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)

Player ratings from USMNT’s 2-0 win over Costa Rica

AP Photo/LM Otero
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The U.S. national team is headed to the final of the 2017 Gold Cup after knocking off Costa Rica 2-0 on Saturday.

Who stood out for all the right — and wrong — reasons, as Bruce Arena’s side prepares to face either Mexico or Jamaica in Wednesday’s final?

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

GK — Tim Howard: 7 — Forced to make two saves, the first of which was a hero’s intervention with Marco Ureña racing in one on one. The second came not long before the opening goal, and he did well to spill it no more than a foot or two in front of him. Howard looks at the top of his game, again.

LB — Jorge Villafaña: 6.5 — For the first time all tournament, he got forward with regularity and served the ball into the box. With the entire flank open ahead of him, Villafaña had to fill the void of width. Still, not a ton of quality. Fortunately, he was tested very little in open space.

CB — Matt Besler: 7.5 — Best of the defensive unit, perhaps so much so he’s vaulted himself back into the four-man rotation for the World Cup.

CB — Omar Gonzalez: 6 — Besler stood out as the star, hardly putting a foot wrong all night, thus overshadowing Gonzalez for the most part. Costa Rica opted to build with the ball on the ground, thus negating Gonzalez’s greatest strength, his aerial presence. That said, he wasn’t remotely exposed in the weakest facet of his game, either.

RB — Graham Zusi: 6 — Paul Arriola’s presence ahead of him was immeasurably important. I’m still bullish on Zusi as a right back, with the necessary shading of defensive help. Before you lose your mind, consider the italicized part.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

CM — Michael Bradley: 7 — Not his most influential game, but it didn’t need to be. With Kellyn Acosta doing much of the heavy lifting, in terms of covering acreage, Bradley played the part of disciplined organizer slightly deeper in midfield than we’re accustomed to seeing. It’s a role that suits him well, with the right partner ahead of him. His influence on Acosta will also benefit the USMNT for years to come.

CM — Kellyn Acosta: 7 — The kid is (still) alright, even after a couple subpar games during the group stage. As stated above, the partnership matters. Afforded a bit more time and space by the Ticos, Acosta pushed into the final third all night long and provided the extra man to play with possession high up the field.

LM — Darlington Nagbe: 6.5 — He’ll always shade more toward the center of the field, even when played as an out-and-out wide midfielder, and that’s what he did against Costa Rica. It’s nice having that extra man in the middle, but it turns the left wing into a barren wasteland. Take the good with the bad.

RM — Paul Arriola: 6.5 — You may not get a ton of final product from Arriola, but with Zusi playing an out-of-role right back behind him, it’s vitally important that the wide player on that side of the field offers defensive cover from the front. Arriola does so, and gets into (and wins) more than a winger’s fair share of 50-50 challenges. He’s a net positive in a lot of things that don’t show up in boxscores. There’s always a place for a player like that.

[ MORE: Mexico beat Honduras, book their place in semifinals ]

FW — Jozy Altidore: 6.5 — We’ve known this for a while, but Altidore is far more effective playing with a partner up top. His tendency to drop into midfield helps to link play with someone ahead of him. When he’s all by his lonesome, who/what’s he to link?

FW — Jordan Morris: 7 — Piggybacking on the above point about Altidore, Morris is the perfect complement — quick in short bursts, a burner in the open field, and a smart runner of channels on occasion. He was the best player on the field the opening 30 minutes or so. Faded down the stretch, but the strong first half earns him positive marks.

Sub — Clint Dempsey: 9 — An assist and a goal, all in 24 minutes’ work. More on the hero of the day in a bit.

Sub — Gyasi Zardes: N/A — 7 minutes on the field, with little to no real impact on the game.

Sub — Dax McCarty: N/A — 5 minutes off the bench, but he served his purpose in helping to keep possession and put the game to bed.

Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica, into Gold Cup final

AP Photo/Matt Rourke
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It took considerably longer than Bruce Arena would have hoped, but the U.S. national team edged its way past Costa Rica, courtesy of Jozy Altidore‘s 72nd-minute goal, in the two sides’ 2017 Gold Cup semifinal in Arlington, Tex., on Saturday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

It was Arena’s injection of Clint Dempsey just six minutes earlier which would prove to be the game-changing moment. The soon-to-be all-time leading scorer in USMNT history created Altidore’s goal, the 38th tally of his international career, with a silky smooth turn and through ball that unlocked an otherwise formidable, frustrating Ticos defense. The Nacogdoches, Tex., native pulled level with Landon Donovan on the USMNT’s scoring charts 10 minutes later as he sealed the Yanks’ passage into the final.

The clock read 11 seconds when the USMNT’s first scoring chance arrived. Straight from the kickoff, they worked the ball to a streaking Jordan Morris, who in full stride unleashed a hard, right-footed strike from 10 yards out. Post.

For all the early excitement, and the massive possession advantage (61-39), it was the closest the USMNT would come to beating Patrick Pemberton, as the Yanks failed to put a single shot on target in the opening 45 minutes.

Tim Howard was called into heroic action in the 37th minute, when Bryan Ruiz dribbled through the heart of midfield and played Marco Ureña into the penalty area. The San Jose Earthquakes striker went low and far post with his effort from 12 yards out, but Howard was quick to get down and make the one-on-one save.

[ MORE: Mexico beat Honduras, book their place in semifinals ]

The Americans’ first chance of the second half didn’t come until the 70th minute. Clint Dempsey played a simple square ball to Kellyn Acosta, whose first-time shot forced Pemberton into a tough save to push the ball high into the air.

Two minutes later, the breakthrough. Dempsey slipped Jozy Altidore through with a delicate through ball into space, and the Toronto FC man latched onto it quickly and slotted it past Pemberton despite the ‘keeper getting a hand on it.

Dempsey’s history-making moment seemed innocuous enough from the start — a free kick from all of 25 yards out, at a difficult angle. Whatever, said Dempsey, who went for goal anyway. His bouncing ball evade Pemberton at the near post and gave him 57 international goals.

The winner of Mexico versus Jamaica, the second semifinal which will take place on Sunday, awaits the USMNT in the final on Wednesday.

Mexico block out drama before Gold Cup semifinal vs. Jamaica

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PASADENA, Calif. (AP) After nearly two years as Mexico’s head coach, Juan Carlos Osorio is used to constant criticism of his tactics and lineups. He isn’t surprised by regular calls for his firing from fans, media and former national team players — and that’s just when Mexico is playing well.

“We do our best so that the players cannot feel the criticism,” Osorio said Saturday. “We try not to translate it to the players. We try to maintain the best spirit in the team.”

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

Yet for all of the drama and distraction around El Tri this summer, Osorio is one win from getting a young roster with an ever-changing lineup into the CONCACAF Gold Cup final while he coaches from the stands, thanks to a FIFA suspension.

Mexico faces Jamaica on Sunday night at the Rose Bowl, El Tri‘s home away from home, for a spot in the championship game.

Osorio is already proud of his experimental roster’s Gold Cup success despite a steady drumbeat of criticism from those who don’t like the Colombian coach’s plans or his players’ execution of them. He chose a youthful group for this tournament to build Mexico’s base of experience for next year’s World Cup and the years ahead.

“Our goal is to build a team that can compete at any level,” Osorio said. “We’ve had some losses that have been very difficult, and the scars are there. But at the same time, they show that we’re strong and moving forward, and this team has won much more than it has lost. We are very motivated, and we want to continue building and growing. We want to have more players competing for a spot that can help us. We want to have a present and a future.”

Mexico has won three of the last four Gold Cups, beating Jamaica 3-1 in the 2015 final. These teams also met at the Rose Bowl 13 months ago during the Copa America, when Javier Hernandez scored an early goal in a 2-0 win.

West Ham-bound Chicharito is among several tested veterans not participating in the Gold Cup. Mexico has struggled to replace his offense, scoring half of its six goals in this tournament back in its opener.

“We are all motivated and ready to give our all for the team,” said midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro, who got the only goal in Mexico’s 1-0 quarterfinal win over Honduras. “We all want to be part of this.”

Osorio will watch from the crowd while serving the fifth game of his six-match suspension for what FIFA deemed aggressive behavior toward officials during a match against Portugal in the Confederations Cup, where Mexico finished a disappointing fourth.

[ MORE: Mexico beat Honduras, book their place in semifinals ]

Mexico and Jamaica played to a 0-0 draw 10 days ago during Gold Cup group play in Denver. El Tri dominated possession, but Mexico’s fans booed their own team after it failed to find the net behind stalwart Jamaica goalkeeper Andre Blake.

Mexican fans booing their own team is nothing new, but El Tri can also count on wild support from Los Angeles’ vast Latino population.

Jamaica coach Theodore Whitmore acknowledges his Reggae Boyz are underdogs, but he believes his players raise their level whenever they get the chance to wreck the plans of the U.S. or Mexico, the pre-tournament favorites.

“I think our confidence is high,” Whitmore said. “We don’t want to be overconfident going into the game. We know the Mexican team has a lot to offer. It is a team that we have to give a lot of respect, based on what they’ve been through over the years.”

Jamaica is also playing without top talent, including Wes Morgan, Giles Barnes and all of its England-based players. Darren Mattocks, the Portland forward who has excelled in the Gold Cup, also could miss the semifinal due to an injury, Whitmore said.

Jamaica showed its offensive potency last Thursday with a pair of beautiful goals in a quarterfinal victory over Canada. Whitmore plans a “totally different approach” from the defensive caution with which Jamaica played El Tri earlier in the month.

“We try to be mean in conceding goals, and that’s been working for us,” Whitmore said. “We want to be still disciplined. We want to be compact in defense, but on the other hand, I think the transition game in defense is important if we want to get past this Mexico team.”

FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT vs. Costa Rica — Gold Cup semifinals

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The last time the U.S. national team faced Costa Rica, the final score was 4-0 in favor of the home side, in San Jose (not the one in California). Six days later, Jurgen Klinsmann was fired and replaced by Bruce Arena.

On Saturday, it’ll be Arena’s USMNT which takes on Los Ticos with a place in the 2017 Gold Cup final on the line. One of Mexico and Jamaica, who’ll face off in the second semifinal on Sunday, comes next.

When: 10 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

[ LIVE: Gold Cup scoreboard ]

Arena has made five changes to the team that beat El Salvador 2-0 in Wednesday’s quarterfinal. Incoming are Graham Zusi (for Eric Lichaj), Matt Besler (Matt Hedges), Jorge Villafaña (Justin Morrow), Kellyn Acosta (Gyasi Zardes) and Jordan Morris (Clint Dempsey).

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]