ESPN2 is showing the semifinal round of the U.S. Open Cup for the first time ever this week, which seems like a positive step forward for domestic professional soccer in America, and it’s part of a larger positive trend. Anecdotally speaking, there have been more Saturday-Sunday back-to-back MLS games on the ESPN networks this summer than I can ever remember, and a larger portion of those games have come on the big channel as opposed to its younger sibling that was originally marketed as the hip alternative to the original ESPN (graffiti logos!).
Though not as much now as in the past, ESPN dictates the sports conversation, and that conversation is not just including soccer, but MLS more often and more seriously than ever before.
Your Power Rankings for this, the 21st full week of MLS action:
1. FC Dallas (Last Week: 1)
Dallas has officially loaned Fabián Castillo out to some Turkish team that is of very little consequence — to me, anyway. The latest rumblings on this story are that Castillo skipped town without permission and Dallas had very little choice but to make a deal for its best player. Considering those circumstances, I suppose Dallas deserves plaudits for doing some good business and bringing in a significant amount of money ($3 million, which is no small fee for a team that does as poorly in attendance as Dallas), but this whole thing just depresses me. Here’s to hoping Castillo is a flop in Turkey and MLS regains one of its starlets at the end of this European season.
2. LA Galaxy (Last Week: 2)
It’s the stat I’m sure you’ve seen or heard at least seven times this week, but it bears repeating: LA has now been out-shot in 16 straight matches. Despite that fact, the Galaxians are undefeated in eight straight, which includes a four-game winning streak sandwiched by two draws on either end.
3. New York City FC (Last Week: 3)
The Soccer Yankees drew 0-0 with San Jose this week, but we’ll blame that one more on the Quakes than the Bronx Blues. If it weren’t for Colorado and Pablo Mastroeni’s shocking rise to relevancy, Patrick “Pat” Vieira would be running away with the Coach of the Year Award.
4. Colorado Rapids (Last Week: 4)
I’ve been harping in this space over the last few weeks about what is seemingly the impending decline for the Rapids, but I’m going to back off that position for the time being. Why? Jermaine Jones has missed the last several games due to a lingering knee injury, and his return might be the antidote to his team’s downturn in form. When Jones is on the field, he wins.
5. Toronto FC (Last Week: 8)
Toronto is on fire, to the tune of four straight victories in which the Reds have outscored their opponents 12-2. When Giovinco is on, he is lightning in a bottle and the diminutive Italian has been all the way on over the last month, scoring seven goals (moving past David Villa for the season lead in that category) while also registering three assists during his team’s four-game winning streak. Oh, and by the way, Jozy Altidore has scored twice since his return.
Toronto has now joined LA and the two New York clubs at the top of the heap for longest winning streak, at four. Giovinco and co. should be favored to take that streak to five when they take on Houston in their next league outing.
6. New York Red Bulls (Last Week: 6)
After the referee missed two fairly clear penalty calls on Sunday, Alexi Lalas joked about institutional bias for the Galaxy in the Red Bulls’ 2-2
loss tie on the road in LA, but I wouldn’t go so far as to make that accusation. What I would accuse the referee of succumbing to, though, is plain, old-fashioned, home-field advantage. Refs swallowing their whistles to favor the home team is almost a given in other sports, so there’s no reason to assume there was something more sinister at hand at the StubHub Center the other night. Regardless, it was still terrible refereeing.
7. Montreal Impact (Last Week: 7)
Fanendo Adi and Diego Valeri passed Didier Drogba and Nacho Piatti as the highest scoring duo in MLS this weekend (h/t to Jon Champion of ESPN). I’m sure this bothers Drogba somewhere next to where he keeps all of his money.
8. Real Salt Lake (Last Week: 10)
RSL is one of three teams without a loss at home this year. All three reside in the top three of the Supporters’ Shield standings.
9. Portland Timbers (Last Week: 12)
I’m sure that if I were a Timbers fan I would love the whole “Timber Joey cuts a log when we score” schtick, but as an outsider it seems a little phony to me and reeks of soccer before it could be considered a serious professional sport in the U.S. Am I being harsh?
10. Sporting Kansas City (Last Week: 5)
Mercurial SKC looked lost offensively against Portland. I suppose that should be the case when Graham Zusi doesn’t start. Remember when everyone (myself included) was praising the socks off Benny Feilhaber? Not so much anymore based on what I saw Sunday.
11. San Jose Earthquakes (Last Week: 11)
For the record, I have zero confidence that any team beyond this point in the power rankings has any real shot to win the MLS Cup this season. A couple of teams (Seattle, Orlando) could make some last-minute pitches to persuade me, but at this point in the year — with roughly two-thirds of the season gone — everyone past this point, including San Jose, should be calling a local priest to give them their last rites.
12. Vancouver Whitecaps (Last Week: 9)
Vancouver lost to the two top teams in the West in back-to-back games by the identical 2-0 scoreline. I have no idea if that says more about Vancouver or the two top teams in the West.
13. Philadelphia Union (Last Week: 13)
This feature from whatever MLS is calling its version of NFL Films (why don’t they just call it MLS Films?) came a few weeks late for the Union. Their surprising start has dissipated, and they haven’t won in a month. Whatever revolution Earnie Stewart is bringing to the rocky shores of Chester, PA, might be more in the developmental stage than notoriously grumpy and impatient Philly sports fans will want to believe.
14. Seattle Sounders (Last Week: 17)
As devastating a loss as it was for Orlando, it was as big a win for Seattle. The Sounders have games in hand on four of the five teams above them in the Western Conference standings, and so still have an (very) outside chance of making it to the postseason. Jordan Morris should have had a hat trick of assists, and the new guy Lodeiro looks legit after the initial reviews.
15. D.C. United (Last Week: 15)
If you put all of the teams with no hope of winning the title on a bus, D.C. might well be driving it. If you want your professional sports franchise to plummet to mediocre irrelevancy in a flash, just follow the blueprint D.C. has laid out this year. Washed up players? Check. Stadium that is falling apart? Check. Coach that buys his suits at JC Penny? Checkmate.
16. Orlando City (Last Week: 14)
Well, that was a bummer. Orlando City’s once blemish-free home record now has a mark in the loss column for the first time in over a calendar year. Remember how Jason Kreis said that developing a solid defensive team was objective number one? Well, that’s still a work in progress.
17. New England Revolution (Last Week: 16)
Is this a little low for a team that would be playoff bound were the season to end today? Nah. The East is terrible, and I really believe New England deserves no part of the playoffs and is likely to drop below the red line before season’s end.
18. Houston Dynamo (Last Week: 19)
I really, sincerely hope that Houston hires DaMarcus Beasley as a player-coach as he enters the twilight of his playing career. Wouldn’t that be great? It would make the Dynamo 100 times more relevant than they currently are. Someone should start a Twitter campaign for this.
19. Chicago Fire (Last Week: 18)
Chicago is in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup this week, which means the Fire are two wins from bringing home a trophy. Fire fans aren’t particularly excited about that fact, however, because in order for that to take place there would actually have to be some Fire fans first.
20. Columbus Crew SC (Last Week: 20)
I saw a guy wearing a Columbus Crew shirt in public today, and I thought that he must not actually be a Crew fan. No actual Crew fan would wear a Crew shirt in public after the calamity that has been this season for the 2015 MLS Cup runners-up. If this Crew season were a train wreck, it would have been a train carrying manure that ran off the tracks in an underground tunnel, where it sat for months just ruminating in its own filthy stink.