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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about Seattle, who beat Dallas the week before, but it also tells us Toronto’s win six weeks ago at Seattle may now be outdated.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)

LA Galaxy newcomer Ashley Cole takes responsibility for previous MLS quote

CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 5: Ashley Cole #3 of the Los Angeles Galaxy speaks after he was introduced during a news conference at StubHub Center February 5, 2016, in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Wireimage)
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During Ashley Cole‘s introductory press conference today, where the former Chelsea legend was officially unveiled by the LA Galaxy to the media alongside Belgian defender Jelle Van Damme, a predictable question came his way.

Cole was asked about comments he made a year and a half ago when he joined AS Roma, where he said he turned down offers from Major League Soccer because he didn’t want to go “relax on the beach.”

The 35-year-old took responsibility for the quote, saying, “Of course, I hold my hands up, it was said.” However, he defended himself saying he was baited into the comments by the Italian reporter.

“I’m not going to come here and try to defend myself,” Cole said. “It was said, but it was for sure taken out of content. I was talking to the reporter, and he kind of said it to me, ‘We’re glad to have you at Roma. We didn’t expect you to be here, we thought you would go and relax on the beach.'”

“Of course you have to understand, I was at a new team, I have to tell the fans at Roma I was here to fight, I was there to win things and play in the Champions League.”

Cole said he spoke to Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, and Robbie Keane about the league before deciding to join Major League Soccer. “I know it’s going to be hard for me for sure, but I’m happy to be here, I’m going to work as hard as I can, change a few views on me being here, and we’ll see. I’m a winner, I always want to win, I didn’t come here to sit on the beach – to rest – I’m here to play football and work hard. I’m not a diva, I’m not this egotistical guy that comes and thinks he’s bigger than anyone.”

3 key battles for USMNT against Canada

CARSON, CA - JANUARY 31:  Jozy Altidore #17 of the United States chases down a pass against Iceland during the first half at StubHub Center on January 31, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The United States takes on Canada in the second of two matches throughout January camp to test those brought in and see who stands out.

They took out Iceland in the first match, and now the Canadians stand in the way at the Stubhub Center in Carson, CA at 10:30 on Friday night.

[ PREVIEW: Get the full look at US vs Canada ]

Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann no doubt has already run through is list of positives and negatives in the win over Iceland. While the win is nice, the overriding purpose here is to both evaluate certain players and determine the best formula for success moving forward into World Cup qualifying, the Copa America, and the Olympics.

So, with that in mind, here are three key matchups to keep an eye on as the USMNT players battle both Canada and each other for spots on the roster in future meaningful games.

1) United States attack vs Canada’s organization

The US was solid in possession against Iceland, but it came against an opponent that showed a more attacking intent and also appeared to have limited motivation. Canada would not be what you call a “defensive” team, but they are very organized under Benito Floro, and it shows. They’ve conceded 1 or 0 goals in each of their last 13 matches, losing just once across that time. Their goalscoring numbers have suffered, but it’s translated into marginal success.

To hold the ball against Iceland, the US used a slow build-up process beginning with Jermaine Jones (who stayed surprisingly composed and centralized during his time on the field) who fed Michael Bradley and Lee Nguyen further up the pitch. That tactic may not be as effective against a less erratic opponent, but it will be interesting to see how Klinsmann decides to break down the Canadian defensive unit. The wide areas may be vital.

The 0-0 scoreline has been a fixture in this matchup, finishing goalless the last two times and in four of the last eight, so the US will no doubt be looking to break that deadlock early lest they get frustrated as time progresses.

2) USMNT full-backs vs wide play

Michael Orozco and Brad Evans were sent back to their clubs, leaving the United States incredibly thin at a position the nation has already been weak at for years. Jurgen Klinsmann has been searching far and wide for an answer to this question, and with young Kellyn Acosta slightly out of his depth or potentially star-struck in his debut against Iceland, there are a few other question marks.

The options are limited. Acosta could get another shot if Klinsmann likes what he sees in training, or he could move to the likes of Brandon Vincent or Matt Polster. The latter logged 30 matches for Chicago last year as a rookie, while Vincent was just drafted by FC Dallas and has yet to even make a professional appearance. Either way, it’s likely Canada targets the wide areas as a point of weakness for the US, so whoever plays will be in the spotlight.

[ VIDEO: Bobby Wood scores skillful goal for club ]

3) Central defenders vs Akindele and Larin

Whether Floro decides to play Larin centrally by himself, or partner him with Akindele, the striker(s) will be the main target for Canada’s attack. Larin and Akindele both have not seen the scoresheet since a 4-0 win over the Dominican Republic in World Cup qualifying last June, so they will be itching to get back on board. Should one be deployed centrally, look for the lone wolf to split the central defenders and receive service from wide areas where Canada may exploit the aforementioned weaknesses along the outside of the US back line.

How do you see the US matching up against Canada, and visa-versa?

VIDEO: Bobby Wood splits defenders, scores beautiful solo goal for Union Berlin

DUBLIN, IRELAND - NOVEMBER 18:  Bobby Wood of USA during the International Friendly match between the Republic of Ireland and USA at the Aviva Stadium on November 18, 2014 in Dublin, Ireland.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Bobby Wood may not be in January camp, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t able to catch the eye of USMNT supporters, and more importantly head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

All he has to do is channel his inner Lionel Messi, split a couple of hapless “defenders” with a stunning display of ball control, and bag an 86th-minute equalizer by beating a goalkeeper at his near post.

Funny, because that’s exactly what he did today as Union Berlin drew 2-2 with Kaiserslautern in 2.Bundesliga league play.

Should you set this defensive display to Yakety Sax? It would fit. Is the goalkeeper’s positioning laughable? Absolutely. Nonetheless, the 23-year-old Hawaii native shows he is building his skill set in Germany and is becoming a useful piece of the puzzle for Klinsmann’s talent pool.

The goal is the eighth of Wood’s 2.Bundesliga season in 20 appearances. The club has lost just one match in its last eight, pulling away from the drop zone into a virtual 3-way tie for 11th position. They sit seven points above the relegation zone and nine off a promotion slot.

African confederation backs Shiekh Salman, not Sexwale, for FIFA presidency

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - MAY 02:  Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain poses after he was elected as the 11th President of the Asian Football Confederation during the 2013 AFC Congress at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on May 2, 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)
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The African confederation (CAF) announced today in a statement following a meeting in Kigali, Rwanda that they would be unanimously backing Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa for the FIFA presidency.

The AFC has unrivaled power in the vote for the FIFA presidency, and with 54 votes, decided to push all their support into one bloc. The choice to back Salman comes at somewhat of a surprise, given that Tokyo Sexwale was a favorite in the region as he is a South African native, and the CAF has long campaigned for one of its own to be put into office.

Sheikh Salman is the current head of the Asian confederation (AFC), serving in that position since he was voted into office in May of 2013. The AFC signed a cooperative agreement with the CAF just last month

“I am humbled by the support of CAF’s Executive Committee and tremendously encouraged by the unanimous decision to support my bid for the office of FIFA president,” Sheikh Salman said in a statement following the announcement. “I am deeply honored to have earned the trust of many of our African friends at this crucial stage of the campaigning effort.  The two endorsements only mean that there is a strong groundswell in favor of my candidacy. What they don’t mean, is that I can sit back and relax. This campaign will be decided on the day of the vote, not before. Naturally, I am confident that I now have a reasonably strong position to work from with such support.”

In a twist, just hours after the announcement by the CAF, fellow presidential candidate Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein revealed on Twitter that he had the backing of the Egyptian Football Federation, which is a member of the CAF. The original tweet came from an account created to support his presidential bid, but it was retweeted by Prince Ali’s personal verified account.

No word has been announced on whether the CAF had accepted Egypt’s apparent rogue nature. The initial statement by the CAF announcing support for Sheikh Salman read, “While respecting the principle of democracy, the sovereignty, and latitude of each member association to vote for the candidate of its choice, the Executive Committee urges all the 54 member associations of the Confédération Africaine de Football to reserve their votes for Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa during the 26 February 2016 elections for the presidency of FIFA in Zurich.”

The CAF is headquartered just outside Cairo, Egypt.