By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Aug 1, 2019) US Soccer Players - The theme in the league this year seems to be inconsistency. One week, teams look like MLS Cup contenders and the very next, they look like they are in preseason form. This has made it quite difficult for teams to settle into a rhythm here in these rankings.
LAFC has shown consistency from the start and remains atop the league. Two other teams who have shown great consistency of late, New England and San Jose, made big moves up the rankings. The rest of the league though could use some help in figuring out how to play consistently and tap into their strengths on a more regular basis. Otherwise, a poor spot in these rankings and playoff disappointment will follow.
1. LAFC (1 in July)
LAFC looked beatable in its 3-2 defeat at the LA Galaxy. Of course, Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a hat-trick in that match and scored three outstanding goals. If it takes a super-human performance and world-class goals to beat LAFC, then that speaks well of LAFC. The club did rebound nicely, with a 4-3 win over a motivated Atlanta side. LAFC has three difficult games this month. They're at New England on August 3 with home games against San Jose on the 21 and the Galaxy on the 25. That will test the team's strength.
2. San Jose Earthquakes (10)
San Jose turned its season around. With every passing game, the club reminds the rest of the league just how far it has come. Outside of a blemish at Minnesota on July 3, San Jose has been unstoppable over the last seven games. Six of those were wins with a combined score of 15-3. San Jose and LAFC will meet in what is the most attractive matchup of the summer on August 21 at Banc of California Stadium.
3. LA Galaxy (8)
The Galaxy has been impressive in its up-and-down play. The Galaxy has alternated with wins and losses over the last eight games, winning one and losing one and so on. The club lost twice to San Jose but throttled LAFC in between. If the Galaxy can land Cristian Pavon, the club may get some consistency and threaten LAFC for an MLS Cup spot. They must figure out a way to score goals other than Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whether it is with Pavon or not.
4. NYCFC (2)
NYCFC had nine points last month, but the club dropped its rivalry game against New York Red Bulls. NYCFC is still playing attractive soccer and still dominating opponents. August will feature games against Houston, FC Cincinnati, Columbus, and Vancouver, which should equate to 12 points. NYCFC can challenge Philadelphia for the top spot in the table if that were to happen.
5. New England Revolution (17)
New England was in line for last place in the Eastern Conference before Bruce Arena stepped in. Arena is one of the top coaches in league history, confirming that already with his latest assignment. New England is unbeaten under Arena, with a 7-0-4 record since the former LA Galaxy coach stepped in. Not only is New England a threat to reach the playoffs but the club is looking like it can be a threat to reach MLS Cup.
6. Philadelphia Union (3)
Philadelphia is still atop the Eastern Conference. They had two troubling losses last month, at Real Salt Lake and Montreal by 4-0 each. Philadelphia has played too strong all season for those matches to reveal a true weakness in the club, but losing games like that does not give off much confidence. Still, Philadelphia has two games against DC this month and can all but bury their would-be rival with a pair of wins and climb back into a better spot in these rankings along the way.
7. Seattle Sounders (12)
Seattle collected nine points last month, tied with the Galaxy for 2nd-place in the Western Conference table. Yet, Seattle's worst game of the season came last month in the 2-1 loss to Portland at home. Any loss to Portland is terrible regardless of whatever else happened that month. Seattle will get its chance at revenge on August 23 at Providence Park, but the club has four difficult matches before the next Cascadia.
8. Minnesota United FC (13)
Allianz Field is slowly becoming the dominant force the team hoped it would be all along. Minnesota's last home game was a scoreless draw against Vancouver. That's not exactly making a case for home field advantage, but they did beat San Jose and FC Dallas at home last month. Minnesota's solid July helped the club climb into a playoff spot in 5th-place heading down the stretch. With three games at home in August, the hope is that the club will be able to continue earning points and getting into a better spot come September.
9. Atlanta United (5)
All is not quite right in Atlanta. Players continue to speak to the media about Frank de Boer's tactics, and the club continues to struggle with inconsistency. Atlanta lost at Chicago, Seattle, and LAFC. Still, Atlanta had a 5-0 win over Houston and a 2-0 win over DC United, so the team still has some fight and spirit left. Atlanta will not return to its dominant form of 2018, but the team can still be a force if the players and coaches get on the same page.
10. New York Red Bulls (4)
New York had a big win over rivals NYCFC in July as well as a hard-fought 1-0 win at Orlando. Otherwise, July was a forgettable month. New York lost to three clubs who have struggled to stay in the playoff picture in their respective conferences - Houston, Toronto FC, and Columbus. New York has its issues to sort out, and August will determine if the team can do that. Crucial games against New England, DC, and NYCFC await.
11. Portland Timbers (16)
Portland's master plan of building momentum down the stretch when the club has the majority of its home games on the schedule is coming together. Portland had just a 1-0-2 record at home in July, but the club won both of its road games, including a 2-1 win at rivals Seattle. With the 4-0 rout of the Galaxy at home to close out the month, Portland looks more than solid entering August.
12. DC United (6)
DC United is just not the same as it was a year ago, and it's taken months for this to come to fruition. DC United had a 1-2-2 record last month, but the only victory came against FC Cincinnati. This team is still in a favorable spot in the Eastern Conference table, on 36 points and tied for 2nd-place, but the team has accomplished that with smoke and mirrors. DC United's slide will continue down the stretch.
13. Real Salt Lake (14)
Real Salt Lake went 2-1-2 in July, a respectable record. More impressive was the defensive record as RSL allowed just two goals last month. Still, all of the progress had little impact on the table. The club is just outside of the playoffs and looks like it will have a battle on its hands with FC Dallas, Portland, and Houston for the last playoff spots. RSL has five of its six games in August against Western Conference opponents so their playoff hopes may rise or sink this month.
14. FC Dallas (11)
FC Dallas allowed just one goal in July, but it was costly. They lost 1-0 at Minnesota on July 13. Dominique Badji scored in both of the club's victories as four of his six goals this season have come in the last two months. If Badji can maintain his consistency up top, the club can build on that. FC Dallas' defense has improved quite a bit over the season. They have some critical matches against Western foes coming up soon, so a toughened defense will be important.
15. Toronto FC (15)
Omar Gonzalez arrived and made an immediate impact on the club. Gonzalez played in three games in July and Toronto FC won all three games. Gonzalez did not play against Houston on July 20 and the club lost that match by 3-1. Gonzalez's arrival is a welcomed sight by Toronto FC with an even goal-differential and hopes to change that to a positive one before too long. If Toronto FC fancy themselves as a playoff club, then Gonzalez must play as well as he did from the start.
16. Houston Dynamo (7)
Houston's tailspin continued. Three consecutive losses in June ended a 4-0 win to start off July. The Dynamo followed that win up with a 3-2 loss at FC Cincinnati. They did win once more in July but the club's 2-4-0 mark last month knocked the club out of a playoff spot. Houston is still within sight of the postseason, sitting three points back of 6th-place FC Dallas, but is one point behind two teams - Portland, Real Salt Lake - who are having better summers.
17. Montreal Impact (9)
Montreal is strange. The club was somehow hanging around near the top of the Eastern Conference but then hit a rough patch, losing four consecutive games before walloping Eastern frontrunners Philadelphia 4-0 to close out July. The players may have gotten an emotional boost from the return of Ignacio Piatti, who played his first game since May 24. Newcomer Lassi Lappalainen made his Montreal debut a memorable one as he scored two goals and earning MLS Player of the Week honors. If Piatti and Lappalainen can continue to click, the team could climb back up in the rankings.
18. Colorado Rapids (18)
Colorado is in last place in the Western Conference and had an 0-3-1 record in July, but the club's four opponents were playoff contenders. Colorado was competitive in all of those games, losing 2-1 to New England and NYCFC and 3-1 to red-hot San Jose. What the Rapids need is more than just moral victories to hold onto a spot in the teens come next month. August will feature games against beatable teams like Montreal and Houston. The Rapids must fare better to get out of the cellar in the West and keep this spot in the rankings.
19. Sporting KC (19)
At least Sporting KC can beat the lousy teams beneath them in the rankings. Sporting KC's only two victories in July came against Chicago and Vancouver. Against LAFC, NYCFC, and FC Dallas, they were not competitive. The game against LAFC was a stark contrast to the start of the season. On March 3, Sporting KC lost 2-1 at LAFC in a thrilling and emotional match between what looked like the two titans of the Western Conference. In the teams' second contest of the year, Sporting KC barely showed. They fell behind 3-0 by the 63rd minute, rolling over toward the end and allowing goals in the 89th and 90th minutes.
20. Orlando City SC (22)
Dom Dwyer has just five goals and three assists in 17 games this season and played sparingly in the 4-1 loss to New England to close out July. Orlando needs Dwyer to contribute to have a chance at success. Those 21 minutes on the weekend gives Orlando hope that he can return to full health and contribute. While he missed the previous two outings due to suspension, Dwyer has only played all 90 minutes in four games this season, the last time coming on May 4.
21. Vancouver Whitecaps (20)
Things were already pretty rough at the end of June with Vancouver struggling to gain victories, but the bottom dropped out in July. The club all but quite, with four consecutive wins before snatching a scoreless draw from Minnesota. Before that result, Vancouver had allowed 16 goals in four games while scoring just twice. Goals have been a problem all season. If the defense plays like that, this club will not win another game the rest of the way.
22. Chicago Fire (21)
With the off-the-field drama surrounding the club this season, it is little wonder that this team is struggling with consistency. Somehow Chicago demolished Atlanta by 5-1 on July 3 but the club struggled the rest of the month, dropping three of five while drawing the other two. On the bright side, the club welcomed Jonathan Bornstein home. The ex-Chivas USA and US National Teamer spent time in Mexico and Israel before returning to MLS.
23. Columbus Crew (23)
Finally, the darkness of the season lifted a bit after Columbus finished off the month with two consecutive wins. When Columbus beat Montreal 2-1 on July 20, it marked the first time since May 8 that Columbus had won a match. It does not change the overall picture. Columbus is still near the bottom of the table. However, it does move the club even with Chicago on 24 points in the East. At least both in the standings and these rankings, there is a lousier team preventing the Crew from finishing in dead last.
24. FC Cincinnati (24)
July was a bit of an oasis in what has otherwise been a dreadful season. FC Cincinnati started off with a pair of wins, ending a six-game losing streak. The expansion club also picked up its second road win of the season, winning 2-1 at Chicago on July 13. At least Cincinnati has not been the worst in the league on the road, having won twice now away from home this season. Colorado and Vancouver each have just one away win while Chicago has yet to win outside of SeatGeek Stadium. The rest of the year though is pretty much a throwaway.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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