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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.