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)
The Red Bulls remained undefeated after winning against San Jose in their first home game in four weeks; their next two are also at home, in a condensed three-day span.
Carl Robinson’s young team came through another learning experience superbly on Saturday, winning a volatile match at altitude on Darren Mattocks’ late header.
Lamar Neagle scored twice in the first half, and Obafemi Martins added a Goal of the Year candidate on another nifty turn, as Seattle left Colorado with three points.
FC Dallas jumped out to an early 3-0 lead and held on for the win despite a three-hour weather delay and a late Sebastian Giovinco brace.
Omar Gonzalez’s stoppage-time strike lifted the Galaxy to the second of its first back-to-back wins of the season on Saturday.
United took a superb free kick from Chris Rolfe on Saturday, but it could really use a player the likes of Fabián Espindola to provide a more consistent attacking presence. Fortunately for D.C., he is now eligible to return from suspension.
Sebastián Saucedo picked up a questionable red card in a rough match against the Whitecaps, and Vancouver scored almost immediately afterward to seal RSL’s first loss of the year.
Federico Higuaín reprised his MVP-candidate form on Saturday, first scoring with a nifty backheel and then assisting Kei Kamara to bookend a Justin Meram goal in a 3-0 win.
A week after beating one top team, the Earthquakes lost to another, showing the inconsistency that has the team under .500 again in 2015.
Saturday will be one in Rafael Ramos’ career that the 20-year-old Portuguese youth international will want to forget, as his mistake on the opening goal and a rash retaliation red card buried Orlando against Columbus.
Portland needed a generous deflection to get it, but Dairon Asprilla’s first MLS goal with just over 10 minutes to go against NYCFC delivered a much-needed second victory of the season for Caleb Porter’s team.
After the expansion-induced realignment put Sporting KC back in the Western Conference, the club has struggled, taking just two of a possible 12 points against conference opposition.
In a scheduling quirk that Frank Yallop has openly criticized, the Fire haven't played since their 3-2 win over Toronto on April 4, after their scheduled match on Saturday against Montreal was postponed until September (for CCL reasons).
Charlie Davies and Teal Bunbury scored in the second half to reverse a 1-0 deficit against the Union, and Jermaine Jones played very well at center back in his first 90-minute appearance of the season.
After missing from point-blank range in the first half, midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy scored his first goal in over three years to give NYCFC a lead eventually relinquished in its first match of the week against Philadelphia. Without injured Mix Diskerud or David Villa Sunday night, NYCFC extended its winless run to five games.
Besides a brilliant set piece, Houston played better than D.C. on Saturday and could have easily walked out of RFK Stadium with three points. Ricardo Clark's equalizer ensured Houston at the very least took one.
The Rapids responded well to going a goal down against the Sounders, but they couldn’t replicate the effort after Neagle scored again just three minutes later and ended up losing.
Another tough week for Toronto FC saw the Reds go down a goal within 30 seconds of kicking off, and it didn’t get much better after that until it was too late.
The Union needed a late goal from C.J. Sapong to save a point at Yankee Stadium, followed by giving up a lead to the Revolution on two second-half goals in another rough week in Philly.
The league granted Montreal a postponement of its scheduled match against Chicago to focus on the two-leg CONCACAF Champions League final against Club América. The first leg takes place Wednesday at Estadio Azteca.