Diego Fagundez, Tyson Wahl

PST’s Major League Soccer Power Rankings – Week 12

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What do we do about Sporting Kansas City?

Consider this more than a spotlight on the defending champions. Consider it an exercise in Power Rankings mechanics. What do we do about a team that has so many debilitating but temporary problems? Do we give them a ranking that reflects this team that will be irrelevant come July? Or do we give Peter Vermes’ team a pass and keep a struggling group near the top of our rankings?

The reason I ask is because I don’t know. It’s a Power Rankings-busting problem. For an exercise that’s already less relevant than whimsical, the process becomes complete fancy if we start assessing teams playing (and selecting talent) at their extremes. Do we really need a Power Ranking of depleted squads?

The alternative, the path I’ve taken, is to take a squad’s losses into account. Unfortunately, that means a team that’s 5-4-3 — one that, at the moment, is clearly not one of the league’s best — fourth on our list.

In that sense, these Power Rankings are already useless (or, more useless). A “4” next to Sporting implies they’re the fourth-best team in the league, right now, yet they’re clearly not.  To put them any lower, however, leaves us judging a team based on these short-term, extreme circumstances. Just consider that number “where he thinks they’ll be post-World Cup.”

Have a solution? If so, let me know, below. For now, here’s my look at Major League Soccer after 12 weeks:

MORE: Week 11 Power Rankings | Methodology

RANKING
Up/Down
source:  1 New England Revolution: Five wins in a row and a seven-game unbeaten run have put the Revs in a position where one loss might not take them our of the top spot. The goal barrage stopped on Saturday, but if that’s one of the more “down” performances in New England’s run, the team is even better off then its record hints. (7-3-2)

2 Real Salt Lake: Saturday showed there’s a difference between bad and impotent … not that impotent isn’t bad. With FC Dallas visiting Rio Tinto, Jeff Cassar would have expected three points. Instead, held to one shot on target, his team was drawn for the sixth time this season. (6-0-6)
source:  3 Seattle Sounders: There’s nothing wrong with being outplayed in Vancouver, especially without a couple of key cogs. Where the Cascadia Cup is concerned, Saturday’s point may prove a valuable one. (8-3-2)
source:  4 Sporting Kansas City: Remember what we were talking about last week? For some teams (the ones with major World Cup absences), we’ll take the long view with their rankings. Not only is Sporting hurt by the absences of Graham Zusi and Matt Besler, but the injury situation in defense isn’t getting any better (see: Myers, Chance). They’re not playing like the fourth-best team in the league, but we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt. (5-4-3)

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5 UP 1 LA Galaxy: Two convincing wins help in the standings, but what’s fueled LA’s Power Rankings surge is the goals. Six over two games helped address the biggest question the Galaxy carried into the week. (4-3-3)
source:  6 UP 1 Vancouver Whitecaps: For as well as they played on Saturday, the Whitecaps should have taken full points. Their inability to do so, however, is not why they fall. This drop is all about the Galaxy, who wouldn’t have passed Vancouver without a convincing week. (4-2-5)
source:  7 UP 5 D.C. United: This is a huge jump for a team that won one, lost one this week, but two things: (a) the middle (after spot 6) of this table is crammed in a way the mere ordinal ranging don’t capture, meaning teams can make up ground quickly; and, (b) D.C.’s ability to compete with New England was telling. Ben Olsen’s team is clearly not one of the league’s best, but they’ve shown an ability to compete with them. (5-4-3)
source:  8 Toronto FC: With 10 men, the Reds came back to claim a point on the road against the defending champs, though given the state of Sporting’s defense, it’s hard to see what that comeback tells us about Toronto. (4-4-1)
source:  9 UP 1 San Jose Earthquakes: Mark Watson made the tough decision to try a midfield without Sam Cronin – a choice that’s paying off. The new central duo of Khari Stephenson and Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi augments the loss of solidity with a versatility San Jose’s lacked. It will be interesting to see how long Watson goes without one of the team’s tenured players. (3-4-4)
source:  10 DOWN 3 New York Red Bulls: Yes, they lost, but they also outplayed (at least, had the better chances against) Portland, a fact that would justify New York maintaining a higher spot on this list. Ultimately, against one of the more mistaken-prone defenses in the league, they couldn’t muster an open play goal. While that’s not enough to drop the Red Bulls out of our top 10, it’s enough to let Toronto and San Jose climb above them. (3-5-5)
source:  11 DOWN 1 Columbus Crew: A drop seems unfair for a team that won 2-0 this weekend, but that’s the nature of Power Rankings. Climbing and falling is not about absolutes. Results are relative. Despite snapping an eight-game winless run, there was still a “par for the course” quality about Federico Higuaín picking apart Chicago. The Fire defense was as bad as the Argentine playmaker was good. (4-4-4)
source:  12 DOWN 3 Houston Dynamo: Two poor performances would justify a bigger drop if somebody below this mark impressed. Between Colorado’s strength of opposition (none) and Portland’s underlying performance, no team made a case to be higher. Add in an allowances for Houston’s key absences and the Dynamo get a break. (5-7-2)
source:  13 UP 1 FC Dallas: Dallas got a point from two tough road games, but the team’s winless run is now seven. Thanks to the Fire’s struggles, however, FCD moves up a spot, with Saturday’s game against visiting San Jose giving Óscar Pareja’s team a chance to break back into the win column. (5-6-3)

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14 UP 4 Colorado Rapids: That the performance came against Montréal gives us reason to question what we learned from the Rapids’ 4-1 win, but given the team’s main problem has been scoring goals, there may be something worth noting about Saturday’s performance. Had Colorado produced a controlled 2-0 against the Impact, we probably would have kept them lower on this list. Four goals, however, gives us reason to think the attack may come around. (5-4-3)
source:  15 DOWN 3 Chicago Fire: Losing 2-0 to a team like the Crew isn’t that bad, on the surface. That the Fire were taken out of the match so early is the problem. Against a player like Federico Higuaín, Chicago’s defenders were sitting ducks. Does Frank Yallop expect to compete for the playoffs with this back line? (2-3-6)
source:  16 Portland Timbers: A much-needed win for the Timbers gave Portland hope its luck is starting to change. The underlying performance, however, is still troublesome. (2-3-7)
source:  17 UP 1 Chivas USA: An off week for the Goats allows Wilmer Cabrera’s team to take advantage of the Union’s struggles. They’re back in action on Wednesday against Portland. (2-5-4)
source:  18 DOWN 2 Philadelphia Union: Five goals to New England. Four to the Galaxy. Looks like that win in Kansas City was a pure fluke. This team’s not only back to their pre-Sporting selves, the defense may be worse. (2-7-5)
source:  19 Montréal Impact: The Impact’s establishing the type of profile you see with truly hopeless teams. For example, did you know Montréal’s both last in goals scored and tied for first in goals allowed? The Impact is also the only team still in single-digits points on the season. (1-6-4)

Klinsmann: USMNT’s Pulisic earning respect with “no-fear” approach

KANSAS CITY, KS - MAY 28: Christian Pulisic #17 of USA attempts to chip a pass past Guillermo Viscarra #23 of Bolivia late in the second half of the COPA America Centenario USA 2016 on May 28, 2016 at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.  (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images
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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Christian Pulisic, whose name was known to only the most ardent of U.S. national team supporters six short months ago, is the fastest rising star in American soccer these days, but you’d never know it just listening to him talk.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

Speaking after the USMNT’s 4-0 victory over Bolivia here at Children’s Mercy Park on Saturday — having made a big bit of history of his own in the process (WATCH HERE) — Pulisic seemed to have just walked off the field following just another ordinary game — something you’d be easily tricked into thinking he’d done 500 times thus far in his career.

USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has something of a theory to explain Pulisic’s meteoric rise, from making his Borussia Dortmund debut three months ago, to scoring his first international goal on Saturday: the youngster is fearless — perhaps because he’s not been around the block enough to know any better, but without fear of conscience in the face of any challenge nonetheless.

“I think he is a wonderful kid. He’s grounded, he knows that he has a long way to go, but he has no fear, and this is very important — not having fear, especially when you play in our region (CONCACAF), where it becomes really physical. What you’re going to see next Friday will be very, very physical.”

[ MORE: Three things we learned — USA 4-0 Bolivia | Player ratings ]

On that lack of fear, Pulisic says it’s something that was instilled in him at a very young age, playing soccer and living an ordinary childhood in his hometown of Hershey, Penn., before it became clear that his future was to be anything but ordinary. Fear does seem a foreign concept to the now-three-times-capped USMNT starlet when asked how he’s made the transition from Dortmund Under-19s, to Dortmund first team, to USMNT impact-maker, so seamlessly.

“It’s just what I learned since I was a little kid. My dad taught me no matter what — I would play against these bigger players — to just be myself. I knew that I was good enough, that I had the ability, so I never shy away from any moment and I don’t think anyone should.”

[ COPA AMERICA PREVIEWS: Group A | BC | D ]

The challenges for a 17-year-old earning his stripes on a team chock-full of established stars such as Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Tim Howard and on and on, are innumerable. From trying to impress Klinsmann and earn a share of first-team minutes, to “making friends” with the senior members of the squad, Pulisic is just doing his best to fit in and prove he can contribute at next week’s 2016 Copa America Centenario — the USMNT’s last major tournament before the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

“The guys have taken me in, they’re all really nice, and it’s helped me a lot that I’ve been with them a few weeks now. It’s getting more and more comfortable. I’m making more friends. Normally, you’d hang out with some of the younger guys — kind of work your way up. You really have to earn your respects on the field. Off the field, they’re all nice guys.”

[ MORE: Ranking Copa America contenders — what are USMNT’s chances? ]

And yet, with all of that said, an air of naiveté hangs over Pulisic as he talks of becoming the youngest goalscorer in USMNT history (17 years, 253 days), the 17-year-old that he is. Does the magnitude of such an accomplishment register an hour after that record-breaking strike?

“Honestly, no. I’m just living life, living in the moment. It’s cool — stats and stuff are cool — but I want to win this tournament coming up. That’s the overall goal, so I don’t really care too much about being the [youngest] goalscorer.”

Player ratings from a historic, comfortable USMNT win over Bolivia

KANSAS CITY, KS - MAY 28: Michael Bradley #4 of USA directs a header away from the Bolivia forwards in the first half of the COPA America Centenario USA 2016 on May 28, 2016 at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.  (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images
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Yes, the United States should beat Bolivia at home, and soundly, but that doesn’t make Saturday’s 4-0 win in Kansas City any less fun.

Jurgen Klinsmann’s men throttled Bolivia, picking up the biggest win over a South American foe in national team history while writing in the U.S. men’s record book from an individual standpoint as well.

[ MORE: Match recapThree things we learned ]

Christian Pulisic became the youngest goal scorer in USMNT history, and the Americans will be feeling pretty good after improving to 7-1-1 in their last nine games before the start of the Copa America Centenario on Friday in California.

So who showed well? See below:

Starting XI

Brad Guzan — 7 — Called on only once or twice, but made the saves. Always hard to know what to score a goalkeeper who doesn’t have much to do. We’ll go with 7.

Matt Besler (off HT) — 7 — Filling in at left back wasn’t a problem for Sporting KC’s center back, and he even pulled off a nifty attacking trick or two.

John Brooks — 6 — Made up for a horrible giveaway by charging into the play to score the Yanks’ second goal. Out of position on a late chance that Guzan handled well.

Geoff Cameron — 7 — This team is so much better when he is healthy. Have to wonder if the Confederations Cup berth would’ve been assured with him last summer.

Michael Orozco (off HT) — 6 — Wasn’t noticed much, and that’s good for him.

[ WATCH: USMNT’s first two goals | Pulisic makes history ]

Michael Bradley (off 73′) — 9 — Weird how he’s good in his best position, pinged balls around the field and keeping things moving like a Newton’s cradle.

Jermaine Jones — 6 — Was just fine. Hard as nails and set to make an impact in the Copa America, and made a great takeaway and pass on the Pulisic goal.

Alejandro Bedoya 9 — The Nantes man had two assists, and looked capable of pulling as many strings as he wanted against Bolivia. Showed a hard edge against a nasty Bolivia side, too.

KANSAS CITY, KS - MAY 28: Alejandro Bedoya #11 of USA knocks down Alejandro Meleán #13 of Bolivia in the first half of the COPA America Centenario USA 2016 on May 28, 2016 at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)

[ COPA AMERICA PREVIEWS: Group A | BC | D ]

Bobby Wood — Lively and active, even if his finish was off.

Gyasi Zardes (Off, 64′) — 7 — If he wasn’t fighting his first touch, might’ve scored 3 or 4. Two is pretty good, though, right? He’d be a center forward, but Klinsmann needs to know the man up top can handle his first touch better.

Clint Dempsey (Off, 73′) — 6 — By no means bad. Is it too far off to say he’s doing the American version of the waning years of Cuauthemoc Blanco’s Mexican prime?

Subs

Fabian Johnson (On, HT) — 6 — Slow to get back on Bolivia’s only scoring chance.

DeAndre Yedlin (On, HT) — 6 — Like Orozco, had very little to do on the right side.

Christian Pulisic (On, 64′) — 7 — He’s a mouth-watering prospect, and became the youngest goal scorer in USMNT history.

[ MORE: Ranking Copa America contenders — what are USMNT’s chances? ]

Darlington Nagbe (On, 64′) — 7 — His work on Pulisic’s goal was everything MLS fans have been imagining while waiting for Nagbe to be USMNT eligible.

Graham Zusi (On, 73′) — 6 — Game was over when he entered, and did just fine. See below.

Chris Wondolowski (On, 73′) — 5 — Missed his only chance on a dynamite feed from Zusi in stoppage time.

Three things we learned from USMNT’s 4-0 victory over Bolivia

KANSAS CITY, KS - MAY 28: The USA soccer team poses for a group photo before taking on Bolivia in the COPA America Centenario USA 2016 on May 28, 2016 at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.  (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images
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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — For the most part, the U.S. national team systematically dismantled Bolivia, to the tune of a 4-0 victory (as it should have done), in its final pre-2016 Copa America Centenario tune-up Saturday night at Children’s Mercy Park. We learned a few things about Jurgen Klinsmann’s side ahead of Friday’s tournament opener…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

Klinsmann settles on the right midfield … finally

Michael Bradley is the USMNT’s no. 6. End of story. His ability to play himself (and teammates) out of trouble at all times and hit (quick) long balls out to the wings changes the point of attack in an instant. The USMNT actually resembles a dangerous attacking side in these brief moments. (He’s also the quickest thinker in the player pool, doing things like this to set up goals.) Not to mention, he’s got the wheels to recover tons of space when a quick counter is inevitably launched the other way — something that Kyle Beckerman, for everything he’s been to the USMNT the last few years, simply doesn’t have anymore.

Alejandro Bedoya was easily the standout performer Saturday night, though, bagging a pair of first-half assists as the USMNT took a 2-0 lead into halftime. Speaking of circulating the ball quickly, Bedoya’s first-time chipped helper was the only ball that puts Gyasi Zardes into space with enough time to compose himself and beat the goalkeeper the way he did for the opener. With Bradley and Jermaine Jones capably waging the possession battle a bit deeper, Bedoya has the license — and ability — to flair out wide when a pocket of space presents itself (reference: USMNT goals scored in above links).

[ COPA AMERICA PREVIEWS: Group A | BC | D ]


At their best playing with width

Matt Besler and Michael Orozco, who are center backs by nature, started the game at left and right back respectively. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world defensively, but tasked with overlapping a pair of narrow-sitting wide players ahead of them, Zardes and Bobby Wood, much was left to be desired.

Klinsmann brought Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin, full back-winger hybrids by nature, on at halftime, and things opened up all over the field. Bolivia’s full backs had to stay wide, given their speed and (actual) ability to pick out a cross. Remember those long diagonals from Bradley that we talked about above? It was open season for “The General,” who played the decisive ball over the top to free Wood down the left, at which point his cross for Zardes was the final piece for a 3-0 lead.

[ MORE: Ranking Copa America contenders — what are USMNT’s chances? ]


USMNT (finally) has impact subs … if they’re not going to start

Darlington Nagbe and Christian Pulisic are the future — feel free to debate amongst yourselves whether or not they should instead be the present; I won’t stop you — but for now, they’re the impact substitutes the USMNT has been missing for so long. The dynamic duo came on after 63 minutes on Saturday, and immediately they looked to link up and run at opposition defenders every time they got on the ball.

Whether on the halfway line or the edge of the opposition penalty area, it’s quick one and two-touch passing and moving from these two, as was the case in the 69th minute, when Nagbe turned one defender inside the box before sliding a simple square ball to Pulisic. The 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund prodigy made no mistake on the finish and bagged his first senior international goal.

At this point, perhaps they’re best suited for 30 minutes of running at tired defenders with heavy legs. At some point, though — in the not-so-distant future — they need to be given the opportunity to prove themselves as 90-minute players.

USMNT 4-0 Bolivia: Bedoya one of many stars in final Copa America prep match

KANSAS CITY, KS - MAY 28: Alejandro Bedoya #11 of USA knocks down Alejandro Meleán #13 of Bolivia in the first half of the COPA America Centenario USA 2016 on May 28, 2016 at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.  (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images
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  • Bedoya sets up two first half goals
  • Zardes gets brace
  • Pulisic becomes youngest U.S. scorer
  • Brooks scores, too.

Don’t look now, but the United States men’s national team is looking pretty darn good ahead of Friday’s Copa America Centenario opener against Colombia.

Gyasi Zardes scored twice, while John Brooks and Christian Pulisic also scored in a comfortable 4-0 win over Bolivia at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City on Saturday night.

[ MORE: Three things we learned ]

Pulisic became the youngest USMNT goal scorer in history with his second half goal, set up by Darlington Nagbe. Alejandro Bedoya had a hand in two goals as well for Jurgen Klinsmann’s Yanks, who open up Copa America play on Friday against Colombia.

Bolivia is no power, but the Yanks gave them little room to maneuver after 20 minutes of play.

The U.S. started Matt Besler and Michael Orozco at fullback thanks to Edgar Castillo not having arrived yet to replace Timmy Chandler and Fabian Johnson having played in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Ecuador.

[ MORE: Real Madrid wins Champions League ]

Bolivia had moments early, specifically on a 15th minute set piece that saw New York Cosmos striker Yasmani Duk a split second offside in heading wide of goal.

Zardes put the Yanks ahead in the 26th minute on a cool bit of passing. Geoff Cameron found Clint Dempsey, who clipped the ball over to Alejandro Bedoya. The Nantes midfielder played a pretty ball through to Zardes, who calmly fired past a charging Guillermo Viscarra. 1-0.

KANSAS CITY, KS - MAY 28: Gyasi Zardes #9 of USA celebrates after scoring the first goal against Bolivia in the first half of the COPA America Centenario USA 2016 on May 28, 2016 at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)

This game was very chippy, with Bolivia doing the little nasty things to go with big, card-worthy fouls. The Yanks kept their composure, though, and made it 2-0 when Bedoya slid to knock the ball outside the six for Brooks to pass home with his left foot.

Bobby Wood made a lightning quick cut while running onto a Clint Dempsey pass, only to see his shot saved Viscarra on the edge of stoppage time.

[ WATCH: USMNT’s first two goals | Pulisic makes history ]

The Yanks made a pair of changes at halftime, introducing DeAndre Yedlin and Fabian Johnson for Orozco and Besler.

There was a terrific build-up for the Yanks on goal No. 3, as Bradley played a gorgeous diagonal ball into the box for Wood. The Bundesliga striker worked his man and then fed Zardes for a left-footed, close-range goal. 3-0.

It took 67 minutes for Bolivia to really trouble Guzan, but the Aston Villa keeper rose to the challenge when Brooks and Fabian Johnson were a bit lax in returning to the back line.

[ COPA AMERICA PREVIEWS: Group A | BC | D ]

USMNT: Guzan; Besler (Johnson, HT), Brooks, Cameron, Orozco (Yedlin, HT); Bradley (Zusi, 73′), Jones, Bedoya (Nagbe, 64′); Wood, Zardes (Pulisic, 64′), Dempsey (Wondolowski, 73′).

Goals: Zardes (26′, 54′), Brooks (37′), Pulisic (69′)