 1-0 setback at Montreal was an aberration. Houston has otherwise been quite steady over the last month. A sure three points against Colorado awaits. Houston will right the ship soon enough.
11. Philadelphia Union (18)
The Union won three of its last four games in May. Montreal, Real Salt Lake, and Chicago were not exactly contenders but that is a solid stretch nonetheless. Borek Dokal and Ilsinho are starting to step up to be the team’s scoring threats as each has two goals in the last four games.
12. Real Salt Lake (15)
RSL has won four of its last five games and has climbed to 3rd-place in the Western Conference. Corey Baird, who was born in Escondido, Calif., and went to high school in Arizona, is nevertheless making an impact as a Homegrown player, with a team-high four goals on the year.
13. Toronto FC (10)
By virtue of their championship and talented roster, the Reds catch a break on this list by not falling further than three spots. By this time next month that break will have expired. If Toronto cannot do better than two wins and seven points over a six-game stretch, then the team will continue sliding down the rankings.
14. LA Galaxy (14)
Seven points from the last four games is not terrible, but the Galaxy is still very much an unfinished product. This team is capable of scoring goals, but they do better in low-scoring games (3-2-2 in games with two combined goals or fewer) than those in which a barrage of goals is scored (2-5-0 in games with three or more total goals).
15. Chicago Fire (15)
Alan Gordon for MVP. Ok, that might be a stretch. Then again, if he keeps scoring it may not be. Gordon has scored three goals in his last three games, including a magnificent long-distance strike against Orlando on May 26. If the defense can tighten up a bit, Chicago could make noise in the East.
16. Minnesota United (16)
The Loons remained in the same position, which reflects their lack of movement up the Western Conference table. Darwin Quintero scored one goal in five matches played in May. The club need more production to get within distance of a playoff spot.
17. Orlando City SC (6)
How does a team drop 11 spots? By losing four consecutive games. Sure, three of those losses were close, but Orlando looks beatable and is playing without much intensity. Star striker Dom Dwyer, out with the inane diagnosis of a “lower-body” injury, has not played in the last three games and it shows.
18. Vancouver Whitecaps (21)
Vancouver had four consecutive draws to close out May. That's better than dropping them all, but not by much. Opponents shredded Vancouver’s defense, scoring nine goals in those games. Cristian Techera has come to life offensively, scoring all six of his goals over the last five games.
19. Seattle Sounders (12)
Seattle may be up to its old tricks, tanking the first half of the season before turning things around and reaching MLS Cup. Or it could just be out of ideas, motivation, and luck. If it’s the latter, the nine-year playoff run was fun while it lasted. If it’s the former, fans would appreciate that turnaround to start happening prior to the World Cup.
20. DC United (19)
DC United made the most of its three games in May, winning one match and nabbing four points. Since the team has played just five games since April 1, it is difficult to get a read on this side. Darren Mattocks (five goals) is scoring consistently and is on pace to shatter his career-high in goals (seven in 2012).
21. Montreal Impact (22)
Montreal lost four consecutive games in April before winning its first game in May. Then, it dropped another four straight in May, this time by not scoring a single goal in those matches. A shutout win over Houston to start June was encouraging, but if Montreal follows the same pattern those will be their only points of the month.
22. San Jose (20)
The Earthquakes have won just once since the first game of the season. Curiously, both wins came over Minnesota. Outside of the Loons, San Jose is winless. Dutch striker Danny Hoesen is having a fine season with seven goals but the quality around him is lacking desperately.
23. Colorado Rapids (23)
The Rapids cannot go lower simply because there is nowhere else to go, even though it is tempting to slide FC Cincinnati into this spot and bump the Rapids down to 24. While we are not in favor of relegation, it is enticing to implement it simply to banish the Rapids, losers of seven consecutive matches, to the USL and replace them with a team that will try.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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(Photo by Andrew Katsampes - ISIPhotos.com)