MLS Power Rankings: Where Every Team Stands Entering Phase 2
The Eastern Conference appears to be the superior conference inside Major League Soccer as the league shifts from Phase 1 to Phase 2.
Columbus, Philadelphia and Toronto FC are ranked first through third in the Supporters' Shield standings, and they are the only MLS clubs with 1.9 points per game or more through 11 games.
If you go further down the overall league table, the East boasts four of the top five teams and six of the top nine.
The expected contenders in the Western Conference have taken points from each other throughout the six-game Phase 1, which has left the Seattle Sounders, Los Angeles FC and Portland Timbers in a group from second to sixth in the West.
After three games are completed Wednesday, the league will formally move into Phase 2, which begins with each club playing three games.
Following the MLS is Back tournament, the 24 participants of that tournament played six games in Phase 1. FC Dallas and Nashville SC played each other twice before those teams resumed action.
The Athletic's Jeff Rueter and Sam Stejskal reported back in July that Phase 2 is was slated for 12 games. Only the first three matches of Phase 2 have been announced so far.
No. 26-No. 21: Atlanta United Continues to Fall
26. FC Cincinnati (Previous Ranking: 20)
FC Cincinnati is still in search of its first victory since July 22 against the New York Red Bulls.
The same issues surround Jaap Stam's after it gathered one point from its last three games.
The defense has stabilized under the direction of the former Manchester United center back, but the attacking prowess is lacking.
The good news for FC Cincy is Brandon Vazquez found the back of the net against New York City FC Saturday. That ended a five-game scoreless run.
25. Chicago Fire (Previous Ranking: 19)
Chicago's lone victory in Phase 1 occurred against FC Cincinnati August 25.
Since then, the Fire have taken two points from four games, with draws coming against both Ohio clubs.
The Fire have yet to prove they can dig out of the bottom tier of the East. They will get a chance to prove their mettle against Orlando City at the start of Phase 2.
24. Atlanta United (Previous Ranking: 18)
No matter how often we say we are surprised with Atlanta United's current form, it still feels shocking to say.
The Five Stripes haven't won a game since taking down Nashville SC August 22.
Thanks to the new extended playoff format, Atlanta is still above the red line in 10th place, but one or two more bad results could drop it in the bottom four positions.
Atlanta still appears to be better than the bottom four clubs in the East, but due to its significant drop in form, the gap is narrowing between it and those teams, and there may start to be some concerns regarding it missing the playoffs.
23. Vancouver Whitecaps (Previous Ranking: 24)
Vancouver's last two games certainly have not been boring.
The Whitecaps traded goals with Toronto FC in a 3-2 victory September 5 and fell 4-2 to the Montreal Impact Sunday night at BC Place.
Marc Dos Santos' team has one final clash with a fellow Canadian side Wednesday, against the Impact return at BC Place again.
After that, the Whitecaps face a grueling three-game stretch against Real Salt Lake, LAFC and Portland. The match against the Timbers will be played at Providence Park with the Whitecaps designated as the home team.
22. D.C. United (Previous Ranking: 26)
With the way D.C. United has played since returning from MLS is Back, four points from the last three games feels like a massive success.
The Black-and-Red won their first rivalry clash with the Red Bulls and followed that up with a scoreless draw against NYCFC.
Ben Olsen's side failed to replicate its result over the Red Bulls Saturday by losing 2-0 to its Atlantic Cup foe.
D.C. has earned points from three straight games just once this season. A similar streak could be hard to come by with Toronto FC, Nashville and New England ahead in Phase 2.
21. San Jose Earthquakes (Previous Ranking: 14)
When the San Jose Earthquakes play bad soccer, it is really bad.
Matias Almeyda's side was taken apart by LAFC and Seattle for a combined 12 goals in their last two defeats.
The Quakes did not exactly inspire a momentum change Sunday in a 0-0 draw with the L.A. Galaxy in the latest version of the Cali Clasico.
San Jose has earned two points from its last five games and could be in danger of dropping into last place in the West after back-to-back games with the Timbers.
No. 20-No. 16: Rapids Move Up After Blowout Win
20. Colorado Rapids (Previous Ranking: 25)
What a relief Saturday had to be for the Colorado Rapids.
Robin Fraser's side torched the Real Salt Lake defense for five goals, two of which came from Diego Rubio in the first 10 minutes.
The Rapids have not played terrible soccer since the restart, but they were not overwhelming any opponent either after three consecutive 1-1 draws.
Saturday's win at Rio Tinto Stadium ended a five-game winning streak for RSL in the Rocky Mountain Cup.
19. Inter Miami (Previous Ranking: 23)
Even though Inter Miami is still in last place in the East, it has begun to show improvements.
Diego Alonso's squad has picked up five points from its last four games and secured a much-needed victory over Atlanta September 9.
Inter Miami gets another crack at the Five Stripes to open Phase 2 before challenges against the Red Bulls and Union.
The most intriguing aspect of Inter Miami right now is the reported addition of Gonzalo Higuain. Where he plays and what affect he will have on the attack led by Rodolfo Pizarro could change how dynamic the team's play in the final third is.
18. Nashville SC (Previous Ranking: 22)
Nashville's four-game unbeaten streak is flying under the radar a bit.
Gary Smith's side bookended the run of form with victories over Southeast rivals Inter Miami and Atlanta, respectively.
The most notable performance of the unbeaten streak was the 4-2 win over Atlanta Saturday.
Four players scored a goal each and three picked up one assist. Dax McCarty had two helpers.
That could be the attacking performance that gives Nashville confidence moving forward to rack up more points and remain in the playoff positions.
17. FC Dallas (Previous Ranking: 21)
Andres Ricaurte injected some life into the FC Dallas attack with his stunning strike in Saturday's Texas Derby win over Houston.
The first goal from the 28-year-old Colombian was a welcome sight to an attack that lost Zdenek Ondrasek to Czech Republic club Viktoria Plzen in the last week.
FC Dallas has picked up points in five of its last seven games and has a good chance to extend that run against Colorado Wednesday.
Luchi Gonzalez's team has one of the more unique Phase 2 schedules, as it switches over to the East for two games to play Atlanta and Orlando.
16. New York Red Bulls (Previous Ranking: 15)
The response to Chris Armas' firing has not been ideal.
The New York Red Bulls put in a lackluster performance in the first game after in a 3-0 loss to Philadelphia.
New York recovered from that defeat with a win over D.C. United Saturday, but that is not much of an achievement given the poor form of the Black-and-Red.
The Red Bulls should start to find form since they open Phase 2 against FC Cincy, Inter Miami and Montreal, but if they fail in those matches, they could be in for a long finish.
No. 15-No.11: LAFC, Portland Searching for More Consistency
15. New England Revolution (Previous Ranking: 12)
Bruce Arena's New England Revolution were average in Phase 1.
The Revs earned two wins, two draws and two losses and reside in the middle of the East standings in eighth place.
New England did not muster more than two goals in a single game in that stretch, which signals it is still working through replacing the injured Carles Gil.
After losing to Philadelphia Saturday, the Revs need a strong response against NYCFC to prove they can continue to compete with the top East squads.
14. Montreal Impact (Previous Ranking: 16)
Montreal is about to embark on one of the most difficult stretches since MLS returned from central Florida.
The Impact have to play Wednesday in Vancouver, where they won 4-2 Saturday, then have to travel to northern New Jersey, which will be their home base for the start of Phase 2.
Thierry Henry's side will play a home game at Red Bull Arena against Philadelphia and then play in the venue as the road side versus the Red Bulls a week later. A midweek trip to New England is sandwiched in between.
If Montreal manages through that stretch and takes points from two of those three games, it would be seen as a major success given the circumstances.
13. Minnesota United (Previous Ranking: 11)
Minnesota went through an up-and-down Phase 1.
After losing three in a row, the Loons won back-to-back games and then dropped Saturday's game at Sporting Kansas City.
The Loons' third-place spot in the West is largely because of their strong start and performance in the MLS is Back group stage.
Adrian Heath and Co. may have trouble remaining in that spot since it begins Phase 2 with road trips to Houston and Columbus.
12. Portland Timbers (Previous Ranking: 6)
Portland has alternated between a loss and earning points through five Phase 1 games.
On Sunday, the Timbers were outclassed by LAFC in a six-goal thriller at Providence Park.
The Timbers should recover against a struggling San Jose side Wednesday, but even if they win that game, it will not tell us much about where they stand among the MLS Cup contenders.
Portland split games with Seattle and lost to both L.A. teams in Phase 1. It gets another matchup with the Sounders in the second contest of Phase 2, which could be massive as the race for playoff seeding intensifies.
11. Los Angeles FC (Previous Ranking: 13)
The one guarantee about LAFC games is there will be an abundance of goals.
The Black-and-Gold produced nine goals in their two wins over San Jose and Portland and let up a trio of tallies to each of Seattle, LA Galaxy and RSL. They also allowed two goals in their first meeting with the Galaxy in Phase 1.
Bob Bradley's side has the firepower to overwhelm any team when it wants to, but it needs to be more consistent in both aspects of the game to be considered one of the top MLS Cup favorites after Phase 2 concludes.
No. 10-No. 6: Houston in Solid Form
10. Real Salt Lake (Previous Ranking: 7)
A shutout has occurred in each of the last three RSL games.
Unfortunately for the Claret-and-Cobalt, they have been on the wrong end of the final score in two of those three clashes.
The 3-0 win over LAFC and 2-2 draw with Seattle were their best results in the last four games, but like many teams in the West, they have been unable to string results together.
9. Sporting Kansas City (Previous Ranking: 8)
You can copy and paste the same form concerns of RSL and LAFC, and apply them to Sporting Kansas City.
The first-place side in the West rebounded from a four-game winless run by downing Minnesota by a goal Sunday.
The pair of losses and two draws achieved by Sporting KC from August 25-September 5 moved the team down in the points-per-game standings behind the three best teams in the East.
8. Houston Dynamo (Previous Ranking: 17)
Houston's 5-2 victory that started Sporting KC's winless run was the catalyst for an uptick in form.
The Dynamo followed up with a 3-0 win over Minnesota and their second victory in three matches over Sporting KC.
Saturday's 2-1 loss to FC Dallas brought a six-game unbeaten run to a close.
Despite that result, Tab Ramos' side appears to be in the ascendancy in the West and could be an under-the-radar choice to sneak in and earn a home playoff game.
7. LA Galaxy (Previous Ranking: 10)
Not every L.A. Galaxy game can feature an attacking masterpiece.
The fifth-place side in the West had its four-game winning streak ended by a goalless draw with San Jose Sunday.
Although the result was disappointing, the Galaxy still extended their unbeaten run to six games, which dates back to the final MLS is Back group-stage game against the Dynamo.
Saturday's Phase 2 opener against Colorado could give Galaxy the chance to rebound from their shutout and continue to push up the ladder.
6. Toronto FC (Previous Ranking: 1)
Toronto FC has not dominated its Canadian competition like it did at the start of Phase 1.
The Reds suffered back-to-back defeats to Montreal and Vancouver before it bounced back with a victory over the Impact.
Due to the unique nature of the Canadian scheduling, TFC has 10 days off between its last game against Montreal and its Phase 2 opener at Audi Field against D.C. United.
No. 5: Orlando City
Previous Ranking: 4
Orlando City has successfully avoided a potential letdown coming off its MLS is Back success.
The Lions rebounded from their loss to Inter Miami with points in five consecutive games to position themselves in fourth in the East.
The string of positive results is promising, but the Lions do need to improve their defensive play. They conceded a goal in each of their Phase 1 contests.
If Oscar Pareja's side drops its concession rate throughout Phase 2, it could be in even better position to compete with Columbus, Philadelphia and Toronto.
No. 4: Seattle Sounders
Previous Ranking: 2
Seattle is the best team the West can offer in terms of MLS Cup contenders at the moment.
The Sounders routed the Earthquakes 7-1 Thursday to surge into second in goals scored in the West behind LAFC.
The latest showdown between the Sounders and the Black-and-Gold will start Phase 2 at CenturyLink Field Friday.
Seattle has a chance to open up a gap between itself and the other West contenders since it faces a three-game stretch against LAFC, Portland and the Galaxy.
No. 3: New York City FC
Previous Ranking: 9
NYCFC's transformation from MLS is Back disappointment to MLS Cup contender through Phase 1 has been a good depiction of its talent and the managerial style of Ronny Deila.
The Pigeons own three clean sheets in their last five games and are the only team to defeat Columbus in games that count toward regular-season standings.
NYCFC should continue to rise up the East standings with two favorable matchups against New England and Cincinnati in the next two weeks.
The biggest test for NYCFC will come against Toronto FC at Red Bull Arena September 23.
No. 2: Philadelphia Union
Previous Ranking: 3
The only speed bump Philadelphia ran into during Phase 1 was its 1-0 loss to Columbus.
Jim Curtin's side won its fourth game in five matches Saturday through a 95th-minute winner from fringe player Anthony Fontana in the 2-1 victory over New England Revolution.
Similar to NYCFC, the Union have not played the toughest schedule since it has been littered with New England, D.C. and the Red Bulls, but they have beaten the teams they are expected to take down.
Philadelphia could be in for a similar run of results to start Phase 2 with Montreal, Cincinnati and Miami on the docket.
No. 1: Columbus Crew
Previous Ranking: 5
Columbus leads MLS in points, points per game, goal differential and goals conceded.
In each of its three Phase 1 wins, the first-place side in the East and Supporters' Shield standings held its opponents without a goal.
In the Crew's other three matches, they conceded three goals, two of which came from the Chicago Fire.
If Caleb Porter's side continues its defensive efficiency throughout Phase 2, it could be on the inside track to win the Supporters' Shield and claim the top position in the East playoff field.