- The Gold Cup has taken its toll on MLS teams, with play resuming during the knockout stage and shaping the standings as a result.
Coming back from vacation is always a bit interesting. These Power Rankings, for example, have been dormant since Week 17, with the Gold Cup and all its surrounding hoopla occupying most of everyone's attention. Now, on the eve of that tournament’s final and with eyes returning to MLS, we see a league that is slightly different than the one we left. Many of the contenders are the same, but other teams have made a claim to that category as well. Some of the teams on the bottom are making moves forward (hello, Orlando City!), while others continue to be stuck in the muck.
While the Eastern Conference currently boasts a number of the league's strongest sides, two of the league's most storied franchises are on shaky ground, suffering a series of setbacks.
So how does the league shake out after 20 weeks of play and with the All-Star Game on the horizon? Let's get to the rankings:
We all know by now that Toronto FC boasts enviable depth throughout its roster, but that depth was given a huge chance to shine over these last few months. Just off a brutal five-games-in-two-weeks run, TFC lost Sebastian Giovinco to a minor knock, plus Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley joined Justin Morrow on the U.S. Gold Cup squad. In the four games since the last ranking, they’ve gone 1–1–2. It's not great, but it's also solid considering all their absences. A Sunday showdown with NYCFC could tilt the scales of power in the Eastern Conference.
NYCFC went 2–1–1 in its four games, but the biggest of those results has to be last weekend’s 2–1 home win over Chicago. That result is impressive not just because it was against one of MLS’s best teams, but also because NYCFC accomplished it while playing down a man for the majority of the match after an early red card to Yangel Herrera.
The Fire extended their unbeaten run to 11 games with a 4–0 home win over Vancouver and a 2–2 draw at Portland, but that came to an end with Saturday’s 2–1 loss away to NYCFC. That lengthy run may be over, but in the process of making it the Fire have catapulted from “Are they for real?” status to one of the undoubted MLS Cup contenders.
After an early-summer swoon, FC Dallas appears to be back on the right track. Oscar Pareja’s side has won three straight games, including home victories over D.C. United and Toronto FC and three points away at Montreal. Last weekend’s result in Canada may be the most impressive, and the most important; highly-touted striker Cristian Colman finally got his first two goals of the season. If he gets going alongside Maxi Urruti and Mauro Diaz’s health continues to improve after a long injury layoff, watch out.
Atlanta United’s biggest problem before the Gold Cup break was that it struggled to string together positive results. That doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment, as the team is currently riding a four-game winning streak. Hector Villalba has been in scorching form in those victories, including a stupendous winning goal against Orlando on Friday.
With no major international absences other than Kemar Lawrence, the Red Bulls have rolled since the Gold Cup break, rolling off three straight wins and outscoring teams 11–3 in that span. Austrian winger Daniel Royer has been a man possessed during this run, scoring four goals and chipping in an assist in those three victories.
The Dynamo have gone 2–1–1 in their last four–not a bad mark considering that all of the team’s first-choice attacking trident of Erick “Cubo” Torres, Alberth Elis, and Romell Quioto were absent at at various times thanks to the Gold Cup. Homegrown player Memo Rodriguez has stepped up in their place, scoring both of his first two professional goals in the last set of games.
Say this much about Sporting Kansas City: it's a difficult team to beat. SKC has drawn five of its last six games (four of the 1-1 variety), including home matches against Portland and Philadelphia and a chippy away tilt at rival Real Salt Lake. While that technically extends an unbeaten streak to seven games, five of those results have been draws. With Dom Dwyer on the move to Orlando and with other teams making up ground in the West, it’s hard to know what’s in store for SKC the rest of the season.
The middle of the summer hasn’t been kind to Portland, which finally got a win on Sunday at Vancouver after six league games without one. Injuries, suspensions and international call-ups have forced Portland to dip pretty far into its tenuous depth, though new signing Larrys Mabiala looks like he could be a high-quality addition to the Timbers’ first-choice back line.
The Sounders are riding a five-game unbeaten streak (their longest of the year), which includes three straight wins. Of those, Week 19’s 4–3 win over D.C. United stands out if only for historic reasons. The Sounders were down 3–0 after 50 minutes, but staked a remarkable comeback to win 4–3. It’s the first time in league history a team has come from 3–0 down to win in regulation. Do the Sounders have another summer surge in them?
The Whitecaps’ 2–2–0 record in their last four pretty much tells the tale of the team’s season so far. It fell flat on its face in a 4–0 loss to Chicago, followed that with two straight wins, then allowed the shorthanded Portland Timbers to get a win at BC Place this past weekend. Neither Fredy Montero nor Cristian Techera, the club’s two attacking talismans, managed to score in that span.
The Union started off well since the last rankings, beating New England 3–0 and earning a tough 1–1 draw at Sporting KC. But since then the attack has stagnated again and the result has been two straight away losses to Montreal and Columbus. Philly is missing plenty of impact players thanks to the Gold Cup, perhaps none more than star goalkeeper Andre Blake.
Teal Bunbury last scored two goals in a game in 2011 while a member of Sporting KC, but the forward managed to do it again this past weekend in the Revs’ wild 4–3 win over the LA Galaxy. That win stopped a run of four straight losses from New England. It won’t solve everything, though; striker Kei Kamara hinted after the game that he wants to be traded.
Orlando has only won twice in almost three months, with the most recent coming at Real Salt Lake on June 30. Since then the Lions have lost two straight, looking a shadow of the fearsome side they were at beginning of the season. The magic appears to have left at Orlando City Stadium, as the team lost its third game there this past weekend against Atlanta. Dom Dwyer's arrival could restore it, though.
Columbus has had a comparatively light schedule to the rest of the league, with its most recent wins the 1–0 variety over Minnesota and Philadelphia. The club does not always play the pretty stuff that Gregg Berhalter might prefer, but defensive solidity is no bad thing as the squad pushes for a playoff spot in the East.
It’s tempting to bump Real Salt Lake all the way up to first in these rankings thanks only to Mike Petke’s epic presser after last weekend’s 1–1 draw vs. Kansas City. Instead, it gets a slight bump for more legitimate reasons: An uptick in form, including that draw and big wins over Western Conference foes in LA and Portland.
The Impact won twice against teams they have enough talent to beat (D.C. United and Philadelphia), but lost to two teams near the top of the MLS table (Houston and Dallas). That’s about par for the course for Montreal this year, which hasn’t put together much of a run at any point so far.
Give Colorado credit for its recent 3–1 win vs. Houston, and 1–1 draw at Toronto. The squad still has many problems, but as long as Pablo Mastroeni is in charge, effort won’t be one of them. Next big hurdle for the Rapids will be finally getting an away win–the team is one of just three in the league without one.
The Loons still have plenty of things to figure out. Adrian Heath’s side has three losses in its last four, the most recent of which was a 3–0 home defeat vs. the New York Red Bulls in which the team was more or less dominated from the outset. The season hasn’t been the outright disaster it looked like it might be in the spring, but fact of the matter is the Loons are on the bottom of the West right now.
Since firing longtime head coach Dominic Kinnear and installing Chris Leitch as interim boss, the Quakes have gone 1–3–0. That’s obviously not a good mark, especially with San Jose sitting on the cusp of a playoff spot in the West. Most worrying has to be the Quakes’ suddenly porous defense. The team has let in 12 goals in those three losses.
Just when it seemed like the Galaxy may be starting to figure things out, it’s all falling apart. The Galaxy have lost five straight games, including a loss to San Jose in the California Clasico, a 6–2 loss to lowly Real Salt Lake, plus a home loss to Vancouver. The Galaxy have played 10 home games so far in 2017, and have only won one of them. And that came back in April.
In the space of 57 minutes (the last 40 against Seattle and the first 17 against Houston), D.C. United gave up seven goals. The first four of those came as Seattle erased D.C.’s 3–0 lead. The other three came as Houston put D.C. in a quick 3–0 hole of its own at home. A team that was already struggling to stay afloat this year is now drowning at the foot of the league with five straight losses.