Unlike an ordinary regular-season power rankings, this ladder job is not the result of a staff survey. The judging criteria are all mine. While current form and fitness plays a fair part in the order, it's more about where the clubs stand in the title chase than how they got here.
The time for building toward something is over, it's now get-the-job-done-today-or-else time. As such, feel free to call it a heat index if you prefer.
LAFC hoist the Supporters' Shield | USA Today Sports Images
Bob Bradley's record-setters will likely remain the top pick to claim the crown until someone knocks them off. From back to front, they play with a guile to match their coach's. The presence of Carlos Vela, who quietly has scored in nine straight games, practically ensures that opponents will need multiple goals to spring the big upset. Now what they need to do (gulp) is finally find a way past Zlatan and the LA Galaxy. For their sake, let's hope Mark-Anthony Kaye and Walker Zimmerman will be ready to go.
New York City FC
At first glance, it may appear that NYCFC are the one team left in the bracket without an active major operational concern. But Dome Torrent's team march to their own beat and sometimes rhythm gets lost when you go 18 days between games. It's really a nitpick, though, as few teams control the run of play like NYCFC and they have homefield advantage for at least two rounds. At the moment, they should be considered East favorites to reach MLS Cup.
It wasn't pretty against New England and injuries to calming influences Michael Parkhurst and Miles Robinson have the backline fully stretched. The defending champs still land this high because they have at least one game left in a fortress where they've lost just two of their last 31 league contests, a central midfield as wily as they come and Josef Martinez leading a big-play attack.
After posting three shutouts in four to end the regular season, the Sounders became fast and loose with the ball in a harrowing win over FC Dallas. They'll want to fix that for RSL's visit and potentially beyond. Although they aren't as sound through the middle as in recent seasons, they still have match-stealer Stefan Frei, Raul Ruidiaz busted his goal slump this weekend and Jordan Morris is on a tear. They may have more margin for error than before.
Now that they've survived Minnesota, the Galaxy get to do what they really want to do: invade LAFC for a playoff showdown. It seems a safe bet that Guillermo Barros Schelotto won't line up four central defenders again. All eyes will naturally be on Ibrahimovic, a derby menace who has 14 goals from his last 11 matches but was frustrated by the Loons. Is it a perfect storm to take to the Banc?
The Union struggled to close the regular season, but perhaps reclaimed some mojo clawing back against the Red Bulls. Even if starting striker Kacper Przybylko can't go, Philly will slice through midfield and buzz around your area. The problem is their mojo must now work in scary Atlanta. Even so, they'd be higher if we weren't suddenly worrying about Andre Blake yips.
Real Salt Lake
RSL's Jefferson Savarino vs. Seattle's Jordan Morris | USA Today Sports Images
RSL have won three in a row and can apparently hold their nerve even without Justen Glad in the heart of defense, but it's quite fair to say playing in Seattle is not among their favorite things. The Sounders have taken eight of the last nine meetings there, with RSL notching just six goals in that span.
If only Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez were fully fit, one might like their chances of pulling off an upset at Citi Field. As is, it seems a very large ask for them to escape from New York victorious this time around. It's a shame, too, because the Reds haven't been beaten in MLS play for two-and-a-half months.