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)

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)