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:
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Some of the strugglers, like 0-1-2 Maribor and 0-1-2 APOEL, are not surprises. And it’s no shock to see Manchester United at perfect 3-0 given its draw.
Others? Well, that’s not the case.
While Manchester United is a perfect 3-0 in Group A, raise your hand if you figured Benfica would have just one goal and zero points through three matches. Benfica’s also played two of its three home ties, making the knockout rounds a dream.
Atletico Madrid has found the UEFA Champions League Final in two of the last four seasons, but finds itself with work to do moving forward. Atleti’s Wednesday draw at Qarabag leaves it three points behind Roma and five back of leaders Chelsea. Diego Simeone’s men still host Roma and Qarabag, so points are out there.
Serie A play has been gorgeous for Napoli, who has failed to bring that momentum to Group F. It’s worth noting that a missed penalty by red-hot Dries Mertens could’ve earned the Neapolitans a point at Man City on Tuesday, but as it stands Napoli is three points back of Shakhtar and could be six back before the Ukrainians visit on Nov. 21.
It turns out you can’t sell everyone and expect the youth to come through shining. Monaco is at the bottom of a very winnable group, having lost at home to Porto and Besiktas. Still just three points behind RB Leipzig, they’ll need to win at Monaco and/or Besiktas to have any hope of the knockout rounds.
Borussia Dortmund got a rough deal from officials when it visited Wembley Stadium, but losses to Spurs and Real Madrid can happen in a group stage. Tuesday’s draw at APOEL Nicosia, however, is close to a backbreaker.
Spurs draw at Real Madrid may have been aided by a huge performance from Hugo Lloris, but goalkeepers — as you know — are actual components of a team. This is in fact a group of death, but the North Londoners are holding a scythe. If Mauricio Pochettino can lead a home win over Real Madrid at a raucous Wembley on All Saints Day, well, look out!
Cenk Tosun has gone from sleepy transfer target to the tip of many gossipers’ tongues, as Besiktas is a perfect 3-0 including wins at Monaco and Porto. Anderson Talisca and… wait for it… Ryan Babel (!!) have also starred for the Turkish powers who will almost certainly see the knockout rounds.
Pep Guardiola‘s done this Champions League dance, you know, and Manchester City has weathered all storms. That includes conceded two penalties — one was saved by Ederson — as a down performance versus Napoli still ended with a home win. If City can win at the Stadio San Paolo on Nov. 1, Pep can sleepwalk into the final two matches (though that’s not his style).
Roma has a classy draw at Chelsea and has gathered five points including four away from home. Mimic that mark and i Lupi will be a challenge in the knockout rounds.
Neymar was best pals with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez last season at Barcelona, but having a less-than-perfect relationship with Edinson Cavani hasn’t hurt a thing in Paris. Paris Saint-Germain is for real, scoring 12 times and yet to concede in wins over Bayern Munich, Celtic, and Anderlecht.
Liverpool leads its group and advancing is really the only goal, but there’s something off-putting about the home draw against Sevilla. The 1-1 draw at Spartak Moscow looks better now that the Russians hammered Sevilla 5-1, but a return visit from Maribor next should help the Reds buttress their stock.
Be careful how finely you analyze a club as accomplished as two-time reigning champs Real Madrid, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s men don’t look so hot. Still well-positioned to move on, keep a close eye on how they look at Wembley in a few weeks.
Chelsea‘s 3-3 draw versus Roma today was its first real stumble of the UCL, but there shouldn’t be too many alarm bells considering their injury problems and Roma’s desperation. Consider their status even, especially given their clever win at Atletico Madrid.
Jose Mourinho is doing a fine job with Manchester United, but it’s really hard to praise the club too much for doing what’s expected in a glorified Europa League group. Clearly Sir Alex Ferguson was involved in the icing some of the draw balls again…
The perfect road match, more or less, though United scored its lone goal thanks to goalkeeper error. Marcus Rashford took the free kick that was carried across the goal line, and United completed more than 500 passes to double Benfica’s output at the Estadio da Luz.
Barcelona 3-1 Olympiacos
It’s not much of a surprise to see Barca triumph at home over Greek opposition. An own goal joined Lucas Digne and this historic Lionel Messi marker to build a 3-0 lead at the Camp Nou.
That paid off when Svilar carried Marcus Rashford‘s free kick into the goal, the lone marker of a 1-0 loss that keeps United atop Group A and Benfica three points behind second- and third place.
“I knew how good the goalkeeper was, I told the players that. We had a little bit of a strategy, especially on set-pieces to make him uncomfortable. We put men around him on corners so he cannot come out. He risks a lot, but only top keepers do that. He was unlucky for the goal,” Mourinho said.
Svilar looked dejected after the game, apologizing to fans at the Estadio da Luz and getting consolation from a fellow Belgian in Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku.
“The manager said to us to try and shoot and get some crosses towards their goalkeeper because he is young and playing in his first game. This is football and I know he is a great goalkeeper and I wish him well for the future.
“We had control, some difficulties in the first 30 minuets but then we controlled the pitch. We used our experience. We could not find the second goal but did not make any mistakes at the back.”
Rashford limped out of the game, and Mourinho says he initially thought it was cramps. Instead, it’s a problem with his left knee. Simon Peach of the Press Association quotes Mourinho as hoping the injury is not bad.
United completed more than 500 passes, doubling Benfica’s production. Some have been critical of Mourinho’s penchant to play it safe, and he winked at them after the match in calling his tactics “a crime.”
“We were in control, David De Gea did not have one save to make. I never felt we could concede a goal and were solid defensively. Sometime I feel being good defensively is a crime, but that is a way of getting results.”