Major League Soccer Power Rankings – Week 7

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Two telling results at the top of the Eastern Conference shook up our Power Rankings, providing new context for early season results that, until this week, held huge sway in our evaluations. Yet after Toronto’s performance in Dallas and Columbus’s draw against D.C. United, it was easy to move beyond those teams’ early, impressive performances. Particularly with Seattle, a team both TFC and the Crew have beaten, having improved so much since those early trips to CenturyLink Field, the east’s two contenders took a fall, with a trio of Western Conference contenders sliding up the charts.

It’s a natural correction, one that illustrates the connections between all the results that go into this type of countdown. Toronto looks bad on the road at Dallas? That not only tells us something about Seattle, who beat Dallas the week before, but it also tells us Toronto’s win six weeks ago at Seattle may now be outdated. D.C. United almost gets a result out of Columbus? That tells us something about the Crew and also TFC’s win in Columbus. Suffice to say, it wasn’t a great weekend rankings-wise for Toronto or the Crew.

Those connections also hint at a problem Power Rankings have brought upon themselves. The process, already a curious one, is typically defined as moving teams up or down from the previous ranking (or, just the standings). Team wins? Move it up a little. Win big? Move it up a lot. These Power Rankings really aren’t that hard, ya’ know.

But a team’s spot in the league’s pecking order is about more than how it performed last weekend; more than whatever biases the author carried into the previous ranking. It’s about what the latest results tell us about our previous assumptions. It’s about context. It’s about continuously learning and letting that education come across in the order.

Power Rankings don’t need to be about anything, but if you’re going to do them, let them be about all the data points that inform a team’s current quality. They should be about what this week’s games tell the author about the whole picture, if they can be about anything at all.

But this isn’t another Power Rankings manifesto, though it does seem to devolving into that every week. This is about our thoughts on the league after seven weeks. Here’s who we see as Major League Soccer’s strongest , right now:

(MORE: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Week 6 Power Rankings)

RANKING
Up/Down
source:  1 Sporting Kansas City: Montréal is bad, but when you remember how the Impact performed in places like Dallas and Philadelphia, you get a greater appreciation for Sporting’s 4-0 win. Yes, you expect the league’s best team to clean against on the league’s worst. That Sporting did only confirms the fact that they deserve this list’s top spot. (3-1-2)

2
Real Salt Lake: RSL was the target of a frustrated, focused Portland team, yet they still managed to get full points. Thanks to Ned Grabavoy’s late winner, Real Salt Lake got back into the in column, maintaining the league’s only unbeaten record in the process.  (3-0-4)
source:  3 UP 2 Seattle Sounders: Seattle’s three-game road swing ends with seven points and the Clint Dempsey-Obafemi Martins partnership looking unstoppable. This clearly isn’t the same team that lost last month to Toronto and Columbus. The Sounders have “gelled.” They’ve improved. They’ve passed the teams that handed them their early losses. (4-2-1)

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4 UP 2 LA Galaxy: A come-from-ahead draw on the road isn’t something that usually results in a two-spot climb (especially at this place on the chart), but the Galaxy were the better team on Saturday. In light of the Eastern Conference correction and what we know from LA’s two meetings with RSL, this seems right. Though they’ll need Landon Donovan to get going to be firing on all cylinders, the Galaxy are getting close.  (2-1-2)
source:  5 UP 2 FC Dallas: Coming off their loss to Seattle, Saturday’s was a welcome rebound, particularly considering the quality of their opposition. Though Toronto’s conservative approach played into the result, it’s not difficult to imagine other teams being forced to settle for a draw. Thanks to Dallas’s continued set piece mastery, Óscar Pareja’s team stayed at the top of the Western Conference. (5-1-1)
source:  6 DOWN 3 Toronto FC: A one-goal loss at Dallas would normally be forgiven, but it’s become pretty obvious Toronto has a serious flaw – one that severely hurts the team by our ‘one game, neutral site’ standard. Ryan Nelsen is far too conservative, an approach that too often leaves his team within one goal of dropping points. Toronto has to at least try to win these games. Come the last 20 minutes, they’re just holding out, something that’s produced a the team’s first losing streak of the season. (3-3-0)
source:  7 DOWN 3 Columbus Crew: In weeks’ past, we’ve talked about apportioning blame and credit: decide what led to the result; hand out blame proportionately; don’t just blindly hurt one side and promote another. In Saturday’s 1-1 in Columbus, D.C. offered the same, limited, opportunistic approach we saw against New England and New York. The surprise was Columbus’s inability to overcome it.  (3-1-2)

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8 Colorado Rapids: The game was boring, Colorado should have expected more, but there also wasn’t any reason to think our impression of the Rapids needs to chance. San Jose is a better team than people are giving them credit for, and while Pablo Mastroeni should have still found a way to get full points at home, the inability to do so is less reason for concern than a slight down day.(3-1-2)
source:  9 UP 1 Vancouver Whitecaps: The Whitecaps weren’t great on Saturday, arguably performing worse than they did in their previous week’s trip to Carson, Calif., yet Carl Robinson’s team still found a way to take a point. That, however, isn’t the reason why they’ve climbed this week. This ranking is more a result of Philadelphia’s fall than Vancouver improving.  (2-2-3)
source:  10 UP 1 New England Revolution: The Revolution failed to inspire at Chicago and shouldn’t have had their chance to steal it late. But that’s the current state of the Fire, and with Chris Tierney’s late chance from close range, the Revolution nearly got three points in Bridgeview. That they didn’t means Saturday’s game felt like a bad performance, but compared to the résumés of the teams below them, the Revolution deserve this spot.  (2-3-2)
source:  11 UP 1 Houston Dynamo: The Dynamo had a strong first half on Saturday, one that lends credence to the idea their New England performance was a fluke. In the second half, however, Houston gave up two good chances that should have cost them the game. They move up, but only because the Union fall. (2-3-1)
source:  12 DOWN 3 Philadelphia Union: The Union have the pieces to reclaim a  higher spot on this list, but until those pieces start performing like they did in the season’s first few weeks, Philly’s place is in the bottom half of this list. John Hackworth’s team was completely outplayed last Wednesday by New York – one of the league’s worst teams over the first month-and-a-half. (1-1-5)
source:  13 San Jose Earthquakes: People are starting to take shots at San Jose, but those shots ignore a difficult opening schedule. This team is hard to watch and seems to have inspired some resentment from the rest of the league’s fans, but they’re not that bad, in a competitive sense. They’ve drawn three teams above them on this list. (0-2-3)
source:  14 Chicago Fire: Same as last week: played better than their opponents; found a way to draw; just need to stop making defensive mistakes. This week, it was Patrick Nyarko taking down Kevin Alston in the box. Converting late penalties would help, too, but until Chicago actually starts playing bad (which, it’s not dong now), there’s no reason for alarm. (0-1-6)
source:  15 UP 1 Portland Timbers: Remember the standard here: Who wins a neutral site game tomorrow. After watching the Timbers at Rio Tinto on Saturday, can you honestly say they wouldn’t beat the teams below them on this list? They’d probably beat some of the teams above them, too, but given their inability to break into the win column, we’ll stay conservative. Portland is improving, though. (0-3-4)
source:  16 UP 1 D.C. United: Unbeaten in four, D.C. United have proven more dangerous (or, less self-destructive) than last year. Still, the team’s progress has been as much about opponents’ struggles as their own successes. The actual games show a team that’s still very limited and likely enjoying an uncharacteristic string of results. Now it’s up to Ben Olsen to turn this run into something sustainable. (2-2-2)
source:  17 UP 2 New York Red Bulls: It would have been nice for Philadelphia to come back strong on Saturday and show New York’s first win of the season wasn’t just them taking advantage of struggling team traveling (albeit at a short distance) on a quick turnaround. Regardless, the Red Bulls are still in the win column, quickly rebuking the notion they are “the worst team in Major League Soccer” (as we called them last week). (1-2-4)
source:  18 DOWN 3 Chivas USA: Chivas doesn’t seem this bad, but as teams like New York and D.C. make progress, the Goats are finding ways to lose at home. There’s a pretty big gap between them and 19th place Montréal, but Wilmer Cabrera’s team needs to recapture some of its early-season confidence if it’s to climb back up this chart. (1-3-3)
source:  19 DOWN 1 Montréal Impact: Not only is this team really bad, but they have no fight. The expressions, body language, results during that last 20 minutes in Kansas City gave the impression this is more than a slow start. The Impact have no identity, no direction, and seem without potential solutions. Maybe, having hit rock bottom, there’ll be an awakening in the squad, but if the teamy can’t show more this week against visiting Philadelphia, it’ll be time to consider a major shakeup. (0-4-3)

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.

Southgate can see Defoe in England squad long-term

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Gareth Southgate praised Jermain Defoe after his contributions to England’s 2-0 win over Lithuania on Sunday, but accidentally put a condition on his position in the squad.

The 34-year-old scored the opening goal and contributed heavily to the buildup of Jamie Vardy‘s score, and Southgate was happy that his decision to play an in-form striker paid off.

“If he scores like he is in the Premier League, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t be,” Southgate said. “We’re never able to pick a full cohort, so it’s important we can call upon the likes of Jermain and he can have the impact like he did today.

“I think we’ve got to look every time we get together as to who is in form. I don’t know if we can have a distinct pecking order because players who are playing well deserve the opportunity. If we are going to be successful, we have to have that competition for places. The reality is we will always lose players to injury.”

[ MORE: Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery before England game ]

A reporter asked him to clarify why he specified that Defoe should be scoring in the Premier League, and with his club Sunderland under heavy threat of relegation, Southgate admitted he let one slip.

“I walked into that,” Southgate said. “I guess the ideal world for all our players is they are playing regularly at a high level. The flip-side is we don’t have a huge pool of players to pick from.  We have to balance off a few different things. I can’t constrain myself on selection entirely, but I know ideally what I’d like to have. His performances and his goalscoring form this season have counted for him.”

Defoe has 14 goals in 28 Premier League appearances for Sunderland this season, but he’s proved the Black Cats’ only threat as they sit bottom of the league table with 20 points. Defoe has become the center of opposition game plans, and as a result he’s slowed down, with just two goals in his last seven games, and the club has little else to pick up the slack.

Still, at 34 years old, many wonder how much longer Defoe can contribute, and if he’ll be a viable option for next year’s World Cup.

Group F gets messy as Slovakia and Scotland grab wins

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England is in control at the top of Group F, but below them things are beginning to get complicated.

Despite the absence of Marek Hamsik due to a last-minute injury, Slovakia defeated Malta 3-1. They took the lead just 97 seconds in as Vladimir Weiss put the visitors in front with a beautiful curling strike from outside the box. Malta struck back through domestic striker Jean Paul Farrugia in the 14th minute, but that was all Malta could muster.

Slovakia would go ahead just before halftime as FC Copenhagen midfielder Jan Gregus put them in front in the 41st minute. The speculative shot from Gregus came from a great distance out, and as it skipped across the ground, it appeared Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg saw it late, as his dive was poor and it skipped off his hands and in.

Both teams ended with 10 men on the field, as Farrugia was sent off with 16 minutes to go for a second yellow, and Adam Nemec saw the same fate in injury time, but before he was sent off, Nemec was there to kill the game off in the 84th minute.

That put Slovakia up to nine points, and it moved them into second place thanks to late drama in Glasgow. Chris Martin gave Scotland all three points with an 88th minute strike as the home side won 1-0 over Slovenia, who dropped from second to third with the loss. The Fulham striker got a beautiful feed through the back line from Stuart Armstrong, and while his shot wasn’t terribly accurate, it was enough to win the game as Slovenia goalkeeper Matus Kozacik gave it a poor effort.

The win for Scotland pulls them above Lithuania and into fourth, a point back of Slovenia in third.

Wasteful Poland snatches late 2-1 win at Montenegro

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Poland was in control for much of the game, but failed to finish in front of net until Borussia Dortmund full-back Lukasz Piszczek found the winner with eight minutes to go as the visitors increased their lead at the top of World Cup qualification Group E.

Robert Lewandowski put Poland in front five minutes before halftime with a brilliant free-kick that left Montenegran goalkeeper Mladen Blozovic completely baffled, but Montenegro looked sturdy at the back for much of the game and dangerous on the counter. They’d hit just past the hour mark as Stefan Mugosa headed in to level the score.

Lewandowski had a pair of massive chances in the second half, but couldn’t get either to go down as Blozovic was there to turn him away, and Montenegran defenders cleared off the line as well. Luckily for Poland, they had Piszczek who burst down the right to beat Aleksandar Sofranac, and he produced a stunning finish looped over the closing Blozovic from a tight angle, dinked off the far post, and into the back of the net.

That would do it for Montenegro who had little attacking ability outside of their countering abilities, and with Poland happy to ease out the clock, the hosts didn’t have enough.

The win pushes Poland six points clear at the top of Group E, a sizeable lead with five matches remaining. The battle for the second-place spot is tight, with Montenegro still in command on seven points, level with Denmark but ahead on goal differential. Armenia and Romania are even with six points each.