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MLS Power Rankings: Houston rises up
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The only thing hotter than the weather in Houston these days is the Dynamo, who pushed their winning streak to five games and stayed unbeaten at BBVA Compass Stadium by knocking off the New York Red Bulls last Friday.
That victory has the Dynamo in a tie for first place in the Eastern Conference with Sporting Kansas City ahead of Friday’s rematch with the Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena. Houston will enter that match with plenty of confidence, with their attack generating goals and their defense playing well despite the loss of Geoff Cameron to a transfer to Stoke City.
The hottest team in the West is Seattle, which dismantled LA Galaxy at CenturyLink Field, handing the Galaxy a 4-0 drubbing to solidify their hold on third place in the West. With the US Open Cup Final against Sporting KC set for Wednesday, the Sounders could add some history to their current six-match unbeaten MLS unbeaten streak by becoming the first team to win four straight US Open Cup titles in the tournament’s 99-year history.
It was a rough week for Real Salt Lake, which suffered losses in their CONCACAF Champions League opener and then to rival Colorado. Fatigue, and the absence of injured centerback Jamison Olave, were factors in the loss to the Rapids, which saw RSL manage just one shot on goal.
One team quietly putting together a playoff charge is the Montreal Impact, which won their third of four and fourth straight home match with a 2-1 victory against the Philadelphia Union. The win was marred by Nelson Rivas’ headbutt of Antoine Hoppenot, but another strong effort from Felipe Martins and Alessandro Nesta pushed the Impact even closer to the Eastern Conference playoff pack.
The Impact are one of the biggest movers in this week’s FOX Soccer MLS Power Rankings. Here is how the teams shook out after this weekend’s action:
1- HOUSTON DYNAMO
Hottest team in the league is riding some stellar midfield play and the emergence of forwards Calen Carr and Macoumba Kandji as real attacking threats. With Ricardo Clark set to join the team it will be interesting to see if and when Clark unseats Adam Moffat as the midfield anchor in the Dynamo’s 4-3-3.
2- SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES
The week off comes at a perfect time for an Earthquakes side that was definitely feeling the affects of a busy schedule. Real Salt Lake’s stumble helped keep them in first place and now the Sounders return to MLS play against the surging Seattle Sounders in the top MLS match this weekend.
3- REAL SALT LAKE
Just when you think RSL is ready to go on a run and show their quality, they take another tumble. Their loss on the road to Herediano got their CONCACAF Champions League campaign off to a rough start while the surprising loss to Colorado kept them out of first place in the West. A tough test against Vancouver awaits.
4- SPORTING KANSAS CITY
Posting a road shutout win has to give Sporting KC some confidence heading into Wednesday’s Open Cup Final, particularly given the fact that All-Star centerback Aurelien Collin was out injured. Now the real question is whether the Sporting KC offense can finally produce multiple goals and give the defense some room for error.
5- SEATTLE SOUNDERS
Here come the Sounders, fresh off a pasting of the LA Galaxy and standing on the precipice of potential history with their fourth straight U.S. Open Cup Final set for Wednesday. With Eddie Johnson on top form, and Fredy Montero heading up, the Sounders are a real threat to push for the top spot in the West.
6- NEW YORK RED BULLS
The additions of Tim Cahill and Sebastien LeToux were supposed to catapult the Red Bulls ahead of the rest of the teams in the East, and it still might, but right now injuries and defensive woes continue to plague New York. They were dominated in Houston by the Dynamo, but are unbeaten at Red Bull Arena and should give Houston a significantly better test in the rematch on Friday night.
7- D.C. UNITED
Snapped their two-match losing streak with a 1-0 home win vs. Columbus. The offense still isn’t quite clicking, but the return of Emiliano Dudar helped bolster the defense, which turned in a solid effort in shutting down the Crew. Some injury concerns could trouble D.C. heading into trip to Sporting Kansas City, but having Dudar back and having Branko Boskovic play 90 minutes for the first time in almost two years are positives.
8- LA GALAXY
The Galaxy’s recent hot streak hit a brick wall in Seattle as the Sounders simply outplayed LA in their 4-0 victory. The Galaxy lost the battle in midfield, where Seattle simply had more energy. LA will need to recover quickly because they can’t afford a loss to rivals Chivas USA, which can close the gap behind the Galaxy to four points in the race for the final Western Conference playoff spot.
9- VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
A week off for the Whitecaps should have helped head coach Martin Rennie get his handful of new faces acclimated to things in Vancouver. Defender Andy O’Brien joins an already solid cast in the back, while the time off should help recharge Darren Mattocks as he reaches a point in the season where he could be hitting the rookie wall.
10- CHICAGO FIRE
The Fire needed a late Austin Berry goal to pull out a win against Toronto FC, a play that only strengthens Berry’s Rookie of the Year candidacy. The win puts a five-point cushion between the Fire and the other teams chasing for the fifth playoff spot in the East. A tough road trip to PPL Park to take on the Philadelphia Union looms on Sunday.
11- COLUMBUS CREW
The fact that the Crew lost to D.C. United last Saturday has become an afterthought in the wake of the devastating news that rookie midfielder Kirk Urso died. No team in MLS history has had to deal with the death of a player in season. Saturday’s home game against Toronto FC will be an emotional event, and it will up to head coach Robert Warzycha and the Crew veterans to keep the team together in the wake of this tragedy.
12- MONTREAL IMPACT
Stade Saputo has suddenly become one of the tougher places to play in MLS, in part because of how much better the Impact play at home than on the road. Alessandro Nesta has fit right into the Montreal defense and has made it better, while rookie Andrew Wenger continues to show signs of being the talented player Montreal hoped he would be when they made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 MLS Draft.
13- PHILADELPHIA UNION
Road form continues to be a problem for the young Union side, and it’s something that will likely keep Philadelphia from mounting a serious playoff push if it doesn’t turn around. The imminent debut of defender Bakary Soumare is going to force head coach John Hackworth to make a decision on how he makes up his back-line. Don’t be surprised if Amobi Okugo ultimately slides into his natural defensive midfield role.
14- COLORADO RAPIDS
The Rapids badly needed a win to stop the bleeding and halt their six-match losing skid, but you have to wonder if the damage hasn’t already been done. The Rapids have gone from being in solid playoff position to being eight points out of a playoff spot, and that’s with Chivas USA ahead of them in that race. The truth is Colorado is a better team than their recent results have shown, and upcoming matches against FC Dallas and Chivas USA can help them climb back into the race.
15- CHIVAS USA
If there is a team in the West that just might sneak up on people, it is Chivas USA. The Goats have games in hand on the playoff pack, and just added standout midfielder Shalrie Joseph, who was acquired in a steal of a trade. With Joseph in the mix, and with Juan Agudelo getting healthy, Chivas USA could put some serious pressure on Vancouver and LA. The rush needs to start on Sunday against the Galaxy.
16- NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
Not a great week for the Revs. They followed up trading away arguably the best player in the club’s history with a home shutout loss that sunk them even deeper in the East standings. Jay Heaps isn’t likely to say the playoff chase is over, and he will stick to his belief that Joseph was no longer a worthy starter for the Revs, but the reality is that trade sure felt like the final nail in coffin for the 2012 season. On the bright side, their next three games are against the three teams above them in the East.
17- FC DALLAS
Just how rough a blow was giving up a late equalizer to Portland Timbers for FC Dallas? Those dropped points kept the Hoops from catching Colorado in the West standings and closing to within eight points of a playoff spot. Now, Dallas faces a tough stretch of games, but they are match-ups against teams right above them in the standings so there is still an outside chance of a surge.
18- TORONTO FC
The steam has come out of the balloon for TFC, which dropped its second straight match and saw the distance between them and a playoff spot get more impossibly wide. Their CONCACAF Champions League victory was impressive, but they are fully aware that they still face the brutal task of trying to knock off Mexican champions Santos Laguna in group play.
19- PORTLAND TIMBERS
Came back to earn a draw vs. FC Dallas, and while that was a considerable improvement over the last time they played Dallas, the Timbers still can’t be happy with more dropped points at home. Portland pulled the trigger on a trade that sent starting goalkeeper Troy Perkins to Montreal for Donovan Ricketts. It’s a deal that could provide long-term benefits if Ricketts can regain his MLS Goalkeeper of the Year form.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FOXSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the US National Team.