MLS Power Rankings Week 7:
The top of the table in Major League Soccer looks much the same for one of the first times, as teams start to differentiate themselves almost two months into the new season.
Teams also reinforced some older patterns, as the Western Conference continued getting the better of the East and Obafemi Martins and Federico Higuaín turned in classic performances, showing that the spectacular is firmly ingrained in their DNA.
From a couple teams’ divergent youth movements to one of the most unusual games in league history, here are a few thoughts after Week 7 of the MLS season:
Red Bulls are last unbeaten
The New York Red Bulls dominated the inconsistent San Jose Earthquakes in a 2-0 win on Friday that could have been much more lopsided.
Sporting director Ali Curtis’ famed plan seems to be going as scheduled so far, with the team’s new additions meshing well with the established core.
Long Island native Mike Grella has been one of those productive acquisitions, scoring twice in the last three games and playing himself into Jesse Marsch’s starting lineup. His career story is an interesting one, having returned home at age 28 after a post-college journey through leagues in England and Denmark and one year in the NASL.
The Vancouver Whitecaps are still top of the league on points earned, but the Red Bulls are first in terms of points per game, and with Real Salt Lake's loss to Vancouver, the Red Bulls are the last remaining unbeaten team in the league. The real-time Supporters’ Shield standings feel somewhat irrelevant with the top six teams having played anywhere between five and eight games this season.
Relying on youth can be a double-edged sword
The faith Carl Robinson has shown in his younger players has paid off with a series of inspired performances for the Whitecaps. Octavio Rivero leads the league with five goals, and a number of others have had their moments to help propel the team to the top in the early days of the season.
Sprinkle in the right amount of experience with Kendall Waston, David Ousted and Pedro Morales, and Vancouver strikes the best balance in MLS. Not far behind is Orlando City SC, but the Lions’ youngsters haven’t outplayed their years to the same extent.
Rafael Ramos personified the pitfalls of youth in losing his head long enough to pick up the red card that doomed his team last weekend.
Adrian Heath will press on, surrounding Kaká with players much younger than the Brazilian playmaker. In a league where so many teams make the playoffs, MLS coaches have no good reason not to give their kids hands-on experience, even if it means an occasional fatal mistake.
Five and half hours later, the final whistle blew
Saturday night in Frisco, Texas, offered one of the most bizarre matches in MLS history. FC Dallas went up 1-0 in the first 30 seconds and 3-0 within the first half-hour against Toronto FC, which didn’t get much right in the back all game.
Then, a reprieve—of three and a half hours. A major Texas thunderstorm took over and delayed the restart of the match until allowing it to finish in the early hours of the morning. The Reds played better late in the game, but nothing could undo a dismal start.
In other leagues, a weather postponement might not be as big of a deal, but it’s difficult to reschedule a match and fly a team from Ontario all the way back to the American south at the drop of a hat.
Instead, officials waited it out longer than most would have around the world, determined to avoid another scheduling headache in a league plagued by them.
The grass isn’t always greener
General wisdom over the last few seasons says the Western Conference is the stronger of the two in MLS. Adding Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo only strengthened the competition, as the West now houses the last six MLS Cup champions.
A look at the overall table confirms it: besides the struggling Colorado Rapids, every team in the West sits above all but three Eastern Conference teams in the Supporters’ Shield standings. Those three—the New York Red Bulls, New England Revolution and D.C. United—and Orlando don’t have a losing record against Western Conference teams so far.
However, the new boys have struggled to play up to the level so far. Neither Sporting KC nor Houston has won yet against Western Conference opposition while recording two victories each against teams from the East.
Week 7 Best XI
GOALKEEPER: Adam Kwarasey (Portland Timbers)
DEFENDERS: Jermaine Jones (New England Revolution), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps), Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls)
MIDFIELDERS: Juninho (LA Galaxy), Fabián Castillo (FC Dallas), Federico Higuaín (Columbus Crew), Sacha Klještan (New York Red Bulls), Lamar Neagle (Seattle Sounders)
FORWARDS: Obafemi Martins (Seattle Sounders), Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC)