Looking for more Power Rankings analysis? Check out Andrew Wiebe's Twitter Spaces at 11 am ET when he goes live with Matt Doyle and various guests to dissect the top 10 teams.
Disclaimer: The Power Rankings are voted on by the entirety of the MLSsoccer.com editorial staff. You should probably be gently made fun of, going into MLS Week 35, if you still think the actual rankings are made by just one person. Except for this week. Where, if we’re being totally honest here, things are pretty close to the Supporters’ Shield standings because it’s late in the year and we’re kind of mailing the rankings themselves in at this point. Because there are a lot of data points by now and the standings reflect that. And 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.
You ever just mess around for 33 weeks of soccer and set a league record?
The general ease with which New England romped to the points record is maybe the most remarkable part of it. This week, they faced off against Colorado, one of the best teams in the West, in a game they didn’t have to win for any reason and still shut down the Rapids. The Revs picked up a clean sheet and goal from Tajon Buchanan in a 1-0 win.
Buchanan has eight goals and five assists on the season now. That’s the same exact output as Colorado’s leading scorer, Michael Barrios. Buchanan is the third leading scorer for New England.
They just have so many match-winners. If you stop options A, B, C and D, you have to get past E just to have a chance. If you keep Carles Gil from creating, then stop Gustavo Bou from scoring and creating, then stop Adam Buksa from scoring and then stop Buchanan, you then have to find a way to beat Matt Turner. Seems like a good recipe for a record-breaking point total.
Well, they could have essentially locked up the top spot in the West on Sunday, but Minnesota brought their A-game and SKC got outshot 15-4 in a 2-1 loss. They’re still on track to finish atop the West heading into the final week though thanks to a 2-0 midweek win over the Galaxy.
That win marked the eighth game in a row that Johnny Russell found the net. He’s scored 10 times in the last nine games and is a major reason why Sporting can earn a Round One bye if they beat Austin and RSL this week. With Russell and Daniel Salloi having career years, SKC haven’t even needed Alan Pulido to have the scariest attack in the West this year.
They may get him back anyway, though. Peter Vermes said last week that Pulido is “way ahead of schedule.” A Round One bye would give him even more time to get healthy. It’s a similar scenario to last season for Pulido, but this time it feels like a bonus to SKC’s chances more than a necessity.
At the very least, they won’t have to face Minnesota on the road again. That should help too.
They’re at it again. Don’t buy it.
A lesser MLS watcher might buy into their attempt to trick everyone into thinking maybe things will be different this year. Maybe the fact they’re entering Decision Day without a win in their last five games means we’ll see a new team from the West in MLS Cup.
But you? You’re smarter than that. You know they’ve actually been better on the road this season and that home-field advantage would just be a hindrance. You know that across sports late-season success or lack thereof isn’t an indicator of playoff success. And you know just last night, Raul Ruidiaz, Nico Lodeiro and Jordan Morris were on the field for a significant amount of time.
Sometimes you play New England. Sometimes you play Houston. That’s life.
Anyway, did anyone see Tom Bogert’s Big Chart of Big Money Boys (his title, not mine)? Of every team in the league’s DP output?
The Rapids have now gotten 532 minutes out of Younes Namli. That’s it. The next smallest output are Montréal with almost five times the minutes out of Victor Wanyama. The Rapids are still one of the best teams in the league.
I know Bruce Arena is probably going to run away with it, but Robin Fraser deserves a vote or three for Coach of the Year.
Everyone got worried there for a second. Nashville entered their game with Cincinnati without a win in six games. Thirty-two minutes into their game with Cincinnati, the Boys in Gold went down 3-1. To Cincinnati.
But that scoreline might be what they needed to shake themselves awake! Or, I dunno, maybe they’re just a good team that was always capable of playing good soccer, but that narrative is way less fun. Either way, they won that one 6-3 and then pulled out a totally normal and uneventful draw against Orlando City in which nothing of note occurred late in the game.
They’ve clinched a playoff spot now and can host a home playoff game. Second place is still very much in play on Decision Day. And Hany Mukhtar is leading the league in goal contributions. It hasn’t been perfect lately, but things are still going very well in Nashville.
I guess they played soccer or whatever, but this person dressed up like a bush.
And Paxten Aaronson scored and then did a post-game interview with extreme “18-year-old who just scored in an MLS game instead of studying for an AP US History class” energy.
And then, they ended the week in second place in the East. I’m just going to assume they had the best week of any team in the league and definitely didn’t mess around and like, accidentally draw with Toronto or something.
Yeah, they’re OK again.
Things were so dire about two weeks ago and now they’re just ... not. They entered their Oct. 23 matchup with D.C. having won just one game since the beginning of September. That win came against Cincinnati.
It’s all much more in line with what we thought we knew about NYCFC and I honestly can’t think of a scarier, non-New England team to get hot at the right time in the East. They’ve been on top or in second in expected goal differential all season and clearly play some of the best soccer in MLS when their switch is in the on position. It seems like they’ve figured out how to turn it back on at the right time and they could, suddenly, finish second in the East with a win and some help on Decision Day.
Now the real question is whether they’re actually succeeding at doing something different or just playing Zombie D.C. United, Chicago and Inter Miami.
The Loons pulled out one of the results of the year on Sunday. Don’t ask about what happened on Wednesday.
But on Sunday, they entered needing a win over first-place SKC to really even have a chance at the playoffs. If they lost, they would have been in eighth place and one game ahead of everyone in front of them and LAFC one point behind them.
They picked up a 2-1 win, limited the best attack in the conference to just four shots and jumped to fifth in the West. They’re heading into another huge game with the Galaxy on Sunday, but there’s no denying that SKC result is as clutch of a win as we’ve seen all year.
A midweek loss to D.C. United almost derailed things, but they got back on track with a 1-0 win against Montréal over the weekend.
The Red Bulls have scored nine goals in their last nine games. Five of those have come in 1-0 wins. I said this earlier in The Daily Kickoff, my daily newsletter for this very website, in a sense they remind me of the Nashville team last year that jabbed their way to the playoffs by winning a bunch of close games and limiting their opponents’ ability to score. I’m still not sold entirely on the Red Bulls being a team that has improved to the significant level that Nashville did by the end of 2020, but who’s to say they can’t bully their way even further in the playoffs than that Nashville team did?
They just might do this!
After a 4-1 loss to Seattle, I really thought that the back end of this schedule might be a step too difficult for America’s Team. Since then, the Whitecaps have beaten SKC, Portland and Minnesota. There hasn’t been a better non-New England team in MLS since August and they just might get rewarded with a playoff spot if they can grab points against LAFC and Seattle. Heck, they just might even host a playoff game if they can bridge the two-point gap between them and Portland.
Look, I don’t want to talk about the foul. Smarter people than me will and have talked about the foul. My opinion on whether it was a foul or not doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Orlando may genuinely be in trouble. I feel like I’ve said this a bunch lately and then they pulled out of it, but we’re back to a place where the Lions should be nervous.
The two teams below them, Atlanta and New York, are just one and two points behind with a game in hand. The good news for Orlando is one of those games is between Atlanta and New York.
Imagine the Red Bulls win that one. That puts them ahead of Orlando heading into Decision Day. Atlanta get Cincinnati on Decision Day. The Five Stripes should take that one. If Montréal beat Houston, that head-to-head matchup between Montréal and Orlando on Decision Day would decide who goes to the playoffs. Orlando are in seventh with a draw, in fifth with a win AND … out of the playoffs entirely with a loss. That’s not a spot you want to be in.
Foul or not, Orlando didn’t take care of business against Columbus and didn’t finish a handful of other chances against Nashville. And that’s only in the short term. In the long term, it still feels like this team should have been better. Now they’re hanging on for dear life and spending the week scoreboard watching.
Oh, hey, speaking of not taking care of business…
MY GOODNESS ATLANTA, GAMES ARE 90 MINUTES LONG.
Atlanta dropped points this weekend. From a winning position. At home. Again.
Just once you thought they’d learned their lesson after blowing a 1-0 lead late off a set-piece against NYCFC. They blew a 1-0 lead late off a set-piece against Toronto. If they had closed those games out, they’d be in second place in the East. Instead, they need a point against the Red Bulls Wednesday to make sure they’re not spending Decision Day worrying about going Full Atlanta against Cincinnati.
At least Luiz Araujo is going to win an MVP award before he leaves Atlanta. That should make folks feel better. For now.
The Timbers settled down and eased their way to a comfortable 2-0 win over the Quakes on Wednesday. But they’re not out of the woods yet.
They’ll face eighth-place (and four points back) RSL this week before facing … [checking] ... HAHAHAHAHAHAHA OH NO, IT’S AUSTIN!
Yeah, they better beat RSL. If you don’t remember, Portland’s aggregate score against Austin FC, the last-place team in the West, is 7-2 ... in favor of Austin. A two-loss week could, in theory, keep them out of the playoffs. It’s not likely, but why leave it up to chance?
After Monday night’s draw with Seattle, the Galaxy are in sixth in the West with one game to play. They’re equal on points with Vancouver, two points ahead of RSL and three ahead of LAFC, all of which have two games to go. The world where the Galaxy don’t make the playoffs isn’t hard to imagine. And if we get to that point, it’s going to be fascinating to decide how we’ll evaluate Greg Vanney’s first season.
They’re safe for now, though. They just may find themselves in a winner-take-seventh game against Minnesota on Decision Day.
Real Salt Lake scored two late goals against FC Dallas in a 2-1 win and then went a bit overboard and got trapped in a chaos game with San Jose, the “invading Russia in winter” of MLS decisions. Now they’re beginning the biggest week of the year on the outside looking in and with games against Portland and SKC on the way.
The good news is it doesn’t seem like anyone fighting for a playoff spot in the West has an easy run in here, but that doesn’t make the prospect of facing a Portland team backed into a corner or an SKC team fighting for a Round One bye any gentler.
I’m sorry y’all, but I’ve decided the funniest possible outcome of this season is for LAFC to win MLS Cup. It just would be.
After rightfully being knocked around by media and fans all season, after selling off Diego Rossi and missing Carlos Vela for most of the year, and after being genuinely bad for most of the year, LAFC are two points out of a playoff spot. They have Vela returning from injury. Chicho Arango is about to win Newcomer of the Year. And they \took it\ to Seattle on Tuesday. They haven’t lost in five games and they’re still second in the league on expected goal differential.
For them to suddenly regress to the mean, finally figure out how to stop conceding easily avoidable goals and put it all together, all just to squeak into the playoffs and go on an MLS Cup run, would be objectively funny. The ultimate reminder that none of us know absolutely anything about this league, or soccer, or sports, or life in general.
They’ll need wins over Vancouver and Colorado this week for that to even have a chance of happening, but my gut has already told me it will.
Like I said in The Daily Kickoff on Monday, even after their 1-0 loss to the Red Bulls this weekend, I shouldn’t say RIP quite yet to this group. They’ve proven me wrong so many times. But I am already rough drafting their eulogy. It’s going to be glowing. They’ve been far better than they should have. And for Wilfried Nancy in what can absolutely be considered a Year Zero, he should be both tremendously proud of his work and eager to convince the folks in charge that even more is possible with the right support. They’re not far away. They just need a little more talent (and a little more injury luck) to potentially break through next year.
Progress isn’t linear. However, I’m hopeful Nancy can build on the foundation he successfully laid on what everyone else thought was sand. Maybe they aren’t done building quite yet though. Maybe.
If they can beat Houston this week and then Orlando on Decision Day, they’ll jump the Lions for one of the final playoff spots in the East. That feels like a big ask. But would you really be that surprised?
I’ll let Hernan Losada take this one.
“It is disappointing because I think this group deserves more, based on all the expected goals, chances we create – we should have a lot more goals than we already have based on all the effort and the mental toughness that this group have showed every single game.”
Agreed, man. Agreed.
I’ve said before that I didn’t think they’re going to be able to roll this car into the station before it’s completely out of gas. After beating the Red Bulls midweek, I started to be a bit more optimistic. But then they got smoked by Columbus. They’ve given up 12 goals in their last four games. And they need a ton of luck to sneak back above the line by the end of this week.
It’s likely an unfortunate end to what’s been one of the best organizational turnarounds in MLS in 2021. There’s no banner for being a top-three team in expected goal differential, but it is proof of concept for Losada and an objective sign that investing in his vision this offseason is well worth it.
Well, all we had to do to convince the Crew to wake up is let them know they were essentially playing elimination games from here on out. They seem to be really good in those.
The Crew took down Orlando and D.C. this week by a combined score of 6-3. Lucas Zelarayan scored as many goals as the Crew’s opponents did. And all they’ve really gotten out of it is a miracle’s worth of a chance at the playoffs. That somehow feels like both an accomplishment and a total disappointment considering where they were and where they could have been.
If we’re watching the flickering of the dying embers of Almeyda’s chaos Quakes, I’m thankful to the higher powers involved that we got one more seven-goal game out of it. And that we also got this Cade Cowell goal.
GOAL: Cade Cowell, San Jose Earthquakes - 69th minute
Chicago didn’t succeed at dragging NYCFC down with them this time. They’ll get one final go at pulling that trick on Sunday against Columbus.
Remember when Inter Miami won five out of six to revive their playoff hopes? Well, they've now lost eight of their next 10 and all eyes have already turned to 2022, with Phil Neville acknowledging that a rebuild is already underway.
Also not champions of Texas, but at least their city's baseball team isn’t about to blow a 3-1 lead.
Toronto FC are just walking through an art museum with a crayon right now, scribbling indiscriminately. Their last three games they’ve picked up draws with Montréal, Philadelphia and Atlanta. D.C. United await them on Decision Day. One last chance to ruin everything for somebody.