Opening day is now a fading memory and MLS heads toward the quarter turn with a good number of storylines to monitor through May and into the summer, both at the club and tactical level.
Are Real Salt Lake and the Philadelphia Union for real? Can a team win the Supporters Shield and then finish close to last the following year? After an abysmal start, is Seattle turning the proverbial corner? Is the reemergence of counterattacking football as a dominant and winning style something that will continue to show its face in MLS? Is Jermaine Jones the number 10 Jurgen Klinsmann has been looking for? Is he the hero Colorado need, even if they don't want him at this point in time? The last two questions weren't remotely serious. Or were they?
We at DSS will monitor these questions and more, and what better time to begin discussing them than in our first set of MLS Power Rankings?
1. Real Salt Lake- Haven't lost, which means they haven't been run off the field by the Houston Dynamo, which means they are ranked ahead of FC Dallas even if logic dictates Maxi Urruti and the Mauros (Diaz and Rosales) had an astonishing week, clobbering the MLS champs and then counterpunching to defeat Sporting KC days later. But about Salt Lake...the Royals, flummoxed and out of ideas in the final third a year ago, are suddenly a dangerous team again, with Yura Movsisyan's return bringing out the (space) and best in Joao Plata and Burrito Martinez. They remain, as ever, difficult to breakdown with Kyle Beckerman shielding a steady back four.
2. FC Dallas- So most of what is great about them is above, and last week gave you the sense that as the weather warms, they'll begin to play their best soccer. Rosales's free kick winner against Sporting KC was gorgeous too.
3. Montreal Impact- Didier Drogba is scoring back heel flick goals at an age 248, and Dominic Oduro has form as blistering as his pace. With 3 assists thus far and six shots on goal, he's on track to shatter his career best in both categories (6 and 20), and is giving Montreal the type of extra dimension in league play he provided previously in the Impact's epic CONCACAF Champions League run. This is a very good soccer club that seems less likely to fade than last year's.
4. Toronto FC- Guilty as charged if you think I'm projecting a team a bit rather than ranking one where they should be at present. But this one seems fair because Toronto are grinding while they wait for the renovated BMO Field. We've also seen a promising, industrious Jozy Altidore the last two weeks, with his early helper a second assist in as many weeks on a goal that was enough to hold off a lively DC United.
5. Sporting KC- A two loss week slows the momentum of a club that should be able to accept losing at Dallas but shouldn't lose home matches to this Colorado Rapids club. Here's betting Sporting return to form when defensive midfielder Soni Mustivar returns to shield a sometimes clumsy defense.
6. Orlando CIty SC- If you want to see a team try to build from the back, possess the ball and create old-fashioned chances, you'll do well to tune in to Orlando City matches. Still, as brilliant as Lee Nguyen was at the Citrus Bowl Sunday afternoon, the Lions should win that game. They were out-of-sync early and it wasn't until Kevin Molino and Cyle Larin came on, peeling defenders away from Kaka, that they found their feet. Adrian Heath waited too long to make the changes and it cost them points at home. But this Orlando team is above-grade for the East, especially.
7. LA Galaxy- LA has done what Bruce Arena teams do when they are still finding themselves-- search, look like they are plodding and somehow collect points. The question now is was Gio Dos Santos's brace a sign of what's to come for a player who can be incredibly streaky, or just a brief respite for a club that can't score without Robbie Keane?
8. Philadelphia Union- The only team to beat Orlando and came off that result with a cross-country trip that nearly resulted in a point in the best environment in US Soccer. This is a team that fights, and maybe, for the first time, one that embraces the city it comes from. Andre Blake has been terrific- and while his effort on the Jordan Morris goal was poor- it was the kind of teachable moment he'll learn from.
9. Colorado Rapids- What a week! First they go to Sporting Kansas City and take all three points, then Pablo Mastroeni decides Jermaine "Walkabout" Jones should have a day freed of all responsibility defensively, slotting the German-American in the # 10 spot in the middle of a snowstorm straight out of Bavaria. The result? The best soccer Jermaine Jones has played in well over a year and a pass the old box-to-box midfielder probably said he always had in him, with his fingers crossed behind his back.
10. Portland Timbers- The Champs are here!!! And they miss Darlington Nagbe. But it is worth remembering they were run out of the Citrus Bowl with him on the field and while they gutted a win out against San Jose this week, there just seems to be something missing beyond Nagbe thus far this season. One impressive thing? Jack McInerney, the Atlanta native brought in to replace Maxi Urruti. He's been terrific.
11. San Jose Earthquakes- Chris Wondolowski is scoring goals because Chris Wondolowski is an all-timer at scoring goals and the team is winning at home. They aren't sexy-- to paraphrase Usher- on a 1 to 10 they're a certified 5-- but as long as Wondo is scoring and they are winning at home- they will make the playoffs.
12. Seattle Sounders-- I'm buying low at this point. But it is worth noting that after a rough start, the team has stabilized itself, and young Jordan Morris, who is probably a fringe Copa America player for the USMNT, is finding his feet at the quarter pole. The first touch by Morris on the goal this week was LD-like. So was the recognition and the run...
13. Houston Dynamo- Maybe it was just a rivalry game, but if you can clobber FC Dallas, you probably aren't as bad as your defense makes you look at times.
14. New England Revolution- Haven't met a draw they don't like, so far at least. And that's concerning, given Lee Nguyen is playing out of his mine and Diego Fagundez looks improved and poised for a massive year. Jay Heaps team makes mental errors at critical times, and even in the East, you can't give away points.
15. Columbus Crew- Another team I'm buying low, especially with Justin Meram now starting. Ethan Finlay was masterful against NYCFC, torturing Ronald Matarrita and giving the Crew the type of teeth from width they require for Kei Kamara, a poacher entirely reliant on service, to successfully operate. This is a team that can outscore you when they are right, and a team you trust will eventually defend better under Gregg Berhalter.
16. NYCFC- Because they play half of their games in the Yankee Stadium bandbox and half elsewhere, this will always be a difficult side to rank. But for me they are above the other bottom feeders because they can score goals. If you score, you can steal 3 points, even when you struggle to defend.
17. DC United- I don't know where the offensive explosion came from two weeks ago, but Ben Olsen's side need to figure that question out. Without Bill Hamid, they were always going to need to score more goals, and they've gone the other way instead. Ben Olsen, suspended in peak MLS fashion for being upset his team couldn't score on 18 shots, won't get to watch this week however, which is stupid.
18. Vancouver Whitecaps- Tons of possession, no goals. There's plenty of players who can score on this side-- but right now if anything can go wrong, well you know the rest. Metrics people will tell you this is an anomaly that will correct itself. That's probably true. But statistical anomalies have lasted a long time before too. That's part of what makes soccer fascinating.
19. Chicago Fire- An innovative managerial hire I still like hasn't helped the team score goals. When you can't score, you have to defend and get quality from your keeper. Matt Lampson hasn't provided quality, which may spell the return of Sean Johnson. But who will score the goals even if Johnson improves the situation in the back? It took a wondrous strike by Kennedy Igboananike to even break the scoreless drought. Not a good sign.
20. New York Red Bulls- What a difference a year makes. Matt Miazga's departure for Chelsea has wreaked havoc on the back four and beyond Sacha Kljestan, it is difficult to isolate a single player on the club in even decent form. Bradley Wright Phillips has been the worst of all, as noted here (4.6 expected goals to zero scored).
The comments, as ever, are yours.