By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Oct 6, 2021) US Soccer Players – The stretch run is here. Teams are either battling for playoff positioning or fighting to stay alive. At the very top of the table, though, one team is putting the finishing touches on the best regular season in MLS history. That makes it all too easy to figure out the top spot. It’s the rest of the rankings where things get tricky.
1. New England (1 in September)
New England is hands down the best team in the league. The club’s record attests to that. In fact, New England has the chance to be the best regular-season team in league history. New England has 65 points, already the eighth-highest total ever in MLS, and just needs eight points from its final five games to surpass LAFC’s record total of 72 points set in 2019. But, of course, coach Bruce Arena could not care any less about records.
2. Seattle Sounders (2)
Seattle is no longer the unquestioned top team in MLS, but the Sounders are still a force and will be in it until the very end. They routed the Rapids 3-0 at home to open October. The Sounders are just as strong as they have been at any point this season, seemingly peaking at the right time. The club’s ability to withstand adversity, such as losing two assistant coaches during the summer, is remarkable. Seattle really should be 1B to New England’s 1A in the table.
3. Nashville SC (4)
Nashville just keeps plugging along, finishing the month with a 3-1-2 mark. The loss was perhaps a bit troublesome, but to expect a second-year team to go through the season unscathed is unrealistic. It’s better to get those losses now so the team can work to recover before the games become win-or-go-home in November.
4. Sporting KC (5)
Sporting KC failed its big test last month, losing 2-1 to Seattle at home on September 26. The result kept Seattle ahead of Sporting KC at the top of the Western Conference, now leading by two points. They play Seattle at Lumen Field on October 23, a match that could decide conference supremacy once and for all.
Portland Timbers (14)
Portland has been tearing up the schedule. The Timbers have not lost since August 21 and have won seven and tied once since. That has meant a meteoric rise in the table and these rankings. Portland is seven points clear of 5th-place and will likely either finish in 3rd or 4th-place, which means the first playoff game would be a home game. The Timbers have had this in them from the start of the season, but the team finally figured out how to put it all together.
6. Colorado Rapids (6)
The Rapids did just enough to get by, but that all came crashing down in one half against Seattle in the first game of the month. Had it not been for a questionable call, the Rapids would have been down 4-0 at halftime. It ended their 12-match unbeaten run and now requires a response on the road for their next two games at Minnesota and Real Salt Lake. Then it’s back at home to play the Sounders.
7. Philadelphia Union (8)
The Union’s Concacaf Champions League dream evaporated with a 2-0 home loss to Club America last month. Returning to league play that may have helped jumpstart the season. Philadelphia is 3-0-1 since losing that match and has solidified its spot in the table. Philadelphia can now focus on trying to catch Nashville five points ahead of them. They play on October 23 in a match that could decide 2nd-place.
8. NYCFC (3)
September was a bit of a failure for NYCFC. The club had seven games last month and had the chance to cement its spot in the top four. Instead, NYCFC slogged through a 1-4-2 record, including losing to their old pals the Red Bulls. NYCFC is in a tie with three teams on 40 points. That may flatter the other two, but it’s up to NYCFC to prove it.
9. Orlando City (7)
Orlando was reeling from a rough September before opening October with a win. That halted a five-game winless skid that saw Orlando tumble down the table. Daryl Dike scored the match winner against DC United, with three goals in his last three games. Orlando will need production like that to keep their MLS Cup hopes alive.
10. DC United (11)
DC United is in 5th-place in the Eastern Conference table, but that alone is a bit deceiving. Tied on 40 points with the 6th- and 7th-place teams and one point out of 8th-place, it’s a tight table in both directions. While things are certainly heading in the right direction, nothing is set in stone. DC had a 3-1-1 record in September, starting October off with a 2-1 loss to Orlando.
11. Minnesota United FC (10)
Minnesota United has not done too well in trying to hold onto its playoff spot. With everything to play for, the club’s results have been spotty. They entered October in a playoff spot but the club’s last six games have not gone well. A 2-3-1 record across those previous six matches is not exactly postseason material. Still, Vancouver is the only club on Minnesota’s heels.
12. CF Montreal (12)
CF Montreal sits in the seventh and final playoff position, at least for now. They swapped places with Atlanta after a 2-1 win to start October. With full credit for staying in the race, hanging around the playoff spots is different from cementing one of them. That may be too much of an ask for this team, but it’s not necessarily something that will keep them from advancing to the postseason.
13. Real Salt Lake (18)
RSL has had a bit of a crazy ride through 2021 and that was evident in September alone. RSL finished the month with a 4-2-0 record, which included a 6-1 loss to Portland and a 1-0 win against Western leaders Seattle. That extended into October as RSL dropped a 2-1 result to Austin. RSL did well to get into fifth place in the Western Conference but the hold on that spot is tenuous, if only because of the roller coaster ride that has been 2021 for RSL.
14. LA Galaxy (9)
The Galaxy has not looked like a top 10 side for a while. The club’s 1-1 draw against LAFC on Sunday was an okay result, but the game didn’t rise to the occasion of an LA derby. The Galaxy is in 6th-place in the Western Conference, just two points ahead of 8th-place Vancouver. It wouldn’t be a shock to see the Galaxy slide all the way out of the playoffs.
15. Atlanta United (17)
Atlanta United is not dead yet. The club pieced together a 4-1-0 record in September to climb back in the playoff race. A 2-1 setback at Montreal to start October has them just out of 7th-place, but higher up the table is within reach. It’s hard to see the schedule not favoring them with five out of six of their remaining games against teams lower than them in the East.
16. Vancouver Whitecaps (19)
Vancouver has done well to not only stay within sight of the playoffs but to essentially control its own fate. They’re in 8th-place in the Western Conference, one point behind Minnesota for the final playoff spot. The bad thing for Vancouver is that the club has two games against Seattle left on the schedule. They play Minnesota on October 27 at BC Place. If the Caps reach the postseason, they’ll have earned it.
17. NY Red Bulls (21)
New York was hanging around a playoff spot for most of the first half of the season, but a rough spell in late July/early August hurt the team. The Eastern Conference does not allow for such slip-ups. Still, New York is doing its best to get back in the race. A 2-1-3 record in September and opening October with a win are both positives. So is the schedule that gives them plenty of opportunity to pass the teams directly in front of them.
18. San Jose Earthquakes (13)
San Jose is playing through its usual season of highs and lows. After losing 4-3 to Real Salt Lake, they beat Austin by the same score and followed it up with a 2-0 win over LAFC before losing 3-1 to Seattle. Is a playoff push possible? Sure, but it’s far more likely that the Quakes will be adding drama rather than enough points.
19. Columbus Crew (15)
The season has been a disappointment for Columbus, and an inconsistent September didn’t help. The Crew lost its first two games of the month before finishing with seven points over the last three games. October started off poorly with a 3-0 to Philadelphia. It’s almost worth the reminder that this is the defending champion now six points out of the playoff picture in the East.
20. LAFC (16)
The season keeps getting worse for LAFC, starting September off with a thrilling 4-0 win over Sporting KC and winning their next two games. Three straight losses canceled out that progress. A 1-1 draw against the Galaxy to start October off. LAFC is four points out of the postseason, and a late surge does not look likely. Carlos Vela has not played since July, which is a big part of the club’s slide. Say it with me now. Depth is always the issue in this league.
21. Toronto FC (27)
Toronto FC is figuring things out late in the season. The club has a 3-0-1 record in its last four games, a stretch that accounts for half of its six wins and more than a third of its 28 points. It’s much too late to push for a playoff spot, but it should keep them out of last place. It also gives hope that the team has the makings to be competitive in 2022, which has to count for something.
22. Inter Miami (22)
Inter Miami was hard-done by courtesy of the officiating against Portland. A nonexistent foul cost Inter a late equalizer in a 1-0 loss at Portland. The wheels fell off the last half of August with three consecutive losses by a combined 10-2, disappointing given the team’s three straight wins to start the month. So the loss to Portland wasn’t necessarily a playoff-damaging setback, but it would have been nice to have gotten on the right track.
23. Chicago Fire (20)
Things were so bad in Chicago that even a victory could not save the coach’s job. Raphael Wicky departed the day after Chicago beat NYCFC 2-0. The club’s body of work in September was particularly bad. The Fire was held scoreless in four games, losing a fifth 3-2. Maybe the win over NYCFC was just a fluke. What is not a fluke is the club’s 27 points on the season, third-worst in the East.
24. Houston Dynamo (26)
Not much outside of Texas seemingly motivates Houston lately. The Dynamo finished September with a 2-3-1 record and started October off with a 4-2 loss to Sporting KC. Those two wins, though, were against fellow Texas clubs Austin FC and FC Dallas. Houston might not be anywhere close to being the best team in MLS, but the club is at least the club to not mess with in Texas.
25. Austin FC (23)
Austin FC won twice in August but repeating that was apparently too much to ask for. Austin won just once last month. The silver lining though was that that victory was rather electric. They beat the LA Galaxy behind a goal from Austin local Orrin Gaines. The match was probably one of Austin’s top performances this season, which is not saying much considering the struggles the team has gone through. Still, it kept the atmosphere electric and rewarded the fans who were there.
26. FC Dallas (24)
September was one of the roughest months for FC Dallas in recent years. The team went 0-4-2, lost a tough match to rivals Houston, and sacked coach Luchi Gonzalez. Dallas has just two wins in its last 12 and would be in last place if Houston and Austin weren’t each terrible as well. The only drama left this season is transfer-related. European clubs have their sights set on teenage sensation Ricardo Pepi for the most obvious of reasons.
27. FC Cincinnati (25)
The bottom has fallen out fpr FC Cincinnati, again. The club lost four consecutive games, a stretch that cost coach Jaap Stam his job. Something positive has come out of it though. Former Philadelphia Union executive Chris Albright is the club’s new general manager. Albright was with the Union throughout its trying times and was also there for the club’s ascent. He takes that knowledge to his new job and with it can start to build up FCC. Hitting rock bottom, it’s the only direction the team can head.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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