Consider this more than a spotlight on the defending champions. Consider it an exercise in Power Rankings mechanics. What do we do about a team that has so many debilitating but temporary problems? Do we give them a ranking that reflects this team that will be irrelevant come July? Or do we give Peter Vermes’ team a pass and keep a struggling group near the top of our rankings?
The reason I ask is because I don’t know. It’s a Power Rankings-busting problem. For an exercise that’s already less relevant than whimsical, the process becomes complete fancy if we start assessing teams playing (and selecting talent) at their extremes. Do we really need a Power Ranking of depleted squads?
The alternative, the path I’ve taken, is to take a squad’s losses into account. Unfortunately, that means a team that’s 5-4-3 — one that, at the moment, is clearly not one of the league’s best — fourth on our list.
In that sense, these Power Rankings are already useless (or, more useless). A “4” next to Sporting implies they’re the fourth-best team in the league, right now, yet they’re clearly not. To put them any lower, however, leaves us judging a team based on these short-term, extreme circumstances. Just consider that number “where he thinks they’ll be post-World Cup.”
Have a solution? If so, let me know, below. For now, here’s my look at Major League Soccer after 12 weeks:
New England Revolution: Five wins in a row and a seven-game unbeaten run have put the Revs in a position where one loss might not take them our of the top spot. The goal barrage stopped on Saturday, but if that’s one of the more “down” performances in New England’s run, the team is even better off then its record hints. (7-3-2)
Real Salt Lake: Saturday showed there’s a difference between bad and impotent … not that impotent isn’t bad. With FC Dallas visiting Rio Tinto, Jeff Cassar would have expected three points. Instead, held to one shot on target, his team was drawn for the sixth time this season. (6-0-6)
Seattle Sounders: There’s nothing wrong with being outplayed in Vancouver, especially without a couple of key cogs. Where the Cascadia Cup is concerned, Saturday’s point may prove a valuable one. (8-3-2)
Sporting Kansas City: Remember what we were talking about last week? For some teams (the ones with major World Cup absences), we’ll take the long view with their rankings. Not only is Sporting hurt by the absences of Graham Zusi and Matt Besler, but the injury situation in defense isn’t getting any better (see: Myers, Chance). They’re not playing like the fourth-best team in the league, but we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt. (5-4-3)
LA Galaxy: Two convincing wins help in the standings, but what’s fueled LA’s Power Rankings surge is the goals. Six over two games helped address the biggest question the Galaxy carried into the week. (4-3-3)
Vancouver Whitecaps: For as well as they played on Saturday, the Whitecaps should have taken full points. Their inability to do so, however, is not why they fall. This drop is all about the Galaxy, who wouldn’t have passed Vancouver without a convincing week. (4-2-5)
D.C. United: This is a huge jump for a team that won one, lost one this week, but two things: (a) the middle (after spot 6) of this table is crammed in a way the mere ordinal ranging don’t capture, meaning teams can make up ground quickly; and, (b) D.C.’s ability to compete with New England was telling. Ben Olsen’s team is clearly not one of the league’s best, but they’ve shown an ability to compete with them. (5-4-3)
Toronto FC: With 10 men, the Reds came back to claim a point on the road against the defending champs, though given the state of Sporting’s defense, it’s hard to see what that comeback tells us about Toronto. (4-4-1)
San Jose Earthquakes: Mark Watson made the tough decision to try a midfield without Sam Cronin – a choice that’s paying off. The new central duo of Khari Stephenson and Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi augments the loss of solidity with a versatility San Jose’s lacked. It will be interesting to see how long Watson goes without one of the team’s tenured players. (3-4-4)
New York Red Bulls: Yes, they lost, but they also outplayed (at least, had the better chances against) Portland, a fact that would justify New York maintaining a higher spot on this list. Ultimately, against one of the more mistaken-prone defenses in the league, they couldn’t muster an open play goal. While that’s not enough to drop the Red Bulls out of our top 10, it’s enough to let Toronto and San Jose climb above them. (3-5-5)
Columbus Crew: A drop seems unfair for a team that won 2-0 this weekend, but that’s the nature of Power Rankings. Climbing and falling is not about absolutes. Results are relative. Despite snapping an eight-game winless run, there was still a “par for the course” quality about Federico Higuaín picking apart Chicago. The Fire defense was as bad as the Argentine playmaker was good. (4-4-4)
Houston Dynamo: Two poor performances would justify a bigger drop if somebody below this mark impressed. Between Colorado’s strength of opposition (none) and Portland’s underlying performance, no team made a case to be higher. Add in an allowances for Houston’s key absences and the Dynamo get a break. (5-7-2)
FC Dallas: Dallas got a point from two tough road games, but the team’s winless run is now seven. Thanks to the Fire’s struggles, however, FCD moves up a spot, with Saturday’s game against visiting San Jose giving Óscar Pareja’s team a chance to break back into the win column. (5-6-3)
Colorado Rapids: That the performance came against Montréal gives us reason to question what we learned from the Rapids’ 4-1 win, but given the team’s main problem has been scoring goals, there may be something worth noting about Saturday’s performance. Had Colorado produced a controlled 2-0 against the Impact, we probably would have kept them lower on this list. Four goals, however, gives us reason to think the attack may come around. (5-4-3)
Chicago Fire: Losing 2-0 to a team like the Crew isn’t that bad, on the surface. That the Fire were taken out of the match so early is the problem. Against a player like Federico Higuaín, Chicago’s defenders were sitting ducks. Does Frank Yallop expect to compete for the playoffs with this back line? (2-3-6)
Portland Timbers: A much-needed win for the Timbers gave Portland hope its luck is starting to change. The underlying performance, however, is still troublesome. (2-3-7)
Chivas USA: An off week for the Goats allows Wilmer Cabrera’s team to take advantage of the Union’s struggles. They’re back in action on Wednesday against Portland. (2-5-4)
Philadelphia Union: Five goals to New England. Four to the Galaxy. Looks like that win in Kansas City was a pure fluke. This team’s not only back to their pre-Sporting selves, the defense may be worse. (2-7-5)
Montréal Impact: The Impact’s establishing the type of profile you see with truly hopeless teams. For example, did you know Montréal’s both last in goals scored and tied for first in goals allowed? The Impact is also the only team still in single-digits points on the season. (1-6-4)