[MLS] Once the fate of RSL in the Concacaf Champions League Wednesday night is known, it and two other teams can get serious about proving which of them is tops in MLS. New York and Los Angeles laid strong claims last weekend by pounding out impressive wins.
The Red Bulls destroyed D.C. United, 4-0, at RFK Stadium last Thursday, and the Galaxy -- humbled, 4-1, by RSL a few weeks ago at Rio Tinto Stadium -- smashed expansion Portland, 3-0, at Home Depot Center Saturday.
How those results affect the MLS Power Rankings that Soccer America and many other outlets compile won’t change the sense that barring serious runs of injuries or complete collapses in form, these three teams are destined to be the class of the league in 2011. In one case, RSL, the mantra is “The Team is the Star.” On each coast, we have “A Team of Stars,” which both aspire to be the starriest, and most successful, within the relatively limited means of MLS.
Fans of MLS Cup 2010 finalists FC Dallas and Colorado will cite their team’s success last season and current combined total of one Designated Player (FCD teenager Fabian Castillo) as proof their philosophies can work as well. But the defending champions have lost three straight and only by beating expansionist Vancouver last week, 2-1, did FCD climb above .500. If they can plow their way into the top three, all credit to them, but right now they don’t look as good nor as deep.
Seattle’s messy release of Blaise Nkufo was followed by a sickening tackle last weekend that induced leg fractures that could sideline one of its stars, Steve Zakuani, for the entire season, and leave its other star, Fredy Montero, under tremendous pressure. The Crew is rebuilding after one of the league’s top performers of the past decade, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, left the league and in any case, Columbus has always been a team-oriented operation in the RSL mold.
There are four teams, including the Crew, within two points of Eastern Conference leader New York, and one of them, Philadelphia, had its game last weekend postponed so RSL could rest up for Wednesday’s showdown against Monterrey. The Union has already beaten New York this season, 1-0, and has a home date with the lurching Quakes this weekend, but regardless of how the points are shaking out, New York is growing stronger as its potent array of talent bonds more tightly.
Whether by perception or reality, the concept of a “Big Three” is a boon for a league plagued by parity. It gives every team a standard to match, if not surpass, on and off the field.