ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings – Round 27 edition

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The league’s uneven scheduling means things are even tighter than they look (with several teams trailing in the standings, but extra games in hand.) So here is your weekly re-ordering of current quality following 27 rounds of league play:

19. D.C. United – They could not match New York even with Thierry Henry on the bench.

18. Toronto FC – Ryan Nelsen’s team had a goal disallowed late in a draw with New England as a phantom foul nullified a potential game-winner. That’s how it is this year for the Reds.

17. Chivas USA – Erick “El Cubo” Torres, with yet another two-goal performance has mercifully provided Chivas USA supporters something to smile about in 2013. And a 2-2 draw in Vancouver is not a bad result for the Goats.

16. Columbus – Five years of “success” that toggled between middling and non-existent for manager Robert Warzycha cost the Crew manager his job Monday.

15. Chicago Fire – When Mike Magee doesn’t score, the team struggles desperately to win – and he isn’t scoring much lately. Latest playoff-chase setback: Sunday’s 1-1 draw at home with Houston.

14. FC Dallas – Following an idle weekend a huge match is up this round as slumping Vancouver visits; if Dallas wants to see playoff soccer, winning in Texas against fellow playoff aspirants from the West is an absolute must.

13. San Jose Earthquakes – The Earthquakes ran up against a motivated Galaxy team at top gear and paid a dear price in a stinging 3-0 loss on the road.

12. New England Revolution – New England management and the league apparently blocked Stoke City’s effort to gain the services of  Juan Agudelo (pictured above) a few months early; truly, Jay Heaps and Co. need all the help they can get as they try desperately to fight their  way into the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

11. Houston Dynamo – The Dynamo hung around long enough in Chicago to grab a late equalizer and sneak out of Toyota Park with a valuable 1-1 draw. (Not just valuable for the point, but also for the two points that Chicago did not claim.)

(MORE: MLS Round 27 week in review)

10. Philadelphia Union – If the Union cannot get over the playoff hump this year, a hum-drum 6-3-5 home record will be the reason. While John Hackworth’s team can reliably grind out results on the road, too many draws in Chester are damaging the bottom line. Latest example, Saturday’s scoreless draw at PPL Park against Montreal.

9. Vancouver Whitecaps – Martin Rennie’s team needs to wake up – and in a hurry! The Whitecaps were 9-5-5 and purring along just six weeks ago. They are 1-4-2 since then and have tumbled all the way out of a playoff spot. The latest dropped points: a 2-2 draw Sunday at home against last-place Chivas USA.

8. New York Red Bulls – Do not say that manager Mike Petke lacks guts. Bench Thierry Henry? Who would do such a thing … especially a young manager in his first pro coaching assignment?  But it paid off all the way around in a 2-1 win over D.C. United.

7. Portland Timbers – What Caleb Porter said after a young version of his slightly injury-dented team fell hard at Real Salt Lake: “They punished us, and we weren’t good enough to win the game.” He said the early red card was a factor, but not the reason his team fell, 4-2. The Timbers are a meager 1-3-3 since mid-July.

6. Montreal Impact – Philadelphia worked hard to neutralize Marco Di Vaio and the Impact counter attack, so a scoreless draw at PPL Park was a worthy result for the Eastern Conference co-leaders. Justin Mapp had yet another nice match, especially in the first half. (Di Vaio continues to lead in the Golden Boot chase with 15 goals.)

5. Seattle Sounders – There is so much to talk about after Sigi Schmid’s team gutted out a 1-0 win in Columbus despite playing most of the match a man down. Clint Dempsey has yet to find the score sheet, and Eddie Johnson decided the time was right for a “Pay me!” celebration.

source:  4. Colorado Rapids – Oscar Pareja’s young team was going for 10 in a row without a loss but was undone by Kansas City’s pressure in a 2-1 loss in the heartland.

3. Sporting Kansas City – There hasn’t been much scoring around Sporting KC for a while, so Saturday’s 2-1 win over Colorado (on a late Graham Zusi (pictured at right) winner and a spectacular strike from Benny Feilhaber) brought much needed relieve around Sporting Park.

2. LA Galaxy – Landon Donovan crept to within two goals of the all-time league record in the Galaxy’s latest team-on-a-mission statement, a commanding 3-0 win over rival San Jose. Meanwhile, it is looking more and more like league the MVP honor will be Robbie Keane’s to lose.

1. Real Salt Lake – This team is scoring in bunches, having just recorded four in consecutive league matches for the first time in club history. (Having scored three in the match prior to that, no less.) Friday’s 4-2 win over Portland was dominant and stylish, with some wonderful movement and passing, so much orchestrated by that midfield of abundant balance and talent.

Arena reacts to USMNT draw, expects CONCACAF fight to end

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Bruce Arena didn’t enjoy watching Tuesday’s 1-1 draw between the United States and Panama, but he’s not upset with the result.

“The referee didn’t blow his whistle too much, and that’s the way the game looked for 90 minutes,” Arena said.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Arena’s Yanks struggled to find their flow in the draw, ravaged by injuries to their back line. Arena praised his back four for their performance in difficult circumstances on the road with new teammates.

And he’s feeling a lot better than a week ago, when the U.S. had zero points and sat last in the table.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

“We’re obviously in better shape with four points in two games. We’ve made progress. Every game in qualifying is going to be critical for every team. Everyone’s in it. It’s going to be a battle for the second, third, and fourth spots.”

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

Panama 1-1 USMNT: Ugly, scrappy point for both sides

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The United States will finish the international break in the Hex’s fourth place after a 1-1 draw at Panama in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

Clint Dempsey scored off a feed from Christian Pulisic to give the U.S. a brief 1-0 lead, and Gabriel Gomez leveled the score before halftime.

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Here’s the Hex table as it stands, with the U.S. on pace for a playoff spot against Asia’s playoff winner:

Mexico — 10 points
Costa Rica — 7 points
Panama — 5 points
———————
USMNT — 4 points
———————-
Honduras — 4 points
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 points

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The first 10 minutes were a bit frenetic, with the U.S. focused on adventurous first touch passes when it managed to earn the ball from Panama.

That feel wasn’t aided by the officiating, as Cesar Ramos was inconsistent in a very physical opening quarter-hour (and never pulled a single card).

Felipe Baloy flashed a header over the cross bar off a 16th minute corner kick as he lost Jozy Altidore and nodded back across goal. It was a bit of set piece foreshadowing, as Arena has yet to fix a long-held USMNT problem.

Christian Pulisic was fired up when Luis Tejada shoved him to the turf in the 20th minute.

Tim Ream bailed out Jorge Villafana, who wasn’t as composed and smart as his Friday versus Panama, sliding to divert Armando Cooper’s cross for a corner kick.

Jermaine Jones cued up Pulisic moments later, but the youngster had to wait for a bounding ball to settle before Panama conceded a corner. That opportunity was wasted by an overly aggressive Gonzalez, who was called for a foul before the ball arrived in the 18.

Howard saw his first danger and averted it when Alberto Quintero shook Zusi to rip a shot on frame. It was 0-0 after 32 minutes.

Then, the breakthrough. Dempsey moved to within a goal of Landon donovan’s all-time mark thanks to Pulisic, who cooked Felipe Baloy and held off Roman Torres before laying off to the veteran. 1-0, 39′.

The lead lasted all of three minutes, as Gomez pounced on a loose ball with the Yanks’ back line at sixes and sevens off a long throw-in. Gomez turned off Jermaine Jones and lost Villafana to bury his chance behind Howard. 1-1, 44′.

The second half began with more chunky play until Villafana blazed down the left wing on an overlapping run to cross for Pulisic, whose shot was forced out for a corner which led to nothing.

Dempsey then turned a Michael Bradley free kick to a waiting Jaime Penedo as the Yanks started to refind their flow.

Panama found a doorstep chance when Torres nodded down for Tejada, but Howard made an exceptional nether regions “leg” save to keep it 1-1.

Arena introduced Alejandro Bedoya for Darlington Nagbe with 20 minutes to play, a move that was a testament to the physical nature of the game.

Fittingly, it was creative work from Pulisic that helped the U.S. win a corner kick soon after, though Penedo claimed the offering.

More chances came Panama’s way, as the U.S. spent much of the late stages desperately clearing loose balls. On another night, with better finishing from Tejada, the Yanks would’ve been sunk.

Three takeaways from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw at Panama

AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco
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What did we learn from the United States’ 1-1 draw in Panama City on Wednesday?

For one thing, that the coach isn’t going to matter without a number of your very best players.

[ MORE: Match recap | Player ratings ]

The USMNT saw precious few moments of brilliance from its injury-ravaged side, saved by its soon-to-be all-time leading scorer, its 18-year-old star attacker, and its legendary goalkeeper.

But mainly, we saw that you can change the boss, but you need better performances to make a difference.

Limits of depth tested in ugly affair

Bruce Arena was without his best center back pairing thanks to injury, and you could argue he was without his best back four if you see Fabian Johnson as a left back (John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, DeAndre Yedlin, and Johnson).

The U.S. also couldn’t pair Bobby Wood with Jozy Altidore or Clint Dempsey, and lost Sebastian Lletget to injury on Friday. Timmy Chandler has rarely thrived with the USMNT, but it certainly would’ve been nice if Arena had called him up for the second match alone (He was suspended Friday for yellow card accumulation).

Given the above, this was not a pretty match. You just have to hope this isn’t the result that keeps them from Russia.

Mexico, revisited (What game plan?)

This might be an unpopular take, but Tuesday’s loss was nothing more than the performance put forth against Mexico in Columbus.

The main differences? Tim Howard was there to make a tremendous save, and Panama is nowhere near to the level of El Tri.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The Yanks didn’t have a great plan other than to outwork Panama. This isn’t a big knock on the coach’s tactics given the lack of starting caliber players noted above, but once Panama flooded the middle of the pitch with fouls and tight tackles, an answer wasn’t provided by the players or the coach.

Plan B hasn’t been a U.S. strong suit for a long time, perhaps back to the finer moments of the Bob Bradley era. Arena got away with one on Tuesday.

Rough road ahead

This is something we know, but my was it reinforced: Winning CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers at home is a necessity, because there’s carnage and bad pitches on the road.

Perhaps that could’ve changed if referee Cesar Ramos brought a yellow card out for either team at any point in the proceedings. Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe were fouled as part of Panama’s game plan, and the Yanks’ beleaguered defense went with a similar plan as the sloppy match wore into the waning moments.

The U.S. is still in control of its own World Cup destiny, of course, but simply must handle its business in remaining home matches against Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, and Costa Rica. T&T is next, and anything other than three points sends them into Azteca in a bad, bad way.

Player ratings from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw in Panama

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Player ratings reverted to old form after Tuesday’s 1-1 draw in Panama City, though fortunately one of the other U.S. tropes is dead.

That’s because “Christian Pulisic is the future” can officially be moved into “Christian Pulisic is the present”.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

The Borussia Dortmund teenager again manufactured the United States’ best moment, feeding Clint Dempsey for the Yanks’ lone goal.

Starting XI

Tim Howard  — 7 — Don’t know what he’s supposed to do on the goal, but his jewels save to deny Luis Tejada could be a World Cup saver.

Jorge Villafana  — 4 — One of the many star men from the win over Honduras was too adventurous and less composed. Bad combo.

Omar Gonzalez  — 4 — I say this in a way that ignores Timmy Chandler’s fine work in the Bundesliga: Is Gonzalez going to be Bruce Arena’s Chandler? Hopefully this is the last time he has to start.

Tim Ream — 5 — Had a bad time on the goal, and made several bad plays. But it’s hard to get a read on the Fulham’s man night because he bailed out Gonzalez and Villafana on a number of occasions.

Graham Zusi  — 5 — Gets bumped up a point for handling a very difficult situation, still adapting to right back in a match where Panama’s tactics were to attack his side. A better second half than the first.

Michael Bradley  — 6 — Nothing exceptional from the captain, but still an upgrade from his form under Jurgen Klinsmann. A little too deep in the formation on the evening, but that could’ve been the plan?

Jermaine Jones  (Off 75′) — 5 — Ornery as usual, his only successes came in standing up for his oft-fouled midfield mates.

Darlington Nagbe  (Off 68′) — 6  — This game looked set up for him to pick the ball up from Michael Bradley and dance into the midfield, but he only got a few chances as Panama’s tactics were aimed at fouling the Yanks’ two best dribblers in him and Pulisic.

Christian Pulisic  — 9 — A simply incredible bit of work to work two veteran defenders and assist Dempsey’s goal. Failing an unforeseen dip in company, Pulisic is going to be one of the most important players in American men’s history.

Clint Dempsey  — 6 — Scored the goal that earned the point, but otherwise fought to be a part of the match. That’s the sign of a legend, though, still finding a way to make himself matter on a poor evening.

Jozy Altidore  — 5 — Might’ve had a dozen touches in the game. Part of this was down to the U.S. aiming balls at his head and not his feet, but not his day.

Subs

Alejandro Bedoya (On 68′)  — 6 — Dogged work rate from the Union man.

Kellyn Acosta (On 75′) — 6 — Some creativity on display in limited time

Paul Arriola (On 83′) — N/A —