By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Jul 4, 2019) US Soccer Players - The dog days of summer are fastly approaching. MLS clubs had some downtime in June while the Gold Cup group stage was going on. Some teams took well to the break while others did not. With July here so too are crammed schedules and busy travel itineraries.
The rankings did not change much from last month, partially because of the number of games on the schedule. If the early results from July are any indication, the August Power Rankings will feature a lot of movement as there will be a greater sampling size to mull over. That too will affect the conference standings as teams try to jockey for position while other hope to stay alive in the playoff picture
July will feature 61 regular-season games, compared to June’s 41, which means that this month will be a critical month for all teams this season. Here’s how they stand heading into it all.
1. LAFC (1 in June)
Try to not pay attention to the 1-0 loss to Colorado. It’s still uncertain what happened there. The 5-1 win at Sporting KC was more like it. The long layoff may have seemed like it affected the team negatively as LAFC played at Portland on June 1 and not again until June 28. Maybe it did, but LAFC shook off the rust to get back to dominating opponents. Carlos Vela’s masterful season improved with the win in Kansas City as he added a goal and an assist, giving him 17 and 11 on the year.
2. NYCFC (3)
It took NYCFC seven matches to get a victory, but since the start of May the club has figured things out. NYCFC has six wins and two draws in their last eight matches. The biggest difference has been the goal scoring. NYCFC’s defense is not impenetrable, but the attack makes up for it. NYCFC has scored 19 goals in those eight games, including a 3-0 win over Seattle to start July. Maxi Moralez and Araujo Heber tie for the team lead with six goals apiece, which means the club is well-balanced and perhaps even more dangerous because of it.
3. Philadelphia Union (2)
The Union’s rise to the top of the Eastern Conference hit a snag with a 4-2 loss to NYCFC on June 29. Philadelphia looked to be in solid shape in the match, leading 2-1 in the second-half, but could not hold onto the lead. The result is just a setback though and not indicative of any slide. As evidence, Philadelphia routed Orlando 3-1 in Florida to rebound from the defeat. Philadelphia should stay in this position at worst given the club’s soft schedule in July.
4. New York Red Bulls (4)
It’s difficult for the club to stay at this spot following a 4-0 loss. However, New York had two wins and a loss in June and the club is not at full strength due to injuries and Gold Cup duty. Had the teams directly behind New York fared better in recent matches, the Red Bulls likely would have slipped down a spot or two. Still, New York will face a challenge on Sunday in Atlanta. Perhaps the club was looking ahead to that game and thus laid an egg at Houston. Whatever the case, New York will have to show something in order to hold on to this lofty perch next month.
5. Atlanta United (5)
Maybe the New York Red Bulls vs Atlanta United match is bigger than anyone knows. That might explain the 5-1 loss at Chicago on Wednesday. With such a big match looming perhaps Atlanta could not focus on the Fire. Atlanta’s loss was historic. It's the most goals Atlanta has allowed in a first-half (5) and in a match. Atlanta has not had Josef Martinez available since May due to the Copa America, but he should be back for New York. Atlanta must have a stronger outing against New York to avoid another slide, both in the standings and in these rankings.
6. DC United (8)
DC United’s sampling size was small last month, with just three matches to show for June. DC was okay in those games, with one win and two draws to show for its work. Wayne Rooney though had one of the best goals of the season against Orlando, launching a shot from the middle of the field into the back of the net. As great as that goal was though, DC cannot rely on 60-plus yard strikes for offense. Rooney’s only other goal last month came on a penalty kick. DC needs to generate more offense to compete for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
7. Houston Dynamo (7)
Houston had a bit of a slide in June, losing its last three games and not looking good in the process. July got off to a promising start, with a 4-0 win against New York. Houston had seen four of its players off to the Gold Cup, including the Honduran trio of Maynor Figueroa, Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto. While Honduras was a flop in the Gold Cup, the three Hondurans are key players for the Dynamo. Elis scored two goals on his return although Figueroa picked up a red card on his first game back. Still, Houston is better off with its Hondurans back in the fold and the trio could help spark a turnaround.
8. LA Galaxy (6)
The Galaxy looked sluggish in the 3-0 loss to San Jose. Perhaps not having Uriel Antuna and Jonathan Dos Santos is tough on the club but the team is still not quite as sharp as it should be. The win over FC Cincinnati was solid but then again FC Cincinnati is terrible. The Galaxy plays its first three games in July at home, including a July 19 tilt against LAFC, so this month could be a pivotal month for the Galaxy.
9. Montreal Impact (9)
Montreal is still hanging around the top of the Eastern Conference, but its 2-1 loss to Atlanta was tough. Montreal could have put some distance between the two clubs instead of losing ground to the defending champs. Montreal is sitting on 30 points, one behind 2nd-place DC United and three ahead of 6th-place New York Red Bulls. Montreal needs to clean up the defense a bit and take care of business against its Eastern foes to stay in contention in the east.
10. San Jose (12)
San Jose’s six-match unbeaten run went by the wayside with the first match in July, a 3-1 loss at Minnesota. But the club is stronger now than it has been in several years. San Jose’s 3-0 win over the LA Galaxy was a big test that the team stepped up and passed. San Jose is playing the way manager Matias Almedya wants to, and the boss is not done tinkering with the lineup. San Jose added former Chivas winger Carlos Fierro. Almeyda coached Fierro in Guadalajara and should be able to get some immediate production from the 24-year-old.
11. FC Dallas (11)
June was kinder to FC Dallas than May was, as FC Dallas went 2-1-2 in June after a winless May. The club is a bit lighter in the midfield now though after transferring Carlos Gruezo to German side Augsburg. Still, Gruezo last played for FC Dallas on June 1, so most of the success the club had last month was without the Ecuadorian around. FC Dallas seems keen to give playing time to 16-year-old Ricardo Pepi, who has played in each of the last two games. Pepi’s inclusion is symbolic of the team’s approach. FC Dallas has turned to young players before and is likely to continue doing that, as is the case with Pepi.
12. Seattle Sounders (10)
Seattle really needs for the Gold Cup and Copa America to end. They have their two top forwards playing in the finals of each tournament, Jordan Morris for the US against Mexico and Raul Ruidiaz for Peru against Brazil. Seattle only scored three goals in three games in June and had just one win to show for it. July got off to a bad start with a 3-0 loss at NYCFC. The earliest Seattle could see its big guns return is July 14 against Atlanta. If Seattle can score some goals with its team back to full strength, that could help set up another summer playoff push.
13. Minnesota United FC (13)
Maybe Minnesota’s frustrations are over. That would be a logical conclusion to the club’s last two home games. Minnesota whalloped FC Cincinnati 7-1 and followed that up with a 3-1 win over San Jose. When a club scores 10 goals in two games, certainly the outlook looks splendid, but Minnesota had dropped three consecutive before that. Still, those three matches came before the Gold Cup break, so perhaps the club found some magic during the downtime and is now set to climb up the Western Conference table.
14. Real Salt Lake (14)
RSL is doing what it needs to do in beating the also-rans from each conference. RSL beat Sporting KC by 2-0 on Saturday and then bested Columbus by 1-0 on Wednesday. Six points against teams that RSL should have gotten six points against is a good thing. The wins helped RSL keep pace in the Western Conference and helps the club continue gaining confidence at home. RSL has six wins at home but needs to carry over some of that success to the road to really make up ground in the west. Road tests against western foes San Jose and FC Dallas loom ahead in July.
15. Toronto FC (15)
Omar Gonzalez is eligible to play for Toronto FC this month. If he can be the same dominant force he was for the LA Galaxy before he left the league, Toronto FC could once again be a top contender. Toronto FC has not had a shutout since May 15 and has just three all year. Another player who returned to Toronto was Sebastian Giovinco, except that the club’s former star was there as a fan. Still, it is odd to see Giovinco around Toronto FC executives considering the bad blood there was when the Italian star left in the offseason. Whether he was there just to visit or if there is more to his trip to Toronto remains to be seen, but the club could use an additional spark to the roster.
16. Portland Timbers (16)
One month into Providence Park’s return and it is still up in the air whether spending the first three months on the road was worth it. Portland had a 2-2 record in June and is still toward the bottom of the table. Perhaps the club will have to wait until September to truly see the benefits of a backloaded home schedule. For now, the team is well out of playoff contention and has quite a bit of ground to make up.
17. New England Revolution (20)
More than a month ago, New England would have fallen behind to Houston and never come back. This is a different New England team with Bruce Arena in charge. New England fell behind 1-0 to Houston on June 29 but battled back and scored the game-winner in stoppage time. New England is 3-0-3 since removing Brad Friedel and replacing him with Arena. There is still much work left to do, but it seems like there is genuine hope for this club. That's something that hasn't existed in quite awhile.
18. Colorado Rapids (18)
What is going on in Colorado? The Rapids extended their unbeaten run to seven games with a 1-0 win over LAFC on Friday to close out June. Colorado went 3-0-1 in June. It's an impressive mark for any team let alone the perennial bottom-feeders that Colorado has been for much of the last several seasons. The Rapids have two clean sheets in its last three games, twice more than it had for the first 15 games of the season. The goals are not exactly coming hot and heavy but the way the club is playing, they don’t have to. Colorado is doing enough to score clutch goals at the right time and making them count.
19. Sporting KC (17)
Things are just not going well for Sporting KC. The club has slipped to the bottom of the Western Conference after picking up just one win in four matches in June and kicked July off with a horrid 5-1 loss to LAFC. Sporting KC has three wins in nine home games and had not had a loss that bad since 2015. The season has all but slipped away. Barring a miraculous turnaround, Sporting KC should try and minimize the damage for the rest of this year and start thinking about 2020.
20. Vancouver Whitecaps (18)
It’s not that Vancouver is getting slammed every game, or that the team is totally inept. This season, it just seems like Vancouver is miles behind everyone else with little chance of making up the ground. Vancouver actually has just one loss since May 15 and only two since April 20. The club’s poor start hurt the team as the Whitecaps are just one point out of last place. Vancouver has just not figured out how to win. The lack of wins is keeping the club near the bottom of the table and these rankings.
21. Chicago Fire (19)
How does a club beat Atlanta United 5-1 and still drop two points in the rankings? While the win was impressive, no wins since May 11 and two drab losses and a draw in June does not make for strength. Also, the clubs beneath Chicago had far better months than the Fire. The Fire have been playing better than their spot would seem to indicate. Aside from the Atlanta match the club has not been translating that play into results. More of that would see the Fire climb the table no matter what those teams on either side of the rankings do.
22. Orlando City SC (23)
Orlando did not have a bad month of June, with a 2-1-0 record. However, the 3-1 loss to Philadelphia shows how far the club still has to go. Orlando's issue is inconsistency. The club scored first against Philadelphia. Mistakes and a pair of red cards helped doom Orlando. The club just can’t seem to get things going smoothly. With two players suspended for the next match, July already seems like it will be a down month.
23. Columbus Crew (22)
Columbus cannot drop any lower. Technically it can, but its cross-state rivals have taken out a long-term lease on the bottom spot. Columbus is not sitting around and hoping things improve. The club acquired midfielder Luis Diaz from CS Herediano as a Young Designated Player via transfer and also landed forward Romario Williams via trade from Atlanta. Columbus has lost six of its last seven games and needs a roster overhaul to get back to contention for a playoff spot.
24. FC Cincinnati (24)
If FC Cincinnati has not hit rock bottom, then things are going to get very ugly. Already things are unsightly in the Queen City. FC Cincinnati dropped a 7-1 outing at Minnesota and had a 5-2 loss in June as well. The league’s worst defense at 42 goals allowed is made more difficult by also having the league’s worst offense. FC Cincinnati has just 15 goals to show for its ineptitude this season. The club brought in Dutch central defender Maikel van der Werff on a free transfer to try and do something about the defense, but the team is beyond hope for this season.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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