What a week in MLS.
As always, you can listen to Matt Doyle, Andrew Wiebe and a range of guests from around the league discuss every team on Twitter Spaces each Tuesday at 11 am ET. Listen to this week's discussion below.
Disclaimer: The Power Rankings are voted on by the entirety of the MLSsoccer.com editorial staff. You should probably be gently made fun of if you still think the actual rankings are made by just one person. Except for this week. Because if I had a dime for every time Tom Bogert sent me $100 worth of Chili’s gift cards in exchange for being the deciding vote on every team, well, I would only have 20 cents. But it’s weird that it happened twice. I’m open to bribes, though. Because I’m personally determined to ruin the sanctity of the most sacred tradition in sports: The MLS Power Rankings. Anyway, you should really recognize that the stakes have never been lower.
Revolutionmeter: Eighteen points away from the MLS record for single-season points and cruising against teams like NYCFC despite not starting Carles Gil, Tajon Buchanan, Gustavo Bou and (highly underrated) Adam Buksa.
The Revs have a vice grip on the Supporters’ Shield and can (mostly) pick and choose who and how much they want to rotate the rest of the way until the playoffs. The records are nice, but just ask 2019 LAFC whether they want the record or MLS Cup. Even if Seattle start to make the Shield race interesting, they have the luxury of walking the rest of the path to the first seed in the East and a Round One bye.
They should be healthy and rested heading into the playoffs and if they happen to average the two points per game they need to break the points record, well, that wouldn’t be a bad thing either. If what they did to NYCFC without their best attackers is any indication, it shouldn’t even be all that hard.
I’ve been worrying about Orlando for the last few weeks. They haven’t been scoring. Maybe it’s time to do the same with Seattle?
They had a week where they put three up on Tigres, of all teams, and then outperformed their xG by scoring world-class goal after world-class goal against Portland in a 6-2 win. And as they’ve gotten healthier and healthier, it seemed like their ability to find the back of the net would only improve. Take out that week of massive wins and they haven’t scored more than two goals in a game since May 2. Including their 1-0 win over Minnesota this weekend, 13 of their 23 games this season have seen them score a goal or less.
Now, clearly, it hasn’t slowed them down that much. The reason I can worry about Orlando and not do the same for Seattle is that Orlando have given up 10 more goals on the season. You don’t have to blow teams out when you have the best defense in the league. But maybe it’s a collection of data points that show a potential Achilles heel for the Sounders. It’s a step beyond something as banal as “A team that scores more goals than Seattle could beat Seattle.” It’s more, “If Ruidiaz is marked out of a game in the playoffs, can the rest of the team find the net?”
That’s a nitpick, but when you’re as good as Seattle people try to find the thermal exhaust port in the Death Star.
They didn’t get all three points against the Galaxy, but they’re still third in the league on points per game. The story on the Rapids isn’t going to change the rest of the way. They’re going to keep winning and putting in consistently solid performances and everyone is going to keep wondering if they have the firepower up top to make a run in the playoffs. Just gonna copy and paste this for next week.
A 2-0 win over Chicago could be called a “major improvement” over last week’s 4-0 loss to LAFC. It could be called that because it is. SKC probably shouldn’t do the whole losing 4-0 thing again. That’s kind of all I got here. Anyway, they’re still fourth in the league in points per game. The rumors of a late-season collapse have, so far, been greatly exaggerated.
The Boys in Nuclear Banana have been brighter than their uniforms as of late. Their 1-0 win over Montréal Saturday gave them their 13th point in their last five games. They’re alone in second in the East on points and are second in the East on expected goal differential.
By the way: Hany Mukhtar is now at nine assists to go along with his 10 goals. He’s now leading the league in total goals plus assists.
A 1-1 draw against Colorado isn’t bad. But that’s just six points over their last six if we’re keeping track. All that really matters, I guess, is that Chicharito is back and looked fit against the Rapids. If he can get hot again, then there’s no definite ceiling for the Galaxy.
Are we going to look back on this season and see NYCFC as the most disappointing team in the league? Right now they seem like the kid in class who’s smarter than everyone else, but starts getting answers wrong on purpose so they don’t get made fun of for being too smart. I guess there are worse things to be. You could be a not that bright kid accidentally getting answers right and tricking everyone into thinking you’re a genius until everyone really starts paying attention.
But I think the NYCFC version is more frustrating. For a lot of the year, it’s seemed like NYCFC were going to make the jump to the league’s elite teams. They haven’t been consistent enough to earn that spot, though, and are closer to being out of the playoffs than they are to being the East’s second seed.
Both are still very much in play but, if I had to guess, they’ll end up closer to second than eighth. They could easily get hot at the right time and make a deep run through the playoffs. It’s just that it felt like they could spend the season with the New Englands and Seattles of the world. Instead, after losing three of their last five, they’re closer to the Orlandos and Philadelphias. Which means that genius kid is going to mess around and end up at some kind of safety school. Like the University of Florida.
The good news is the rest of their schedule is largely a cakewalk. NYCFC only play one game against a team higher than them in the standings. Nine of their final 12 games come against teams currently below the playoff line. If they don’t cruise the rest of the way, it will be time to seriously question their MLS Cup potential.
No Bebelo Reynoso + No Robin Lod = No points against Seattle. That’s a pretty understandable equation. The good news for Minnesota fans is both may be back for Wednesday’s game with Kansas City. The bad news is the Loons are all the way down to sixth in the West now. And the home stretch of their schedule is looking kind of brutal. But I’m not too worried about them. Yet...
Well. Orlando still definitely had trouble scoring this weekend. That part, if you’ve been paying attention, really wasn’t unexpected. The part where Atlanta controlled every part of the game and made a near full-strength Lions XI look disjointed across the entire field in every phase? That part was a little more unexpected.
However, it’s the culmination of a run of form that’s been far less than encouraging from Orlando as of late. They’ve scored two goals or more in a game three times since July began. That’s 14 games. And one of those three teams they put more than a goal on just boat raced them.
They’re still in third place. But their goal differential is down to four. It looks a bit out of place in between Nashville and NYCFC’s 17 and 14, and would be far more comfortable next to Philadelphia and D.C. United. Right now Orlando are a mid-tier team in the East that’s found a way to grind out a few more results. Unless something changes and changes quickly, a playoff run is starting to seem less likely by the game.
Hey, speaking of things changing quickly.
The Five Stripes have won five of their last six games and are now just one point away from being over the playoff line and four points away from hosting a playoff game. These things happen mighty quickly around here don’t they, y’all?
There are so many incredibly encouraging things about this run that it feels rude to leave out things like Ezequiel Barco's form, their incredibly deep group of center backs, Luiz Araujo coming in and immediately looking like a long-term superstar, access to the team for both in-house and outside media that makes the team feel far, far less like a faceless globo-corporate-monolith and more like an entertainment product, and positive signs when it comes to the club’s use of analytics. However, what’s most encouraging right now is how Gonzalo Pineda is managing his players and implementing his tactics.
“When we started to prepare for the game and started trying to face what we faced today during training sessions, I felt that sometimes they felt uncomfortable. Then, they solved some tactical kinks on their own, and that is where I am very happy,” Pineda said. “Sometimes, we as coaches can really pay attention to the solutions that the players provide to us, not us always providing the solutions. I love to analyze the training sessions because we can see certain behaviors from them that we can continue in the game plan, and they did it fantastically today.”
Atlanta started the year having the answers to every problem be so defined that they were afraid to try anything else. To the point where they looked frozen at times. Now, they’ve been given the freedom to solve problems on their own within the structure of the team. And they’re showing they have the talent and understanding of the structure that makes them clearly capable of answering those real-time questions. That’s what makes them truly scary right now.
Couple that with what may be the easiest schedule in the league the rest of the way and I’d be shocked if this isn’t a playoff team. From there, there’s a chance they could be even more than that.
It’s extremely rude of Portland to keep personally attacking me by...um...winning. But full credit to them. Especially to their defense, which has suddenly kept three clean sheets in three straight games. Is that sustainable for the team with the worst defense in the league by expected goals allowed and the second-worst by actual goals allowed? I...am still pretty skeptical.
However, teams can change. If I’m going to give full credit to Atlanta (and later Inter Miami) for making changes that can solve a large majority of a team’s problems then I should be open to thinking Portland can do the same defensively. In this case, the biggest change seems to be how they’re utilizing Diego Chara. To quote one Matthew Leonidas Doyle: “I’ll also offer that Gio Savarese has been shrewder in how he’s used Diego Chara in recent weeks, deploying him more as a backline shield who protects the central defense rather than a go-everywhere ball-winner or, as in the disastrous loss to the Sounders, a No. 8 limited to one side of the pitch.”
Is that enough to salvage an entire team’s defensive ability for the rest of the season? Maybe. We’ll see if it holds up over a brutal stretch run where every game but one involves a team either currently in the playoffs or within touching distance of the line.
Someone hilariously DM’d me over the weekend to tell me that I should \actually\ be upset about the D.C. versus Red Bulls game instead of being excited and that the lack of either team deploying a false regista or something was going to ruin the sport. I don’t know. I stopped reading. Because I was far too busy paying attention to the art of two teams attempting to crack eggs for an omelet by dropping competing anvils from a skyscraper onto the cartons below. Precision is for the weak. Both teams know this. Which is why the average passing percentage in the final third for this one ended up at 51.8%. That’s a significant improvement from the first-half average of 34.7%
Anyway, both teams came away with a well-deserved point and D.C. stayed above the playoff line and stayed at third in the league in expected goal differential. A six-pointer with Atlanta this weekend looms pretty large for both teams.
They have a game in hand on the four teams in front of them. A win and an even number of games would jump them from ninth to fifth. After the kind of season Inter Miami have had, it’s hard not to be stunned. What Phil Neville has done in keeping this team together mentally and tactically is remarkable. They have six wins in their last nine and are grinding their way up the Eastern Conference ladder. Even if you aren’t convinced that they’ll be there at the end of the day, Miami are going to have a huge influence on this playoff race down the stretch.
We’ve reached a season-low for Philly. They took just four points from their last five in the league before taking this week off. The good news is those five games were all against playoff teams. Or maybe that’s the bad news? It just doesn’t seem like this team can compete with the best teams in the league on a consistent basis. Of course, a miraculous comeback against Club America this week in CCL could change a lot of opinions very, very quickly.
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Who knows what LAFC’s two straight wins actually mean, but at the very least, Cristian Arango appears to be the real thing at forward. That’s a piece this team had been missing this year and they were able to solve it with a TAM deal.
LAFC are now tied with Real Salt Lake on points for seventh in the West and just may end up being a playoff team. And, for the second week in a row, there’s no “LAFC Catastrophic Defensive Moment of the Week.” Although this time it’s more because nothing they did could top the spectacular own goal that gifted them all three points against RSL.
I love Wilfried Nancy. You love Wilfried Nancy. We all love Wilfried Nancy and the job he’s done with a Montréal team that had incredibly low expectations heading into the season. But it’s starting to feel like this team is running out of juice.
They’re trending downward and are seventh in the East with Atlanta and Inter Miami very hot on their heels. They’ve won twice in their last 11 games, and haven’t beaten a team above them in the standings since July 7. It wouldn’t be shocking to see them in the playoffs at the end of the year. But it’s getting tough to keep the faith.
Do not do this.
The run had to come to an end at some point. Who’s to say they don’t go on another 10-game unbeaten streak now, though?
Me. I say that. But the Whitecaps are still right in the thick of the playoff race in the West.
They would have wanted more than a draw against Dallas, but you can’t count out the Quakes yet. They’re just three points out of seventh place.
They would have wanted more than a draw against San Jose. You can maybe consider starting to count out Dallas, but don’t do it entirely. Four points with a game out of hand from seventh isn’t great, but it’s not impossible.
Also: Ricardo Pepi.
I double-checked and even if you lose eight of your last nine, no one can take away your MLS Cup.
I'm still waiting for clarification on nine of your last 10.
Somehow ended up with a higher passing percentage in the final third than D.C. despite finishing the first half at 29.4%. That’s not quite the same as taking all three points, but it’s close.
The Red Bulls could have maybe used all three points, though. They’re eight points back from seventh place, but at least having two games in hand on most everyone in front of you makes that seem a little less daunting.
Why waste time trying to win the whole game when you know you’re just going to get hurt? Give up two goals in the first six minutes and be done with it, especially on the road. The Fire’s four points away from home this season is the lowest mark in the league.
With what will they eat this spaghetti chili once the Wooden Spoon is gone from their grasp?
Let that be a lesson to the league. Nobody keeps Houston Dynamo Football Club from winning a game 17 times in a row.
If last season had been a full 34-game schedule, Toronto’s points per game would have placed them at about 65 points for the year. This year, they’re on pace for 22. Right now, CF Montréal, the seventh-place team in the East, are on pace for 46 points. The 43-point gap between last year’s Toronto team and this year’s would be a playoff contender.
You could say things are going poorly.