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Out of the gate: Who's hot, who's not
by Ridge Mahoney, March 21st, 2011 11:58PM

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TAGS:  chicago fire, chivas usa, columbus crew, d.c. united, houston dynamo, kansas city wizards, los angeles galaxy, mls, new england revolution, new york red bulls, philadelphia union, portland timbers, vancouver whitecaps

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[MLS POWER RANKINGS] Here's a rundown as to where the 18 MLS teams stand after 10 games (two apiece for Seattle and Los Angeles), based on last season's records and what they've shown to date in 2011:

1. REAL SALT LAKE. Normally, outside competitions don't factor into the MLS rankings, but this early in the season, they do. Three strong Concacaf Champions League showings, including a dominant 2-0 defeat of Deportivo Saprissa last Tuesday, and a determined 1-0 decision over San Jose in a monsoon-lashed Buck Shaw Stadium earn RSL the highest marks. Nick Rimando played a soaking-wet Superman for the last 20 minutes to stymie the Quakes.

2. COLORADO. Thrashing an expansion team (Portland) at home, 3-1, may not be great shakes, but the Rapids also took the field with a brick, not just a chip, on their shoulders from all the “fluke” descriptions of their 2010 title. They won’t lack for motivation defending that crown. Jamie Smith’s 25-yard laser punctuated their classy display.

3. LOS ANGELES. After toppling Seattle, 1-0, on the road to kick off the 2011 league season, the Galaxy failed to beat New England in a rain-sodden encounter, 1-1, at Home Depot Center. Yet midfielder Juninho scored another golazo and backup keeper Josh Saunders did the business.

4. SPORTING KANSAS CITY. One of Omar Bravo’s two goals is tainted by an apparent hand ball but regardless, he earned Player of the Week honors for his performance in a 3-2 road win. Chivas USA is in a major renovation, and SKC should probably have prevented one of the goals, but a team that lost Jimmy Conrad, Josh Wolff and Jack Jewsbury is going through its own growing pains.

5. NEW YORK. Promising MLS debuts for Teemo Taino and Jan Gunnar Solli and the first regular-season goal for teen phenom Juan Agudelo are encouraging signs as expectations rise. And how ‘bout that Taino ball over the top to set up Agudelo? Greg Sutton won the starting job in goal and blanked the quiet Sounders, 1-0.

6. FC DALLAS. Replacing Jeff Cunningham and Atiba Harris in the attack won’t be easy. Milton Rodriguez scored less than two minutes after the Fire had taken a 1-0 lead on a nice feed from Zach Loyd, but otherwise FCD forced only one save from Sean Johnson. Kevin Hartman bailed out a few defensive miscues before and after Brek Shea’s red card.

7. SAN JOSE. Last year, the Quakes lost their home opener to RSL, 3-0, when Javier Morales and Fabian Espindola blasted spectacular goals. They fell to RSL this year, too, by a 1-0 score in a fierce rainstorm rarely seen in Northern California except on movie screens and TV news programs. They pounded Nick Rimando in the last quarter of an hour without reward.

8. D.C. UNITED. In one game, D.C. scored one-seventh of the paltry 21 goals it managed in 30 games last year to thump Columbus, 3-1. Is that a sign of a revival, or simply confirmation that the Crew is a poor imitation of last year’s Eastern Conference runner-up? In any case, United looked just that, a rarity last year, and Josh Wolff looked a lot younger than 34 jumping over the signboards. Careful, old-timer!

9. PHILADELPHIA. Yes, keeper Faryd Mongradon looked more secure than last year’s goalies, but could he really have been anything else in blanking Houston, 1-0? The Union seemed stronger at centerback with Carlos Valdes, and more solid in central midfield with Brian Carroll as well as Stefan Miglioranzi in a true team effort.

10. NEW ENGLAND. The Revs withstood a downpour to tie the Galaxy, 1-1, at HDC without either of their recent French signings. A dubious foul call on keeper Matt Reis denied LA a possibly decisive goal, yet Shalrie Joseph scored at the other end. Turning back everything except Juninho’s bolt is a worthy showing.

11. CHICAGO. In his second season as head coach, Carlos de los Cobos has conducted another series of changes. One of his newcomers, forward Diego Chaves, scored on his debut, and with a man advantage for nearly half an hour the Fire pressed for a winner on the road without success.

12. VANCOUVER. The Whitecaps showed, albeit against feeble Toronto, that trips to Empire Field -- where turf, competent players, and rabid home fans await -- won’t be as pleasant as the lovely city and its lush surroundings. Eric Hassli and Atiba Harris may be the ‘H’ twins, as in Handful.

13. SEATTLE. In the wake of Blaise Nkufo’s tempestuous departure, losing two games against the teams that could contest MLS Cup isn’t cause for panic. After talking up its championship chances in preseason, though, the Sounders had best figure out how to score goals in the aftermath of two blankings.

14. COLUMBUS. Over the past two years the Crew has lost a lot of experience and talent. It still has tools – Eddie Gaven, Robbie Rogers, Will Hesmer, Chad Marshall – but if they and the rest of the cast don’t gear up, there will be more games like a CCL loss (4-1) to RSL on March 1, and the 3-1 defeat to D.C. United Saturday. Both times Columbus was decidedly second-best.

15. PORTLAND. Opening against the defending champions in their stadium isn’t the debut Portland coach John Spencer would have wanted for his expansion team, and getting hit for three goals in the first half an hour isn’t the start he wanted against his former team. It’s done with, time to move on. The Timbers won’t open at home for a few weeks, so it’s back to the grind.

16. CHIVAS USA. An encouraging game by newcomer Marcos Mondaini and some spirited play were offset by a well-deserved home defeat in the head coaching debut of Robin Fraser. This team finished 18 points out of the playoff places last year and many questions remain.

17. HOUSTON. Punchless up front in the absence of Brian Ching, the Dynamo fell behind early to Philly and squandered an equalizer when Dominic Oduro shot over an empty net from six yards out. Ouch. Midfielders Brad Davis and Geoff Cameron needed to be more influential in the attacking third.

18. TORONTO FC. Besides Dwayne De Rosario, Stefan Frei and Adrian Cann – strangely deployed at left back – how many TFC players looked the part of MLS starters in the 4-2 rout at Empire Field? The new guys had their moments but a disjointed midfield effort left Frei marooned behind a crumbling back line. A great goal by Maicon Santos gave TFC fans some joy.



0 comments
  1. Jeffrey Organ
    commented on: March 22, 2011 at 2:52 p.m.
    It is a shock to see Houston at 17th, but this is probably a fair ranking given the second straight humbling loss to Philadelphia. Road games at Seattle and New York await. Hard times may be here for awhile.


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