Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/AP

Vancouver Whitecaps, D.C. United, and Los Angeles Galaxy lead SI.com's Week 23 MLS Power Rankings.

By Liviu Bird
August 10, 2015

Another fiery New York derby ended with a Red Bulls’ victory, and Giovani dos Santos made his debut with a goal and assist in the past week of Major League Soccer action. The high-scoring matches of last week gave way, for the most part, to much closer-fought games as the playoff chase intensified.

The Vancouver Whitecaps didn’t let the trend die easily, though, dismantling Real Salt Lake 4-0, while D.C. United pulled off a narrower yet still important win to remain at the top of the opposite conference. Vancouver has a game in hand on D.C. despite being second overall, but the Whitecaps are in the midst of a busy August in which they’ll compete in three separate tournaments.

More than half the league has 10 or fewer matches remaining in regular-season MLS play, which is getting to the point where every result is vital. Teams will jockey for the playoffs over the remaining two-plus months, either to get into the top six places or position themselves well for the postseason.

Here are a few thoughts on the just-expired 23rd week of the 2015 MLS season:

Whitecaps continue to dazzle

Vancouver’s win on Saturday is just the latest in a long line of impressive victories this season: 2-0 and 1-0 against the Galaxy, 3-0 in Seattle and now 4-0 against RSL. Carl Robinson’s team has shown an ability to get points both at home and on the road and against anybody in the league.

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It’s also stunning that Vancouver—along with D.C.—has been able to lead its conference without spending the millions of dollars that plenty of others in the league have been. Instead, the Whitecaps are relying on young, creative players and their young coach to deliver results.

In their last two games, combined 7-0 performances, the ‘Caps started a front six in midfield and attack whose parts were all 23 years old or younger. Opponents should really know what to expect at this point, but Robinson’s team keeps putting in creative, exciting performances at home and grinding out results on the road, looking like a serious contender for at least one major trophy this year.

NYCFC DPs lose out again in rivalry series finale

The Red Bulls pulled out their third win over New York City FC, 2-0, on Sunday in front of another crazy crowd at Red Bull Arena. As it has in every encounter, this matchup showed the difference between an established team and a new one, even with all the Designated Players at the newcomer’s disposal.

With regard to Andrea Pirlo specifically, observers of MLS are often quick to point out that these star newcomers need time to adjust to the league. In his case, the team hasn’t adjusted to him yet, and Pirlo ends up an onlooker in the middle of the field as the match bypassing him takes on the back-and-forth qualities of ping-pong all too often.

It’s difficult for players of his quality to play as well as they’re expected in the chaotic games that happen every week in this league. For a player with Pirlo’s skills, perhaps those around him can make just as much of an effort to get on his wavelength as he does to get on theirs.

Seattle’s lack of depth showing

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The Sounders trudged through another painful match, losing 3-1 to the LA Galaxy despite going up very early. Chad Barrett hurt himself celebrating his first-minute goal, adding him to a long list of injured players that already includes Obafemi Martins, Osvaldo Alonso and Clint Dempsey.

The team has been putting too much emphasis on signing big names to plug gaps rather than showing the other players on the team how to carry the torch. It might be time to give a more serious look to players such as Cristian Roldan, Darwin Jones and Oniel Fisher.

One of the things general manager Garth Lagerwey did so well in Salt Lake was finding those players around the league who were unwanted but still had much to give, and RSL molded those pieces into a championship team. Seattle could use that kind of magic now too, combined with smart—but perhaps more restrained—spending on older, pricier players.

D.C. defense returns to lock-down form

A week after winning a wild 6-4 match against RSL, D.C. returned to its more customary fighting mentality and beat the Montreal Impact with its only shot of the game. At the same time, the defense warded off a Montreal attack that poured 25 shots toward Bill Hamid’s goal, eight of which he expertly saved.

Hamid’s return between the sticks definitely helped the effort, as he continued to look like a United States international just waiting for his big chance at the next level. He anchored a defense that was once again difficult to beat first and foremost, which went out the window a bit with the need to come back from two-goal deficits twice in a row.

Ben Olsen’s team has worked through a lot this season, which should set it up well heading into the playoffs. MLS is a gritty league, and D.C. is one of its grittiest teams that seems to leave no opponent in a good mood after playing.

Week 23 Best XI

GOALKEEPER: Bill Hamid (D.C. United)

DEFENDERS: Jordan Harvey (Vancouver Whitecaps), Liam Ridgewell (Portland Timbers), Pa Modou Kah (Vancouver Whitecaps), Alvas Powell (Portland Timbers)

MIDFIELDERS: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Cristian Techera (Vancouver Whitecaps), Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC)

FORWARDS: Kei Kamara (Columbus Crew SC), Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy)

1Vancouver Whitecaps
last week: 1
record: 13-8-3 | This week: 4-0 vs. Salt Lake

The Whitecaps matched their single-season MLS record with a 13th win on Saturday and did it by dominating RSL and extending their unbeaten streak to five games in all competitions.

2D.C. United
last week: 2
record: 13-7-5 | This week: 1-0 at Montreal

Behind a spectacular performance from Bill Hamid, D.C. became the first team to win an MLS match after taking just one shot—while Montreal took 25 and got eight on target.

3Los Angeles Galaxy
last week: 3
record: 11-7-7 | This week: 3-1 vs. Seattle

Another DP debut and another win for LA, as Giovani dos Santos assisted Robbie Keane’s 47th-minute winner before capping the game with a goal of his own in the 64th.

4Sporting Kansas City
last week: 5
record: 10-4-7 | This week: 3-1 at Toronto

Sporting might be fourth in the West and fifth overall, but the club is tied for first on points per game with 1.76 and has only lost four times all year, the best mark in the league.

5FC Dallas
last week: 4
record: 11-6-5 | This week: Off

With a week off, Dallas gets a chance to prepare for two tough upcoming matches against LA and Vancouver, both of which have heavy August schedules due to Champions League resuming.

6Portland Timbers
last week: 7
record: 10-8-6 | This week: 1-0 vs. Chicago

Goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey and his team lead MLS with 10 shutouts, personifying coach Caleb Porter’s newfound emphasis on the defensive side of the game in 2015.

7New York Red Bulls
last week: 6
record: 10-6-6 | This week: 1-1 at Montreal, 2-0 vs. NYCFC

Three points at home and a point on the road solidified the Red Bulls’ spot near the top of the East; that match against first-place rival D.C. at the end of August looks more important each week.

8Toronto FC
last week: 8
record: 9-9-4 | This week: 4-1 vs. Orlando, 1-3 vs. Kansas City

Despite losing just once heading into the match against SKC on Saturday, Toronto still couldn’t figure out how to beat Kansas City, keeping the Reds at just one win in the last 14 games against Sporting.

9Columbus Crew
last week: 10
record: 9-8-7 | This week: 2-1 at Colorado

Kei Kamara just keeps scoring goals, lifting his team to a 2-1 comeback win against the Rapids and propelling himself back to the top of the league goalscoring chart despite Sebastian Giovinco’s hat trick.

10Montreal Impact
last week: 9
record: 8-9-4 | This week: 1-1 vs. Red Bulls, 0-1 vs. D.C.

Montreal has nearly caught up with the rest of the league in terms of matches played, and it sits precariously in the last playoff place, just ahead of Orlando on overall wins, before a week off from league play.

11New England Revolution
last week: 8-9-7 | This week: Off
record: 13

The Revs have a great chance to climb farther up the Eastern Conference in the coming weeks, taking on three consecutive opponents currently outside the playoff field.

12Orlando City SC
last week: 12
record: 7-10-7 | This week: 1-4 at Toronto, 0-0 vs. Philadelphia

Orlando is in the midst of another dip in an up-and-down MLS debut season, winning just once in the last seven, and they’ll have to come out of it soon to have a chance at making the playoffs.

13New York City FC
last week: 11
record: 6-11-6 | This week: 0-2 at Red Bulls

All the attack-minded DPs in the league couldn’t fix the gaping hole that still is NYCFC’s defense, although the attacking aspect also fell flat in the team’s third loss of the season to the Red Bulls.

14Houston Dynamo
last week: 17
record:  8-8-7 | This week: 2-1 vs. San Jose

After a close win against fellow postseason-chasing San Jose at home, Houston is just one point out of the playoffs behind a slumping Seattle. The Dynamo have hree straight games on the road coming up.

15Seattle Sounders
last week: 14
record: 10-12-2 | This week: 1-3 at LA

Despite scoring inside a minute and playing its best half in quite some time, Seattle lost again at the StubHub Center and is now tied for the second-most losses in the league with its dozen.

16Real Salt Lake
last week: 15
record: 7-9-8 | This week: 0-4 at Vancouver

It’s been a rough year for RSL against the Whitecaps, and a 4-0 loss on Saturday in which manager Jeff Cassar was sent off ensured Vancouver a season series sweep with a combined 7-1 score.

17Colorado Rapids
last week: 16
record: 5-8-9 | This week: 1-2 vs. Columbus

The Rapids had a massive 10-2 advantage on corners against Crew SC, including eight in the first half, but they didn’t capitalize on any of them as they went on to lose at home.

18Philadelphia Union
last week: 20
record: 6-13-5 | This week: 0-0 at Orlando

Philadelphia had the better of the game against Orlando but couldn’t find a vital goal, coming up against a more-than-capable performance from Tally Hall in the Lions’ goal.

19Chicago Fire
last week: 18
record: 6-12-4 | This week: 0-1 at Portland

Despite a big win the week before against Dallas, the Fire lost for the third time in five games to remain at the bottom of the Eastern Conference on Friday.

20San Jose Earthquakes
last week: 19
record: 7-10-5 | This week: 1-2 at Houston

The playoffs are fast slipping away for Dominic Kinnear’s men after a loss against the coach’s former team; next week against Colorado is pretty close to a must-win with consecutive matches against Kansas City, D.C. and LA looming.