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, 31 weeks into the season, if you still think the actual rankings are made by just one person. Except for this week. This week I put Seattle in third. Just for fun. Or did I. Maybe that’s actually how the votes shaped out. I’m not gonna tell you either way. 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.
It had been a long time coming, but the Revs officially took home the Supporters’ Shield this weekend. They then dropped every single starter but two, went down 2-0 to Orlando at Exploria Stadium and still came out with a draw. It’s a perfect encapsulation of a team that has relentlessly tormented every single team in the East this year by putting hope out there on a string and yanking it away over and over again just because they can.
In almost every single possible scenario, the Revs have found a way to get the job done. They’re not the most oppressive team in MLS history, but no team has understood the assignment like this group each and every time out. They take each game as it comes to them, let the DPs cook and then, if that doesn’t work (it usually works), have Matt Turner there as a failsafe. That’s a formula for the floor to be incredibly high in every game and they’ve ridden that to what will be a record-breaking performance.
Oh, hey, by the way, speaking of DPs cooking: Have you appreciated Adam Buksa today? In all the Carles Gil/Gustavo Bou/Tajon Buchanan/Matt Turner hype, there hasn’t been much room for Buksa. Folks, Adam Buksa has been really dang good. He has three goals and an assist over the last two games to bring his totals to 16 and three. He’s second in the league in American Soccer Analysis’ Goals Added metric and may just finish first when all is said and done. Did I mention 16 goals is good for second in the league as well? He’s the most underappreciated member of the best trio in MLS.
By the way, that trio’s season totals are now at 35 goals and 30 assists. New England’s DPs have outscored Austin and Cincinnati this season, and are equal on goals for with Toronto.
For the second time this season, Sporting went up to Seattle and came away with all three points. They’re another win and a few goals in their favor from being in first place in the West. I guess the question now is if they really want to be? I’m only being like 60 percent sarcastic there. Things seem to be going well when they face Seattle on the road. Their season ended at home last year against Minnesota and Seattle earned a 2-1 win at Children’s Mercy Park in September.
You may say I’m “looking too much into a small sample size outcome” and I might say “SKC should kick the ball into their own net before they accidentally have to face Seattle in Kansas City.” This is why we do the Power Rankings. For varying perspectives.
Anyway, Daniel Salloi missed this one (as did Alan Pulido) and Sporting still got the job done. Seattle were missing Raul Ruidiaz so that’s a talisman for a talisman and makes things relatively even in my opinion. I think we can go ahead and call this win for SKC a decent-to-moderately sized deal. Does it mean they have Seattle’s number and will continue to do so throughout the playoffs? Probably not. But the events of Saturday’s game can’t hurt their confidence going up against the league’s premier playoff.
Hey, look! It’s the league’s premier playoff team. All the way down at number three. It’s been a second.
It doesn’t mean much, though. No one is dumb enough to worry about the Sounders at this point. Brian Schmetzer indicated Ruidiaz will be good to return from a hamstring strain sometime in the final three regular-season games and indicated Nico Lodeiro and even Jordan Morris could possibly do the same. Morris is just waiting to be medically cleared. I’d imagine that will happen before the playoffs. “Jordan Morris - Super-sub” conjures up some terrifying images for anyone in the West hoping to reach the playoffs.
However, this is a three-game winless streak now for Seattle that includes the loss to SKC, a draw with Colorado and (no really) a loss to Houston. Ruidiaz hasn’t been there for any of them, but that’s not the kind of run we’re used to seeing from Seattle in any situation. So. There you go. That’s what you can pretend for a few weeks matters until Seattle end up back in MLS Cup. Keep holding onto that tight until you can’t.
Hi, and welcome back, dear reader, to another edition of “I don’t know what else I need to say about Colorado.”
We’re 31 games into this now. If you don’t know by now, you’ll never know. The Rapids took four points off the two green Cascadia teams this week. You shouldn’t have been surprised.
The Rapids are even on points with SKC for second place in the West, just three points behind Seattle. They only have more than one player with more than five goals and 10 players with multiple goals this season. They don’t really have match winners and that absolutely has not mattered in the regular season. They’re a good soccer team that does good things and that’s why they’ve been in the top-five for what seems like a large majority of the season. Now copy and paste all that for next week and we’ll be good to go.
The Union are in second place in the East. After a midweek loss to Minnesota, they rebounded with a 1-0 win over (somewhat rotated) Nashville SC. That loss to Minnesota is their only loss since they fell to Club America in the Champions League. They’ve taken 17 points over the last eight games and they’ve now earned the second-most wins in the East.
They’ll probably coast the rest of the way into that spot, too. Toronto and Cincy await this week. After struggling to find their feet for most of the year, the Union have suddenly turned 2021 into a solid regular-season follow-up to their Shield-winning 2020.
Nashville cruised through about 25 miles of the regular season marathon before trying to find out if they can finish the last 1.2 miles of the race by diving forward and sliding face-first over the concrete.
An away-game-loaded second half of the year was always going to be a struggle. They seemed to handle it well for a while. And it looked like they had second place wrapped up. But since a 5-1 win at Inter Miami on Sept. 22, they’ve picked up five points over six games and have only scored three times.
They should be able to recover a bit against Cincinnati over the midweek. But they close the year with games against Orlando and the Red Bulls. There’s a legitimate chance they could go from second place to a road playoff game in the first round in a matter of a couple of weeks here. For now, though, they’re still the second-best East team on goal differential and still a genuine contender according to the underlying numbers. Which should theoretically make the sixth-place ranking a little more palatable for you, dear reader. Maybe.
It’s not time to panic. Just time to get off the ground again before it’s too late.
The Lions picked up a pair of draws against a pair of good to great teams in CF Montréal and New England. They’ll be frustrated to not get more, though. Especially against a heavily-rotated New England team they were beating until the third minute of stoppage time.
They’re still unbeaten in their last five and still hanging strong in a home playoff spot ... even if their +1 goal differential looks a bit out of place among the best in the East. That said, you have to give them full credit for digging in during the toughest stretch of any team chasing the playoffs.
They still have Columbus, Nashville and Montréal again left in this brutal backstretch of the season, but they’re closer to finishing second than to finishing seventh. The Lions look like a lock for the playoffs. Good thing I didn’t do something like write an entire article predicting they would finish anywhere from sixth in the East to missing the playoffs entirely. That would look real dumb in hindsight. Even if the reasoning was sound and well-written at the time and I included an extra paragraph just to mention their draw against Nashville might be enough to drag them out of their bad form.
The Galaxy are unbeaten in four after defeating Houston and getting a late equalizer against FC Dallas and ... um ... wow did we really bump them up four spots for that?
OK then. The margins are thin out here, huh?
To their credit, they’ve steered out of a two-month-long winless skid relatively nicely here. It’s enough to put them equal on points with Portland at fourth in the West. Most importantly though, they lead the league in ruined engagements. That’s not an advanced stat.
(Someone tell me if you know this couple, I’ve never wanted to write a feature so badly.)
The Loons eventually managed to put Emanuel Reynoso, Robin Lod, Franco Fragapane and Adrien Hunou on the field at the same time and took down Philadelphia on Wednesday. Funny how that works. Hunou, Lod and Fragapane all scored for Minnesota while Reynoso and Fragapane picked up an assist.
Real quick, off the top of your head, which player leads Minnesota in primary assists? Your first guess is Reynoso, right? Unless you correctly assumed I wouldn’t be asking the question if the answer wasn’t a surprise. Well, it’s Fragapane with nine. Reynoso leads in total assists with 10, but only four of those are primary assists. And Fragapane has done it in just 1261 minutes compared to Reynoso's 2113. That’s not to say that Reynoso has been bad, it’s just to put some respect on Fragapane’s abilities.
Anyway, they really should have gotten more out of this week. But 70 percent possession and 18 shots later against LAFC, they only took a 1-1 draw. They maybe haven’t looked the part in the standings all season, but I think this is a team that can easily make a playoff run in the same way last year’s group did. And someone else may even get an assist besides Reynoso.
I think I officially caved a couple of weeks ago. Something to the effect of “OK, the numbers are telling me one thing, but the Timbers keep winning and at some point you just have to concede they’ve made a turnaround.”
Since then, the Timbers have lost three straight. That includes allowing Vancouver to come back from 2-0 down in the second half and losing 3-2 to the Caps at Providence Park on Wednesday before getting handled by the Rapids 2-0 on Saturday. Those are good teams and losing to good teams is understandable. But, once again, I’m going to tap the sign that says “Portland are second to last in the league in expected points and expected goal differential” and once again ask you to just consider the possibility their eight-game unbeaten run may have been part turnaround for the slightly better, part smoke and mirrors.
They should be able to recover enough over the next three games (San Jose, RSL and Austin) to make the playoffs. But San Jose aren’t a pushover, RSL are still very much in the playoff race and Austin ... well, Portland fans will know all too well to be afraid of Austin. It’s perfect theater that Portland face Austin on Decision Day by the way, and I applaud the foresight of the MLS schedule makers who assuredly assumed that Austin would mollywhop Portland 4-1 and 3-1 during the regular season.
The Timbers are just two points above seventh-place Vancouver and four points above eighth-place RSL, who have a game in hand. They need to be very, very careful here.
The Red Bulls, of all teams, are the hottest team in MLS. That’s eight games unbeaten and 20 points from those eight games. And for anyone complaining they hadn’t scored more than a goal in the first seven of those eight games, they scored twice to beat Columbus over the weekend. They’re doing exactly enough. And suddenly, somehow, a team that looked left for dead and disinterested in saving themselves from that fate a few weeks ago is in sixth place in the East.
Some of that is luck. It just is. The rest of it is due to a formation and personnel selection that Matt Doyle took a look at in his weekend column.
Loud and livid fan sentiment isn’t the only thing that’s changed for RBNY during the course of this run, though. Gerhard Struber has juggled the lineup a good bit before finally settling on a dual pivot of Sean Davis (who generally holds a little deeper) and Dru Yearwood (given license to go more box-to-box) in front of the defense, while at the same time mostly dropping the two forward look for either a 4-2-3-1 or a 3-4-2-1 set-up.
They’ve got four games left against D.C., Montréal, Atlanta and Nashville. That’s not an easy landing. But for now, the Red Bulls are in the middle of one of the most incredible late-season turnarounds I can remember.
After going dormant for the entirety of September, half of October and 89 minutes against Atlanta United. Gudmundur Thorarinsson blasted in a free kick to steal a point from Atlanta and then NYCFC decided to take every single piece of frustration of the past month and a half out on D.C. United.
The 6-0 win over D.C. serves as a less-than-gentle reminder this team is extremely scary when it’s confident. Finally, and just at the right time, this team might be confident again. Now they just have to make it past a Chicago team that beat them 2-0 the other week and get three points over Inter Miami and they can start to feel comfortable heading into a Decision Day matchup with Philadelphia.
Ah, yes. The Vancouver Whitecaps.
The best story in recent MLS provided the week’s best moment in a 3-2 comeback win over Portland. The Caps scored three times from the 60th minute onward to keep their playoff hopes alive and ended the weekend in seventh place. The problem is they were only able to scrape out a draw against San Jose, and now RSL, with a game in hand, can jump them in the standings with a win. I barely even got to celebrate the fact Brian White had seven goals in his last seven games before they didn’t get the job done against the Quakes. And I didn’t even get time to get my “America’s team, the Vancouver Whitecaps” bit off the ground.
Things obviously aren’t over yet, but it’s going to take something truly special now to survive a three-game stretch against Minnesota, LAFC and Seattle and stay in a playoff spot.
Atlanta still haven’t figured out that games last 90 minutes plus a few extra here and there. It’s wildly frustrating to watch and it’s frustrating to manage. Gonzalo Pineda seemed visibly annoyed for the first time in his Atlanta tenure after NYCFC found a late equalizer on Wednesday. Interestingly, that frustration didn’t stem from an unnecessary foul that led to the free kick.
“After the first five to 10 minutes, we were better. We were connecting passes, we were creating possession, we were disrupting their high pressure, and we were getting behind, but what frustrates me is that we had the chances to put the game away by just scoring a second goal,” Pineda said.
“There were a couple of chances in the first half especially where we can make the right play with the right movement and get our second goal, then control the game and maybe even get a third goal, but something happened after we scored our goal where suddenly everybody wants to do a little extra touch, extra dribble, extra passing, extra whatever, and that cost us tonight because in those moments where we are dominating the game, we have to make sure that we score goals.”
Atlanta ended the weekend in seventh place and a game in hand, but the draw may have put a home playoff game out of reach. They’ve got four games – most of them easy, one of them on the road at Red Bull Arena – left to figure out how to kill games before the playoffs begin.
Montréal were a bit lucky to get a draw against Orlando on Wednesday and then…..
Oof, man. I can’t think of a more brutal way to drop below the playoff line than a late equalizer against your biggest rival from the player that relishes tormenting you the most. It is decidedly not the storybook ending Wilfried Nancy’s group deserved. The good news is, the ending hasn’t quite come yet. They’re equal on points with Atlanta and the Red Bulls and get a shot at Gerhard Struber & Co. on Saturday.
[hold on the prestige is coming]
And then lost to Chicago, 1-0. The recency bias is real, as is the “we should probably punish the team that lost to Chicago” bias. Hopefully, that and some improvements from other teams makes that drop palatable. Or at least understandable.
RSL are in eighth for now, but can jump right back into a playoff spot (and back up the rankings probably) with a win. As close as the bottom half of the Western bracket is right now, they could realistically end up hosting a playoff game. Games against Dallas and San Jose this week may go a long way toward making that happen.
We’re closer to the end of a playoff chase than the beginning of a playoff run for LAFC. They’re three points behind Vancouver and one behind RSL heading into the final three games of the season. And they didn’t even do anything wrong this weekend.
LAFC picked up a win against FC Dallas and a draw against Minnesota. Cristian Arango had a hat trick against Dallas and another goal against the Loons. Sure, they got pretty lucky against the Loons, but this was objectively one of the best weekends of the year for the Black & Gold. Is it too little, too late?
They need some help and need to survive a three-game run of Seattle, Vancouver and Colorado. Even with Arango’s incredible form, I’m not sure that happens. But, hey, at least you know you have something special in Arango. That’s something to look forward to for next year. Why don’t we just go ahead and preemptively rank LAFC first in the 2022 Power Rankings. I know that will make everyone happy.
I mean we could talk about all the injuries and how they’re running out of gas and available bodies at the worst possible time all we want, but do I really need to do anything else but point to the big ole “NYCFC - 6, D.C. - 0” up on the scoreboard?
There’s still hope. But they’re in ninth and two points below the line with a game out of hand on sixth and seventh place. With the injuries they have, it’s hard to feel optimistic about the end of the year for D.C. United. Which is lame. They’ve been phenomenal for most of the year, but a little too hurt and a little too unlucky. If they miss out, their eulogy may be the hardest to write of any team’s this season.
Not mathematically eliminated! Won two games by an aggregate of 8-1 this week! Played ... played Toronto and Cincinnati...
Also not mathematically eliminated! But still five points below the playoff line. It might not happen, Crew fans.
The Quakes spent the week beating up on Austin and then taking a point off Vancouver. And, I guess, also technically not mathematically eliminated. They’re the most almost mathematically eliminated team in the league, though. I wanted better from them. We all wanted better from them.
Twenty-two is probably an accurate representation of Chicago’s season as a whole.
However, No Stakes Chicago? The version that has nothing to lose? That’s one of the most dangerous teams in the league.
Since Sept. 26 against Nashville, the game before the game Raphael Wicky and the club parted ways, the Fire have drawn with Nashville, beaten NYCFC, lost to Toronto, drawn with New England, beaten Cincinnati and beaten RSL. They are a chameleon, shapeshifting down or up to their opponent’s level for no other reason than that they can. They are the team inviting all the other teams to come play with these fireworks they found in the woods. They are every bad idea you’ve ever had come to fruition and they are an absolute terror.
I’m bummed we only have two more games left with them. If only they could bottle the chaotic evil energy they’ve been putting out and save it for the entirety of next season.
Anyway, they play NYCFC on Wednesday and there’s a very real chance that could be very, very funny. Again.
FC Dallas have now gone nine games without a win. This is a sad fact. The bright side? They almost beat the Galaxy over the weekend.
Austin beat Houston! That means Los Verdes can actually win the Texican Standoff with a win over Dallas on Saturday. It would be the best possible outcome for a season that hasn’t had many of those to consider.
Jozy Altidore is fueled by hate. That free-kick against Montréal is just the purest form of the stuff I’ve ever seen.
If he can keep that same energy over the next three games, someone is going to get their season ruined. Toronto’s next three games are Philadelphia, Atlanta and D.C. United. A win in any one of those could derail that team’s hopes and dreams in some way.
I think they’ll get one win out of those three. Now the other teams just have to pray it isn’t them.
(It’s gonna be Atlanta.)
Houston just might finish last in the Western Conference.
Think about how much they’ve saved on shipping by not having to send the Wooden Spoon somewhere else over the last three years.