Forgive us for a moment as we take some time to go into some of our methodology a bit. Feel free to skip this if you so choose, but every once in a while, we think there is value in explaining a little of why we do things the way we do.
The nice thing is, we now have some pretty clear signs of stratification. A couple of spankings will do that. We still have some verdicts out – such as Columbus. I mean, they are beating up on teams, but they are poor teams. But New England 4, Real Salt Lake 0 is a pretty clear message. And to the Crew’s credit, they have been consistent in their whippings.
We also now have enough data that we can share some of the “raw” as a part of our rankings. You will note four numbers in each team’s information. The first is their ranking for this week, next to last week’s number in parentheses. That is pretty straightforward. After the team, though, you will see two other numbers in another set of parentheses. These are the Points Per Game and the Pace, two of our key statistical units that help us wash out an uneven set of games played and an uneven home/away schedule.
As with all things, there is both art and science here. The science is the hard numbers, but then we have to factor in who the teams have played – and while a strength of schedule idea is nice, we have yet to see or divine a formula that would do so accurately enough to rely on. We also need to factor in who was available for each game, and overall how a team is playing. So surely we all see that a full speed New England team is vastly different than the one that got smoked in Seattle in the first week of the season.
And this is where you get things like Portland, Toronto, Montreal and Los Angeles in vastly different places than where their raw numbers would otherwise put them. I have to admit, this is one of the more difficult rankings I have done, in large part because there are some places where the numbers are significantly different than perception and expectation.
1 (2) New York Red Bulls (2.00, Even). While a home tie in some ways might not be the way most clubs take the first spot, this team has consistently gotten good results against good enough teams that they deserve to be here. Once a few teams, such as the Galaxy, get their star power on line, they may overtake them, but for now, this is the best team in MLS.
2 (3) Seattle Sounders (1.86, -2). Speaking of teams that might be getting its star power on line – I give you the Sounders with Clint Dempsey. They have had some ups and downs, and the San Jose game still baffles me, but overall, this team is going to give everyone trouble.
3 (1) Vancouver Whitecaps (1.78, -3). Some might argue the Cascadian Canadians ought to drop more, and certainly their last result against D.C. leans that way, but a red card changes a game, and looking at their overall body of work, I think they are better than D.C. on most days and this one match was just that, a good game by D.C. but not a clear indication that United is significantly better.
4 (5) Los Angeles Galaxy (1.50, -4). Bruce Arena certainly can muck up a road game when he wants to. This has been the Galaxy’s m.o. since the former Virginia coach took over in Carson, and they do it well.
5 (10) D.C. United (2.00, -1). This team has done what needed to be done often this year. Oh and that Espindola guy – I hear he is kinda good. We get the sense that the early season up and down from this club will soon be a thing of the past.
6 (11) New England Revolution (1.75, -2). This team shot up the rankings in large part due to recent form, and recent results, but especially how they won. Traveling two or three time zones is usually hard on a team, but 4-0? Good teams like RSL usually don’t do that.
7 (9) Columbus Crew (1.57, -4). It is hard to really divine what this team is. Recent results seem strong, but it is against clearly weaker opposition. But the bottom line is that they have been consistently good in such games.
8 (6) Portland Timbers (1.13, -7). The numbers scream for the Timbers to be lower, and the result against Orlando is concerning. But if you look at their opposition and schedule, I think this team is just better than their record or analytics show.
9 (7) FC Dallas (1.75, -4). Tie on the road and you drop? When you had a bad team beaten at home –or at least struggling – and one of your veteran players gets himself sent for a needless shove? And that adds to the perception that Dallas is a red card waiting to happen? Mistakes like that are going to hold this team back. And the inability of anyone to effectively cover for Matt Hedges indicates that this team might be too thin to stay high in the standings. The return of Mauro Diaz might counterbalance that some, but only time will tell if that will be enough.
10 (4) Real Salt Lake (1.29, -4). For some time now, we kept RSL high based on some things that are turning out to be false flags. Giving them credit for the game against Philadelphia but for some defensive gaffes appears to have been a mistake. This team has issues.
11 (8) Sporting Kansas City (1.25, -6). What a crazy game in Houston! But it is somewhat par for the course for Sporting as they continue to underperform. In fact, Saturday could very well have been a loss but for a referee decision that camera angles are still struggling to confirm.
12 (13) Chicago Fire (1.50, -5). Another team whose numbers seem to indicate a higher placement, the Fire have played weaker opposition in a lot of places and a 1-0 win over a short-handed NYCFC does not swim against that stream.
13 (12) San Jose Earthquakes (1.29, -4). One of the enigmas of the season, it is really not clear what Kinnear has in his team. Another week off does not help give us any more clarity.
Good But Not Great
14 (17) Toronto FC (1.00, Even). Goodness gracious, will the real TFC please show up and present themselves? One minute they look like Montreal in the first 30 minutes against FC Dallas, then for 10 minutes against that same FCD side, and for 90 minutes against Orlando City, they look like they belong in the playoffs. Very much an inconsistent team with talent.
15 (16) Houston Dynamo (1.25, -8). That defense… if FC Dallas gets its attack rolling, they are going to shred them, even without Blas Perez. In fact, last year’s 4-1 crushing was without the Panamanian as well, if I recall correctly. On the other hand, a first half red card and an injury to Brad Davis did not help Houston’s cause. But this year is with a new coach and a new mentality. Can the Dynamo turn the series around? They have been on the wrong end of it for some time now.
16 (15) Colorado Rapids (1.00, -8). This team is showing signs of competence, and they may not be as much of a pushover later in the year. For now, though, they are struggling to put it all together for 90 minutes consistently, and that is going to cost them.
The Ugly Stick
17 (18) Orlando City (1.00, -8). This team is getting worked. Flat out, totally worked. It doesn’t matter where – at home, on the road. Frankly, two odd road results against Houston and Portland notwithstanding, this team has the feel of a true expansion team, Brazilian international superstar or not.
18 (14) NYCFC (0.75, -10). What appeared to be a successful start to an inaugural season is turning into the dumpster fire that expansion seasons tend to be. Injuries to key players aren’t helping.
19 (19) Philadelphia Union (0.67, -11). This is getting embarrassing. This team definitely has more talent than their results show… or does it?
20 (20) Montreal Impact (0.50, -4). Don’t let the Pace number fool you – the lack of games played is the only reason why their number is not in double digits. Most of MLS is behind them for Wednesday’s CONCACAF Champions League Finale, but after that, it is back to the reality that MLS has not been kind to the Quebeckers.