The first seven weeks of the Major League Soccer season saw three teams take turns at the top of our Power Rankings. Real Salt Lake opened at number one after a win in Carson, Calif., reclaimed the spot from Toronto with a decisive win over the Reds, and eventually gave the crown to Sporting Kansas City. Headed into the last weekend of April, that’s how we stood, with last year’s MLS Cup finalists holding down the top two spots on our list.
After Saturday’s opening game in Seattle, however, change was inevitable. Results in Foxborough, Mass., and Sandy, Utah, only confirmed the shift. Instead of last year’s finalists defending their places at the top of our order, a team that was in disarray at the end of 2013 has risen to the top. Living up to expectations cast upon them after Clint Dempsey’s arrival, Seattle has become the best team in Major League Soccer.
It’s unlikely Dempsey will maintain a pace that’s produced seven goals in four games. It’s also unlikely a periodically shaky defense won’t come back to haunt them, at some point. Right now, however, the Sounders are clearly the best team in Major League Soccer, becoming our fourth different top-ranked team this season.
Here’s how we see Major League Soccer, after eight weeks:
Seattle Sounders: After Saturday’s rout of Colorado — a group that had only lost once before its trip to CenturyLink — there’s little doubt which team deserves this spot. The defense is a slight worry, but all concerns pale next to the potency of that attack. Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins are unstoppable, for now. (5-2-1)
Sporting Kansas City:Sporting’s late capitulation in New England isn’t the problem. A defender got a harsh red card, and they gave up a late goal. Rarely, those things happen. The bigger issue was Sporting’s inability to create chances before Aurélien Collin’s sending off. Given this team has, throughout its rise, occasionally had these types of performances, it’s probably not a long-term problem. Right now, however, they’re just not as good as Seattle. (3-2-2)
Real Salt Lake:As Brian Dunseth pointed out to me last night, RSL has only lost once in its last 16 games. And that was on the road, in the playoffs, to the then two-time defending champion LA Galaxy. So there’s only so much we can concern we should muster about this team. On the other hand, when push has come to shove this year, they’ve conceded goals, allowing teams to come-from-behind to draw them four times. From a distance, it seems the mental sharpness — the ability to focus and accomplish one, distinct objective — isn’t quite there. Knowing this group, however, it will come. (3-0-5)
LA Galaxy: Coming off yet another bye week. On pace to play 21 games this season. (2-1-2)
FC Dallas: When, earlier this year, FC Dallas took advantage of a 10-man Houston to post a 4-1 win at BBVA Compass, we launch them up this chart. Playing 11-on-10 tells us very little about how the team will perform going forward. On Saturday, Dallas was up 1-0 in Washington, D.C., before Zach Loyd got sent off. The team’s failures playing 10-on-11 are no more telling than its successes playing a man up. (5-2-1)
Toronto FC: Coming off yet another bye week. On pace to play 26 games this season. (3-3-0)
Columbus Crew: Though the Crew dropped points at home on Saturday, the underlying performance was consistent with what we’ve seen throughout the season. Perhaps we’re not seeing the same team that was so convincing at RFKand CenturyLink, but the underlying elements are still there. (3-1-3)
New York Red Bulls:A four-goal win over Houston and a strong performance in Ohio spark a huge jump, but this ranking might still be too low. That they performed so well in Columbus gives the Red Bulls an argument to be above the Crew, though given the swift nature of New York’s ascent, we’ll keep the Crew above them for now. Just remember: Three weeks ago, we called New York the worst team in the league. We could again be wrong about the Red Bulls. (2-2-5)
Vancouver Whitecaps: The daunting depth of the Whitecaps’ attack paid off on Saturday, with two late goals allowing them to claim a point against RSL. While there was some fortune to the result (get down for that shot, Nick Rimando), the performance still offer more context on some of their previous results. After Saturday’s games, it’s easier to argue that Vancouver doesn’t lose to Colorado at BC Place if Matías Laba isn’t sent off … (2-2-4)
Colorado Rapids: … which is why we’ve moved the Whitecaps above the Rapids. Granted, Colorado’s three-goal loss to Seattle has something to do with this, but most of that result was about the Sounders, not the Rapids. Still, the changes Pablo Mastroeni’s made to the team has made it a much less dangerous group. At CenturyLink, the Rapids were sitting ducks. (3-2-2)
New England Revolution: A fortunate sending off, a misread from Eric Kronberg, and a late handball from Uri Rosell. New England won on Saturday, but there wasn’t much in the underlying performance that says they’re an above average team. Given how the Revs started the season, that’s still progress, and an awakening from Teal Bunbury (plus getting José Gonçalves and Kelyn Rowe healthy) would make them a stronger side. For now, they lose one spot because of New York’s ascent. (3-3-2)
San Jose Earthquakes: Getting into the win column is nice, but this rise is because of other team’s failures. A 1-0 win at home over Chivas USA is holding serve. San Jose isn’t as bad as people though it was, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. (1-2-3)
Chicago Fire: Took the week off and saw other teams fall behind. If only this method worked in the actual standings. (0-1-6)
Portland Timbers: Still winless, but much like San Jose and Chicago, they move up because of other teams’ failures. They’re still a little too leaky at the back; still too ineffective going forward. While it’s easy to point to the bottom of the standings and wonder what’s going on, the team’s actually close to breaking through. Ranking them any lower than this would buy into the Timbers’ record over the actual form (and that’s what the standings are for). (0-3-5)
D.C. United: The unbeaten streak is up to five, but much like Dallas’s hot start, the final results don’t tell the whole story. On Saturday, D.C. got to play over a half up a man. That doesn’t tell us much about how the team will fare going forward, when it’s far more likely to be playing 11-on-11. (3-2-2)
Houston Dynamo: Winless since week two, having trouble converting chances from open play, and susceptible to results like last Wednesday’s in New York, Houston has quickly gone from a team that topped lists like these to one sinking toward the bottom. Brad Davis’s return should help turn things around. (2-4-2)
Philadelphia Union: I’m still a believer in what John Hackworth has in his squad, but a loss at Montréal shines a light on all the Union’s problems. Even after swapping out Jack McInerney, the team can’t convert contributions from Vincent Nogueira and Maurice Edu into goals. At the back, mistakes like Aaron Wheeler letting up, allowing Felipe Martins an uncontested route to a rebound, keep costing the team. They’re a few tweaks away, but right now, they’re capable of losing to anyone. (1-2-5)
Chivas USA: As they reminded us in Santa Clara, Chivas USA isn’t a bad team, but one good moment can secure full points against them. Saturday’s moment was Yannick Djaló’s first Major League Soccer goal, swaying a previously even game in San Jose’s favor. This team needs to regain its confidence, but unable to compete until doing so, the Goats are caught in a competitive paradox. (1-4-3)
Montréal Impact: Felipe’s early goal held up, giving Montréal its first win of the season. The underlying play, however, was no different from what we’ve seen from the Impact since Marco Di Vaio returned. Zac MacMath helped on Saturday, but without his spill, does Montréal break into the win column? (1-4-3)