After 23 weeks of the Major League Soccer season, the teams that ended last season in the final are on top of the league again. Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake lead the Supporters’ Shield chase, and RSL hasn’t lost in over a month.
Both won emphatically last weekend as well, with RSL taking care of the Seattle Sounders, 2-1, in a match that wasn’t quite as close as the score would suggest. Salt Lake dominated the opening quarter of an hour, failing to score early but setting the tone for a difficult Seattle day. Sporting KC, meanwhile, beat Toronto FC, 4-1, off two Dom Dwyer penalties in the first 33 minutes.
On the other end of the table, the Montreal Impact won for the first time since late June, and the Houston Dynamo showed signs of life by winning their second game in the last three efforts. Every team but Montreal, 11 points adrift, is still within a couple favorable results of being in the playoff places.
Six teams only have 10 regular-season matches remaining, and here’s how the league stands as crunch time approaches:
MLS Power Rankings — Week 23
1. Real Salt Lake (11-4-9)
Last ranking: 3
Last week’s results: 2-1 vs. Seattle
RSL is now unbeaten in six games, including three wins in a row, and is playing some of the most inspired soccer in the league. Joao Plata has been a focal point for the attack, with the 5-foot, 2-inch forward scoring in each of the last two matches — improbably — with his head. He now has a career-high 11 goals, which have been vital with integral forward Alvaro Saborio out injured.
2. Sporting Kansas City (12-6-6)
Last ranking: 4
Last week’s results: 4-1 vs. Toronto
It may play in a generally weaker conference, but Sporting KC continues to keep pace with the Western teams while dominating in the East. Perhaps its sternest test yet from an Eastern Conference team is up next, with a visit from D.C. United following a trip to Nicaragua to play Real Estelí in the CONCACAF Champions League (D.C. also plays in midweek, but at home against a weaker Waterhouse FC).
3. D.C. United (12-7-4)
Last ranking: 5
Last week’s results: 4-2 vs. Colorado
Two road losses in a row left D.C. in a bit of a slump compared to sweeping through the month of July with four wins, but a return to RFK Stadium was all the team – and two-goal scorer Luis Silva – needed to get back on track vs. the Colorado Rapids. The remarkable turnaround from last season's historical blunder continues, as D.C. sits in fourth place overall, just two points behind Kansas City and RSL and with a game in hand on both (Seattle is also one point ahead, with a game in hand on D.C.).
4. Seattle Sounders (13-7-2)
Last ranking: 1
Last week’s results: 1-2 at Salt Lake
More worrying for Seattle than the loss at RSL on Saturday is the emerging trend of losing to top-tier MLS teams, as the Sounders also lost to LA in late July. They couldn’t create much attack at Rio Tinto, either, benefitting from a moment of chaos in the RSL penalty area to score their only goal of the game and again bring into question just how serious a challenge the team can mount in the playoffs.
5. FC Dallas (11-7-6)
Last ranking: 9
Last week’s results: 5-0 at San Jose
Dallas is unbeaten in nine games and on a three-game winning streak after a dominant performance in San Jose on Saturday. First-year pro Tesho Akindele – the pride of the Colorado School of Mines – has scored six of his seven goals on the season in that span, including a hat trick against the Earthquakes.
6. LA Galaxy (9-5-7)
Last ranking: 2
Last week’s results: 1-4 at Columbus
LA rode a high for nearly a month before losing to the Crew, starting with the 3-0 win in Seattle, making an eventual hiccup inevitable. The Galaxy struggled to contain Columbus’ dynamic wingers in attack, but on the other end, Gyasi Zardes scored his ninth goal in 10 games before also missing a sitter in the last 10 minutes.
STRAUS: Donovan gets hero's farewell at Crew Stadium
7. Toronto FC (9-8-5)
Last ranking: 6
Last week’s results: 1-4 at Kansas City
Sporting KC proved to be a problem for Toronto all three times the teams met this season, as the Reds drew the first match in May and lost the following two. Saturday’s loss was the largest margin of defeat for Toronto in both the matchup and the 2014 season in general, matching 3-0 losses to RSL and D.C. earlier this year.
8. New York Red Bulls (6-7-10)
Last ranking: 8
Last week’s results: Off
After a week off, New York’s schedule gets a little more congested with three games in eight days coming up, including its debut in the CONCACAF Champions League. At least travel fatigue shouldn’t be an issue, as the farthest the Red Bulls have to go between now and Sept. 17 is Montreal, and four of their next five games total will be at home.
9. Portland Timbers (7-7-10)
Last ranking: 10
Last week’s results: 1-1 at New England
The Timbers completed the first part of their massive road trip to Foxborough, Mass., and Georgetown, Guyana, on Saturday. Portland felt aggrieved by assistant referee Matthew Nelson in both halves, first because he failed to raise his flag on Charlie Davies’ opening goal — a correct decision — and then because he did raise it on what would have been Gastón Fernández’s winning goal — an incorrect decision, as he was even with Maxi Urruti when he played the ball across and both players were behind the Revs’ back line.
10. Vancouver Whitecaps (7-4-12)
Last ranking: 7
Last week’s results: 0-0 at Chivas
The Whitecaps have gone six games without losing, but it feels like they’re treading water a bit, as five of those have been draws, including uninspiring matches at Chivas and Chicago. Vancouver plays three tough matches next, taking on two of the league’s top teams and a major rival in LA, Portland and D.C.
11. Columbus Crew (7-8-9)
Last ranking: 16
Last week’s results: 4-1 vs. LA
The Crew showed their potential when every attacking player is on the same page, moving dynamically and interchanging in attack. Both wingers – Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram – scored goals and added an assist in a 4-1 win over the Galaxy, and both were major presences in the middle of the field in the process rather than out wide.
12. Colorado Rapids (8-10-6)
Last ranking: 11
Last week’s results: 2-4 at D.C.
The Rapids have lost four in a row, slipping out of the playoff spots and into seventh place in the Western Conference. The upcoming schedule doesn’t get any easier, either: home against LA, away against Seattle, away to LA, home to Portland and away to RSL before closing out September at home against San Jose. At least they have Dillon Serna's goal to celebrate.
13. Philadelphia Union (6-9-9)
Last ranking: 12
Last week’s results: 0-2 at Houston
Top SuperDraft pick Andre Blake finally got his first MLS start on Friday, and he was a bright spot for the Union in a drab 2-0 loss. Despite not playing yet this year, he showed great confidence and ability, making several big saves, springing Sebastien Le Toux on a counterattack and even dribbling past an opponent on top of his own six-yard box.
14. Chivas USA (6-11-6)
Last ranking: 14
Last week’s results: 0-0 vs. Vancouver
The Goats have gone five games without a win, and Erick Torres still hasn’t scored since the first game in that streak despite his best efforts to both finish and create on Saturday. He hit seven shots, three of which were on target and saved by David Ousted.
15. San Jose Earthquakes (6-9-6)
Last ranking: 13
Last week’s results: 0-5 vs. Dallas
It doesn’t get much more humiliating than losing by a handful of goals and getting shut out at home, punctuated by Chris Wondolowski skying his penalty with the final touch before halftime. A 5-0 loss to Dallas broke a four-game unbeaten run that included a dominant 5-1 win over Chicago, and three of the Earthquakes’ next four matches are against teams in the top half of the table, making it more difficult to reverse Saturday’s result.
16. Houston Dynamo (7-12-4)
Last ranking: 18
Last week’s results: 2-0 vs. Philadelphia
Will Bruin scored once and nearly a couple more, only to be denied by Andre Blake, as the Dynamo got an important home win over Philadelphia. Houston has won its last two matches against Eastern Conference opponents, and it plays four more foes close by in the standings in the next six matches: Columbus (twice), Montreal, Philadelphia again and Chicago.
17. Chicago Fire (4-6-13)
Last ranking: 15
Last week’s results: 0-1 at Montreal
Last week was brutal for Chicago, losing away to the last-place team in the league after a 6-0 midweek loss to Seattle in the U.S. Open Cup. A second straight match in Canada awaits, as the Fire travel to Toronto on Saturday before returning home to face a hot Dallas side.
18. New England Revolution (8-12-3)
Last ranking: 17
Last week’s results: 1-1 vs. Portland
Despite taking the lead in the first half, the Revs collapsed defensively in the second half as Liam Ridgewell dribbled through most of the team to score the equalizer. New England plays four of its next five games at home in a stretch that could determine its playoff fate, and turning games like Saturday’s into wins will be crucial.
19. Montreal Impact (4-14-5)
Last ranking: 19
Last week’s results: 1-0 vs. Chicago
Montreal finally broke its seven-game league losing streak with a win by the slimmest margin against Chicago. Frank Klopas turned to experience to make the difference, with five starters older than age 30 and game-winning goalscorer Marco di Vaio the oldest of the lot at age 38.