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MLS Power Rankings: No. 1 Quakes keep distance
by Ridge Mahoney, September 19th, 2012 12AM

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A surge of pursuers hasn't been able to close ground on the Quakes, which hold a five-point lead in the overall standings as well as the No. 1 ranking.

The Galaxy, the Red Bulls, the Fire, the Sounders and FC Dallas are all surging as the regular season winds down but the leader shows few signs of wilting.

San Jose won its third straight and fourth in the last five games to retain the top spot overall as well as the Western Conference lead. Three teams -- Sporting Kansas City, Chicago and New York -- are bunched within two points in the standings and are all in the top five of the rankings.

FC Dallas closed to within a point of fifth-place Vancouver by scoring in stoppage time for a 1-0 win, and in the East fifth-place D.C. United has just a two-point lead over Columbus.

Since there were no Power Rankings last week -- international games cut the MLS schedule to four games -- in a few cases games from Sept. 5-8 are also referenced along with those played from last Wednesday to Saturday.

1. SAN JOSE (17-6-5). Thirteen days after smashing Chivas USA, 4-0, at home, the Quakes went to Home Depot Center Saturday and held serve to win again, 2-0, on Chris Wondolowski's league-high 19th goal of the season and Alan Gordon's 12th. They have combined for more than one-half of San Jose's league-high and team-record 58 goals. Jon Busch's shutout was his seventh of the season. The Quakes need only to stay healthy to lay claim as one of the favorites to take the title. Last week: 1.

2. NEW YORK (14-7-7). Thierry Henry's spectacular goal directly from a corner kick clinched a 3-1 defeat of Columbus. He'd earlier equalized from a crafty chip by Rafael Marquez, who once again declared his best intentions about being a bonafide teammate. What's more important is that the Red Bulls have conclusively proven they can with or without him. That home record (10-0-3) could prove invaluable in the playoffs, but the back line isn't as strong as a few other title challengers and keeper Bill Gaudette is untested in these circumstances. Last week: 2.

3. SEATTLE (13-6-9). The Sounders settled for a point (1-1) at Portland and moved into second place behind San Jose in the Western Conference. Three wins and two ties in the last five games gives Seattle a strong foundation heading into this week, which starts Wednesday in Honduras against Marathon and concludes Saturday at home against San Jose. Signing local product Marcus Hahnemann last week drew a lot of headlines, yet the earlier acquisitions of Adam Johansson and Mario Martinez are significant upgrades for the championship chase. Last week: 4.

4. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (15-7-6). C.J. Sapong's goal in stoppage time avoided a home defeat to Houston, and a 1-1 tie pockmarked with squandered opportunities -- SKC launched a team-record 28 shots -- isn't the stuff of optimism with four of the last six on the road, including two in New York and one in Columbus. Graham Zusi got his 13th assist, which ties him for the league lead, as Sapong scored his first goal in nearly three months. Unbeaten in the last six matches, SKC has edges of just one point over Chicago and two over New York for the conference lead. Last week: 3.

5. CHICAGO (15-8-5). He probably won't be selected Coach of the Year, yet Frank Klopas has impressively strengthened his team by adding Alex, Alvaro Fernandez and Sherjill MacDonald. All three midseason additions scored as the Fire downed Montreal, 3-1, for its sixth win in the last seven games. During that span it has scored 17 goals and while its back line hasn't posted many shutouts lately -- none since July 14 -- wielding a potent attack is a good way to face Columbus at home this week and SKC away Sept. 28. Last week: 6.

6. HOUSTON (12-7-10). The Dynamo halted a four-game winless slide by getting four points out of a home game with RSL (1-0) a week and a half ago and a 1-1 tie at Kansas City last Friday. Yet it needed a stoppage-time penalty kick to beat RSL after squandering an earlier spot kick, and conceded in stoppage time against SKC to let slip what would have been a very important victory. Last week: 5.

7. LOS ANGELES (14-11-4). The Galaxy won its third in a row and 11th out of the last 16 as recently signed Swedish midfielder Christian Wilhelmsson marked his debut by scoring in a 2-0 defeat of Colorado. Marcelo Sarvas set up the latter goal and helped preserve the Galaxy's fourth straight shutout by sliding to block a goal-bound shot by Conor Casey. Landon Donovan returned to the lineup for first time since injuring his hamstring against Mexico a month ago. Adding Wilhemsson to an already strong midfield plus a stingy defense reminiscent of 2011 gives the Galaxy a very championship look. Last week: 9.

8. REAL SALT LAKE (14-11-4). A weekend off from league play gave RSL the chance to leave early for its CCL match against Tauro FC in Panama Tuesday, for which it won't have suspended captain Kyle Beckerman. He should be well-rested for a home league game Saturday against Portland that offers three much-needed points. RSL has scored just three goals while posting a 1-4-1 record in the last six games. Last week: 8.

9. COLUMBUS (12-10-6). After winning four straight, the Crew fell back to earth with a 2-0 loss in New England and a 3-1 setback in New York last weekend. Federico Higuain sat out the Red Bulls match to rest an injured toe; he and keeper Andy Gruenebaum, who conked his head on the goalpost late in the Red Bulls' match and had to be substituted, are hopeful of starting Wednesday at home against Chivas USA. The Crew then travels to Chicago, and if it can't win there, it is probably destined for a wild-card slot, at best. Last week: 7.

10. D.C. UNITED (13-10-5). A 2-1 defeat of New England stopped a three-game winless streak. Chris Pontius equalized in the 32nd minute and set up Lewis Neal for his first MLS goal that also turned out to be the game-winner. Pontius can do some extra creative and finishing work to make up for the injury-induced loss of Dwayne De Rosario, yet only by committee will United get enough points to make the playoffs. This week it plays at Philly and hosts Chivas USA. Last week: 10.

11. MONTREAL (12-15-3). He's 36, yet Marco Di Vaio is giving the Impact good value as a midseason DP signing. He scored his fourth goal in as many games and fifth in MLS to give Montreal a 1-0 lead it couldn't maintain in a 3-1 loss at Chicago. That was the Impact's 12th loss in 15 road matches, which explains why its playoff hopes are virtually extinguished despite a mark of 10-3-2 at home, where it plays SKC Saturday. Last week: 11.

12. FC DALLAS (9-12-9). FCD closed to within a point of fifth-place in the Western Conference by beating the team it needs to catch, Vancouver, with a last-second Julian de Guzman goal. His spectacular blast from distance brought FCD its fourth win in the last six games and maybe convinced a few more doubters that when coach Schellas Hyndman said two weeks ago he thought his team's prospects of making the playoffs were "very good," he knew what he was talking about. A scheduling quirk gives FCD the week off. Last week: 12.

13. VANCOUVER (10-12-7). The 'Caps were within seconds of getting out of FC Dallas Stadium with a 0-0 tie'but they were undone by de Guzman's dramatic strike. That was their fifth straight loss -- fourth in a row on the road -- and levied tremendous importance on a Sunday home date with Colorado that is the game-in-hand they hold over FCD. In those five games they've scored just one goal, but they do play the next four at home, where they are 7-2-4. Last week: 13.

14. COLORADO (9-18-2). The Rapids lost to the Galaxy, 2-0, last Friday, nine days after they beat the Timbers, 3-0, for their biggest victory margin of his dismal season. Andre Akpan, Tony Cascio and Jaime Castrillon to scored to lift Colorado out of the Western Conference cellar, which is about all it can accomplish in 2012 along with grooming players for the future. The MLS debut of Boulder native Shane O'Neill, 19, marked the first time a Rapids homegrown player had appeared in a league match. He replaced Jeff Larentowicz in the 86th minute. Last week: 17.

15. PORTLAND (7-14-7). When a season has gone this bad, any small accomplishment is heartening, so a national TV audience on NBC saw a delirious reaction to Rodney Wallace's goal in the 78th minute that earned a 1-1 tie with Cascadia Cup rival Seattle. The Timbers had fallen behind minutes after keeper Donovan Ricketts had to be substituted following a collision with Eddie Johnson, yet got the point when Wallace -- who came on as a sub after returning from international duty with Costa Rica -- headed in Jack Jewsbury's corner kick. Ricketts won't play Wednesday against the Quakes. Last week: 14.

16. PHILADELPHIA (7-13-6). Sheanon Williams' re-directed a ball that Antoine Hoppentot had steered through traffic for the goal that brought the Union a 1-1 tie at Toronto FC, just the 10th road point obtained out of a possible 39 this season. He'd earlier cut out a dangerous through ball to keep the deficit at a single goal. Winless in its last eight games, Philly can play spoiler this week when it hosts D.C. United Thursday and Houston Sunday. Last week: 16.

17. CHIVAS USA (7-13-7). Coach Robin Fraser was ejected at halftime while protesting a penalty-kick decision by which San Jose scored its first goal in a 2-0 loss. The delayed call was made by the fourth official after defender John Valencia had felled Alan Gordon in the penalty area. Miller Bolanos took six shots and gave the attack some spark even though it was shut out. The team's third straight loss dropped it into the Western Conference cellar as it heads east for games at Columbus and D.C. United. Last week: 15.

18. NEW ENGLAND (7-15-7). After beating the Crew, 2-0, Sept. 5, the Revs returned to their losing ways Saturday, 2-1, at RFK Stadium. Kelyn Rowe's goal in the 29th minute that provided a 1-0 lead was matched just three minutes later. Recent signing Juan Toja debuted for the club in the 73rd minute. An ACL reconstruction will sideline top scorer Saer Sene (11 goals, three assists) for six to eight months, which already clouds the prospects for 2013 despite the arrival of Toja. Last week: 18.

19. TORONTO FC (5-17-7). Eric Hassli scored in the second straight game and his third goal since a trade with Vancouver as TFC tied Philadelphia, 1-1. Luis Silva fired wide with a close-range chance set up by a clever passing sequence and that miss summed up a frustration that extends to the stands: an announced crowd of 15,669 at BMO Field looked a lot smaller, especially in the second half. The grind continues this week with a cross-country flight to play the white-hot Galaxy. Last week: 19.



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