Analysis

MLS Power Rankings: March brings early clarity to top and bottom of league

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Nearly a month into MLS play, a few teams clearly rise above the rest, while a few other look doomed in 2017.

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You know how we like our Power Rankings around FourFourTwo? With context, that’s how.

We like to ease into these things; it’s better to build the ordering on actual 2017 achievement and bungle, minus the distracting pull of basing the present day on predictions and expectations. In other words, these rankings attempt to reflect the “here and now” rather than presumption and prognosis.

You’re welcome. Here you go:   

1. FC DALLAS

State of great: Oscar Pareja’s unbeaten team is grinding out results despite a drop in clear scoring chances without playmaker Mauro Diaz. Then again, with defensively challenged Minnesota United coming into North Texas for the team’s next MLS match, that could change. (Before that, FCD takes a tentative 2-1 edge into a second leg CCL decider at Pachuca on April 4.)

2. PORTLAND TIMBERS

State of great: Fanendo Adi scored over the weekend and stands one goal away from the Portland Timbers’ all-time scoring mark. He’s on 45 goals.

Pressure point: Welp, that 34-0-0 season if off the table. Caleb Porter’s team dropped its first points of the season Saturday in a 3-2 loss at Columbus. The Timbers sure missed Darlington Nagbe’s midfield possession, which certainly isn’t surprising. But this is: goalkeeper Jake Gleeson, so solid last year, needs to clean up his game. Seriously, what in the name of Gordon Banks was he doing on Ola Kamara’s goal?

3. TORONTO FC

Pressure point: MLS scheduling is quirky and highly imperfect. Case in point: two of the team’s top three players are also important U.S. men who will be coming off a long trip into Panama. Everyone knew that. So why, coming off the international break, is MLS making Toronto play on Friday rather than (the more typical) Saturday date? You can bet a dozen Tim Hortons donuts that a bunch of TFC supporters are asking the same doggone question today. Especially as Sebastian Giovinco remains iffy due to injury.

4. NEW YORK RED BULLS

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

State of great: Luis Robles picked up another start (144 and counting, an MLS record) and another shutout over the weekend. His story is one of the really inspiring ones around MLS.

Pressure point: Manager Jesse Marsch on being one of six teams required to play during the international break: “I don't like it. I don't understand it. These are things for you to ask the league.” His club missed playmaker Sacha Kljestan (with the U.S. national team) in a scoreless draw at home against Real Salt Lake.

5. COLUMBUS CREW

State of great: Chances were at something of a premium in a 3-2 win over Portland. But the finishing was opportunistic and the back line showed signs of getting it together. Artur, a 20-year-old attacker on loan from Brazil’s Sao Paulo, keeps finding more ways to aid the Crew, which has won two in a row.

6. ATLANTA UNITED

Pressure point: The schedule makers were relatively kind to the Georgians in March, but April is about to come roaring in. Before Tata Martino’s team returns home, it gets matches at Seattle, Toronto, Montreal and Real Salt Lake. Yep: the expansion experience is about to get real. Oh, and Josef Martinez (five goals in three matches) appears to have picked up an injury during his time with Venezuela and may miss this week’s trip into CenturyLink.

7. New York City FC

State of great: Seeking continuity, Patrick Vieira kept his starting lineup intact for two consecutive weeks. Which is great and all – and the team did look good in some areas during its more recent outing. Now, he just needs to seek better finishing, because blown opportunities near goal are costing his team points. It did in that Week 3 draw at home with Montreal.

Pressure point: San Jose visits this week. Dominic Kinnear knows how to play on a small field. Yankee Stadium’s field is comically small. Draw your own conclusions.

8. ORLANDO CITY

State of great: Reunited – and it feels so good. Presumably, at least, as word is that Luis Gil will return to MLS, hooking up once again with manager Jason Kreis. Kreis was still in charge at Real Salt Lake (ah, the better days … back when RSL was a legit contender) when a young Gil broke in, before taking his talents to Liga MX. Meanwhile, the team is 2-for-2 in picking up all the points.

9. HOUSTON DYNAMO

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

State of great: Momentum from that great start was yanked back a bit with that recent loss at Portland. While losing in Oregon is no shame, manager Wilmer Cabrera rightly assessed that playing at a high and highly-focused level over 90 minutes (not just 45) has to be part of the deal.

Pressure point: Honduran international Romell Quioto (three goals in three games) limped off injured against the United States. His status is unknown.

10. SAN JOSE EARTQUAKES

Pressure point: Dominic Kinnear’s side has two wins at home so far and a loss on the road. Inability to win on the road (1 “W” in 17 games last year) was a big reason San Jose missed the playoffs again in 2017. A visit to NYCFC on Saturday awaits.

11. SPORTING KANSAS CITY

State of great: Every Friday night should have an MLS doubleheader as sweet as this Friday’s. It starts with a great test for Peter Vermes’ team visiting Toronto.

Pressure point: SKC’s attack was slow from the gate with two goals in three games (both last week against San Jose, including one on an egregious goalkeeper error.) Offensive string-puller Benny Feilhaber, left out of the latest U.S. roster, may now have a chip on his shoulder. Let’s see if he can put it to good use. He did last time out.

NEXT: From so-so to just absolutely awful