PST’s Major League Soccer Power Rankings – Week 1

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Power Rankings have two problems: relevance, and transparency.

To the extent they can ever be relevant, Power Rankings lose their significance when they become nothing more than slight tweaks on the current standings. If a list tells you nothing more than the table and a form column, then we not just look at a table with a form column?

That’s where transparency comes in. Even if a ranking does look like the standings, it would be nice to know what the author’s trying to accomplish. Is the whole exercise nothing more than a reason to write two sentences about each team? Or is it to trying to convey something useful to the reader – information that might augment the league’s standings?

To be honest, it’s a product of what readers want. There’s a reason why almost every major site covering every major sport does Power Rankings. It doesn’t matter if it’s college football, where the sports’ actual standings is a power ranking. You’re still have sites give you their own views because that’s what people want. They want to you what you — person in the byline, entity on the masthead — want to contribute to the dialog.

We want to augment the basics. We want something that can complement the league’s standings to give you a more complete picture of where each team stands. Where the table tells you how a team’s performed in the past, we want these rankings to tell you how a team is likely to perform in the immediate future.

The test is this: If two teams played tomorrow, given their current injury concerns, form, and other considerations, who is likely to win on a neutral field? This list is designed to tell you who we feel is most likely to win that matchup. All things being equal, who is the best team going forward, based on what we know now?

So past results matter, but so does current form. Our goal is to take that information and evaluate how much each reflects a team’s ability to win tomorrow.

Will we always get it right? No. But hopefully, we’ll be consistent about what we’re trying to do.

Here’s our view of the league after Week One:

RANKING
Up/Down

1
Real Salt Lake: Last October, RSL went into Carson and lost 1-0 on its way to a second appearance in MLS Cup. On Saturday, it improved on that performance. Does that mean the team’s better on last year? Not necessarily, but it does mean RSL had the most impressive result of the season’s first round. (1-0-0)
source:  2
Sporting Kansas City: One week, on the road, resting players, against another highly ranked team, and it takes some 94th minute goalmouth chaos to sink you? Consider this me dropping Sporting one spot. I refuse to judge them too harshly. (0-1-0)
source:  3
Portland Timbers: The finishing was off, particularly Diego Valeri’s, but against a strong Union team, they still showed all the qualities that make them one of the Western Conference favorites. The underlying form, better than Saturday’s result, says the Timbers deserve a high spot. (0-0-1)
source:  4
Vancouver Whitecaps: The team’s 4-1 win over visiting New York sent a spectacular message to the rest of the league. That message: We have more firepower than any of you, and Carl Robinson might know how to use it. (1-0-0)

source:

5
LA Galaxy: An opening night loss is disappointing, but they generated a number of chances – chances a mortal goalkeeper’s less likely to stop. If RSL is really the league’s best team after week one, we can’t be too down on LA after playing them so close. (0-1-0)
source:  6
Seattle Sounders: Seattle’s only issue on Saturday was chance creation, something it still overcame in second half stoppage time. Given its opponents were a typically stingy Sporting KC, the lack of good chances was understandable. We’re still in “wait and see” mode on the offense, but the rest of the team looks solid, if not outright good. (1-0-0)
source:  7 Philadelphia Union: It’s about the solidity more than the result. If the Union would have gotten a lucky point in Portland on Saturday, they wouldn’t be ranked this high. But there was nothing lucky about it. Perhaps they’ll regress in the coming weeks, but after game one, the Union deserve this spot. (0-0-1)
source:  8
Houston Dynamo: This feels low for a team that posted the weekend’s most-lopsided result, but there was a momentum to Saturday’s game — one which was 3-0 Dynamo after 23 minutes — that limits how much we can learn from the result. What we know, though: Will Bruin has left 2013 behind him. (1-0-0)
source:  9 New York Red Bulls: Vancouver has the weirdest surface in the league, and New York only plays there once every two years. When they do, players like Thierry Henry and Jámison Olave don’t make the trip. Particularly considering two of the Whitecaps four goals game late, I’m not sure how much we learned about New York, other than Vancouver will always be a bad trip for this team. (0-1-0)
source:  10 Columbus Crew: The Crew places three players in our Team of the Week, so their performance made an impression. Before we start moving them too far up the rankings, however, we need to see them play against somebody other than D.C. United. Still, don’t let that diminish what was a very impressive opener. (1-0-0)
source:  11 Toronto FC: Did not play. (0-0-0)
source:  11 San Jose Earthquakes: Did not play. (0-0-0)

source:

11 Colorado Rapids: Did not play. (0-0-0)
source:  14
Chivas USA: The addition of Mauro Rosales paid immediate dividends, with the former Seattle Sounder producing the league’s only two-assist night. This team is going to be better than most people thought. (1-0-0)
source:  15
FC Dallas: Three points on opening night provided a great start to the Óscar Pareja era, but the absence of Marco Di Vaio, a questionable penalty, and the overall quality of their opponent leaves questions unanswered. (1-0-0)
source:  16
New England Revolution: An embarrassing performance at BBVA Compass Stadium carried an element of the aberrational. Jay Heaps better hope Jose Goncalves isn’t this bad every week; else, it’s back to 2012 with the Revolution. (0-1-0)
source:  17 Chicago Fire: Chivas USA is going to be better than last year, but despite the close score, Chicago were clearly second best to last year’s Western Conference cellar dwellers. Frank Yallop’s revamped defense gave up three goals. (0-1-0)
source:  18
Montréal Impact: In our alternative season preview we alluded to nobody knowing how good this team’s supposed to be. Week 1 didn’t provide any answers. They were without their only goal scorer yet still put up two. Against a Dallas team that’s going to need time under Pareja, however, they were down two by the 47th minute. (0-1-0)
source:  19
DC United: A 3-0 loss at home to a team that didn’t make last year’s playoffs, one that held a two-goal lead for most of Saturday’s match? For one week the nightmare that was 2013 back, with Ben Olsen’s team delivering an unexpected disappointment in game one. (0-1-0)

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 —