MLS Power Rankings: LAFC hold top spot; Luquinhas on fire for New York Red Bulls; Seattle Sounders surging
Fri, Jun 24, 2022
Soccer News (AP)
Most teams are closing in on the halfway point of the season so it's time to take another look at our latest rankings. Now that Concacaf Champions League is over and only three teams are left standing in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, a few teams that entered the season with high expectations are finding their feet but there are plenty of surprising strugglers all around.
Let's take a look at what has changed as the international break is in the rear-view mirror and MLS sides looking forward to the opportunity to improve when the transfer window opens on July 7.'
Los Angeles FC
Nothing has been able to stop LAFC this season. Steve Cherundolo has taken the job in stride dealing with injuries and setting up his talented squad to compete each week. Time is running out for Carlos Vela to sign his contract extension. Even if he doesn't, there's no reason not to trust LAFC to keep their form and win the West, especially with the experience of Giorgio Chiellini coming when the transfer window opens.
New York City FC
It's a fair question to ask if NYCFC can keep things going without Ronny Deila despite the midfield unit being one of the most talented in the league. Valentin Castellanos is proving that his Golden Boot season wasn't a fluke and Sean Johnson is anchoring a defense that has allowed one goal since May 1 in league play. In a normal season, they'd be the runaway top team, but MLS has improved from top to bottom.'
Real Salt Lake
You can't count Real Salt Lake out of anything. When faced with a challenges, this team finds a way through. The best home team in the league, with Rio Tinto Stadium being one of the toughest environments in the league and Jefferson Savarino picking up right where he left off in his return to the club.'
An eight-game unbeaten streak sounds good until you count the points and realize that the Union have only won once in that stretch. The defense is one of the best in the league, but the attack is missing a piece. Daniel Gazdag is great at finishing chances in the box, but he's not a creative No. 10. To bridge the gap between the top teams in the league, the Union's top creator can't be their left back Kai Wagner.
New York Red Bulls
Through Luquinhas all things are possible. The Red Bulls have the attacking star they've been craving since Kaku's downfall. The team is full of battlers and a strong defense that have turned them into road warriors in MLS. Their issue earlier in the season was that they weren't scoring enough, but now that has been rectified. Is that enough to see them compete for a title?
Austin cooled off a little, though being the third-best team in MLS on points per game at this stage of the season will play well. They have also scored the second-most goals in the league while the defense has been serviceable. Sebastian Driussi is a legit MVP candidate and this version of Diego Fagundez may be the best we've seen in MLS. Maxi Urruti has been fine leading the line, but if the team lands a legit No. 9, look out, world.
Jesus Ferreira and Paul Arriola have been good enough that almost nothing else that the team does matters. The two of them have scored an eye-popping 16 goals. And even if they're outperforming their expected goals (xG) numbers, it won't matter as Dallas creates enough chances to get them in space on the break. They've taken a bit of a hit lately, losing three of their last four matches, but there's no reason to think that Dallas won't keep the good run going.
Don't look now, but the Seattle Sounders are doing that thing again. They began the season in rough form while winning Concacaf Champions League, but they've already climbed back above the playoff line with four wins in a six-match span despite losing Joao Paulo for the season. The flexibility that Brian Schmetzer employs with this team is unmatched and they're ready for any situation because of it.
One of the most exciting teams in MLS because you never know what you're going to get from Montreal. They've scored four goals three times this season, but have also conceded three-plus goals in four separate instances. The defense needs major improvement while Romell Quioto and the now-injured Djordje Mihailovic have paced the attack in a big way. Kei Kamara is showing that age is nothing but a number with three goals and three assists. That said, someone needs to help out Victor Wanyama in protecting Sebastian Breza's net. Anyone ...
It took some time, but Ercan Kara has gotten things going while Facundo Torres and Mauricio Pereyra have done a great job supporting him. All things have been equal with Orlando City having almost the same amount of points home and away and with scoring outputs. I expect Oscar Pareja's balanced team to reach the playoffs, but I don't think they have a second gear to go on an extended run in the East and reach the level of some of the better teams in the league.
New England Revolution
The Revolution are scary in a good and a bad way. They've gotten the results that they've needed to rebound after a slow start, but Matt Turner and Adam Buska are gone for Europe. Will Gustavo Bou and Carles Gil keep things going? Will DeJuan Jones and Brandon Bye create more holes by heading to Europe this summer? Bruce Arena and the Revolution are reaching the crossroads as they could be hurt by their own success.
Los Angeles Galaxy
The Galaxy may be sitting in a playoff place, but this team has been disappointing given the talent that they have at their disposal. Javier Hernandez has been solid, but can't carry the attack alone with Douglas Costa struggling to hit top form in MLS. The defense was supposed to be what the Galaxy could lean on as Greg Vanney added plenty of reinforcements, but things haven't clicked yet.'
A victim of their own high expectations, they have already moved on from their inaugural head coach Miguel Angel Ramirez. Ben Bender, the first overall pick in this year's SuperDraft, has been a revelation with three goals and three assists while the defense has been good enough to get the job done. Karol Swiderski will need to do more and the roster still needs help.
Another all-around fun team, Brandon Vazquez and Lucho Acosta have been one of the best attacking duos in the league. Hopefully during the summer, the team can cut ties with Brenner and look to use those funds to improve the defense, which feels like the only thing holding Pat Noonan's side back.
We can confirm Nashville SC are still a good team after moving to the Western Conference, though they need a true third cog in the attack. Hany Mukhtar and C.J. Sapong have carried the lead, but Gary Smith needs a perfect day from Mukhtar to win games. The defense has performed better, which helps, but Nashville have certainly taken a step back from last season.
Take notice because Lucas Cavallini and the Whitecaps are charging up the table. The team was hurt early by Brian White not being able to keep his form from last season, but with Cavellini shouldering the attacking load, the Whitecaps have won four of their last six matches. They'll still struggle to make the playoffs with a tough upcoming stretch, but they aren't mired in the bottom of the West and that's reason to celebrate.
Season-ending injuries to Miles Robinson, Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Guzan have sapped the energy out of Atlanta. Andrew Gutman is unavailable and others have also missed time during the season. Josef Martinez is back, which is positive, and Thiago Almada and Luiz Araujo are finding their feet, but it's hard for Gonzalo Pineda to help them find a next gear when the bodies just aren't there.
Phil Neville has turned this Inter Miami team into a tough out for opponents and it has mostly coincided with Gonzalo Higuain getting benched. The Herons have only lost three times in their last 10 matches after losing four of their first five games. That's quite the turnaround as they've kept their shape. Not to mention, Leonardo Campana has been a hit leading the line with seven goals. Looking to make a splash in the summer transfer window, Miami could finally have what it takes to grind out another playoff push.
Gyasi Zardes hasn't been the answer to the Rapids scoring woes and Jonathan Lewis can't replicate his success from last year. Because of that, the Rapids have only scored 17 goals which is in the bottom third of the league. A long way off of the team that won the Western Conference last season, it feels like things will get worse before they get better.
The Dynamo are right where they want to be. Sebastian Ferreira and Darwin Quintero have been solid, but not quite stellar as the team is still within touching distance of a playoff spot. Hector Herrera is on the way and will help balance the midfield and improve the defense at the same time. That one move alone could be enough to stabilize the Dyanamo as their future looks brighter than it has in years.
Adrian Heath getting another contract extension is weird. The Loons have been hurt by injuries with Romain Metanire only playing 23 minutes this season and their talented attack just hasn't gotten the job done. Minnesota keeps adding players who don't perform well under Heath, who earned an extension when his club sits 11th in the West.
At the top of the roster, the Crew seem like strong team with Lucas Zelarayan, Derrick Etienne and Darlington Nagbe. But three players aren't enough to get things done when Miguel Berry has been a ghost at the nine. That will be changing with Cucho Hernandez joining, but is that enough to get this team in the playoff picture? Caleb Porter will certainly be in the hot seat if it isn't.
Sporting Kansas City
There's not much to like about Sporting, a team that has been historically great defensively has allowed a whopping 29 goals this season. The attack hasn't gotten the job done either. With no strikers, Johnny Russell and Daniel Salloi have to be perfect, but that's just not realistically possible. Things need to change in a big way but is that even possible with the money they've wasted.
Another team plagued by their defense, the Timbers have a balanced attack but need Sebastian Blanco to stay on the field and produce at the levels that they know he can. Losing Steve Clark in net has shown how big of a difference a keeper makes on a defensive performance, but Gio Savarese has been able to turn a sub-par team into contenders before.
Taxiarchris Fountas has been one of the best additions in the league, but even that hasn't been enough to push them out of the bottom of the East. Looking for creators to improve in the transfer market is not a bad plan, but something needs to be done about the defense as well while they're at it.
Bob Bradley had a tough job coming into the season but things weren't expected to be this bad. Jesus Jimenez got off to a hot start and then struggled, Alejandro Pozuelo could be on the way out and the defense lets attackers practically walk the ball into the net. Even Lorenzo Insigne coming isn't enough to turn this around by himself.
Xherdan Shaquiri and Kacper Przybylko, the big attacking additions for the Fire, have only combined for six goals and four assists. All things considered, the defense has been pretty good even with Gabriel Slonina hitting a rough patch. But when the attack can't take any pressure off of the defenders, there isn't much that can be done. The team should stick with Ezra Hendrickson but they can't keep missing on top transfers.
San Jose Earthquakes
The Quakes need direction. On paper, the roster is seems strong enough to compete with Jeremy Ebobisse, Cristian Espinoza and Jamiro Monteiro combining for a formidable attack. There are even good pieces behind them like Cade Cowell and Jan Gregus, but the Quakes can't put it together. Their next coach can't waste this amount of talent.