MLS Power Rankings: Sporting Kansas City Claim Top Honors

Peter Galindo@@GalindoPWFeatured ColumnistMarch 23, 2016

MLS Power Rankings: Sporting Kansas City Claim Top Honors

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    Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

    The third round of matches in Major League Soccer were shrouded in controversy. As a result, there has been a shake-up of the power rankings for this week. 

    Now that there is a larger sample size of games, last season's results will no longer affect the rankings. The following criteria will be used to grade each team:

    • Current form
    • Injuries
    • Quality of a team's most recent performance

    Here is how every club stands after Week 3.

20. New England Revolution (Previous: 14)

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    Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    No MLS team is as inept on both sides of the pitch as the New England Revolution this season.

    The Revolution's struggles continued after a heavy 3-0 defeat by the Philadelphia Union on Sunday. New England played with 10 men for more than 54 minutes, but it was incredibly leaky before Je-Vaughn Watson's red card.

    The Revs have earned just two points so far, but apart from the 3-3 draw with the Houston Dynamo, the attack has been lackluster. Defenders have also been committing silly individual mistakes. 

    If Bobby Shuttleworth did not stop two penalties, the Revolution would have lost by five goals. After three games, New England is in serious trouble.

19. Chicago Fire (Previous: 20)

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    Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

    The Chicago Fire have avoided defeat in their last two games, but are still winless in 2016. Their 0-0 draw with the Columbus Crew was somewhat encouraging, although problems remain.

    David Accam's absence significantly weakened Chicago's attack, as the Fire generated just four shots. Forward Kennedy Igboananike did not have a single attempt.

    The Fire's defense has improved since the team's 4-3 loss to New York City FC. Chicago has conceded just one goal since the defeat, and the players appear to be more comfortable with a three-man back line.

    The exclusion of goalkeeper Sean Johnson remains a mystery, but the Fire are more organized. All they need is a win.

18. Seattle Sounders (Previous: 11)

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    Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    For the first time in their MLS history, the Seattle Sounders have started a season with three consecutive losses.

    The Sounders were edged 2-1 by the Vancouver Whitecaps while conceding two controversial penalties. Seattle was upset by the decisions, but Vancouver was understandably at ease.

    Controversy aside, the Sounders had chances to win the game. Clint Dempsey's sitter was the hosts' best opportunity. Seattle generated 19 shots to Vancouver's nine, yet the only goal was scored via an Andreas Ivanschitz free kick.

    The Sounders have to close out matches and become more clinical. The loss of Obafemi Martins was significant, but if it continues to struggle, Seattle may miss out on the playoffs.

17. D.C. United (Previous: 18)

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    Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

    D.C. United nearly left RFK Stadium without a point, until Fabian Espindola salvaged a 1-1 draw against the Colorado Rapids on Sunday.

    Espindola capitalized on an error by Zac MacMath, which was United's only quality opportunity.

    Luciano Acosta and Lamar Neagle still need to settle into their new surroundings, while Espindola and Alvaro Saborio haven't rekindled their Real Salt Lake form.

    Head coach Ben Olsen claims that his team's fitness could be the issue, per Goal.com's Seth Vertelney

    There is one positive for D.C., which is the defense. Since United's 4-1 defeat versus the LA Galaxy, the back line has been notably stronger. The Black and Red conceded just eight shots against Colorado. Even with No. 3 goalkeeper Travis Worra, they look resilient.

    United are still winless, but this skid will be snapped as soon as they become more clinical in the final third.

16. New York City FC (Previous: 15)

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    New York City FC have failed to win either of their home games and suffered a first defeat of the year, falling 1-0 to Orlando City SC on Friday. 

    This game was nowhere near as exciting as NYCFC's previous two matches, and it is no coincidence that the team's attack struggled in this particular encounter.

    NYCFC scored six goals while conceding five against the Chicago Fire and Toronto FC. David Villa was quiet against Orlando, but the attack was very wasteful, especially Mix Diskerud.

    New York City could have easily won both of their matches at Yankee Stadium. The misfiring attack could be an anomaly, but when the defense can hold Orlando to just 10 shots, the hosts have to take advantage.

15. Colorado Rapids (Previous: 17)

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    Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

    The Colorado Rapids were one Zac MacMath howler away from earning a second straight win. They ended up settling for a 1-1 draw at D.C. United.

    MacMath dropped a catchable cross with the Rapids up 1-0, which allowed Fabian Espindola to bury the equalizer. The error was significant based on the major news that occurred earlier in the day.

    Colorado confirmed that United States international goalkeeper Tim Howard will join the team from Everton in the summer. The 37-year-old was in attendance to watch the game, so MacMath had a chance to impress.

    The main takeaway for the Rapids would have been their uninspired attack, although Shkelzen Gashi's suspension clearly affected the team in the final third. Now, the big storyline is MacMath costing Colorado a point.

    A draw at RFK Stadium is a nice result, but the Rapids could have catapulted in the rankings had they walked out with three points.

14. Columbus Crew (Previous: 7)

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    Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

    The Columbus Crew are still winless after three games having drawn 0-0 with the Chicago Fire on Saturday. This was Columbus' first point of the season, but it is still in last place in the Eastern Conference.

    The Crew are unlucky to be winless up to this point, though. They played decently enough in Portland to earn a draw, but they weren't clinical at home to the Philadelphia Union. Sunday's game was just plain tedious.

    The clean sheet is a positive for the Crew, who were previously exposed on set pieces, yet the attack was nowhere to be found. Kei Kamara did not register a single shot on target, and none of the other forwards really tested Matt Lampson in the Chicago goal.

    Columbus has taken 50 shots so far this season, per the official MLS website. Chance creation is clearly not an issue, but converting those opportunities is.

13. Houston Dynamo (Previous: 12)

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    William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

    The Houston Dynamo were one of the hottest teams in MLS before losing 4-3 to the 10-man New York Red Bulls on Saturday.

    Not only were the Dynamo facing 10 players for more than an hour, both of New York's center backs picked up hamstring injuries. Forward Gonzalo Veron suffered a similar fate.

    Despite that clear advantage, Houston could not capitalize. The attack did not decline despite the injuries to Cristian Maidana and Giles Barnes, but the defending was underwhelming again.

    Houston was containing New York's midfield so well until the second half. Suddenly, the pressing stopped and New York gained momentum. The Dynamo did not allow this to happen last week against Dallas, and it led to a 5-0 win.

    The Dynamo are definitely an attacking powerhouse, but only the Red Bulls have conceded more goals than Houston's seven. Once the Texan side gains defensive solidity, it will be a near-perfect team.

12. Real Salt Lake (Previous: 13)

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    Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

    Real Salt Lake stayed unbeaten after salvaging a 2-2 draw with the Portland Timbers despite being reduced to nine men on the road.

    Even though RSL earned a point, there were still a few lingering issues. The visitors blew another 2-0 lead late in the second half, just like their opening game versus Orlando City. Undisciplined behavior has also cost the team. Having both Jamison Olave and Kyle Beckerman sent off is inexcusable.

    The red card was a microcosm of Olave's season thus far. The 34-year-old has looked very slow, which could be down to a lack of fitness.

    Undisciplined, sloppy defensive play at the end of matches is hindering an exciting RSL side. The front four, mainly Joao Plata, have been unstoppable in 2016. If the team can finish with 11 players, surely that would go a long way.

11. Orlando City SC (Previous: 16)

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Orlando City SC finally earned their first win of the 2016 season, defeating New York City FC 1-0 at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. 

    One of Orlando's keys to victory was successfully containing David Villa, and Tommy Redding deserves the majority of the credit for shutting down the Spaniard. The 20-year-old defender was always in the right position and barely surrendered any space to the former Barcelona man.

    Cristian Higuita was also terrific. He completed an astounding 13 tackles and had the best passing accuracy among Orlando players, per WhoScored.com.

    Cyle Larin has scored three goals in three games and looks invincible. Once Kaka returns from injury, the Lions could be a dangerous team if they maintain this defensive solidity.

10. New York Red Bulls (Previous: 6)

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    William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

    The New York Red Bulls may have won for the first time this season, but they suffered some serious injuries en route to the victory.

    The Red Bulls lost Gideon Baah, Ronald Zubar and Gonzalo Veron to separate knocks in the team's 4-3 win over the Houston Dynamo.

    Baah and Zubar were the starting center backs, but Russ McKenzie of Empire of Soccer confirmed that both defenders have been diagnosed with hamstring injuries. Damien Perrinelle is also hurt, so New York is thin at the position.

    Full back Kemar Lawrence partnered Karl Ouimette centrally, and it worked well during the game. Whether it will be successful for a full match remains to be seen.

9. Vancouver Whitecaps (Previous: 10)

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    Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    The Vancouver Whitecaps finally won, and it came in controversial fashion over the Seattle Sounders.

    Pedro Morales scored two penalties to clinch a 2-1 win, but each decision was dissected both during and after the match.

    Controversial spot kicks aside, the Whitecaps' defense was significantly stingier compared to previous matches.

    Kendall Waston and Tim Parker led the team in interceptions and clearances, per WhoScored.com. Right back Fraser Aird was the leader in tackles and showed a remarkable improvement from his debut versus the Montreal Impact.

    The attack was still lackluster, but Blas Perez gave Vancouver a forward who can hold up the ball and keep possession. He also won the decisive second penalty.

    The Whitecaps' back line will be tested against a high-scoring Houston Dynamo attack this Saturday. The Dynamo's defense is leaky, so this could be the game where Vancouver's offense comes alive.

8. San Jose Earthquakes (Previous: 8)

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    Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

    The San Jose Earthquakes were handed their first loss of the season by the LA Galaxy in the California Clasico on Saturday night. 

    San Jose was flirting with disaster in their opening two matches, having conceded 34 shots combined, and LA recorded 17 against the Earthquakes on Saturday. On the other hand, Simon Dawkins' red card led to the Galaxy's barrage.

    However, San Jose has allowed too many shots to begin the year. If not for goalkeeper David Bingham, plus clinical finishing from Chris Wondolowski and Quincy Amarikwa, the Earthquakes probably wouldn't have two wins.

    The Quakes still deserve credit for a strong start to the season, but they have to stop allowing close to 20 shots per game if they want to make the playoffs.

7. Philadelphia Union (Previous: 19)

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    Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    The Philadelphia Union have picked up two statement wins in as many weeks against two playoff teams from 2015. It began with a 2-0 win over the Columbus Crew last week and continued with a huge 3-0 victory against the New England Revolution on Sunday.

    C.J. Sapong was a lot more involved as he proved to be a handful for the Revolution defense. He scored twice and looks especially motivated this year.

    The additions of Chris Pontius, Roland Alberg and Ilsinho have alleviated the pressure on Sapong to carry the workload up front, too. All four players looked fluid up front and the full backs were involved in the attack. It was an entertaining showing from a Union perspective.

    Goalkeeper Andre Blake was impenetrable yet again. The Jamaican made several saves and has been in top form so far in 2016. 

    Philadelphia is also missing three key midfielders in Maurice Edu, Tranquillo Barnetta and Vincent Nogueira. The Union deserve their spot in the top 10 after earning back-to-back victories without those players.

6. LA Galaxy (Previous: 9)

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    Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

    The LA Galaxy returned to winning ways with a 3-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes in Saturday's California Clasico.

    Once again, the Galaxy started slowly at home, but they managed to come alive in the second half. LA faced 10 men for more than 45 minutes, but the team actually played well the entire match.

    Another star was also injured as Steven Gerrard exited with a calf injury. However, the Galaxy were much more fluid without him. The former Liverpool man has also coughed up possession in the defensive third far too often, which has led to quality scoring chances for the opposition.

    It's evident that Gerrard is past his prime, but based on how lethal the Galaxy were, the 35-year-old appears to be a hindrance as opposed to a difference maker.

5. Toronto FC (Previous: 4)

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    Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

    Toronto FC nearly came away with another road point against one MLS' best teams. In the end, they lost 1-0 to Sporting Kansas City on Sunday.

    Brad Davis' goal was critiqued after he appeared to shove TFC defender Justin Morrow off the ball. It's a fair claim, but every Toronto player stopped running and asked for a call. As the saying goes, a team has to "play to the whistle."

    Despite the controversial goal, the Reds were compact defensively. This bodes well for the team in the near future, but the matches have mostly been dire for neutrals.

    Surely head coach Greg Vanney is just fine with the current tactics, especially when he has league MVP Sebastian Giovinco who can create danger out of nowhere.

4. Portland Timbers (Previous: 2)

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    Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

    The Portland Timbers rallied late and salvaged a 2-2 draw with nine-man Real Salt Lake on Saturday. However, the defending champions have not won since their opening game versus the Columbus Crew.

    Portland played well in its season opener and in its loss to the San Jose Earthquakes despite the defeat. That sentiment cannot be echoed for the encounter against RSL.

    The Timbers recorded 26 shots to RSL's seven, yet found themselves down 2-0 at home against 10 men. If it wasn't for Jamison Olave's red card and Fanendo Adi's subsequent penalty, Portland could have lost.

    Defender Liam Ridgewell is injured, which has made a difference at the back, but the Timbers have been woeful in the final third for the past two weeks. Clinical finishing does make a difference.

3. Montreal Impact (Previous: 1)

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    Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

    Didier Drogba made his 2016 season debut for the Montreal Impact, but even he was powerless in the team's 2-0 loss to FC Dallas on Saturday.

    The team was resolute until the opening goal in the 79th minute via a Mauro Diaz free kick. Montreal was very close to snatching a point in a tough environment until that moment of magic.

    The approach from head coach Mauro Biello was a lot different in this game compared to the previous two. Montreal demolished the Vancouver Whitecaps and New York Red Bulls up front. Whether it was against the run of play or through slow buildup play, the Impact could not be stopped.

    Biello's tactical flexibility will be valued later in the season. It did not pay off this time, but Montreal showed it can be both exciting and defensively responsible.

2. FC Dallas (Previous: 5)

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    Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

    It was the Mauro Diaz show in Frisco, Texas, on Saturday night as he guided FC Dallas to a 2-0 win over the Montreal Impact.

    The win was a fantastic response to the 5-0 embarrassment at the Houston Dynamo in the previous game. Diaz's exceptional form continued with a fabulous free kick to open the scoring.

    Dallas was all over Montreal in this game, but it could not find a goal until the 79th minute. Regardless, it was promising to see the attack generating chances after an abysmal showing in Houston.

    The Hoops have convincingly won both of their home games, but until they replicate this form on the road, they cannot be the best team in the league.

1. Sporting Kansas City (Previous: 3)

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    Gary Rohman/MLS/USA TODAY Sports

    Sporting Kansas City have won all three of their matches, and it's all thanks to a former foe.

    Brad Davis' controversial goal stood as the winner in a 1-0 victory over Toronto FC. It was not a brilliant game, but Sporting got the job done thanks to their substitute.

    SKC's attack may not be firing on all cylinders yet, but the midfield and defense has arguably been the most consistent in MLS. However, with Roger Espinoza getting sent off versus TFC, they now face a true test of character.

    When Espinoza suffered a season-ending injury in 2015, SKC finished the campaign with five wins out of its final 14 matches. Benny Feilhaber's absence hinders Sporting even more.

    The fact that SKC are still perfect without Feilhaber speaks volumes. The 2015 MVP finalist should be returning soon, per Sam McDowell of the Kansas City Star, so Sporting KC will be even stronger in the coming weeks.