(Nos. 13-19 in the countdown are here; Parts II and III are on deck …so check back)
19. Toronto FC – Things looked better against Real Salt Lake. Alas, a big moment for the home team scuttled the valiant efforts of the hard-trying visitors. So, credit for a near-miss? Sure. But it won’t drag TFC off the bottom of this list, not when Aron Winter’s men just matched the worst start in Major League Soccer history, now without a win or even a draw in their first seven. Red hot D.C. United is the next obstacle; the sides meet Saturday in Toronto.
18. Portland Timbers – Last place in the West is hardly where management expected to see things in the club’s sophomore season. Young backup Joe Bendik, forced into duty in Timbers goal Saturday upon the injury to Troy Perkins, held up well. As for new signing Steven Smith, who started at left back … well, let’s just assume better things are ahead and move on. In fact, neither center back alongside Smith (Hanyer Mosquera nor Eric Brunner) were tip-top in a 2-0 loss to Montreal.
17. Columbus Crew – This was a pretty good performance from the Crew, all things considered perhaps the best this year from Robert Warzycha’s men. But results matter, and a 1-0 loss at home to Vancouver won’t do much to get Columbus moving up the Eastern Conference table. Danny O’Rourke’s return to the midfield has done a lot to screen (and therefore solidify) the defense.
16. New England Revolution – I have this theory about New England: Jay Heaps has the team organized and moving in the right direction. But perhaps all the focus on getting the team shape, the passing game and the offensive movement just so, maybe a little of the trademark intensity that Steve Nicol worked so hard to instill has been lost. The Revs will find themselves moving up the table if they can strike that balance between the two. A few more good matches (like Saturday’s) from big striker Saer Sene won’t hurt. Neither will getting Benny Feilhaber back into the starting lineup.
15. Montréal Impact – The grand re-opening of Stade Saputo cannot get here quickly enough, most everyone agrees. On the other hand, Jesse Marsch’s men are beginning to make a home-field advantage of that awful turf at Olympic Stadium. Latest evidence, the weekend’s 2-0 win over Portland, whose players and staff were upset about the condition of the field. The good work of center back Matteo Ferrari continues to be a check mark around L’ Impact.
14. Philadelphia Union – It took a late goal from visiting San Jose to but the next home-field hickey on the Union, but the result leaves Philly with a 1-2-1 home mark. That’s not to mention a playoff loss at PPL Park to close out 2011. This one, at least, comes with an asterisk: Gabriel Farfan and Keon Daniel were suspended, along with manager Peter Nowak. Then again, life away from PPL isn’t all Twizzlers and milk shakes, either; Round 9 sees Philly playing at Seattle, and where the Sounders are 12-4-5 since 2011. Now that is a home-field advantage.
13. Chivas USA – You know all those close, frustrating losses dogging Robin Fraser’s team? Well, the Goats’ more or less had another one on their weekend trip into Denver – even if the final score doesn’t look like it. Colorado put a 4-0 bruise on Chivas (three goals came after the 81st minute), leaving Fraser’s side to carry a heavy burden into Friday’s home match against Chicago. Chivas is without a point (Or even a goal!) in four home matches in 2012. Help them, Juan Pablo Angel; you’re their only hope. Almost, anyway.