MLS Power Rankings: Eastern Conference Dominates the Top 5

Peter Galindo@@GalindoPWFeatured ColumnistSeptember 23, 2015

MLS Power Rankings: Eastern Conference Dominates the Top 5

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    Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

    There are only few weeks remaining until the MLS regular season ends and the playoffs begin.

    Teams are jockeying for the top seeds in their respective conferences as the campaign nears its end. The West's top sides slipped up, but the East capitalized and those clubs have been rewarded in this week's power rankings.

    As always, teams will be ranked based on the following criteria:

    • Quality of opponent and performance
    • Recent form beyond the last week
    • Key absences
    • Current standing
    • Remaining games in hand (if applicable)

    Here's where all 20 teams stand after Week 29.

20. Chicago Fire (Previous: 20)

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    Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

    The Chicago Fire's 1-0 loss to Orlando City SC all but ended the team's chances of qualifying for the playoffs. It also cost Frank Yallop his job as the Fire's head coach.

    Nelson Rodriguez was named general manager and brings a wealth of knowledge with him. Guillermo Rivera of Chicago Fire Confidential explained in detail how Rodriguez will impact the organization.

    The team is arguably the biggest underachiever in MLS. The Fire failed to gain consistency on both sides of the pitch this season, and the next coach has to fix this. 

    The defeat to Orlando City was the latest example of Chicago's ineptitude. The Fire is still at the bottom of the overall standings and deservedly remains at No. 20 in the power rankings.

19. Colorado Rapids (Previous: 17)

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    Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

    The Colorado Rapids owned one of MLS' stingiest defenses before Saturday's game against Toronto FC. The Rapids conceded just 30 goals but ended up losing 3-1 as Sebastian Giovinco dominated the back line.

    The first goal conceded by Colorado was incredibly sloppy. Sam Cronin and the Rapids defense gave Giovinco too much time and space to shoot. Goalkeeper Clint Irwin couldn't handle the shot and it ended up in the net.

    Colorado also failed to close down Giovinco prior to his second strike of the afternoon. By the time the Italian doubled TFC's lead, the match was basically over.

    The Rapids are still at the bottom of the Western Conference after the defeat. Colorado may be seven points adrift of a playoff spot, but a three-game winless skid demotes it to No. 19.

18. Houston Dynamo (Previous: 16)

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    Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

    The Houston Dynamo was dealt a cruel blow to its playoff chances after losing 2-0 to the Philadelphia Union on Sunday evening.

    The absences of DaMarcus Beasley and Raul Rodriguez were evident. Beasley offers stability on both sides of the pitch, and his attacking contributions were missed.

    Houston's attack was very lackluster in this game as a whole. The Dynamo generated chances, but most were tame attempts. One example was Will Bruin's opportunity on a counterattack. He could have assisted a teammate who was in a better position, but Bruin opted to shoot himself and missed wide.

    Beasley and Rodriguez were two key absentees. However, the Dynamo still slips to No. 18 after a woeful performance up front. Houston has also won just once in its last six games.

17. Philadelphia Union (Previous: 18)

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    Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

    The Philadelphia Union's 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo on Sunday slightly boosted its playoff hopes. While the Union is just three points adrift of an Eastern Conference berth, the Montreal Impact has three games in hand.

    Since Philadelphia's win in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals on August 12, it has lost just twice in MLS. The defense was able to hold the Dynamo to just five shots on target, but it was the attack that stood out.

    Sebastien Le Toux, Cristian Maidana, Tranquillo Barnetta and C.J. Sapong were involved in the two goals. Barnetta scored the opener and provided the assist for C.J. Sapong's ninth strike of the season.

    Sapong has already equaled his career-high for goals with four games left in the season. Barnetta is also clicking with his new team. Due to New York City FC's massive week, the Union only move up to No. 17.

16. New York City FC (Previous: 19)

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    Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

    New York City FC earned two wins against Toronto FC and the San Jose Earthquakes last week. The expansion side is now just two points away from the playoffs.

    The 2-0 victory over TFC last Wednesday was almost flawless. Frank Lampard scored his first MLS goal, Andrea Pirlo's composure and vision were on display and NYCFC didn't have David Villa.

    NYCFC's 3-2 win against the Earthquakes on Saturday was more nervy. The hosts scored three goals in 14 minutes, but San Jose stormed back with two of their own. Nonetheless, New York City held on for the victory.

    NYCFC's defense is still worrying. TFC managed to record 16 shots on Wednesday, but poor finishing cost the Reds. The first goal conceded on Saturday was preventable, too. Quincy Amarikwa should not be allowed to win this header.

    On the bright side for NYCFC fans, the team has recorded back-to-back wins. Lampard, Pirlo and Villa are beginning to jell as well. This has led to City moving up to No. 16.

15. San Jose Earthquakes (Previous: 11)

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    The San Jose Earthquakes has been on a downward spiral since defeating the LA Galaxy on August 28. San Jose is now riding a four-game winless skid after a draw and a loss this past week.

    The Earthquakes had to settle for a 1-1 draw against a rotated Montreal Impact at home on Wednesday. The Impact was missing forward Didier Drogba, playmaker Ignacio Piatti and defender Laurent Ciman. 

    San Jose was then humbled 3-2 by New York City FC on Saturday. A pair of goals by Quincy Amarikwa saved the Earthquakes from total humiliation.

    Despite these two setbacks, the Quakes are still just one point away from a playoff spot. However, the Portland Timbers have a game in hand and San Jose is experiencing a slump. For those reasons, it slips to No. 16.

14. Orlando City SC (Previous: 14)

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    Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

    Orlando City SC earned its second win in as many games by defeating the Chicago Fire 1-0 on Saturday.

    The Lions are currently in seventh place and are keeping pace with the Montreal Impact. The latter has three games in hand, although Orlando will be hoping that the fixture congestion hurts the Impact.

    This was, by no means, a thorough win. After all, the Fire are a mess and have just shaken up the front office and coaching staff. However, at this point in the season, points will come at a premium.

    Orlando remains at No. 14 due to the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC earning wins last week.

13. Real Salt Lake (Previous: 15)

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    Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

    Real Salt Lake's 3-0 victory over the LA Galaxy could be the result that pushes the club into the playoffs.

    Injuries and international call-ups have hampered RSL all season long. However, apart from defender Chris Schuler, the squad is fully fit and appears to be clicking again.

    The Galaxy generated just four shots on target and the RSL attack was running on all cylinders for the first time in months. Juan Manuel Martinez looks like a solid signing and should be an integral player for head coach Jeff Cassar.

    RSL is just three points behind the sixth-placed Portland Timbers following the win. This is also the third victory in its last four games, which promotes the team to No. 13 this week.

12. Portland Timbers (Previous: 9)

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    Don Ryan/Associated Press

    The Portland Timbers' 2-0 defeat at home to the New York Red Bulls on Sunday did little to help the team's playoff hopes.

    Despite controlling possession and earning a few quality chances, not a single Timbers player could finish. Nat Borchers was foiled twice by Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles. Maxi Urruti was average again, and the Timbers looked more threatening once Fanendo Adi entered the match.

    Head coach Caleb Porter has to start Adi if he wants the attack to improve. He's the team's top scorer with 10 goals. Urruti has just three. 

    The Timbers have won just two games since the beginning of August. For that reason, they slip to No. 12 behind Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact, who both won last week.

11. Toronto FC (Previous: 12)

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    Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

    Toronto FC earned an emphatic 3-1 win thanks to another magnificent performance from Sebastian Giovinco.

    The Italian forward completed a brace and recorded an assist. Giovinco now has 19 goals and 14 assists this season. The 28-year-old is also close to setting two more records.

    There were some shaky moments at the back towards the end of the first half by TFC, although the team managed to shut the door after conceding. Those same issues popped up last Wednesday in the 2-0 loss to New York City FC, but Toronto recovered well on the weekend.

    Colorado has scored a league-low 27 goals this season, so it's still premature to say the Reds are back on track. TFC still moves up to No. 11 but stays behind the Montreal Impact, who have games in hand over Toronto.

10. Montreal Impact (Previous: 13)

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    Shaun Clark/Getty Images

    The Montreal Impact had a productive week despite traveling across the continent. 

    It began with a 1-1 draw away to the San Jose Earthquakes last Wednesday. Montreal was missing the spine of its team in Didier Drogba, Ignacio Piatti and Laurent Ciman. Head coach Mauro Biello's gamble paid off.

    The 3-0 victory over the previously first-placed New England Revolution was the result of the week for the Impact. Drogba had a goal and an assist, adding to his already impressive start to his MLS career.

    As long as Drogba continues at this pace, this Impact squad should be feared. Piatti, Johan Venegas and Montreal's depth out wide give it several options. 

    The Impact are now unbeaten in four straight games and have only played 27 games. They move up to No. 10 as a result.

9. D.C. United (Previous: 7)

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    D.C. United is slipping down the Eastern Conference standings. The 2-1 loss to the Columbus Crew was D.C.'s fourth defeat in its last five games.

    United has scored just twice during this five-game winless skid. The back line has been solid for most of the season and goalkeeper Bill Hamid has been spectacular. D.C. simply can't convert its chances.

    Now that Fabian Espindola is fully fit, he can re-form a partnership with Alvaro Saborio. The strikers linked up with Real Salt Lake, and it will only be a matter of time until they're clicking together.

    For now, D.C. has to slip to No. 9 due to this poor run of form. The Black and Red are still in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and faced a strong Crew team. However, Toronto FC has a game in hand and could take advantage soon.

8. LA Galaxy (Previous: 5)

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    Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

    The LA Galaxy's 3-1 defeat to Real Salt Lake was the champions' eighth loss on the road. The Galaxy have won just twice on the road this season.

    The Galaxy were 5-6-6 away from the StubHub Center in 2014. LA was also playing a full-strength lineup versus RSL on Saturday, so this almost similar to the XI that will start in the playoffs.

    Robbie Keane and Giovani dos Santos still haven't gained total chemistry together up front. Dos Santos has actually impressed out wide more than he has centrally.

    Surely head coach Bruce Arena will come up with a solution. However, the Galaxy are slipping further away from the Supporters' Shield. LA is also down to No. 8 in the power rankings with three consecutive losses.

7. Seattle Sounders (Previous: 10)

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    Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

    The Seattle Sounders' convincing 3-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps was their fourth win in their last six games.

    The win catapulted Seattle into fourth place in the Western Conference. Suddenly, the Sounders are just three points behind the Whitecaps for the first seed.

    Once again, Seattle was able to clog the center of the pitch and restrict the space for Vancouver's wingers. The Whitecaps were unable to attack the Sounders on the break.

    With Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Osvaldo Alonso healthy, the Sounders look like an MLS Cup contender again. Their recent form has guided them up to seventh in the power rankings.

6. Sporting Kansas City (Previous: 8)

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    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    Sporting Kansas City snapped its five-game winless skid with a 3-1 victory over FC Dallas on Friday.

    Benny Feilhaber's brace guided Sporting KC to victory. It also earned Feilhaber Player of the Week honors.

    There were many positives in this game besides Feilhaber's performance. Graham Zusi was constantly involved on the ball and looked menacing. The back line also shut down Dallas' counterattacks.

    This was SKC's best showing in quite some time. However, without Fabian Castillo, Blas Perez, Mauro Diaz and Tesho Akindele in Dallas' starting lineup, Sporting remains below the Hoops this week.

5. FC Dallas (Previous: 3)

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    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    FC Dallas suffered a 3-1 loss against Sporting Kansas City on Friday. Thankfully for Dallas fans, the defeat didn't hurt the team's standing in the Western Conference.

    Dallas head coach Oscar Pareja didn't start four key players. Mauro Diaz was hurt, but Fabian Castillo, Tesho Akindele and Blas Perez were on the bench. Pareja eventually substituted the latter three into the game. 

    One of the positives from the loss was the performance of homegrown goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez. The 20-year-old made several outstanding saves, including this stop just before halftime.

    Since Dallas did not begin the match with four starters and still has games in hand over other teams in the West, it only slips to No. 5.

4. New England Revolution (Previous: 4)

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    Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

    The New England Revolution went from ecstasy to agony last week.

    The Revolution edged the in-form New York Red Bulls 2-1 at home last Wednesday. The Revs followed up the win with a stinker in Montreal. New England convincingly lost 3-0 to Didier Drogba and the Impact.

    New England rested Jermaine Jones against the Red Bulls before starting him versus the Impact. It was a smart move by head coach Jay Heaps, but he couldn't muster a lot of quality scoring chances.

    Both games cancel each other out, so the Revolution stays at No. 4 this week.

3. Vancouver Whitecaps (Previous: 2)

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    Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

    The Vancouver Whitecaps' 3-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders was a cruel blow to one of the most exciting teams in MLS.

    The Whitecaps are still tied with the New York Red Bulls at the top of the Supporters' Shield standings. They're also the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference despite the loss. However, this was a flat performance and has to be fixed.

    The absence of Matias Laba was huge. If he wasn't suspended, the Whitecaps would've been able to hold on to possession and the Sounders wouldn't have been able to counter as much.

    Laba's suspension is the reason why the Whitecaps have only fallen to No. 3 this week. If Vancouver responds with a win against New York City FC, this defeat will be nothing more than a blip.

2. Columbus Crew (Previous: 6)

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    The Columbus Crew's 2-1 win over D.C. United was its fourth win in its last five games. The Crew is now in second place and trails the New York Red Bulls by one point.

    Kei Kamara scored both goals to increase his 2015 tally to 21. He needs seven more to break the single-season record. 

    A win over a strong D.C. United lineup on the road is an impressive result. Columbus' current form also can't be ignored, which is why it moves up to No. 2.

1. New York Red Bulls (Previous: 1)

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    Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

    The New York Red Bulls responded well after their 2-1 defeat to the New England Revolution last Wednesday. They went into Portland and defeated the Timbers 2-0 on Sunday afternoon.

    The loss in New England was a hard-fought contest. Both sides were even and it was decided by the finest of margins.

    Sunday's game was one of momentum. The Timbers had several chances to score. Maxi Urruti missed a couple, as did Nat Borchers. However, if it wasn't for Luis Robles' fantastic double save, Borchers would have had a goal.

    In the end, the Red Bulls outworked the Timbers and took advantage of their chances. The victory kept New York at the top of the Eastern Conference, which is why it stays at No. 1.