Backpost MLS Power Rankings

With roughly one-quarter of the 34-game schedule in the books, it’s time for the first BP MLS Power Rankings of the 2011 season.

Ready, set, go:

1.    Real Salt Lake (5-1-0)

Last week: Beat Chivas USA 1-0

This week: vs. Houston, Saturday, 9:00, Fox Soccer Channel

Status: The loss to Monterrey in the CCL final on April 27 was bad medicine indeed. Since then, RSL had its 18-game MLS unbeaten streak snapped in a 1-0 defeat at Portland, then lost midfield catalyst Javier Morales to a broken ankle while hosting Chivas USA this past weekend. They pulled out a 1-0 win (Chivas played most of the game with nine men), but this team must now cope with the void left by the gruesome injury to its best player, who will be sidelined for four months.

2.    Los Angeles Galaxy (4-2-4)

Last week: Tied New York 1-1

This week: at Philadelphia, Wednesday, 7:30, DirectKick,  Matchday Live; vs. Sporting Kansas City, Saturday, 10:30, DK, MDL.

Status: LA came within a Tim Ream goal-line clearance of beating New York on Saturday (and really, that ball may have been over the line; replays were inconclusive), and the Galaxy created more chances during the wide-open, entertaining affair. They just looked a shade better, and Landon Donovan is starting to hit his stride. A win at Philly on Wednesday and they take over the top spot.

3.    New York Red Bulls (4-1-3)

Last week: Tied Los Angeles 1-1

This week: vs Chivas USA, Sunday, 7:00, Galavision

Status: For the first time in the 16-year existence of the franchise, New York fans can confidently say they have a good team. How good? On paper, they might be the most talented team in the league. On the field, they still have some areas of concern. Here are two: Luke Rodgers is not as good as his hot goal-scoring start might suggest (he also seems on the verge of a red card after the 60-minute point of every match), and 31-year-old Teemu Tainio needs to stay healthy all season for this team to contend for a title. He was conspicuous by his absence in LA.

4.    Philadelphia Union (4-2-1)

Last week: Lost to Portland 1-0

This week: vs Los Angeles, Wednesday, 7:30, DK, MDL; at FC Dallas, Saturday, 8:30, DK, MDL

Status: We’re not huge fans of the Union’s defense-first, grind-it-out style, but we’ll admit it’s effective. They lost to Portland—at Portland, where the Timbers are 4-0—but were in the game the whole way despite missing first-choice defenders Danny Califf and Jordan Harvey. Carlos Ruiz hasn’t integrated with Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga in attack yet, but if they get that sorted out, this team will become an even tougher out, because they’re hard to break down at the other end.

5.    Colorado Rapids (4-3-2)

Last week: Beat Houston 2-1; Tied New England 0-0

This week: at D.C. United, Saturday, 7:30, DK, MDL

Status: Injuries have hit the defending champs hard, as strikers Omar Cummings, Conor Casey and Caleb Forlan are all out at the moment. Casey is supposed to return soon, though, and the Rapids got two decent results on their road trip last week.

6.    Columbus Crew (3-1-4)

Last week: Tied Seattle 1-1

This week: at San Jose, Saturday, 10:30, DK, MDL

Status: They haven’t lost since opening day, and striker Emelio Renteria has four goals in the past three games. But there’s something underwhelming about this team, and what’s going on with striker Andres Mendoza? They made him a Designated Player in the offseason, and now he’s stuck on the bench.

7.    Seattle Sounders FC (3-3-4)

Last week: Lost to DC United 2-1 on Wednesday; tied Columbus 1-1 on Saturday

This week: vs Portland, Saturday, 11:00 pm, ESPN2/Deportes

Status: Not a great road trip for Sounders FC as they relied heavily on Kasey Keller to get a point at Columbus after losing to a young D.C. side four days earlier. But the team has loads of talent, and Fredy Montero appears to be coming around. The momentous Portland game looms on Saturday. As Sigi Schmid told the league website, his players are well aware that this is “Portland week.”

8.    FC Dallas (3-3-2)

Last week: Tied D.C. 0-0

This week: vs Toronto, Wednesday, 9:00, DK, MDL; vs Philadelphia, Saturday, 8:30, DK, MDL.

Status: They’re coping about as well as could be expected to the loss of 2010 MLS MVP David Ferreira, and Kevin Hartman—who preserved last week’s tie with a terrific diving save of a point-blank header from Fred—is coming around. He was a massive part of their run to MLS Cup last year.

9. Portland Timbers (4-3-1)

Last week: Beat Philadelphia 1-0

This week: at Seattle, Saturday, 11:00 pm, ESPN2/Deportes

Status: Maybe they should change the name of their stadium from JELD-WEN to JEKYLL-HYDE. Portland is 4-0 at home and 0-3-1 on the road. But we like this team, and if Khalif Alhassan maintains his blistering form, and Diego Chara pans out as hoped, they will match Seattle’s feat of making the playoffs in their first year of existence. Speaking of Seattle … enormous game this weekend.

10. Houston Dynamo (3-3-3)

Last week: Lost to Colorado 2-1 on Wednesday; lost to Toronto 2-1 on Saturday

This week: at Real Salt Lake, Saturday, 9:00, Fox Soccer Channel

Status: Geoff Cameron hasn’t been at full strength, and that could help explain their recent two-game swoon. That and goalkeeper Tally Hall’s AYSO-style blunder against Colorado. We expect them to get back on track and contend in the East, but maybe not this week: they travel to the inhospitable confines of Rio Tinto Stadium.

11. Chivas USA (2-3-3)

Last week: Lost to Real Salt Lake 1-0

This week: at New York, 7:00, Galavision

Status: Their five-game unbeaten streak came to an end against Real Salt Lake, but they played most of that game shorthanded after Andrew Boyens and Marcos Mondaini were sent off in the first half, the latter for an awkward tackle that broke Javier Morales’s ankle. The fact that they held RSL at bay until the 87th minute, with nine men, tells you all you need to know about Chivas. They can defend. If they can get some offense from Justin Braun and Alejandro Moreno going forward, rookie coach Robin Fraser may have something in LA.

12. D.C. United (3-4-2)

Last week: Beat Seattle 2-1 on Wednesday; tied FC Dallas 0-0 on Saturday

This week: vs Colorado, Saturday, 7:30, DK, MDL

Status: Their young defense looked hopeless after suffering two consecutive four-goal games, but they tightened it up against Seattle and Dallas, and received a welcome boost from young winger Andy Najar, who is picking it up after a slow start.

13. New England Revolution (2-3-4)

Last week: Tied Colorado 0-0

This week: vs Vancouver, Saturday, 7:30 DK, MDL

Status: They added Benny Feilhaber to their midfield a few weeks ago, and this past week they plugged in offseason signing Ousmane Dabo, who’d missed the first eight games with an injury. That duo joins Shalrie Joseph in what should be a potent midfield. They’re just working out the kinks now.

14. Chicago Fire (1-3-4)

Last week: Tied Vancouver 0-0

This week: at Toronto FC, 7:00, Saturday, DK, MDL

Status: The Fire made a curious signing last week, acquiring 20-year-old Colombian striker Cristian Nazarit. The 6-1 target forward has potential, but in our view, Chicago is fine up top with Uruguayan duo Gaston Puerari and Diego Chaves. Where they need help is in midfield. They really should pay a visit to the Possession-Oriented Central Midfielder Shop and pick up a guy who can settle them down and keep the ball.

15. Toronto FC (2-3-4)

Last week: Beat Houston 2-1

This week: at FC Dallas, Wednesday, 9:00, DK, MDL; vs Chicago, Saturday, 7:00, DK, MDL

Status: Is the 5-3, 19-year-old Ecuadorian striker Joao Plata really the answer? With a goal and an assist against Houston, he’s part of it, that’s for sure. But Tony Tchani, Julian de Guzman and Nick Soolsma will continue to pitch in to the suddenly promising rebuilding effort in Toronto.

16.  Vancouver Whitecaps FC (1-4-4)

Last week: Tied Chicago 0-0

This week: vs San Jose, Wednesday, 10:00, DK, MDL; at New England, Saturday, 7:30, DK, MDL

Status: Out of the gate this season, they looked much the better of the two expansion teams. But injuries to Jay DeMerit and Atiba Harris, along with Eric Hassli’s penchant for red cards—and JELD-WEN Field—have turned the tables. They’ll look to get back on track at home against struggling San Jose.

17. Sporting Kansas City (1-4-1)

Last week: DNP

This week: at Los Angeles, Saturday, 10:30 pm, DK, MDL

Status: This monster 10-game, season-opening road trip is almost over, Kansas City fans. Well, more than halfway over, anyway. SKC will also welcome back Omar Bravo from sports hernia surgery, and when you add him to a group that already includes Teal Bunbury, Kei Kamara, and promising rookie C.J. Sapong, you get a team bound to rise in these rankings. With plenty of games to come in their new Livestrong Sporting Park.

18. San Jose Earthquakes (1-4-2)

Last week: DNP

This week: at Vancouver, Wednesday, 10:00, DK, MDL; vs Columbus, Saturday, 10:30, DK, MDL.

Status: Ever heard of compartment syndrome? San Jose fans hadn’t either, until last Friday, when the Quakes announced that midfielder Simon Dawkins, who is on loan from Premier League side Tottenham, underwent surgery on both calves to correct the disorder. He’ll miss two months. Maybe by then the Quakes will have rediscovered the form that got them to the conference finals last year.

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MLS Week 24 Power Rankings: Galaxy Shines, Beckham Returns, Red Bulls Roll

The playoffs are within sight. Let’s see how the teams stack up after an interesting weekend.

1. Real Salt Lake (12-4-8) Without Saborio and Espindola, they scrapped out a draw at the league’s toughest venue, Seattle’s Qwest Field, and hold on to our top spot. They’ve lost just one in their past 18.

2. Los Angeles (14-5-5) Statement game: The recently slumping West leaders met Colmbus, the leaders in the East, and thumped them 3-1. And whosits got on for the final 20 minutes.

3. FC Dallas (10-2-11) We’re keeping them in the top 3 for now—they haven’t lost in 14 games, after all—but these ties are getting old. They got their 11th in a goal-free affair at San Jose on Saturday—a game between two teams content with their current playoff positions. Their home tilt against New York on Thursday will be a better indicator.

4. Columbus (13-6-5) Flat game in Los Angeles for the Supporters’ Shield holders, who are 0-4-4 against Western Conference teams on the road this season, and 1-3-2 collectively against LA, RSL, and FC Dallas. Now they turn around for a CONCACAF Champions League game on Tuesday. Should Crew fans be worried?

5. New York (12-8-4) The first-choice Red Bulls—with Coundoul, Marquez, Miller, and on-a-roll Richards back in the fold—produced a scintillating first half to go up 2-0. They slept on the Rapids at the start of the second, but ended up with a solid 3-1 win. They need at least a point at Dallas on Thursday to keep the momentum going.

6. Seattle (9-9-6) Sounders FC holds steady with a draw at home against the defending champs.

7. San Jose (9-7-6) Geovanni seems to be settling in more and more with each passing week, nearly setting up Eduardo for a winning goal in the 86th minute of the Quakes’ 0-0 tie with Dallas on Saturday.

8. Colorado (9-7-7) New York had the better of the play, but Colorado hit the post and got a screamer, a Goal of the Week candidate, from the red-hot Omar Cummings.

9. Kansas City (7-9-6) We can’t penalize them for having no game this weekend, so the Wizards hold on to their spot.

10. Philadelphia (6-11-6) They’re not out of it yet, and the expansion Union believe! They got their first home shutout ever with a 1-0 win over Chicago, a team with everything to play for entering the game. We like the way Philly plays, and we’re bumping them up three spots to 10th this week. That’s right.

11. Chicago (6-8-8) While Geovanni and other DPs are meshing with their new teammates, the Fire’s Nery Castillo is … not. That does not bode well for Chicago’s playoff hopes.

12. Toronto FC (7-10-7) The Toronto Sun’s Ryan Wolstat said the Reds looked in “pre-season form” in a “stumbling, bumbling, largely putrid” 1-0 loss to out-of-it DC United.

13. Chivas USA (7-12-4) Justin Braun—or “Braunaldinho” as Fox Soccer recently dubbed him—bagged his ninth goal of the year to open the scoring six minutes in to the Goats 2-0 win over New England on Friday night. Chivas is still in the playoff chase, for now.

14. New England (7-13-3) Yep, there was not more where that 3-1 win over Seattle came from two weeks ago.

15. DC United (5-16-3) It was ugly but they’ll take it: DC scrapped out a 1-0 victory over playoff-hunting Toronto on a goal by former TFC man Julius James.

16. Houston (6-12-5) Maybe we can penalize a team for not having a game this past weekend: the idle Dynamo drop to 16th.

MLS Power Rankings

With fewer than 10 games (or, in the case of Chicago, exactly ten games) left in the MLS season, let’s take a look at how the league’s 16 teams stack up. 

1. Real Salt Lake (12-4-7): The most impressive thing about the defending champs’ none-too-pretty 1-0 win over New York on Saturday? Well, apart from it being a record-tying 22nd straight home game without a loss, that is: They completely shut down Thierry Henry. Denied him the ball all game.

2. FC Dallas (10-2-10): The Hoops ran their unbeaten streak to 13 games with a 1-0 win over Toronto, and have conceded only 17 goals in 22 games this year. Last year they gave up 47 in 30 games—and missed the playoffs.

3. Columbus Crew (13-5-5) Two straight wins over lowly DC United may not seem like much, but both were on the road and one was in the U.S. Open Cup semis, the only thing United had left to play for this season.

4. LA Galaxy (13-5-5) Sure, they’re in a serious funk of late, and they barely salvaged a 1-1 tie against Chicago despite being a man up for 70 minutes, but will anyone be surprised if Bruce Arena’s men snap out of it come playoff time?

5. New York Red Bulls (11-8-4) Missing four starters, they nearly stole a point in a lackluster game at Real Salt Lake. If they get lineup continuity down the stretch, watch out.

6. Seattle Sounders FC (9-9-5) Three New England goals in ten minutes negated Steve Zakuani’s 59th-minute opener, and ended Seattle’s seven-game unbeaten streak. Can they regroup for Thursday’s clash with RSL?

7. San Jose Earthquakes (9-7-5) Newly-signed Brazilian DP Geovanni bagged his first MLS goal in a 2-1 win over Houston. He’ll face the stingy Dallas D on Saturday.

8. Colorado Rapids (9-6-7) Two straight 3-0 wins against lower-rung teams (Houston and Chivas USA). Next up is a road test against New York.

9. Kansas City (7-9-6) The Wizards scraped out a 1-1 draw at Philadelphia to keep their playoff hopes alive.

10. Chicago Fire (6-7-7) The Fire is surprisingly weak at home (3-5-2), gives up too many late goals (nine this season after the 76th-minute mark), and can’t seem to get Mexican DP Nery Castillo going. Other than that….

11. Toronto FC (7-9-6) The Reds’ 1-0 loss to Dallas kept them winless in their past four. Upcoming games against Chicago (Wed) and DC (Sat) could put them back in the thick of things—or even farther out of it.

12.  New England (7-12-3) Impressive and surprising win over Seattle, but we wonder if there’s any more where that came from.

13. Philadelphia (5-11-6) Another solid performance undermined by a soft goal allowed by Chris Seitz? We raised the red flag on this back in April.

14.  Houston (6-12-5) The two-time MLS champs (2006, 2007) lost Stuart Holden, Ricardo Clark (transfers) and, for much of this season, Geoff Cameron (knee injury). Too much to overcome.

15. Chivas USA (6-12-4) Hey, Justin Braun (eight goals, three assists) has had a good year.

16. DC United (4-16-3) It’s been a brutal season for the league’s most successful franchise (four MLS titles and four Supporters’ Shields).