PST’s Major League Soccer Power Rankings – Whole New World Edition

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As MLS seasons age, Power Rankings can get staid. Writers settle into their opinions We leverage them like biases, rolling new prose into our static views. One or two spots here and there may be enough to spark curiosity, but if you have Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City among your top four all year, is really it saying anything to have them at three instead of two?

Those two teams have been at the top of this particular list since the get go. Seattle joined them soon after, with LA helping form our big four by the middle of summer. For a few weeks, the quartet looked set to pull away from the rest of the league, so much so I was going to put a big black bar between four and five. These are the cup contenders. Those are not.

So much for staid. After this weekend’s results, there are two new teams at the top – teams few people picked to make the postseason back in March. Whether you think FC Dallas and D.C. United will be title contenders come November, they’re among the league’s best teams now. After big wins over Real and Sporting  (respectively), they deserve this list’s top two spots.

And ultimately, that’s what this exercise should be about: Who’s good right now? If you’re asking me to put money on who’s left standing in December, that’s a different conversation. But here’s who I think wins, if the teams played tomorrow:

MORE: Last Week’s Power Rankings | Methodology

RANKING
Up/Down
source:  1 UP 2 FC Dallas: 10-man win? At home? Against least week’s number one? Having built a two-goal lead, and you haven’t lost since May? I just can’t ask Dallas to do more to be number one. (12-7-6)
source:  2 UP 4 D.C. United: The Black and Red just posted a 3-0 win at the defending champions – the team that sat atop of Eastern Conference coming into the weekend. They have a better case for taking number one than being slotted in below two. (13-7-4)

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3 UP 1 LA Galaxy: Vancouver looked terrible on Saturday — as bad as they have all season — but controlling the game, keeping a much-needed clean sheet, the Galaxy took the first step toward proving the previous seven days were just an aberration. (11-5-7)

4 DOWN 3 Real Salt Lake: C’mon RSL. I don’t care if Javi (Morales) and Álvaro (Saborío) were out. I don’t care if Dallas is the one team in the league that might not skip a beat when losing a man. You were still playing 11-on-10 for over half the game. When Dallas lost Blas Pérez, it was 0-0. How did you lose 2-1? How? (11-5-9)
source:  5 Seattle Sounders: A great performance by the Sounders in a game they needed to win, but their ranking stays steady. The teams directly above them also had strong days, while recent performances against LA and RSL hint it’s too soon to slide the Sounders past those Western Conference rivals. (14-7-3)
source:  6 DOWN 4 Sporting Kansas City: Credit to Ben Olsen, but blame to the Sporting defense. That back four was downright exploited on Saturday, so much so that you wonder if D.C. didn’t uncover some Achilles heal in the Kansas City defense. I’m betting on “No” (Seth Sinovic should be able to maintain his line a little better going forward), but Saturday’s game still showed us Sporting’s downside. (12-7-6)
source:  7 UP 2 Columbus Crew: Last week we hedged on vaulting the Crew too high, hesitant to slot them above a Toronto team that’s gotten the better of them all year. Four days later, no such qualms. At the moment, it’s pretty clear: Columbus is the third-best team in the Eastern Conference. (8-8-9)
source:  8 UP 4 Philadelphia Union: The four-spot jump looks big, but that’s about more than the Union playing well. That’s Philly taking advantage of slips by Vancouver, Portland, and Toronto. Credit where credit’s due, though. Philadelphia bounced back from its loss at Houston with a strong (albeit, rocky) result against San Jose, making it much easier to blame their struggles at BBVA on the short turnaround between U.S. Open Cup and that Friday night’s lights. (7-9-9)
source:  9 UP 1 New York Red Bulls: Like Philadelphia, it is a team taking advantage of the failings of others. A home win over Montréal isn’t something that justifies a boost in the rankings, but thanks to other teams volunteering to move down, the Red Bulls slide up a spot. (7-7-10)
source:  10 DOWN 4 Vancouver Whitecaps: A two-goal loss at Los Angeles isn’t terrible in the abstract, but Saturday’s version of that abstract was one of the worst performances I’ve seen from the Whitecaps this season. Both attacking and defensively, it was unclear what the Whitecaps were trying to do, with a game plan that needlessly ceded the ball to the Galaxy failing to show it had a way to get forward. At some points of the first half, Omar Gonzalez was allowed to hold the ball at the edge of the attacking third. Vancouver didn’t have anybody within 20 yards of the center line. This team has too much talent to let itself get out-shot 22-6. (7-5-12)
source:  11 DOWN 4 Toronto: This is cumulative effect – a correction after we were so soft on Toronto following a 4-1 loss in Kansas City. Obviously, we were too forgiving, because as they showed while posting only two shots on goal in a 2-2 draw with Chicago, the Reds don’t merit the benefit of the doubt. Ryan Nelsen’s team is the only one in a playoff spot that has a negative goal difference for the season. (9-9-5)
source:  12 DOWN 3 Portland Timbers: This Sunday was the Portland Timbers in a nut shell. The attack is good, but then it hits is final third, where the ball at the feet of anybody but Diego Valeri means the defense is in decent shape. At the back, Liam Ridgewell brought improvement, but during his worst game in MLS, Portland showed they’re still capable of giving up a big number. Stay organized, wait for Portland to give you the ball, then pounce. Sometimes the Timbers’ defense makes it that simple. (7-8-10)
source:  13 UP 2 New England Revolution: At some point on this list, merely being able to get home wins is enough to drive you forward. Although the Rev’s 1-0 win over Chivas USA was in some ways the bare minimum, it’s a minimum other teams may not reach, right now. New England’s moving back in the right direction. (9-12-3)
source:  14 DOWN 2 San Jose Earthquakes: The defense is pulling a Jekyll and Hyde, giving up one goal over 180 minutes to the Sounders while leaking nine to FC Dallas and Philadelphia. Perhaps it’s a symptom of missing Clarence Goodson, but another theory: This team is not equipped to play from behind. If they can’t sit and react, they’re going to give him goals. (6-10-7)
source:  15 DOWN 2 Houston Dynamo: So much for progress. At this point, it’s worth asking what the Dynamo do well. Score goals? They’re 17th in the league. Prevent goals? Tied for worst. At the back and going forward, there are major deficiencies, and while a strong midfield could pick up the slack, that’s not happening. The only silver lining: They’ve won their last two at home. (7-13-4)
source:  16 DOWN 2 Chivas USA: Chivas’s goalless drought is it at 456 minutes, and with Mauro Rosales gone, there’s no end in sight. If Erick Torres isn’t providing goals, a scoreless draw becomes this team’s best case scenario, though as summer’s second half has shown, there’s only so much you can ask of “Cubo”. (6-12-6)

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17 Colorado Rapids: A much-needed weekend off allows an ailing (and, plummeting) Colorado to regroup. The Rapids are still only three points out of a playoff spot. (8-11-6)
source:  18 UP 1 Chicago Fire: A 2-2 result in Toronto is a nice way to put a bad week behind them, but the Fire didn’t offer much to build on. Still, the result was progress, stifling momentum that was sending the season out of control. (4-6-14)
source:  19 DOWN 1 Montréal Impact: It was nice while it lasted, Impact, but after one week out of the cellar, you’re back at number 19. I trust you know where the towels are. You’ll need them to clean up that mess you made in New York. (4-15-5)

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

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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

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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 ]