The San Jose Earthquakes continued to lead Major League Soccer as the steamroll toward an inevitable Supporters Shield, but they aren't the only team in the midst of a serious roll toward the pre-season.
The LA Galaxy pushed their unbeaten streak to five matches, posting their fourth shutout victory in five matches, with last Friday's victory against the Colorado Rapids. Newly-acquired Christian Wilhelmsson looked impressive in his debut while Marcelo Sarvas played one of the best matches of any midfielder in MLS last week. With Landon Donovan back healthy, and Edson Buddle working his way back, the Galaxy stand poised to challenge Seattle and Real Salt Lake for the No. 2 spot in the West behind San Jose.
The Galaxy's unbeaten run has helped them not only climb up the Western Conference standings. It has propelled them to the No. 2 spot in the latest SBI MLS Power Rankings. The Earthquakes remain the top squad in the league, but the Galaxy's recent form has them closing the gap.
The Chicago Fire carry the label of hottest team in the East, and their two-win week has pushed Frank Klopas' squad to within a point of first place Sporting Kansas City. The team's handful of mid-season signings have helped not only offset the departure of Marco Pappa, but also boosted the attack to a new level that has the Fire threatening to challenge for the conference crown.
One team heading in the opposite direction is the Vancouver Whitecaps. Once a team on the verge of challenge for a top three place in the Western Conference, A five-match losing streak, capped by their recent last-second loss to FC Dallas, has the Whitecaps within a point of losing their grip on the fifth and final playoff spot in the West. The losing streak has also helped Vancouver slide down the power rankings.
Here are this week's SBI MLS Power Rankings:
SBI MLS Power Rankings (Week 28)
1. (Previous Rank- 1) SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (17-6-5, 56 points)
Last week: Beat Chivas USA, 2-0, last Saturday.
This week: vs. Portland Timbers on Wednesday; at Seattle Sounders on Saturday.
Outlook: The team's latest home victory pushed the Earthquakes to 6-0-1 in their past seven at home, a stretch during which they have outscored opponents 22-7. A busy week awaits, but facing Seattle without Eddie Johnson (suspended) is a major plus. A win against the Sounders would clear the toughest remaining regular season hurdle to the Supporters Shield.
2. (5) LOS ANGELES GALAXY (14-11-4, 46 points)
Last week: Beat Colorado Rapids, 2-0, last Friday.
This week: at Puerto Rico Islanders on Wednesday (CONCACAF Champions League); vs. Toronto FC on Saturday.
Outlook: Landon Donovan is healthy again and Edson Buddle is working his way back, so everything is falling into place for the Galaxy, who face a busy but manageable week ahead. Bruce Arena will make full use of the team's depth in September, but come October he will have some tough decisions to make as he settles on a starting XI heading into the playoffs.
3. (2) SPORTING KANSAS CITY (15-7-6, 51 points)
Last week: Tied Houston Dynamo, 1-1, last Friday.
This week: at New York Red Bulls on Wednesday; at Montreal Impact on Saturday.
Outlook: Dropping points at home again had to be frustrating for Sporting KC, but the upcoming road trip might be a blessing in disguise. Sporting KC is unbeaten in their past five, but are also 4-1 in their past five road games (posting three shutouts in the process). The Red Bulls will offer their toughest road test to date, having posted an unbeaten record at Red Bull Arena this season.
4. (4) NEW YORK RED BULLS (14-7-7, 49 points)
Last week: Beat Columbus Crew, 3-1, last Saturday.
This week: vs. Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday; at New England Revolution on Saturday.
Outlook: Rafa Marquez enjoyed a solid return to the Red Bulls starting lineup against Columbus, but his return makes Hans Backe's job of selecting a preferred lineup that much tougher. The current back four has settled into a good groove for the Red Bulls, but the attack has become a bit too reliant on Thierry Henry. New York will need either Kenny Cooper or Sebastien LeToux to get going if the Red Bulls are going to extend their five-match home winning streak against Sporting KC on Wednesday.
5. (7) CHICAGO FIRE (15-8-5, 50 points)
Last week: Beat Toronto FC, 2-1, last Wednesday; Beat Montreal, 3-1, last Saturday.
This week: vs. Columbus on Saturday.
Outlook: The Fire have won six of seven matches and that run is a product of an attack that has had several different players step up to carry the load. You can't key on a single player in Chicago's offense. Not with Sherjill MacDonald and Alvaro Fernandez playing at a high level now, and not with Chris Rolfe around. The Fire has been feasting on a soft portion of their schedule in the past month, but upcoming matches against fellow East playoff teams should give them a chance to climb even further up the rankings if they can keep winning.
6. (3) SEATTLE SOUNDERS (13-6-9, 48 points)
Last week: Tied Portland Timbers, 1-1, last Saturday.
This week: at CD Marathon (CONCACAF Champions League) on Wednesday; vs. San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday.
Outlook: The Sounders are unbeaten in their past five matches, but their draw in Portland has allowed the LA Galaxy to close within two points for second place in the West. Beating San Jose without Eddie Johnson won't be easy, especially considering the travel strain put on the team by a mid-week trip to Honduras.
7. (6) REAL SALT LAKE (14-11-4, 46 points)
Last week: Bye week.
This week: at Tauro FC (CONCACAF Champions League); vs. Portland on Saturday.
Outlook: A week off came at the perfect time, as RSL prepares for a crucial Champions League match against Tauro FC. RSL needs a win to boost their chances of qualifying out of the group stage. Jamison Olave is expected to be ready, but with Kyle Beckerman suspended it won't be easy to win in Panama.
8. (9) HOUSTON DYNAMO (12-7-10, 46 points)
Last week: Tied Sporting Kansas City, 1-1, last Friday.
This week: vs. CD FAS on Thursday (CONCACAF Champions League); at Philadelphia Union on Sunday.
Outlook: Tally Hall's heroics helped Houston salvage a point in Kansas City, but the amount of chances he faced raises questions about just how well the Dynamo defense is playing these days. Brad Davis is hitting a good run of form these days, but the Dynamo will need forwards Will Bruin and Brian Ching to step up their game during a busy week, especially against a Philadelphia side that is tougher defensively than some people realize.
9. (11) D.C. UNITED (13-10-5, 44 points)
Last week: Beat New England Revolution, 2-1, last Saturday.
This week: at Philadelphia on Thursday; vs. Chivas USA on Sunday.
Outlook: Losing Dwayne DeRosario to a knee injury was a crushing blow, but Chris Pontius and Bill Hamid stepped up to show that D.C. is far from finished in its quest for a playoff berth. Branko Boskovic didn't exactly light it up in DeRosario's place, but he will have time to settle in as a starter and will need to start producing if D.C. United is going to hold on to a playoff place.
10. (12) FC DALLAS (9-12-9, 36 points)
Last Week: Beat Vancouver Whitecaps, 1-0, last Saturday.
This week: Bye Week.
Outlook: Julian DeGuzman's late winner vs. Vancouver gave the club a serious jolt, and could just be the thing that turns around a season, but losing George John to an ankle injury is definitely a troubling development. Rookie Matt Hedges stepped up well in his absence, but Dallas will be hoping the week off allows John to recover for a vital last four matches of the season.
11. (8) COLUMBUS CREW (12-10-6, 42 points)
Last week: Lost to New York Red Bulls, 3-1, last Saturday.
This week: vs. Chivas USA on Saturday.
Outlook: Suffered their second straight loss against the Red Bulls on Saturday, and it was no real surprise that the team struggled without injured star Federico Higuain. Robert Warzycha chose to rest him in order to try and have him available to face Chivas USA this weekend. That strategy should reap rewards considering how badly the Chivas USA defense has been playing lately.
12. (10) MONTREAL IMPACT (12-15-3, 39 points)
Last week: Lost to Chicago Fire, 3-1, last Saturday.
This week: vs. Sporting Kansas City on Saturday.
Outlook: Badly needed a win in Chicago, but settled for a loss that put a serious dent in the team's playoff hopes. You get the sense folks in Montreal are bracing for the disappointment of missing out on the post-season, but a win against Sporting KC coupled with some D.C. United losses this week could still keep things interesting.
13. (14) PHILADELPHIA UNION (7-13-6, 27 points)
Last week: Tied Toronto FC, 1-1, last Saturday.
This week: vs. D.C. United on Thursday; vs. Houston on Sunday.
Outlook: Sheanon Williams' late equalizer against Toronto FC felt like a just reward for a team that played well enough to earn a point at BMO FIeld, but the offense looks every bit as toothless now as it has for the past few weeks. Four draws in five matches is hardly outstanding, but each passing result only serves to magnify the team's drastic need for help at forward.
14. (13) VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (10-12-7, 37 points)
Last week: Lost to FC Dallas, 1-0, last Saturday.
This week: vs. Colorado Rapids on Sunday.
Outlook: Saw their losing streak extended to five straight matches thanks to Julian DeGuzman's late game-winner. The mis-firing offense just isn't putting up enough goals, which is putting entirely too much pressure on the Vancouver defense to play flawlessly in order to secure results. Martin Rennie's side will catch a break this week taking on a hapless Rapids side that has been pretty beatable on the road all season.
15. (15) PORTLAND TIMBERS (7-14-7, 28 points)
Last week: tied Seattle Sounders, 1-1, last Saturday.
This week: at San Jose on Wednesday; at Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
Outlook: The Timbers showed well in tying Seattle, and have put together a decent run of results, but this week's brutal set of matches should offer plenty of opportunity for players to show they should return in 2013. David Horst certainly played like he wants to come back with his solid showing against Seattle. As for Kris Boyd, it's safe to assume he'll be on the first flight out of town when the season ends.
16. (17) COLORADO RAPIDS (9-18-2, 29 points)
Last week: lost to LA Galaxy, 2-0, last Friday.
This week: vs. Vancouver on Sunday.
Outlook: As good an addition as Honduran Hendry Thomas is for the stretch run of the season, he will serve more of a benefit as a piece to build around come 2013. This season remains a bit of a lost cause, though seeing players like Tony Cascio make the most of these final matches should serve Oscar Pareja well as he figures out just who to keep and who to dump this off-season.
Last week: lost to D.C. United, 2-1, last Saturday.
This week: vs. New York Red Bulls on Saturday.
Outlook: The nightmare season continues with the Revs blowing a lead and dropping their latest result against East rival D.C. United. Midfielder Juan Toja looks like a promising addition, and rookie Kelyn Rowe showed once again why he's a top prospect, but there isn't much to get excited about in New England these days.
Last week: lost to San Jose, 2-0, last Saturday.
This week: at Columbus Crew on Wednesday; at D.C. United on Sunday.
Outlook: The Goats are 0-4-1 in their past five, and have been outscored 17-6, a stretch that has turned Chivas USA from potential playoff contender to full-blown disaster. Robin Fraser shouldn't be in trouble, but given the fact that Jorge Vergara has full ownership of Chivas USA now you have to think Fraser could be in jeopardy of losing his job this off-season.
19. (19) TORONTO FC (5-17-7, 22 points)
Last week: Lost to Chicago Fire, 2-1, last Wednesday; tied Philadelphia Union, 1-1, last Saturday.
This week: at LA Galaxy on Saturday.
Outlook: Blowing a late lead to Philadelphia just seemed like the most fitting end to TFC's most recent match in a season that is threatening to be the most disappointing one in the club's history. Luis Silva remains one of the few bright spots, and things will probably only get uglier when Toronto travels to Los Angeles to take on the Galaxy.
What do you think of this week's rankings? Who do you feel is rated to highly? Is there a team you feel is rated to low?
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