MLS Playoff Power Rankings: Columbus Crew and FC Dallas Surge into Top 3
And then there were four.
The New York Red Bulls, Columbus Crew, FC Dallas and Portland Timbers advanced to the MLS Conference finals. The former two will square off in the East, with the latter two battling in the West.
Columbus and Dallas overcame deficits from the first leg before progressing. As a result, both sides have catapulted into the top three of the power rankings this week.
As always, the eight conference semifinalists will be graded based on the following criteria:
- Quality of opponent and performance.
- Recent form beyond the previous match.
- Key absences.
Here are the latest MLS playoff power rankings.
8. D.C. United (Previous: 8)
D.C. United was eliminated from the playoffs after losing 2-0 on aggregate to the New York Red Bulls in their Eastern Conference semifinal.
D.C. didn't record a single shot on target against New York until the 145th minute of the two-legged series. The return match was a more positive performance by United, but they still didn't test the Red Bulls enough.
Head coach Ben Olsen was asked if his team has peaked. He said that it's something the club will evaluate in the offseason, per Goal's Thomas Floyd.
It's certainly a fair question. However, D.C. doesn't spend giant amounts of cash for big-name designated players. United still finished in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and earned the No. 1 seed last season.
United was affected by an injury to Davy Arnaud, a suspension to center back Bobby Boswell in the first leg and Alvaro Saborio's arrival in the summer. The Black and Red should be fine next season.
7. Vancouver Whitecaps (Previous: 5)
The Vancouver Whitecaps lost 2-0 to the Portland Timbers at home in the second leg of their Western Conference semifinal. It was easily one of their worst home performances of the season.
The Whitecaps were the livelier team in the opening 25 minutes. Kekuta Manneh was causing fits for the Timbers back line, until he was forced to exit with an ankle injury.
Mauro Rosales replaced him, and Vancouver's attack was impotent. Darren Mattocks would've been a more like-for-like switch thanks to his speed. Even though his finishing is poor, his pace would have troubled Portland.
In the end, Vancouver resorted to playing long balls up to the isolated Octavio Rivero. Since the Timbers' defenders are big, physical specimens, that wasn't the smartest plan.
Head coach Carl Robinson and his staff have to search for a strike partner for Rivero. Robinson said as much after the match. If Vancouver adds another scoring threat, it will compete for the No. 1 seed in the West next year.
6. Seattle Sounders (Previous: 3)
Once again, the Seattle Sounders failed in their quest to win the MLS Cup.
FC Dallas fought back twice to tie the match 3-3 on aggregate before winning 4-2 in a penalty shootout.
Dallas was all over Seattle for the majority of the game. Michael Barrios, Mauro Diaz and Fabian Castillo were running rampant on a tired Sounders team. If it wasn't for goalkeeper Stefan Frei, Dallas would've easily won after 90 minutes.
Obafemi Martins still hasn't scored a playoff goal in eight appearances. That's not good enough for a designated player who has consistently impressed in the regular season. However, the attack in general was virtually invisible.
The Sounders' depth is stronger than ever. Injuries to Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans were a factor, and were two huge blows to Seattle. If the team doesn't succeed next year, there will be an even larger uproar.
5. Montreal Impact (Previous: 2)
The Montreal Impact entered the second leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal with a 2-1 lead over the Columbus Crew. In the end, the Crew fought back and won 3-1 after extra time to advance to the next round.
Kei Kamara and Ethan Finlay were shut down in the first leg, but it was Didier Drogba who was silenced in the return match. Despite outshooting Columbus 23-21, Montreal's attack was largely ineffective compared to the previous game.
The real hammer blow was the play of Kamara and the Crew full-backs. Both Waylon Francis and Harrison Afful got forward and caused several issues for Montreal's defense. It was Francis who assisted the first goal.
Out of all of the teams who were eliminated, Montreal is the most balanced. If the club injects more youth into the squad, they'll be a threat next season. It will also be beneficial to give Mauro Biello the full-time gig as head coach.
4. Portland Timbers (Previous: 6)
The Portland Timbers will play in their second Western Conference final in three years after eliminating the Vancouver Whitecaps. Portland's 2-0 road win in the second leg clinched the series after a 0-0 draw at home.
Portland was the more clinical side in the second leg. Fanendo Adi capitalized on some lackadaisical Whitecaps defending to open the scoring, then Diego Chara converted after a Pedro Morales giveaway late in the game.
Both sides missed golden opportunities in the first leg, but the Timbers were aided by Kekuta Manneh's injury. The 20-year-old exited after 26 minutes and Vancouver's attack lost its edge.
All Portland had to do was snuff out the long balls to Octavio Rivero the rest of the night. However, Chara's defensive play was also a major factor. He completed a team-high five tackles and attempted 55 passes at a completion rate of 87.5 percent, per WhoScored.com.
Portland will be missing Diego Valeri and Rodney Wallace to suspension. The Timbers have been shut out in four of their last five home games as well, so this series versus FC Dallas will be all the more intriguing.
3. Columbus Crew (Previous: 7)
The Columbus Crew overcame a 2-1 deficit from the first leg against the Montreal Impact to progress to the Eastern Conference final. Columbus was victorious 3-1 after extra time in the return match.
Kei Kamara was significantly stronger in the second leg, making his usual darting runs in the box and scoring off crosses. The full-backs were also more involved, with Waylon Francis assisting Kamara's first goal.
Wil Trapp was excellent as well. He helped limit Didier Drogba's threat and constantly closed down the space in front of the Ivorian. This was easily one of Columbus' most impressive performances.
Unfortunately for the Crew, center back Gaston Sauro will miss the first leg through accumulation of yellow cards. This will have a huge influence against a free-flowing New York Red Bulls attack.
2. FC Dallas (Previous: 4)
FC Dallas qualified for its first Western Conference final since 2010 after beating the Seattle Sounders 4-2 on penalties in the second leg of their conference semi.
The shootout victory was preceded by two comebacks. Substitute Tesho Akindele gave Dallas the advantage on 84 minutes. Chad Marshall responded moments later before Walker Zimmerman forced extra time.
Dallas' 20-year-old homegrown goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez was spectacular and saved two penalties in the shootout, which all but secured his team's win.
There's little doubt that Dallas is the favorite against the Portland Timbers. Fabian Castillo, Mauro Diaz and Michael Barrios were constantly running at the Sounders defenders. Portland will need to be wary of that speed in the next round.
1. New York Red Bulls (Previous: 1)
The New York Red Bulls advanced to the Eastern Conference finals for a second straight year after beating D.C. United 2-0 on aggregate.
New York is still the team to beat after winning both of their playoff games while earning two clean sheets. Damien Perrinelle's absence might be felt more against a faster and lethal attack in the Columbus Crew, though.
Until then, the Red Bulls are riding high and should still be the MLS Cup favorite going forward.