Week 23 of the 2019 MLS season featured three high profile matchups stretching across both conferences. Los Angeles FC beat the New York Red Bulls 4-2 in one of the most exciting matches of the year thus far. The victory maintained LAFC’s 10-point lead for the Supporter’s Shield over the Philadelphia Union with two games in hand. Meanwhile, defending champion Atlanta United FC beat New York City FC 2-1, which solidified its place in the Eastern Conference. Finally, the Philadelphia Union withstood a fight against the talented but slumping Houston Dynamo 2-1.
Understanding the CST Power Rankings
There is one thing to note about these power rankings. Many sites use this quote from NBC Sports’ Richard Farley for defining power rankings: “The test is this: If two teams played tomorrow, given their current injury concerns, form, and other considerations, who is likely to win on a neutral field? … All things being equal, who is the best team going forward, based on what we know now?”
I disagree with this statement for several reasons. First, Farley gives far too much weight to current form for his power rankings. Form changes weekly or even daily depending on international call-ups, club tournament play, injuries, etc. We’ve seen it this year with several upsets per week. It’s nearly impossible to guess which team will be best going forward.
Second, previous wins and losses affect roster and lineup decisions. It seems foolish to me for a club’s early-season performances to be almost forgotten in deference to the present. Instead, I give credit to where a team has been this season as a whole, but I also reward teams for consistent improvement. This is why I moved the San Jose Earthquakes as high as I did a couple weeks ago and why I’ve been reluctant to drop the Los Angeles Galaxy too far up to this point. However, using San Jose and LAFC as an example, it would have taken a lot for me to move the Earthquakes above Los Angeles, because overall consistent performances matter.
Hopefully, the explanation above clarifies how I put these rankings together. I work hard to avoid bias, and I think I’ve done that for the most part. Meanwhile, here are the Week 23 Power Rankings:
(Legend: (W-L-T, LW: last week’s rankings )
1. Los Angeles FC (17-3-4, LW: 1)
LAFC took some heat after its 3-2 loss at hometown rival Los Angeles Galaxy a couple of weeks ago. Some experts pointed out that LAFC continued to lose big matches in high-pressure situations. Well, since then, LAFC chalked up huge victories over talented playoff contenders NYCFC and the New York Red Bulls. It’s time to re-think this idea that LAFC chokes in big matches. That’s not true.
2. Philadelphia Union (13-7-6, LW: 2)
Houston’s form entering this game likely convinced the average fan that the Union would annihilate the Dynamo. Instead, they faced the fight of their lives and needed center back Jack Elliot’s 78th-minute goal to win the game. The Union proved it could withstand challenges from teams fighting for their playoff lives. Now the question is whether or not they can hold off Atlanta United FC for the Eastern Conference crown.
3. Atlanta United FC (13-9-3, LW: 5)
Josef Martinez scored two goals in Atlanta’s 2-1 win over NYCFC. It appears that the club will ride him to a high seed in the playoffs. Martinez ranks second in MLS with 18 goals, including scores in 10 straight games.
4. Seattle Sounders FC (11-7-6, LW: 6)
Seattle’s inconsistency bared its fangs all over again in a 3-3 draw at home against Bruce Arena’s New England. A late penalty gave the Revs the draw, which reminded many fans why Seattle hasn’t solidified a place in the top three out west.
5. Minnesota United (11-8-5, LW: 3)
Minnesota proved its toughness by rallying from two separate deficits at Dallas. However, its grit wasn’t enough to overshadow the fact that FC Dallas outplayed it Dallas controlled possession at more than a 60-40 clip, and it outpassed Minnesota 297-184 in the attacking half. Let’s see how Minnesota responds against Orlando City this weekend after the 5-3 loss.
6. San Jose Earthquakes (11-8-5, LW: 4)
The Earthquakes’ streak to the top of the Western Conference hit a snag in the last two matches against clubs they should have beaten, Columbus and Colorado. Are they coming back to Earth?
7. New York City FC (10-5-8, LW: 7)
NYCFC stays where they are after suffering a tough loss at Atlanta and a 3-2 win over Houston. There are concerns over the back line after the last week, but time will tell if it was just a rough stretch.
8. Real Salt Lake (11-9-4, LW: 9)
Real Salt Lake sent a message that it values behavior over performance with the firing of manager Mike Petke last week. Petke’s team performed better than expected for much of the season under his tutelage, so we’ll see what happens in coming weeks.
9. Portland Timbers (10-9-4, LW: 11)
The defending Western Conference champions continued their run of strong play with the 3-1 victory over the rival Vancouver Whitecaps. Nevermind the fact that it was a win over the Whitecaps. Rivalry wins matter. Just ask fans in the Great Northwest.
10. D.C. United (10-7-9, LW: 13)
Somehow D.C. United pulled off a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy despite getting dominated for much of the match. Perhaps this is the match that turns the season back in D.C. United’s favor.
11. Los Angeles Galaxy (12-11-1, LW: 8)
The Galaxy should have beaten D.C. United. Zlatan Ibrahimovic set an MLS-record for shots attempted (14), and the team took 29 shots overall. Los Angeles controlled the match to the point that the Galaxy possessed the ball for 69.7% of the match and outpassed D.C. United, 531-232. Yet they still lost. What a gut-wrenching loss for the Galaxy.
12. FC Dallas (10-9-6, LW: 14)
FC Dallas earned a critical 5-3 win over Minnesota United last weekend. Can it sweep the season series from a stunned Galaxy club this week?
13. New York Red Bulls (11-10-4, LW: 10)
The Red Bulls gave LAFC all they could handle last weekend. Unfortunately, the question now becomes whether or not they can sneak into a home playoff spot with rival NYCFC a spot above them with two games in hand.
14. New England Revolution (9-9-7, LW: 12)
The Revolution probably didn’t deserve a drop after a hard-fought 3-3 tie at Seattle.
15. Toronto FC (9-10-6, LW: 16)
Toronto continues to hover around a playoff berth. The question is whether or not it can earn points against teams it should beat. We’ll find out next weekend in Columbus.
16. Orlando City (8-11-6, LW: 18)
Orlando City possesses a strong enough defense that it could actually compete for a home playoff berth with at least a mediocre attack. Instead, it ranks 20th in goals scored (33) in 25 games.
17. Chicago Fire (7-10-9, LW: 20)
Every once in a while, the Fire will show fans what they are capable of. Unfortunately, this is a franchise that never seems to find its way. Hopefully, the pending move closer to Chicago will help change the culture of the club.
18. Montreal Impact (10-13-3, LW: 17)
We’re witnessing the complete collapse of a team that showed so much promise earlier this season. I’d be shocked if the Impact made the playoffs.
19. Sporting Kansas City (7-10-7, LW: 15)
Something tells me changes are coming in Kansas City at the end of the season.
20. Houston Dynamo (9-13-3, LW: 19)
Houston entered this season as a serious playoff contender. Like Sporting Kansas City, expect changes in the offseason.
21. Colorado Rapids (7-12-5, LW: 23)
The Rapids scored a huge upset win over the Earthquakes. It’s a long road to contention, but it’s worth noting that Colorado has upset multiple playoff contenders this year.
22. Columbus Crew SC (7-14-5, LW: 21)
Columbus nearly suffered an embarrassing loss to Hell is Real rivals FC Cincinnati. Instead, FCC blew a chance to earn early MLS bragging rights with the Crew’s two-goal comeback.
23. Vancouver Whitecaps (5-12-9, LW: 22)
It’s nearly impossible to watch the Whitecaps at this point. They will be hard-pressed to pass their inaugural 2011 MLS campaign for the worst record in team history.
24. FC Cincinnati (5-17-3, LW: 24)
FC Cincinnati needed a win over the Crew for many reasons. Instead, the FCC backline couldn’t keep it together for a full 90 minutes.