By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Jun 6, 2019) US Soccer Players – Injuries, transfers, and international duty are threatening to change what we know about the league so far and these rankings. Teams like Columbus and FC Dallas have been hit hard by player movement of one kind or another, but it’s a league-wide issue.
Through it all, LAFC seems rather unaffected. LAFC is still the league’s premier club and at the halfway mark the unquestioned favorite to walk away with the MLS Cup. The rest of the league though is very much in limbo. No team seems eager to claim the number two spot as inconsistency is very much the mark of most teams thus far.
With most of the league now stepping aside for the Gold Cup break, teams will take the opportunity to get some rest and try to conquer that ever-elusive inconsistency.
1. LAFC (1 in May power rankings)
It is difficult to maintain excellence and observers will look at any little thing to pick at. For LAFC, that could be its defense. LAFC has allowed four goals in the last two games, after allowing the same amount in its previous 11. Still, LAFC won both games as the offense continues to carry the team forward. A couple of mistakes does not tarnish LAFC’s season at all, but naysayers can use that as fodder that this team is vulnerable. Carlos Vela does not appear to be so, despite taking his lumps game after game. Vela is having a masterful season with 16 goals and 10 assists in 16 games played. With Vela passing on Mexico and the Gold Cup, he will get proper rest during the break and should only continue to score goals once MLS play resumes on June 28.
2. Philadelphia Union (10)
Philadelphia leads the Eastern Conference with 28 points at the Gold Cup break but the stats do not point to dominance. It is a little concerning, for instance, that the Union had three home games to close out May but collected just two points from them. That might not be an issue for them. Philadelphia’s 3-2 win at Minnesota was solid. The Union allowed a late equalizer but scored the winner with two minutes remaining. Philadelphia is capable of such moments. Now, they just need to build on that.
3. New York City FC (7)
NYCFC has not lost since March and has just dropped one game all season long but that does not mean they are dominant. Far from it, in fact. NYCFC’s last two outings: 1-1 draw at Chicago and 2-2 draw at Columbus. NYCFC has four wins and five draws from its last nine matches. Still, NYCFC trailed in all five draws but still came back to earn a point. Newly-arrived Heber appears to be the real deal, as the Brazilian import leads the team with four goals in his nine games.
4. New York Red Bulls (12)
With a 4-1-1 record in May and a 4-0 win to start off June, New York looks strong once more. New York is actually 6-1-1 since April 27 and has 24 points on the year now. The turnaround is rather remarkable given that Bradley Wright-Phillips has not played since a groin injury on April 20. New York is still scoring goals though, 17 during its successful spell. A match against Eastern frontrunners Philadelphia on Saturday will be a massive test for New York.
5. Atlanta United SC (14)
The defending champions are not quite done yet, but the club does not look the same as it did a year ago. Atlanta overwhelmed teams with its offensive prowess a year ago, but now the team is trying to suffocate the life out of opponents. All of Atlanta’s victories this year have been by shutout. Atlanta boasts the league’s best defense, allowing just 11 goals in 15 games. Josef Martinez is scoring goals again with six of his 10 scored in the last five games. The transition from 2018 to 2019 was tough. Now, it looks like Atlanta will not roll over quietly in its title-defense season after all.
6. LA Galaxy (2)
It was like old times at Dignity Health Sports Park on Sunday, with Bruce Arena guiding his club to a 2-1 win there. Unfortunately for the Galaxy, Arena was coaching against them. Arena gave the team a reminder of what things were like and made fans long for the old days. That longing is just another reminder that things are not back to normal for the Galaxy, Normal is the Galaxy contending.
7. Houston Dynamo (5)
Houston’s standing in the Western table might be a bit misleading. On 24 points, the Dynamo is in fourth place, four points out of second place. Houston is on just 13 games played, tied with Portland and NYCFC for fewest in MLS. Houston does have an unsightly road record though, with three consecutive road losses following up the club’s first road win. Houston plays just two of its next eight games at home so the team will have to get with it or burn those games in hand.
8. DC United (4)
DC United seem to be stuck in a rut. After the club’s stellar 3-0-1 start, DC United has been rather average, neither tearing through the league nor a complete pushover. Since March, DC United is 4-4-5, going through the motions at times. The defense needs some sharpening as the club has not kept a clean sheet in its last four games. Also, DC has had just two clean sheets in its last seven home games. Somehow, the club is just one point out of first and will certainly be a threat down the stretch.
9. Montreal Impact (11)
Montreal cannot quite figure out what kind of team it wants to be. 2nd-place in the Eastern Conference, they’re the only team to score at least two goals at LAFC this year. They’re also tied for the most road wins in the league with four. the Impact also carries a minus-seven goal-differential this season. This up-and-down season though could be going down quick as Ignacio Piatti is out for 8-12 weeks with a knee injury. Piatti has played just five games this season, which may be the cause of the peaks and valleys. While there is quality on the team beyond Piatti, losing a lynchpin like him will be tough to overcome.
10. Seattle Sounders (3)
The Sounders were dealt an unexpected blow when Chad Marshall announced his retirement, ending his 16-year playing career. Marshall, 34, is the best defender in MLS history. His three MLS Defender of the Year awards will attest to that. Marshall went 90 minutes in his final game, a 1-1 draw against Minnesota on May 4. How Seattle fills that hole could determine how far the club gets this season.
11. FC Dallas (6)
May was not a good month for FC Dallas. The club lost to rivals Houston, lost three consecutive games and finished with an 0-4-1 record. A 2-1 win over Seattle to start June off was a positive, but this club does not look dangerous at all. The club is playing short-handed as three players are with the USMNT U-20 World Cup team, two others are with their respective Copa America teams, another with Chile’s U-23 side, and a few others out injured. A depleted roster has hurt the team. Compounding matters is the club’s break. With a game on Saturday, FC Dallas’s Gold Cup “break” will be just one weekend off, hardly any time to recover and regroup.
12. San Jose Earthquakes (19)
San Jose was the worst team in MLS through March, losing all four games by a combined 14-2. Since then, things aren’t so bad. San Jose was 3-1-0 in March and is 5-2-3 since that wretched start as manager Matias Almeyda adjusts to the league. Chris Wondolowski thinks it’s 2012 as he is hitting the back of the net with regularity. He became the league’s all-time leading goal scorer with his four-goal outburst against Chicago on May 18 and has tacked on three in three games since.
13. Minnesota United FC (13)
Minnesota showed some early promise, but the team just has not been able to put much together. Allianz Field is stunningly beautiful but has not been the impenetrable home many had hoped it would be. Minnesota is 3-1-3 at home, not a terrible record but not one that will help Minnesota secure its first-ever playoff berth. Minnesota has allowed six goals in its last two games, an alarming figure as Minnesota had allowed half that many in its previous six matches. The season could go either way for Minnesota. At the halfway point it looks less positive than it did early on.
14. Real Salt Lake (18)
May was not that bad of a month for Real Salt Lake, but the club will go into the Gold Cup break scratching its head and wondering what happened. RSL lost at Montreal by 2-1 on May 29 and by 4-0 at New York Red Bulls on June 1. Suddenly the future looks shaky. RSL’s modest three-game winning streak in May helped the club climb to the brink of contention. The play in the last two is anything but that of a title hopeful. Perhaps it was two road games in a short amount of time, but RSL has much more work to do to become a legitimate threat.
15. Toronto FC (8)
After a 2-0 win to start May, the club finished the month with four losses and two draws and scored just three goals in those six games. The club might be getting the boost it needs though as Omar Gonzalez joined from Liga MX side Atlas. Gonzalez will not be able to play until July 9 when the summer window opens. Gonzalez won three MLS Cups with the LA Galaxy. Toronto FC hopes he will have the same impact in his second stint in the league.
16. Portland Timbers (16)
Providence Park may not be the winning formula that club had hoped for. Portland finally played its first home game but promptly lost to LAFC by 3-2 despite a late comeback effort. Portland sacrificed a lot to have the stadium undergo renovations. Playing the first three months of the season on the road was difficult. The payoff was the comforts of home for most of the second half of the season. Portland’s sacrifice meant collecting just 14 points from the first 12 games. That might be too deep a hole.
17. Sporting KC (9)
Sporting KC seemed primed for a breakthrough after a 7-1 win over Montreal Impact to close out March. Since then, the club has won exactly one game. To compound matters, Sporting KC has scored more than one goal just once since April 27. They’ve got one match left before the break and the club will welcome it. Sporting KC needs some downtime to recuperate and recover. There are pieces in place to be not just competitive but dominant, but that is not happening right now.
18. Vancouver Whitecaps (20)
Like San Jose, Vancouver is in a transition year and looked like the season was a lost cause by the time April hit. Vancouver had a solid month of May, with a 3-1-3 mark. That has only helped the Whitecaps climb to 18 points in the table, so there is plenty of work to do. Vancouver’s defense is much better than a year ago when the club allowed 67 goals. Vancouver has allowed 20 goals in 16 games, a solid improvement, but needs to increase its offensive output as it has scored just 17 goals.
19. Chicago Fire (21)
Chicago is showing signs of life, though it seems like the team can’t build on their positives. Chicago held LAFC scoreless at Banc of California stadium, then won games by 5-0 against New England and 2-0 against Minnesota. They’ve looked very pedestrian since then, allowing 10 goals in four games. Still, there is hope. Chicago has a +1 goal differential and is getting contributions from various sources. CJ Sapong leads the team with six goals while Nemanja Nikolic has five. Newcomer Nico Gaitan has two goals and five assists in 11 games. The Fire could be a playoff contender if the team can continue to develop.
20. New England Revolution (23)
Bruce Arena knows how to turn things around. Since New England sacked Brad Friedel, the club has two wins and two draws. The Revs looked strong in downing Arena’s old side, the LA Galaxy, in a massive test to start off June. The short-lived Friedel Era closed out with 6-1 and 5-0 losses. This team does not look capable of losing that big to anyone, now that Arena is on the touchline. Whether or not they can climb into playoff contention in the East, the Revs are no longer a pushover.
21. Colorado Rapids (24)
What team is this that is playing at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park? This mysterious team has won three of its last four games including a 1-0 road win over the LA Galaxy. Might it be the Rapids, the same Rapids side that did not win a game until that May 19 trip to Southern California? The Rapids have used that win as a springboard, sandwiching a 1-1 draw at Philadelphia Union around home wins over Columbus and FC Cincinnati. Colorado is still in last place. The playoffs are still almost out of the question. At least this season is no longer embarrassing.
22. Columbus Crew (15)
The Zack Steffen Era in Columbus is over. Steffen departed for Gold Cup duty and will head to the Old World upon completion of the tournament. That loss was one the club expected though as Man City nabbed Steffen for a cool $10 million over the winter. Federico Higuain’s loss was not. Higuain hurt his knee in a loss at Colorado and is done for the year. At 34, he may not be the same player if he does come back next season. With a 1-8-1 record in its last 10 games, the season is pretty much gone as well.
23. Orlando City SC (17)
Three wins in a five-game stretch in March and April might have been more fluke than signs of a turnaround. Orlando lost four of five games in May, the lone win a 5-1 triumph against FC Cincinnati. June got off to a good start though with a 3-0 win at Montreal. The club did make a major move that will affect how it operates. Orlando City sold the naming rights to its stadium and will now play at Exploria Stadium.
24. FC Cincinnati (22)
FC Cincinnati’s first season in MLS has not been all bad for the expansion team, just mostly bad. FC Cincinnati is 1-7-0 in its last eight games and allowed 11 goals in May, including a 5-1 thumping at Orlando City. The lone win in May was at home against Montreal and the problem is clear. Nobody is stepping up to score goals. Darren Mattocks, Allan Cruz, and Kekuta Manneh each have two goals but nobody else has scored more than one this season. Even though expansion teams like Atlanta and LAFC have taken the league by storm, FC Cincinnati’s struggles are much more the norm for first-year teams.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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