By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Jul 7, 2021) US Soccer Players – As the season heads into the dog days of summer, early-season trends have given way to full-blown character traits. Teams now show their true colors heading into July. Those that looked like they were shaking off some early-season rust like Atlanta United and Inter Miami are instead showing something else. Meanwhile, teams like Nashville and Colorado are proving that they belong with more highly-regarded clubs.
The top two teams remain unchanged, but there was quite a bit of movement throughout these rankings. Teams that were getting passes early on for some less-than-stellar results have gotten those passes revoked, while teams that showed improvement and continue to show improvement were rewarded with upward movement.
1. Seattle Sounders (1 in June)
The Sounders remain atop the rankings despite an interesting run of games. They started June off with 2-1 wins over the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake but then looked vulnerable in a 2-2 draw with Vancouver and escaped Colorado with a 1-1 draw. Seattle is the lone MLS team without a loss but will be hard-pressed to finish July in that same fashion. Seattle faces tough matches against Sporting KC and Minnesota as well as a visit to Austin where the home side could be buoyed by its new stadium.
2. New England (2)
The Revs sit comfortably atop the Eastern Conference, which speaks to how strong the club has been given the conference’s strength. The defensive effort has not been what coach Bruce Arena would likely prefer, but New England continues to get points. New England has allowed eight goals in its last four games but has seven points in that stretch anyway. The next four games come against teams outside of the playoff picture, which should provide the Revs a chance to work on defense.
3. Sporting KC (7)
Even without Alan Pulido, Sporting KC went into Dignity Health Sports Park and took a 2-0 result from the LA Galaxy. Johnny Russell and Khiry Shelton provided the offense for Sporting KC. With that win, the club showed the rest of the conference a clear separation from the top two teams and the rest of the would-be contenders. Sporting KC now gets a break as the club does not play again until July 21 against San Jose, but the game that could decide the Western Conference is four days after as Sporting KC visits Seattle.
4. Orlando City (4)
The schedule may have turned in Orlando’s favor. They have no regular season games left against the Red Bulls. Good news for City since both of its losses have come against them, including a 2-1 setback to open July. Aside from the Red Bull sjinx, things are going better than expected for this club, 2nd-place in that tough Eastern Conference.
5. NYCFC (8)
NYCFC opened June with a tough loss against conference leaders New England but the team continues to persevere. Despite that loss, NYCFC sits in 5th-place in the table. Beating DC United 2-1 last time out speaks to the club’s fight. NYCFC dominated but needed a late goal from newcomer Thiago Andrade to beat DC. NYCFC is developing a gritty attitude and that has carried the team well thus far this season.
6. Philadelphia Union (3)
The last four results have not quite gone the Union’s way with a 1-1-2 mark over that stretch. The dropped points have hurt as the Union finds itself in 3rd-place, five points behind leaders New England. In addition, Philadelphia is hampered by injuries and Gold Cup absences. The hope for the club is to get through July without dropping too many points and recover players from Gold Cup and injury to go into August strong, for both regulars season and Champions League purposes.
7. Nashville SC (11)
Nashville doesn’t boast any big names and has middling stats at 14 goals for, 11 goals against in 11 games played. Somehow, they’re cementing their status as a true contender. The latest trumpet blast was a 1-0 win over Eastern frontrunners Philadelphia. Nashville scored in the second minute and still held off the Union. None of the four clubs Nashville plays this month is in a playoff position. That means Nashville should collect some points and climb toward the top of the Eastern Conference table.
8. LA Galaxy (5)
Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has made a strong case for Most Valuable Player with his stellar run. Without him, the Galaxy dropped points with a toothless attack against a strong Sporting KC side on Independence Day. Hernandez has scored 10 of the Galaxy’s 17 goals. When he’s not available, LA is a different team. That’s something everyone else in the league now knows.
9. Columbus Crew (6)
For the second time in its history, the Crew opened up a new soccer-specific stadium. The excitement surrounding Lower.com Field’s opening was noticeable, but it did not lead to a victory. The Crew needed a late goal to salvage a 2-2 draw with New England. Still, with the stadium opening, the team might get a boost from its new digs. After the brief Gold Cup break, the Crew hosts Nashville SC and NYCFC over a five-day span, important games that could help the Crew to try and get back in the playoff picture.
10. Colorado Rapids (9)
Colorado sits in 4th-place in the Western Conference and is mostly proving it belongs there. Colorado lost to LAFC in May and responded with a 3-0 win over FC Dallas. To close out June, the Rapids lost by 3-1 to Sporting KC but bounced back with a 1-1 win against Seattle and nearly handed the Sounders what would have been their first loss of the season. Colorado instead settled for a 1-1 draw even though the Rapids controlled the latter portion of the game. Up next for Colorado is Minnesota, but then the club plays four consecutive games against teams out of the Western Conference playoff picture.
11. Minnesota United FC (20)
Minnesota’s first impression this season, or rather its first four impressions, was poor. After starting the year on a four-game losing streak, Minnesota has quietly been one of the league’s tougher sides. They began July with a 2-2 draw against San Jose and ran its unbeaten streak to seven games. Perhaps the only blemishes have been draws against poor teams like the Earthquakes and FC Dallas, but that seems like a minor issue. Minnesota should only continue to gain confidence, and that should translate to more victories down the stretch.
12. NY Red Bulls (13)
New York has had a solid run of late, with a 2-1-1 mark since the start of June and wins against contenders Nashville and Orlando in that run. That has not translated over into much movement in the table. New York sits in 7th-place in the Eastern, even on points with 6th-place DC United as well as CF Montreal and Columbus with 16. The margin of error is slim in the Eastern Conference, and any setback could mean slipping out of the table and, with the club’s difficult schedule, that could mean a tough mountain to climb.
13. LAFC (16)
LAFC is in the midst of reinventing itself. Without its high-powered offense from previous seasons, the club must rely more on clutch goals and strong defense. That hasn’t quite worked out, but they did beat RSL 1-0 on July 3. The club might get Brian Rodriguez back which could add some spark to the attack, but the emphasis will still be on this forced new approach. LAFC has not scored more than two goals in one game this season which means the team’s defense will either keep this team afloat or sink the team this year.
14. DC United (22)
DC United started July off with an astounding seven-goal performance against a defeated Toronto FC side, but that may not necessarily mean much. DC United is in a playoff position and has taken advantage of some weak clubs of late – Inter Miami, Toronto FC, Chicago. Their proof of concept will only come against playoff contenders like Philadelphia and New England. Still, for DC United to be in the playoff race is a great turnaround for the club.
15. Portland Timbers (12)
Portland continues its up-and-down season. Last time out, the Timbers were no match for Austin, losing 4-1 at Q2 Stadium to become Austin’s first victim in the new stadium. The Timbers kicked off June with a nice win over Sporting KC and a spirited draw at Houston but now needs to break a two-game losing streak. It’s easy enough to get lost in the churn in the Western Conference, and there’s plenty of opportunity for Portland to head in the wrong direction.
16. Houston Dynamo (15)
Houston is not overwhelming anybody. In fact, the club is not beating anybody either, at least not in June. Houston tied all three of its games last month, but that isn’t a bad thing. The club is learning how to be competitive and how to stay in games. Houston’s 3-3-6 record is not particularly exciting, but it is effective – Houston is in 7th-place, good for the final playoff spot. To solidify its hold on that, though, Houston must mix in some victories with its draws. That could come down the stretch when it matters the most.
17. CF Montreal (17)
It has not been an easy year for the league’s Canadian clubs. None of the three Canada-based clubs plays its home games at home. That’s played a role for Vancouver and Toronto FC, the last-place clubs in their respective conferences. CF Montreal though has been a difficult club for opponents to play against of late. They’ve allowed just one goal in their last four games, going 2-0-2 over that span. CF Montreal sits just outside of the playoffs. If they can find some more offense, just 12 goals in 11 games so far, a rise up the table could follow.
18. Real Salt Lake (14)
RSL has done just enough to get by this season, but the club needs to start putting together more complete performances in order to get into the playoff picture. RSL played well enough against LAFC last time out but lost 1-0 as the offense could not get going. RSL has been stuck in a little rut of late, with a 1-2-4 record in its last seven games. Four of the club’s five remaining games in July come against teams that entered the month in a playoff position which should either boost or sink RSL.
19. Atlanta United (10)
Whatever Atlanta United has going on is not some sort of funk or slump. This team cannot get away from mediocre results and has not hit its stride at all this season. Atlanta kicked off July with a poor 3-0 loss to lowly Chicago and has not won now since May 15. They also haven’t scored in three games. Still, Atlanta has suffered some injuries of late, and that has impacted the lineup choices. United’s hope is when players like Josef Martinez and Santiago Sosa are fully fit that those players help steer the ship. Given that Atlanta has only two wins this season, that seems unlikely.
20. Austin FC (24)
In their minds, Austin FC envisioned the expansion club dominating opponents at its home stadium. For one night at least that happened as Austin FC routed Portland 4-1 at Q2 Stadium last time out. Whether that momentum can continue remains to be seen, but chances are it will not. Austin FC has scored just 10 goals in 12 games, even with its recent outburst, and injuries are now hampering the team. Still, the team played with energy en route to its first home victory and another similar outing might prove the doubters wrong.
21. San Jose Earthquakes (18)
San Jose continues to sink, dropping a 5-0 result to Orlando City and lost to rivals LA Galaxy by 3-1 the next time out. Their last win was on May 7 and the club’s record since then is an abysmal 0-6-2. General manager Jesse Fioranelli paid for that stretch with his job as the club sacked him after the loss to the Galaxy. Coach Mathias Almeyda survived for now with the pressure on to turn things around.
22. FC Cincinnati (27)
FC Cincinnati had a bit of a breakthrough. The club piled up seven points in three consecutive road games and now is well clear of the cellar. They also had clean sheets in road games against Chicago and Toronto and escaped Houston with a 1-1 draw. The club is not quite within striking distance of a playoff spot, but the playoffs look closer than last place, at least if FC Cincinnati can continue to collect points regularly.
23. FC Dallas (23)
June was not a horrible month for FC Dallas, but it’s difficult to tell by looking at the table. Their record was a modest 1-1-1, but the win came against Eastern Conference leaders New England. Still, it might have been better to defeat a top Western Conference team so FC Dallas could climb in the table. FC Dallas sits two points ahead of Vancouver in the penultimate spot in the table and needed a late goal against those same Whitecaps to avoid sitting in last place as the two tied 2-2 on July 4.
24. Vancouver Whitecaps (19)
Vancouver nearly had its first official road victory of the season but couldn’t hold onto a late lead at FC Dallas on the weekend. However, given that the club has yet to play a single minute at BC Place, one could argue that all nine of its points this season have come on the road. Vancouver’s late defensive collapses not only cost the club a win at FC Dallas but also what would have been a hard-earned point against the LA Galaxy the week prior. Still, to not finish the season in last place would be an accomplishment.
25. Chicago Fire (26)
Through nine games, Chicago had scored just four goals and carried a 291-minute scoreless streak into match number 10. In its next two matches, Chicago scored six goals and collected four points against contenders. Against Philadelphia and Atlanta, Chicago collected more than half of its goals (6 of 10) and half of its points (4 of 8) for the entire campaign. Whether or not those were two fluky back-to-back games, there’s a glimmer of hope at Soldier Field these days.
26. Inter Miami (25)
The bottom has fallen out of Inter Miami’s season. The second-year club has lost five consecutive games, scoring just one goal. The lack of goals is troubling, although both Rodolfo Pizarro and Gonzalo Higuain are battling fitness issues. If the team cannot find reliable scorers behind those two, then the season could get even longer for Inter Miami.
27. Toronto FC (21)
Toronto FC sinks to the bottom of the table after a 7-1 loss to DC United that cost coach Chris Armas his job. It’s the worst loss ever in club history, including their grim early era. Well out of the playoff picture, this is a stark reminder for true home field advantage. How quickly Toronto can figure things out is what can keep them off the bottom of the Eastern Conference and these rankings for the rest of the season.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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