Before getting to our ranking — one where only six teams move more than one spot — this seems like a good time to offer a reminder of what we’re trying to do, because at this point, this Power Ranking might look a lot different than others. But there’s a reason for that. There’s an underlying goal, one that tries to go beyond merely tweaking the standings or using new results to justify movement to last week’s list.
Last week’s list? The standings? They’re irrelevant. We never look at them coming up with Tuesday’s list. All we do is go through each team and ask: Based on what we’ve seen, which one is better?
From our first ranking of the year:
The test is this: If two teams played tomorrow, given their current injury concerns, form, and other considerations, who is likely to win on a neutral field? … All things being equal, who is the best team going forward, based on what we know now?
Toronto’s loss to Colorado? It told us something about the Rapids, but given who Ryan Nelsen chose (or, was able to choose) on Saturday, we didn’t learn much about the Reds. Why toss them down the rankings when we don’t honestly believe TFC’s any worse than it was on Friday? Even after Saturday’s 1-0 loss, Toronto remains third on our list.
Sporting Kansas City: Real Salt Lake could have taken this spot with a dominant performance in Philadelphia, but with last year’s Western Conference champions held to a draw at PPL Park, the MLS Cup holders retain their grip on our top spot. (2-1-2)
Real Salt Lake: For the second time this season, RSL gave up a late lead on the road, but given the quality of the team’s competition, the result was still a good one. A tough opening schedule eases up slightly this weekend when the struggling Timbers visit Rio Tinto Stadium, giving Jeff Cassar’s team a good chance to jump back into the win column. (2-0-4)
Toronto FC: When Sporting Kansas City started the season with lineups hampered by injuries and the need to rest players, we gave them a pass on some uncharacteristic results. Given Toronto was missing five starters on Saturday, we extend the same courtesy to the Reds. Despite Saturday’s 1-0 loss, we don’t suddenly think they’re worse than the Crew, who Toronto beat the 11 days ago. (3-2-0)
Columbus Crew: Rebounding from its first loss of the season, Columbus got a point from one of the most difficult venues in the league, with Federico Higuaín’s fourth goal of the season vaulting the team first in the Eastern Conference. If any team but Toronto was above them, we’d probably move to Crew up, but given what we saw two weeks ago in Columbus, it’s hard to say Gregg Berhalter’s team is more likely to win a neutral site meeting tomorrow. (3-1-1)
Seattle Sounders:Saturday’s comeback win feels like it deserves more than a two-spot jump, but Sigi Schmid’s team is getting into some rarified air, here – a place where two teams that have bear Seattle (at CenturyLink) sits directly above it on the list. Still, the Sounders pass the Galaxy after a weekend when Bruce Arena’s team won. That speaks to how highly we think of Seattle’s performance. (3-2-1)
LA Galaxy: This drop is less about the Galaxy; more about the Sounders. Though the team is still waiting for Landon Donovan to get on the scoresheet, the performances of Stefan Ishizaki, Baggio Husidic, and Dan Gargan have allowed Arena to address his team’s early problems. If the four-time champions can extend their winning streak to three this weekend in Vancouver, it will be difficult to keep them out of the top five. (2-1-1)
FC Dallas: Throughout Saturday’s first half, Dallas looked set to disprove all of my doubts. Then the teams switched sides, Dallas had to play into the win, and the team lost its first game of the season. Along the way, however, they gave one of the most talented teams in the league all it could handle. If it wasn’t for Seattle being so impressive, Dallas wouldn’t have fallen at all. (4-1-1)
Colorado Rapids: Toronto was missing half its starters, but Colorado still applied a formula that could work going forward. The team’s not taking a lot of chances in attack, with the team’s new midfield diamond providing a solidity will keep it in games. With players like Dillon Powers, Deshorn Brown, Vicente Sánchez, and Gabi Torres in the squad, Pablo Mastroeni has a number of talents who can turn games. On Saturday, it was Dillon Serna, Powers, and Edson Buddle combining for the game’s only goal. (3-1-1)
Philadelphia Union: The Union proved its disappointing performance in Chicago was a fluke, going toe-to-toe with Real Salt Lake in Saturday’s 2-2 draw. With Sheanon Williams healthy and Andrew Wenger providing a forward that will do more than lurk for 70 minutes, the Union may be patching some holes. The next big item on the list: Stop the mistakes at the back. (1-1-4)
Vancouver Whitecaps: Despite two losses in a row, Vancouver moves up, having given LA a good game in Carson, Calif. Though it was strange to see such a talented group of attackers sit back and try to play on the counter, the plan nearly worked. By taking the transition game way from the Galaxy, Carl Robinson nearly got a point at StubHub. (2-2-2)
Houston Dynamo: Sunday’s terrible performance in New England gives Houston the week’s biggest drop, but in the context of the team’s entire 2014 season, the result looks aberrational. Though Houston lost 4-1 the week before, three of those goals came playing with 10 men. Saturday was by far the team’s worst performance, one that should prove out-of-character as the season goes on. (2-3-0)
San Jose Earthquakes:Another decent performance without a win, though given the quality of Sunday’s opposition, the draw was understandable. After New England played so well against Houston on Saturday, the Earthquakes’ only loss of the season doesn’t look so disastrous anymore, either. Unfortunately for Mark Watson’s team, they’ll be in Colorado this weekend, opening up the possibility the Earthquakes could give another decent performance and still leave winless. This team is better than its record. (0-3-1)
Chicago Fire: After five straight draws, it’s tempting to ask what else the team should do, but there’s no mystery here. As is the case with Philadelphia and Portland, the central defense just needs to stop making mistakes. There’s no need for a major overhaul, right now. (0-1-5)
Chivas USA: Wilmer Cabrera called Saturday’s performance his team’s best of the season. After the Goats out-possessed the ball-hogging Timbers, he may be right. But given how poorly the Timbers’ defense has played this season, the result isn’t a big shock. If you have a player like Erick Torres, you have a chance against Portland. (1-2-3)
Portland Timbers: At some point, the defense will come together, and Portland will surge back up this chart. But if the Timbers had to win a neutral field game tomorrow, they’d be in trouble against most of the league. Portland needs to prove they can play 90 minutes without a defensive breakdown before we reconsider its chances against the league’s better clubs. (0-2-4)
D.C. United: For the first time this season, a “19” doesn’t precede D.C.’s entry on this list, and while neither win has been particularly convincing, the results have been informative. Even if Ben Olsen’s team doesn’t seem much better than last year’s, 2013 is going to be very difficult to duplicate, especially with teams like New York willing to come down to the bottom of the table. (2-2-1)
Montréal Impact: There are points you look at Montréal and see the potential for a respectable team, but until those moments become more frequent, the Impact aren’t going to make a dent in their depressing start. The team has drawn all three games since Marco Di Vaio’s return, a stretch that includes positive results against Philadelphia and Chicago. The switch to a 4-4-2 formation this weekend, however, could prove a step backwards if Jack McInerney can’t recapture his early 2013 form. (0-3-3)
New York Red Bulls: The nightmare scenario skeptics envisioned before the start of the season is playing out. The team looks older, slower, less resourceful – like a team that played over its head for 34 games last season. Six games isn’t enough to write anybody off, but New York has gone from Supporters’ Shield winners to the worst team in Major League Soccer. The return of Tim Cahill might turn everything around, but it’s time to start considering backup plans at Red Bull Arena. (0-2-4)