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)
While there are valid reasons to make early judgments, it’s important to note that some perceived setbacks don’t change much while others put a serious crimp in tournament hopes.
Russia (2 games played) — Fortunes way up — Two resounding wins combined with early tumult in Group B could help Russia consider a quarterfinal spot.
Uruguay — Fortunes level — Jose Gimenez’s 89th minute winner may allow the CONMEBOL side to render its group finale moot by hammering Saudi Arabia.
Egypt (2 games played) — Fortunes way down — Could be out of the tournament should Uruguay get a point against lowly Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia — Fortunes down — Unsure anyone figured the Green Falcons as anything other than an obstacle, but their performance against host Russia was miserable.
Iran — Fortunes up — Carlos Queiroz would’ve circled the Morocco opener as a must-win. Mission accomplished, however it was done.
Portugal — Fortunes level — Needed a PK, goalie error, and wonder free kick to get a point from Spain. Still, got the point.
Spain — Fortunes down — Still look capable of imposing themselves on the tournament, but too many errors in their first outing.
Morocco — Fortunes down — Probably should’ve had a point against Iran, but would’ve wanted three anyway. Very disappointing and now a mountain ahead.
France — Fortunes level — Clearly the better side against Australia, didn’t inspire title confidence but could’ve easily nabbed a three- or four-goal win.
Denmark — Fortunes up — Despite being the second-best side against Peru, now can expect the knockout rounds by beating the Socceroos.
Australia — Fortunes down — France first was always going to be a struggle, but to fight so valiantly and fall to an own goal will be a mental hurdle ahead of Peru.
Peru — Fortunes down — Terrific energy and performance would’ve led to a win with any finishing luck, but getting a result from Denmark was very important. A loss presents a major challenge.
Croatia — Fortunes up — Its tactical options for the second match against Argentina are wide open after securing three points against Nigeria.
Argentina — Fortunes down — Forget control of the game and Lionel Messi’s 11 shots on target; Not getting full points against Iceland is a significant setback. A group stage without Messi is possible.
Iceland — Fortunes up — It remains hard to picture Iceland getting out of the group, but the UEFA side has now flummoxed Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in successive tournaments. Can they find a win against Nigeria to set up a wild final day?
Nigeria — Fortunes down — Group D was always going to be tough, but a 2-0 loss to Croatia means the margin of error is almost zero.
Serbia — Fortunes up — Forget how Serbia won, their fortunes have leapt due to Brazil drawing Switzerland.
Brazil — Fortunes down — Drawing their second-trickiest game could see Neymar and Co. in position to finish second in the group instead of first. The only silver lining is that Germany may also fail to claim its group and make runner-up a good thing for the Round of 16.
Switzerland — Fortunes up — Maybe Swiss supporters were expecting it, but a result against Brazil is a positive step for a team that took Argentina to extra time at the 2014 tournament but underwhelmed at EURO 2016.
Costa Rica — Fortunes down — Now needs to beat Brazil to have much hope of anything going into the final group match vs. Switzerland.
Sweden — Fortunes level — Beating South Korea was nice and we understand the chemistry argument, but a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic would’ve feasted on the spoils offered in the opener.
Mexico — Fortunes way up — El Tri is a very good tournament team, but if you had them beating Germany 1-0 in the opener you’re a better prognosticator than me.
Germany — Fortunes down — Still favored to come out of the group and deep enough to repeat as champions, being unable to get a result from Mexico will only raise more questions about leaving Leroy Sane home (fair or not).
South Korea — Fortunes down — Would’ve wanted no less than four points from the Sweden and Mexico encounters, and has zero heading into the second against El Tri.
Belgium — Fortunes up — Delivered expected dominance against Panama and could have a spot in the knockout rounds sewn up by the end of Day Two versus Tunisia.
England — Fortunes up — There will not be Wayne Rooney questions about this tournament’s captain, as Harry Kane scored twice on a day he perhaps wasn’t at his best. Will clinch a berth in the knockout rounds by beating Panama next, you’d have to think.
Tunisia — Fortunes slightly down — Needed to surprise England or Belgium to get out of the group, and still has a second opportunity after losing late to the Three Lions.
Panama — Fortunes slightly down — Not sure anyone was expecting a Cinderella story, but even those will feel it more unlikely after a big loss to Belgium.
Japan — Fortunes up — Not a bad team at all, but prospects were dim given the talent of the group. After beating Colombia in match one, there’s a house money feel to this one.
Senegal — Fortunes up — Controversy aside, the Lions of Teranga deserved all three points against Poland and are in pole position to win the group.
Poland — Fortunes down — Disappointing is an understatement leading into a match versus Colombia which could leave both on the outskirts with a match to go.
Colombia — Fortunes down — Carlos Sanchez’s third minute red card didn’t ultimately doom them, but the task is tall with equally desperate Poland up next.
Head coach Unai Emery said: “We are very pleased that Bernd Leno will be joining us. Bernd is a goalkeeper of high quality and experience. He has been a top performer and regular number one goalkeeper with Leverkusen in the Bundesliga for the past seven years. We are all excited that Bernd has chosen Arsenal Football Club and look forward to start working with him in pre-season.”
Russia goals: Fathy o.g. (48′), Cheryshev (59′), Dzyuba (62′)
Egypt: Salah (PK, 73′)
Next: Russia-Uruguay, Egypt-Saudi Arabia
Hosts Russia scored a trio of second half goals to all but seal the first spot in the 2018 World Cup’s Round of 16 with a 3-1 win over Egypt on Tuesday in Saint Petersburg.
The loss means Egypt is 0-2, the Pharoahs unable to find momentum despite the return of Mohamed Salah. Egypt needs a wild combination of factors to stay alive for the knockout rounds, and is likely heading home.
Salah won and converted a penalty for Egypt, while Denis Cheryshev, Artem Dzyuba, and an Egyptian own goal accounted for Russia’s goals.