Well it was a packed week of Major League Soccer action last week, we had 3 matches on Wednesday and 9 more on the weekend, and there were more than a couple of surprises in those dozen matches. Those surprises leave us with a new number one overall team, and a new team at the top of the Western Conference, but let's start with the Eastern Conference that some interesting developments:
1. Sporting Kansas City -
I am leaving the boys in baby blue at the top of the East but wow some big question marks as they came back from a week off and got spanked 2-0 at home by expansion side Montreal Impact. So what is going on after 7 straight wins to drop back to back losses to struggling Portland, and the new kids on the block? Did the very good players let the early success go to their heads or have teams figured out a couple of weak points on SKC? A trip to the windy city to take on the Chicago Fire on Saturday will give us a chance to see if the boys of Sporting can rebound.
2. D.C. United
While they found themselves on the wrong side of a 5-3 score against San Jose but they were quick to rebound and pick up a 2-0 win at Toronto FC on Saturday, Only San Jose has scored more goals than the 20 that DC has scored so far and with Chris Pontius finding his health and form this is going to be a side that forces you to pay attention to them. A huge test is ahead of DC as they will be the first opponent for the Houston Dynamo in their fancy new stadium on Saturday, getting a result there is not going to be an easy task.
Back to back wins for the Red Bulls, as they still are trying to figure things out with all the injuries that have forced their backups into action on a regular basis. They were able to hold on to an early goal against the LA Galaxy on Saturday to get the 1-0 win, but this week they will need to deal with business in the Eastern Conference as they will host Houston on Wednesday, and they heading to Philly to deal with the Union.
the rest of the rankings after the jump:
4. Chicago Fire
I think the Fire are really close to moving in front of the Red Bulls if they can pick up a few more points this week, it was a stoppage time goal that allowed them to get the 2-1 win over a Chivas USA side that is in trouble. This Fire team has a number of interesting offensive options and they are fairly solid on defense, 9 goals scored, 9 goals allowed. This week presents them with a couple of interesting tests, first they will play host to Real Salt Lake on Wednesday, and then on Saturday they will play host to Sporting KC, a big week for the Fire faithful.
5. Houston Dynamo
The Dynamo are in an interesting position, they have only played 6 matches so far this year, the fewest of any team in MLS, and all of them have been on the road. Their 2-2-2 record is probably as good as they could have wished for given they only won two road matches in all of 2011. This week they have to deal with a Wednesday match at New York Red Bulls, but if they seem a bit distracted, it is only natural as on Saturday they will open their brand new stadium as they play host to DC United.
6. Montreal Impact
I don't believe the Impact belong here, but the reality is that the East has some really bad teams and none can stake a claim to a spot higher than this. The reality is that the Impact will win some games this year, they have some great talent on their roster, but I expect the season will be filled with inconsistencies as individual effort can only get you so far. They will play midweek in the Canadian Championship, and then play host to the LA Galaxy on Saturday.
Of the teams towards the bottom of the Eastern Conference, I think New England has the tools to put themselves into real contention for the playoffs and maybe more. I am not sure how their depth will stack up but they have a team with that deadliest of words "potential". Oh and you are not ready for Saer Sene, you might think you are but you are not. This weekend the Rev's play host to the hot again Vancouver Whitecaps, this will be a big test for both teams.
Only two teams in MLS don't have a win in their last 5 matches, Toronto FC and the Columbus Crew. It hurts me to see the Crew suffering but they have cut and cut and cut some more, as the organization tries to put on a happy face about getting to 10K season ticket holders, but can't get more than 13K to show up to their matches. Only two teams in the league have a worse goal differential than the Crew's -4 (Toronto FC, and Chivas USA). Things are not going to get much easier as FC Dallas comes to town on Saturday.
Perhaps only the decline of the LA Galaxy is keeping the light from being shined more closely on what is going on in Philly. The questions of the off season trades and departures has lead to the questionable line up decision and more during the start of the season. I just am not sure what the solution will be for the Union on or off the pitch, one thing is for sure the SOB will there and loud no matter what, but will it be enough on Sunday when the New York Red Bulls come to town?
10. Toronto FC
MLS isn't easy, for years there have been teams that have looked overseas for a coach who could come in and find a way to make it work, but time and time again it doesn't work. Aron Winter isn't a bad coach, he is a coach dealt a bad hand and doesn't know what to do with the hand he has been dealt. No matter how hard you try a pair of 6's isn't going to become a pair of king's, it just doesn' t work that way in MLS. Wednesday they will play the home leg of their Canadian Championship series with Montreal, on Saturday they will try to get their MLS mess figured out during a bye week.
So the East has a bunch of moving around, what about the West?
If you don't think a week can make a big difference in MLS, well then you aren't paying attention
Mixed blessings last week for the Quakes, a drama filled 5-3 win over DC United at home on Wednesday, and then the cold shower of a 2-1 loss at Vancouver on Saturday on a stoppage time goal (there have been a lot of those this year in MLS). The end result is that the Quakes lose their number on spot to Seattle, but Chris Wondolowski got player of the week honors and leads MLS with 11 goals and 4 of them game winners. This week they get to play host to Chivas USA, the only other Western Conference team with 3 road wins.
3. Real Salt Lake
Well RSL had their "dream XI" together for the first time all season, it lasted for 59 minutes and then it was the RSL "dream X". Still the team managed to do enough to get a 2-1 win and keep themselves in the thick of all things Western Conference. RSL will head into their 3rd stretch of 3 matches in a week of the early season, when they head to Chicago for a Wednesday match, and then off to Seattle for a Saturday showdown. I expect both matches will be interesting for very different reasons.
4. Vancouver Whitecaps
If there is a team that has a split personality this year in MLS it would likely be the Vancouver Whitecaps, some week they look awful, and some weeks they look like a top 4-5 team in the Western Conference. Getting a 2-1 win over San Jose was impressive, but there are still are some things that worry me about this team. Only Chivas USA has score fewer goals than the Caps in the Western Conference and while their defense has been solid so far, I am not sold on them yet. A midweek Canadian Championship match, followed up by a Saturday match at the New England Revolution, could be an interesting week for the boys from up north.
Oh they picked up a big 2-0 road win over FC Dallas on Sunday, and if they could have a two man advantage for 50 plus minutes in each of their matches, I am sure they would be better than their current 5-5-0 record, but that isn't going to happen. I still don't know how good they will be and until they get some guys back from injury I don't think anyone does. Upside for Rapids is that this is a bye week for them, so time to heal.
6. FC Dallas
Losing when you are down to 9 men is nothing to be embarrassed about, having a midweek match with Seattle without your best forward Blas Perez, and your Mr. Everything Daniel Hernandez because of those red cards is just nasty. Then add in that your captain Ugo Ihemelu is out with concussion symptoms, oh and that Brek Shea is still questionable, and wow does your week really start to suck. So after the take on the Sounders on Wednesday, they will get at least two bodies back for their Saturday trip to Columbus Crew Stadium.
7. LA Galaxy
So if you thought that the LA Galaxy would at just over 1/4 of the season have as many losses as they had in all of 2011, please let me know, I need you to pick my lottery numbers. LA has given up 14 goals so far, they gave up just 28 in all of 2011. In 2011 they didn't lose a single match at the Home Depot Center, this year they are 2-3-1 there so far. Yeah I know they lost Omar Gonzalez, yes I know they traded away Donovan Ricketts, but they did bring back David Beckham, they brought back Juninho, and the reality is that something is really broken with the Galaxy. I have my suspensions on this one, and I think it keys back to a couple of matches early this year. So can they right the ship? They to Montreal to take on an Impact team that has more points this year than they do.
8. Chivas USA
Another team that is rather baffling has to be Chivas USA, 0-5-0 at home and 3-1-0 on the road, in fact no team has a better road record in all of MLS than Chivas USA, and only Toronto FC can match their horrible home record. The truth is that until Chivas can figure out how to score more 5 goals in 9 matches, and how to finish off matches and stop giving up late goals 5 in the last 15 minutes of matches or stoppage time, they won't figure out how to be more consistent. The upside of this weekends action for Chivas USA is that they will play on the road as they take on the San Jose Earthquakes.
A win over Sporting KC a couple weeks ago simply isn't enough for the talent that exists on the Timbers, 2-5-2 isn't good enough for a team that almost fought their way into the playoffs last year. So what has changed from last year to this? A couple player moves, how some players are used, whatever they are thinking up there in Portland isn't working, and with the weekend off the Timbers need to find out what it is that they are missing and soon or they will be in a very deep hole.
That is how I see the Western Conference stacking up against each other, now I know some of you still like that combined ranking thing, so here is what that looks like this for me:
1. Seattle Sounders
2. San Jose Earthquakes
3. Real Salt Lake
4. Sporting KC
5. Vancouver Whitecaps
6. DC United
7. New York Red Bulls
8. Colorado Rapids
9. Chicago Fire
10. Houston Dynamo
11. FC Dallas
12. LA Galaxy
13. Montreal Impact
14. New England Revolution
15. Chivas USA
16. Columbus Crew
17. Portland Timbers
18. Philadelphia Union
19. Toronto FC
Yes I am still convinced that the Western Conference is that much better than the East, and I think the season will prove it out.
OFF MY SOAPBOX