By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (May 2, 2019) US Soccer Players - The balance of power in MLS is shifting to the West Coast. Not only do the top teams share the spotlight in the same West Coast town, but the entire western part of the country is home to five of the six strongest teams in the league. Imagine if the Portland Timbers could play home games.
The theme is already clear this season. The Western Conference is the better conference. The 4th-place team in the West, FC Dallas, would be tied for first in the East with 17 points. There are some enticing East-West matchups this month that could help tilt the scales more to the Western Conference teams. The LA Galaxy plays both New York (May 4) and New York City FC (May 11), Sporting KC plays Atlanta (May 5) and DC United (May 12), while LAFC hosts surging Montreal (May 24).
1. LAFC (number 2 in April rankings)
LAFC finally stumbled, losing in its eighth game of the season but that did not slow down the club’s momentum. LAFC tore apart Seattle 4-1 on April 21 and then took a 1-1 draw from CenturyLink Field a week later. LAFC leads the league in goals with 26 and also has allowed the fewest goals with just eight through the first 10 games. LAFC cannot slow down though as the Galaxy and Seattle are all within four points of the frontrunners.
2. LA Galaxy (7)
April was a near-perfect month for the Galaxy, with the only dropped points coming in a scoreless draw at Minnesota. The club is coming together nicely, and where that is most evident is on defense. The Galaxy allowed just two goals in five games last month. Much of that is due to Jonathan Dos Santos’ steady play in the center of midfield. Still, the team must deal with a fairly significant blow as Romain Alessandrini is out until September after knee surgery.
3. Seattle Sounders (1)
Seattle lost the unofficial two-leg series to LAFC on a 5-2 aggregate. The home draw was a decent showing while the away leg at Banc of California was a nightmare. Still, Seattle drops two spots only because the LA Galaxy enjoyed a standout month of its own. Seattle can obviously play with any team in this league. Still, they need to get a win soon in order to keep spirits high around the club.
4. DC United (3)
DC United’s struggles in April are all due to its attack. The club played six games but scored just three goals, and three of them came in one match. Wayne Rooney did miss one game due to a red card suspension, but even he has not been able to get the club back on track. DC might have had a much further slide down these rankings had its Eastern compatriots not gone through a worse time last month. DC will have another packed month in May, playing another six matches with two of them scheduled for weeknights.
5. Houston Dynamo (9)
Houston had just three games in April, which makes for a smaller-than-desired sampling size, but the club’s overall body of work is solid. Houston’s only loss this season was at the LA Galaxy and Houston has dropped just two of a possible 15 points at home. The opponents will increase in difficulty at BBVA Compass Stadium in May as FC Dallas, Portland, and DC United will come for visits. A month from now, Houston’s spot could change drastically. Houston should enjoy this lofty perc. It's been awhile since the Dynamo was relevant. 6. FC Dallas (10) Normally, a club who counts a defender and an 18-year-old as its co-leading scorers is not a club contention, but FC Dallas is such a team. Defender Reto Ziegler and teenager Jesus Ferreira tie atop the club’s scoring charts with three goals apiece. Somehow FC Dallas has turned that into 17 points, one behind 3rd-place Seattle. It helps to have a stingy defense. FC Dallas has allowed just nine goals, the second-fewest total in the league. FC Dallas will face tests this month. Houston awaits on May 4 while the club will play a home-and-home against LAFC as well.
7. New York City FC (11)
NYCFC is not overwhelming its opponents and not shattering goal-scoring charts, but the club has put together a solid start to the season. NYCFC has lost just once this year and went unbeaten in April, drawing three games and winning two. NYCFC has proven tough to beat. If the club can get a reliable scorer, five players are tied with the team lead with two goals apiece, then the team could go from a team that is tough to beat to one that wins more often than not.
8. Toronto FC (6)
Toronto FC’s defense is a bit of a mess. The club has just one clean sheet all season and had a 4-3 win, a 3-2 loss, and a 2-2 draw among its games in April. The good thing is the attack is coming through. Alex Pozuelo had a brace in a win over Minnesota while Jozy Altidore has five goals on the campaign, including three last month. Toronto FC just needs to keep putting the ball in the back of the net though since the defense does not appear to be close to the level it needs to be for the club to get back to title contention.
9. Sporting KC (4)
Sporting KC appeared poised to take charge in the Western Conference after a 7-1 rout of Montreal in the last game of March. What should have been a landmark victory instead has been a footnote. Sporting KC did not win any of its games in April. The defense has also not been very strong, allowing 11 goals in four games in April and 15 goals overall. Sporting KC overcame a pair of deficits to tie New England 4-4 in its last game of March, so the team might be set to rediscover its winning ways.
10. Philadelphia Union (13)
The time for the Union to get into the playoff race is now, so it is fitting that the club is in a tie with DC United atop the Eastern Conference table. Philadelphia’s 2-0 win over FC Cincinnati to start May was their first of five home games the team will play this month. Philadelphia has a solid 4-1-0 record at home this season and could leap clear of the pack in the Eastern Conference if form holds. The club though must overcome a groin injury to Andre Blake. Third-choice ‘keeper Carlos Coronel was pressed into action against FC Cincinnati after an injury to backup Matt Freese during the match. The 22-year-old Coronel will have to come through for the Union to maintain its lead in the East.
11. Montreal Impact (15)
Ignacio Piatti did not play one minute in April but the Impact somehow improved. The club had three wins in six matches and dropped just one contest. Without its dangerous scoring piece available, Montreal simply put the focus on its backline and it worked. Montreal had five clean sheets in the month and allowed just the three goals from its 3-0 loss at Philadelphia on April 20. After finishing March with a 7-1 loss at Sporting KC, the turnaround is fairly remarkable.
12. New York Red Bulls (8)
New York ran its winless streak to five games, the longest since the end of the 2017 season, before closing out April with a victory. New York did not convince against FC Cincinnati. In fact, the first-year MLS club hit the post twice in the 1-0 result. The focus was to get a victory and then the club will take it from there. The hope for New York is to get back on track at Red Bull Arena as the Red Bulls will play four of the first five games in May at home.
13. Minnesota United FC (14)
Allianz Field finally opened its doors in April, but the glitzy new digs did not give the club a much-anticipated edge in the scoreboard. It took three games for Minnesota to win a home game, although the first two were each draws. Minnesota did well to settle things overall though, losing just one of five matches in April. A little more discipline would be good. Minnesota’s lone loss saw the club blow a 3-2 lead and finish the match with nine men. Minnesota will get three more matches at home in May to try and make Allianz Field a tough place to play.
14. Atlanta United SC (12)
Atlanta can’t win for trying. The club’s two wins last month were not very impressive as this team continues to look like a shell of its former title-winning selves. Atlanta beat Colorado and New England in April and lost to FC Dallas. The three games did not allow for the team to get into a rhythm also. The club’s high-flying offenses of 2017 and 2018 appear gone for good the further 2019 goes along. Ezequiel Barco is playing fairly solid though which is a positive sign. If he and Josef Martinez can work together more than the team might hang around in the playoff race. Atlanta will play seven games in May, so the club’s fortunes could rise or sink quickly very soon.
15. Columbus Crew (5)
The bottom has fallen out for Columbus Crew. After a 4-1-1 start, Columbus has now dropped its last four matches and has a losing record entering May. The offense has dried up with one goal in the four outings while the defense is committing mental mistakes. Still, a regression under a new coach is not unheard of. Columbus shot out of the gates but has come back down to the rest of the pack as it tries to sort out life under Caleb Porter. Still, this is a bad time to be playing poorly as the club’s first three opponents this month are DC United, the Galaxy, and LAFC.
16. Portland Timbers (18)
It took awhile for Portland to figure out the road lifestyle. It took six games but Portland finally won a game this season. The Timbers actually have two wins now, having closed out April with wins at Columbus and at Toronto. Providence Park will not open until June 1 which means the club must play all four of its May games on the road. However, the outlook is not as bleak as it was just a few weeks ago. Portland has talent. The attack is finally starting to come together. A few more road wins and Portland might be set for a second-half surge as most of its games down the stretch will be at home.
17. Orlando City SC (20)
Orlando fattened up against the Western Conference bottom-feeders, beating both Colorado and Vancouver last month. While that may not seem very impressive, for Orlando City it is. Orlando had its most successful month since winning all four of its games in April 2018. The trick will be to not completely fall apart like it did in May when it began a nine-game losing streak. Orlando could have had a third win last month but missed a wide-open goal late in the club’s 1-1 draw with NYCFC on April 27. Nani has come alive though, with all five of his goals coming in April, so the club could keep climbing these rankings next month.
18. Real Salt Lake (17)
RSL dropped two games last month, but with those losses coming at Seattle and LA Galaxy, it’s hardly embarrassing. RSL probably deserved a draw at the Galaxy. Only a spectacular goal in Seattle kept RSL from a draw. RSL does need a go-to striker to emerge with midfielder Albert Rusnak leads the team in goals with four. The hope is that Designated Player Sam Johnson becomes a difference-maker up top. Johnson has two goals, both in April, so he may just be getting used to the league and the style of play before he starts to become more of a presence.
19. San Jose Earthquakes (24)
San Jose looked dead in the water at the end of March, with a 5-0 loss to LAFC closing out what had been a terrible opening month of the season. The Quakes turned it around quickly, beating Portland 3-0 and Sporting KC 4-1. San Jose lost just once in five games in April. Matias Almeyda suddenly looks like a miracle-worker and has the club playing the best soccer is has in several years. In more good fortune, the schedule is kind to the Quakes as none of the club’s rivals in May appeared in the playoffs a year ago.
20. Vancouver Whitecaps (19) Vancouver had quite the strange month of April. The club scored three goals in five games and had just one win over that stretch, but that win was against high-flying LAFC. The Whitecaps are the only team that has slowed down LAFC. But that win did not lead to much as Vancouver followed that up with a 1-0 loss at Orlando and a 1-1 come-from-ahead home draw to Philadelphia. Clearly, the attack must improve but the defense has gotten better. Perhaps Vancouver is improving in pieces and simply taking its time to get the attack going.
21. Chicago Fire (21)
Chicago started off well in April, with two draws and an emphatic 4-1 win over Colorado, before a pair of 1-0 losses to close out the season. The difference between April and a slow March was Nemanja Nikolic. The Fire’s top striker had scored in the first three games of the month and helped get Chicago’s attack going. CJ Sapong leads the club in goals with four, but with Nikolic scoring Chicago is a threat. The outlook does not look as bleak now as it did at the end of March, but the club’s first test of May will be a challenge as Chicago visits LAFC. That might set back this whole process if things go the wrong way.
22. FC Cincinnati (16)
Now that is the expansion club we were waiting to show up. FC Cincinnati opened up the May schedule on Wednesday with a 2-0 loss at Philadelphia. The shutout loss was the club’s fourth consecutive scoreless effort. FC Cincinnati will enter its next match not having scored in 431 minutes. It may just be poor luck versus a drop in effort or lack of ability. FC Cincinnati rattled the post twice against New York and pressured Philadelphia early and late but failed to score nevertheless. FC Cincinnati may get help from the schedule-makers though as the club’s next three opponents San Jose, Montreal, and Orlando all have negative goal-differentials.
23. New England Revolution (22)
What is there to like about New England this season? Well, there was the 4-4 draw at Sporting KC that, if nothing else, proved that New England can indeed score goals. There was also the 1-0 win over New York Red Bulls. Aside from that, though, there is not much for New England to feel good about. The club played listless and uncreative soccer for most of the season. New England sits on the bottom of the Eastern Conference table with 10 goals scored. The draw at Sporting KC though came in the final game last month, which gives the team hope that perhaps things have turned around offensively.
24. Colorado Rapids (23)
If Colorado disappeared from MLS, would anyone notice? The team is certainly not making any sort of impact on the field except to pad opponents’ point totals. Colorado has just two lousy points to show for the first two months of the season. The Rapids have the league’s worst defense with 24 goals allowed and the worst goal-differential at -12. The club sacked coach Anthony Hudson, mostly because of results but the front office could not have been happy with Hudson’s criticism of management and the team’s setup. If Colorado gets out of the cellar at any point this season, it would be a miraculous accomplishment.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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