Should the Columbus Crew be higher in the Power Rankings? Head coach Caleb Porter certainly thinks so.
After Columbus' 1-0 victory over Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium last Saturday, Porter called out what he perceives as a lack of respect for his squad, specifically referencing the MLSsoccer.com Power Rankings. The latest edition, released Tuesday, has the reigning MLS Cup champs at No. 11, one place higher than last week.
To hear Porter tell it, that's too low, and doesn't take into account the rash of absences and international absences his team has endured in recent weeks, nor their recent run of form in spite of them.
"I don't care what people think, honestly," Porter said on his postgame video call. "That's no disrespect to what people think. I respect everybody's opinions and I think it's great for our game that people have opinions. I think it's great that people write articles and do the Power Rankings and all that. I look at a lot of some of those things and wonder sometimes if anybody actually watches the games and really looks at the lineups and looks [at] who's out.
“When you are the champion the last season, people look for holes in you," he continued. "Instead of talking about us being the best defensive team and the fact that we've lost one game in 10 and we've got five wins and four draws, instead of talking about that, they'll talk about why we're not scoring more goals. They always look for the negative and that's because when you're good, the tallest tree the wind blows the strongest against. So when you're the tallest tree, people try to chop you down and, yeah, I don't agree with it all. At the end of the day, we have Artur out, Gyasi [Zardes] out, Luis Diaz, we have Josh Williams out, we have Milton Valenzuela. So I don't know if anybody ever even looks at that and I don't care if they do, to be honest with you."
Naturally, that became a topic of discussion on the latest episode of Extratime. Does Porter have a point? Are the pundits slighting the Crew? Or is this just a case of a coach looking to give his players a little extra boost?
"It’s a copycat league, right? And everybody saw what Adrian Heath did by using the Power Rankings as bulletin-board [material]," said co-host Matt Doyle. "He got his team like 10 extra points by harping on the Power Rankings every week. So now Caleb Porter is no dummy. He knows that if he makes it into a Power Rankings thing every week — Crew, 65 points this year minimum, minimum. That’s the power of the Power Rankings."
On a serious note, Doyle said that when he assesses the landscape, he doesn't perceive that much distance between Porter's comments and how the Crew have been covered.
"What he said in that clip is what we’ve been saying about the Crew for the past five, six weeks," said Doyle. "They’re a super talented team, they’re figuring out how to grind out points. We wish they would play better. That’s it."
Wiebe acknowledged that perhaps Porter has a legitimate bone to pick in that the Crew's defense could be acknowledged a bit more, especially with goalkeeper Eloy Room and center back Jonathan Mensah in key roles. Still, Wiebe said, the Crew are yet to look like the dominant side that won MLS Cup in emphatic fashion a season ago, which is the simple reason why they haven't been ranked as high as they were in 2020.
"They are arguably the best defensive team in the league, and maybe that’s not a point that we’ve driven home as much as we should have," Wiebe said. "But maybe that is sort of the dichotomy of this, which is what we saw in the playoffs last year and what we thought we’d see this year. We haven’t seen that intoxicating style of play, the goal-scoring, the chance creation. It’s really been [Lucas] Zelarayan and then waiting for everybody else to get going."
Wherever you fall on the issue, the Power Rankings seem to generate this type of discussion every week, whether it's from fans of certain teams or, as it was in this case, from one of the coaches themselves. Porter wasn't the first coach to raise them, and we're pretty certain he won't be the last.