Week 20 of the 2019 MLS season served as a reminder of what’s great about America’s top league and what’s not. On one hand, the first El Trafico meeting between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Los Angeles FC surpassed all expectations. On the other hand, look at the quality of the Orlando City-New York Red Bulls match, and try making the case for more expansion teams in the league.
This week is my first back since Boston Brazzell completely wrecked my power rankings. Let this week serve as my rebuttal as we look at the rankings after Week 20:
(Legend: (W-L-T, LW: last week’s rankings )
1. Los Angeles FC (14-3-4, LW: 1)
LAFC’s overall dominance keeps it in first place, despite the El Trafico loss to rival L.A. Galaxy. The bigger question about LAFC is whether or not it can overcome the pressure of being a serious contender. Last season, it folded in some high-pressure matches, particularly against the Galaxy. However, LAFC has shown the questions are still there this season after bombing out of the U.S. Open Cup and losing to an L.A. Galaxy team that does not match well on paper.
2. Philadelphia Union (11-6-6, LW: 3)
Boston looked at Philadelphia all wrong. The East is better than it looks, especially with Atlanta and New England coming on recently. There are probably more talented clubs in the Eastern Conference right now, which may hurt the Union in the playoffs. However, their fundamental, deliberate style of play has made them a strong contender. At this point, I believe in them more than I do the Seattle Sounders or the Galaxy.
3. San Jose Earthquakes (10-7-5, LW: 8)
Name a team that has been better other than LAFC in the last two months. I dare you. Sorry, Boston, the Earthquakes should have been ranked higher prior to their 3-1 road destruction of the Vancouver Whitecaps. Opposing clubs struggle against San Jose’s man-to-man system, which should come in handy come playoff time.
4. Los Angeles Galaxy (12-8-1, LW: 7)
Boston got me all wrong. I’m not ranking the Galaxy higher because I think they are really the fourth-best team in the league. If I look at their roster, there is significant talent there, but it hasn’t quite meshed on the field. Several clubs have exposed the Galaxy’s numerous flaws this season, including San Jose and the New England Revolution.
However, they still find ways to win. Their 3-2 victory over LAFC was well-earned, and it showed they are capable of beating the league’s best. Meanwhile, the league’s other talented teams remain so inconsistent, it’s difficult to rank them higher than a club with the second-most wins in the league.
5. Minnesota United FC (10-7-4, LW: 4)
Don’t underestimate Minnesota’s tie at Real Salt Lake. Earning points at Rio Tinto is one of the most difficult tasks in MLS. And let’s be honest, given how the Sounders have played recently, would you still rank them over Minnesota United FC?
6. Seattle Sounders FC (10-6-5, LW: 2)
Like the Galaxy, something is off about the Sounders. Nearly every match is a struggle, and their homefield advantage is no longer enough to cover the Sounders’ problems. The Portland Timbers proved that in a 2-1 win over their Cascadia Cup rivals
7. Atlanta United FC (11-8-3, LW: 9)
It was tempting to push the defending champs higher after two dominating wins last week. Add that fact to Atlanta’s second-place standing in the Eastern Conference, and it seems like a no-brainer. Well, nothing about Atlanta has been a no-brainer this season. It outscored two playoff contenders by a combined 7-0 score last week, but we’ve seen that before this season. We’ve also seen it lose to Columbus, Toronto and Chicago in matches it should have won. We’ll learn soon enough if Atlanta has turned a corner. It visits LAFC on Friday.
8. New York City FC (8-3-8, LW: 10)
Boston seems to think I have a thing for NYCFC. Well, he’s wrong again! It’s simply about performance. NYCFC’s recent hot streak put it in position to win the Eastern Conference, despite lacking a dynamic offensive attack. Its back line established itself in the last couple of months as one of the best in the league, and that should make a difference entering the stretch run.
Also of note, NYCFC sits with three games in hand against Atlanta United and four against the Union. NYCFC can take the Eastern Conference if it finds a little more scoring and a bit of luck.
9. D.C. United (9-6-8, LW: 6)
Yes, I dropped D.C. United three slots, despite earning a 4-1 win on the road last week. Sorry, I can’t give much credit to a club that hammers FC Cincinnati at this point. D.C. United’s 2-0 loss to Atlanta later in the week showed exactly why I’m down on Wayne Rooney’s club. United started the season off with a bang, and it has been hovering along ever since. It’s almost as if it peaked when they beat Atlanta earlier this season.
10. New York Red Bulls (10-8-4, LW: 5)
Boston ranked the Red Bulls too high, even though they dominated much of their 3-1 loss at Toronto FC last week. The reality is the Red Bulls entered that match with all of the momentum, and they wet the bed instead. A 1-0 road win over Orlando City did little to convince me that the Red Bulls deserve to be ranked in the top five.
11. FC Dallas (9-8-5, LW: 13)
Unfortunately, given Sporting Kansas City’s ups and downs this season, it’s difficult to gauge FC Dallas’ performance in its 2-0 victory. The game stats show a match where Dallas played on its heels. However, FC Dallas proved efficient with its limited opportunities while locking down its back line for much of the match. The potential is there. It’s only a question of whether or not FC Dallas can be more consistent.
12. Real Salt Lake (9-9-3, LW: 11)
RSL will travel to Texas for a showdown with FC Dallas next week. It’s a huge match for two clubs trying to solidify their place in the Western Conference.
13. Houston Dynamo (9-9-3, LW: 14)
It says a lot that the Dynamo actually move up a slot after losing 5-0 at Atlanta last week. The reality is that MLS currently possesses the most parity it has ever had. Even the more talented rosters struggle to succeed on a weekly basis. Houston should be sitting near the top of the Western Conference. Instead, it currently sits on the outside looking in on a playoff berth. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on the Dynamo to make the playoffs, but the journey won’t be pretty.
14. Portland Timbers (8-8-4, LW: 17)
Think back to the Timbers’ early season 3-0 loss at FC Cincinnati. Did anyone believe Portland would somehow get it together at that point? Seriously, it couldn’t stop anyone on the back line, and the Timbers looked lost up front. Months later, the Timbers sit just on the outside looking in at a playoff berth with a 10-game home-away differential.
Their 2-1 victory over the Sounders on Sunday should have the West on guard. I’ve been saying it for weeks, and I’m going to keep saying it: Watch out for the Timbers down the stretch.
15. New England Revolution (8-8-6, LW: 18)
The Revolution handled their business against two struggling clubs, Vancouver and Cincinnati last week. It’s hard to give them a ton of credit for beating two of the worst clubs in MLS, but two months ago, an argument could have been made that they deserved to be in the cellar. Now the Revolution enter Week 21 on a 10-game unbeaten streak and a cleaned-up back line.
16. Toronto FC (8-9-5, LW: 12)
Toronto FC opened up play last week with an impressive 3-1 home victory over the Red Bulls. Three days later, Toronto’s tactical failures left it scratching its head after a 3-1 loss to the Dynamo, despite maintaining possession for 68.4% percent of the match. Houston sat back, waited for the counter and caught Toronto looking. Too easy, way too easy.
17. Montreal Impact (9-11-3, LW: 15)
Every time we think the Impact have turned a corner, they hit you right in the mouth. The 2-1 loss at Columbus put a dent in the team’s hopes of earning a higher seed. Now it’s a question of even holding on to a playoff spot with the field above them taking shape and the Revolution coming on.
18. Sporting Kansas City (6-8-7, LW: 16)
I’m done with SKC. Every time it makes you believe in it, it disappoints. Its 2-0 home loss to FC Dallas pinned it five points back of RSL for the final playoff spot.
19. Orlando City (7-10-5, LW: 19)
Orlando City’s offense went dry last week. It scored only one goal in two matches while failing to beat two probable playoff teams. Orlando City’s inability to score a win last week will come back to haunt it later this year. It needed the points with 11 of its 13 remaining matches against playoff contenders.
20. Columbus Crew (6-14-3, LW: 24)
The Crew earned four much-needed points last week with a tie against the rival Chicago Fire and the 2-1 win over Montreal. The victory should give them a bit of confidence heading into the home stretch of the season. Columbus showed a certain level of grit it has been missing this season.
21. Chicago Fire (5-10-8, LW: 23)
Boston dropped the Fire a bit too far, but it’s easy to see why. When they lose, they look awful. There’s no way around that, and this franchise continues to disappoint year in and year out.
22. Colorado Rapids (5-11-5, LW: 20)
The Rapids made their run, but it looks like it came too late. They gave NYCFC some problems despite Sebastian Anderson’s red card in the 33rd minute. I expect them to keep fighting throughout the rest of the season. Unfortunately, there simply isn’t enough talent to make a difference right now.
23. FC Cincinnati (5-15-2, LW: 22)
FC Cincinnati deserves to be in last place, but I can’t overlook what’s taking place in Vancouver.
24. Vancouver Whitecaps (4-11-8, LW: 21)
I gave the Whitecaps the benefit of the doubt for much of the season but getting outscored 7-1 last week did it for me. It’s not just the blowout losses; it’s the lack of toughness. What happened to the grit that kept them in so many matches earlier this season?