MLS Power Rankings Week 3: Atlanta United surges into league's top tier
Week 3 of Major League Soccer has come and gone, and the very beginnings of the league’s hierarchy is starting to take shape. That trend is reflected in this week’s Power Rankings, which feature two experienced teams off to hot starts, an expansion squad that’s surpassing expectations and another expansion squad that’s just happy not to be losing again.
With Jeff Cassar on his way out of Real Salt Lake and Bastian Schweinsteiger on his way over to Chicago, here's where the league's 22 teams stand heading into the international "break" (six MLS teams will be in action this weekend during the FIFA window):
It’s early in the season, but Dallas’s form has been simply ridiculous. Not only has Oscar Pareja’s side opened the season with seven points of a possible nine, but it has done so while playing (and winning) in midweek CONCACAF Champions League games. Everybody is chipping in, including Maxi Urruti, who had two goals in Saturday’s 2–1 win over New England.
The Timbers became the only team in the league to own a perfect record through three games thanks to Saturday’s 4–2 win over Houston. If not for FCD’s success in multiple competitions, the Timbers would top these rankings, and it wouldn’t be especially close. Their next game, at Columbus, will be a test–their first match of the season away from the West Coast.
Any Atlanta fan that thought last week’s goal fest at Minnesota couldn’t carry over found themselves pleasantly surprised by a 4–0 domination of the Chicago Fire at home. Josef Martinez was the star man again, scoring two goals to follow up his hat trick in the Minnesota snow. The primary questions facing Atlanta now is simple: can it keep this up, and can it do it against the league's top teams? It’s hard to think of another MLS expansion club that’s entered the league with so much momentum.
Most of NYCFC’s Saturday tilt vs. Montreal resembled Week 2’s 4–0 win over D.C. United, with one very notable exception: Goals. In similarly cold and blustery weather, Rodney Wallace cleaned up a rebound to open the scoring, but this time David Villa and Maxi Moralez weren’t sharp enough to add to the lead. That lack of killer instinct cost the team in the end, as Montreal equalized late.
Toronto closed out its opening trio of away games with a 2–0 win over Canadian rival Vancouver–a game that was mostly dull before a Brek Shea red card opened things up for Toronto. TFC hasn’t been at its best on its season-opening road trip, but getting through it with five of a possible nine points will do just fine as it prepares to host Sporting Kansas City after the international break.
The Red Bulls haven’t looked quite as good as the Red Bulls we got to know over the last few seasons but still managed to win both of their opening two games. That run stopped on Sunday in a 3–1 loss at Seattle in which the Red Bulls struggled to generate clear scoring chances. But even in a disjointed attacking situation, Bradley Wright-Phillips managed to score.
Orlando City made sure the loss of Kaka didn’t affect its performance much as it won 2–1 at home against Philadelphia. The Lions are off to their best start in their short MLS existence, and Cyle Larin is leading the charge: the Canadian has scored all three of his team’s goals to start the year.
The Dynamo showed they still had attacking chops in Saturday’s 4–2 loss at Portland, but they also showed they have a little ways to go before they can be grouped in with MLS’s elite teams. Houston's back line struggled at times with Portland’s high pressure, something it'll need to address before it becomes a full-blown weakness.
A ridiculous long-range golazo from Benny Feilhaber and an equally ridiculous error from David Bingham handed SKC a 2–1 win over San Jose for its first three points of the season. As always, SKC’s high pressure generated a ton of attacking chances, but the home side could only put four of those chances on target. There are still some kinks for Peter Vermes to work out up front.
San Jose lost its first game of the season, 2–1 at Sporting KC. The result isn’t great, but the way it happened will leave the Quakes (especially goalkeeper David Bingham) with plenty of regrets. The ‘keeper allowed the second goal to dribble over the line on what should have been a routine stop, meaning that Florian Jungwirth’s stoppage-time strike counted for nothing.
The Sounders were honored after last year’s MLS Cup championship, and the team played like they champions they are in a 3–1 win over the New York Red Bulls. Jordan Morris was excellent all game long, and Clint Dempsey continued his comeback with a confidence-raising goal from the penalty spot. The Sounders’ ability to finish out this game strong (it was 1–1 in the 65th minute) says plenty of good things about this team’s mentality.
The Rapids mostly held expansion side Minnesota United in check, but a bad eight-minute stretch at the start of the second half saw Colorado concede twice, resulting in a poor home draw against a team that had looked out of its depths in the first two weeks. Marlon Hairston, who has been excellent to start the season, scored an immediate equalizer, but the Rapids’ defense missed Axel Sjoberg. They’ll need to find a way to excel without him going forward–the vital center back is out six to eight weeks after undergoing hamstring surgery.
It took two penalty kicks (both of which were nearly saved), but Columbus earned its first win of the season with a 2–0 triumph over D.C. United at RFK Stadium. The biggest positive of the game may have come in the form of homegrown defender Alex Crognale. The 6–5 defender was solid at the back in his MLS debut, a welcome development for Gregg Berhalter as he oversees a rebuild on the back line.
Saturday’s 4–0 loss at Atlanta United isn’t a result that would have been solved with Bastian Schweinsteiger on the field. The Fire were simply overrun in every area, and Johan Kappelhof’s silly 11th-minute red card had a lot to do with that. The primary questions for the Fire going forward: How Schweinsteiger will fit into a crowded central midfield, and who will be the odd man out?
The Montreal Impact absorbed wave after wave of NYCFC attacks and then struck right when the time was right, earning a 1–1 draw at Yankee Stadium. The team has a tough couple of road dates coming up, at Chicago and the LA Galaxy, so any point picked up at this stage of the season is a good one.
What on earth did Real Salt Lake ever do to Ema Boateng? The Galaxy midfielder scored the last of the Galaxy’s two goals in Saturday’s 2–1 win, meaning that all five of his MLS goals (including playoffs) have come against RSL. After two losses to start the season, these three points are huge for Curt Onalfo’s team.
Real Salt Lake lost for the second straight week and coach Jeff Cassar paid the price for it, as the team relieved him of his duties after a 2–1 loss in the team’s home opener against the Galaxy. That’s a super-early time to fire a coach–one signed to a one-year extension after last season, no less–but in fairness to the RSL brass the team simply hasn’t looked up to it so far this season.
The Union withstood a constant barrage of attacks from Orlando City in the second half of a 2–1 loss on Saturday–so many that the scoreline really should have been much worse. On the plus side, CJ Sapong’s second goal of the season will give him confidence going forward. That’ll be important as offseason acquisition Jay Simpson continues to recover from a lung injury.
The Revolution got off to a good start at FC Dallas on Saturday, but conceded two goals in seven minutes in the second half and lost 2–1. The Revs completely overhauled their back line in the offseason but that doesn’t seem to be paying dividends...yet. It’s a long season, but the Revs are the last MLS team still looking for a point. That’s not a great look.
D.C. needed three points at home not just for their place in the standings, but also for their confidence after a 4–0 shellacking at the hands of NYCFC in Week 2. Instead, United’s attack looked lifeless, and the club lost 2–0 to Columbus. It’s disheartening to say the least, even if both of Columbus’ goals came on PKs. D.C. looked to have a promising squad on paper, but it’s not translating on the field as of yet.
The Whitecaps provided very little to talk about against Toronto FC for much of Saturday’s game. Then Brek Shea’s silly red card happened. The Whitecaps collapsed after that and slumped to a 2–0 loss. Fredy Montero was supposed to shoulder the scoring load, but has yet to provide a goal or assist so far this season.
Any point away from home is good. A point away from home at Colorado, where many teams struggle, is very good. A point away from home at Colorado after your team lost its opening two games by a combined score of 11–2 is very, very good. The Loons still have a lot of work to do, but the team’s first MLS point is still worth celebrating, especially considering what came before.