|I mean, they're more or less all the same, yes?|
With this week, I officially begin the work of formally ranking all the clubs in Major League Soccer. As always, this project deserves a caveat – mainly because the essential task at hand boils not just to separating apples from apples, but red delicious apples from red delicious apples. It's not all baffling, obviously. I mean, some are disgusting mealy messes, but what about the ones with thick, shell-like skins? Are those better than the ones that have that weird chemical slick texture on the outside? In plainer terms, the real challenge comes with calling one club better than the other in a league that has been consciously managed to make all the clubs as equal as possible. My people call this parity (yours might call it maize).
Personal headaches aside, I decided to retain the Heaven, Purgatory, Hell frame. Each team will still be assigned a ranking, but I'll also place those rankings within those three ultimate destinies, the meaning of which is identified below. Oh, and I'm adding a new angle this week: arguing in favor of three results as the most significant of the past weekend. Let's dig in, shall we?
I managed only two and a half full games this Week 11 (stupid blackouts, and wicked cable companies!!):
Houston Dynamo v. Portland TimbersAs always, the number in parentheses after each team's name is the number of times I spent the full 90 with them in 2015. That's as opposed to the previous ranking. I don't do that. Uh, sorry?
San Jose Earthquakes v. Columbus Crew ('Quakes finally on my personal viewer board!)
Philadelphia Union v. DC United (just the second 1/2 here)
And now, the biggest, most important results of MLS’s Week 11
Orlando City SC 4-0 Los Angeles Galaxy
Jaime Penedo's glorious fit provided a personal highlight (and Kaka's tribute to Kevin Molino was awesome), but this game said less about Orlando – who's not really doing so great – than it did about LA. Even if they're notorious for slow starts and big endings, going 0-2-3 in the last five, and with only one against a consensus big club, poses real questions about their level this year.
Vancouver Whitecaps 0-2 Seattle Sounders
The winner shines this time: Seattle's on pretty good run, but they picked up this win in Vancouver, where the 'Caps usually light up. It meant more after Seattle's semi-collapse last week against Columbus. Good runs don't come easy in MLS, but Seattle's on a good one.
Houston Dynamo 3-1 Portland Timbers
Houston continues their fits-'n'-starts run of entirely competent form, but the question that hangs over this one hurts/hits close to home (e.g., the groinal area): is it time to stop talking about the Timbers as a "good" club waiting to come good? Poll anyone at the start of 2015, and I think they’d predict Houston's current fate for Portland, and Portland's current fate for Houston. (Goddammit.)
I also want to give a big ol' merry shout-out to the Philadelphia Union's 1-0 win over DC United tonight. Don't think it really moved the needle for either club, but it was a big ol' ball o' happy! You keep bringin' the pepper, Zach Pfeffer!
HEAVEN (Glory Bound)
1) DC United (3 1/2)
Good clubs have been games; better clubs have lapses in judgment that only come after 90 minutes of soccer. While competent, DC looked a bit out of it today; they didn't do much in the second half. At any rate, it happens.
2) FC Dallas (3)
Dallas tops Seattle solely by looking like the more complete team – i.e., a freak result aside, Dallas has a defense. Their defense showed up against the Red Bulls – that's the good news – but the offense played both uninspired and too narrow this weekend. Castillo looked off, which matters.
3) Seattle Sounders (4)
My favorite comment on Seattle posits that they're only as good as their second bananas. Chad Barrett scoring a brace brings in the third bananas, which echoes the "second banana" outing that Lamar Neagle turned in at the start of Seattle's good run. Combine that with a better defensive outing and that's how a team gets on a roll and finds more room for their stars to shine.
4) Vancouver Whitecaps (5)
The 'Caps are sputtering by their 2015 standards (2-2-1 in their last 5). They're still fine, but Saturday's game should get them pondering the value of patience; too many rushed shots kept them from coming back against an impressive (unlikely) brace by Barrett.
5) New England Revolution (3)
The Revs are at their best when they build meticulously to get their goal; small wonder that’s how their first came. They were thwarted by TFC's Chris Konopka to no small extent, but that'll happen sometimes. Another team that's probably fine, even if they're ruing chucking 2 points.
6) Columbus Crew SC (5)
They punched better than even while it was 11 v. 11, so the red card to Mohammed Saied clearly mattered. Of deeper concern was San Jose's subsequent slow strangulation/fiesta of crosses. Hopefully, for Columbus, it's another example of a good club having a bad game.
7) Red Bull New York (4)
Save for some poor decision-making – see Felipe's repeated attempts to score from range - New York looked the better team in Dallas. Still, an iffy run of form has to hurt them sometime (1-1-3, in the last 5). Also, an off-night for Dallas' attack spared their defense.
8) San Jose Earthquakes (1)
No one likes San Jose, never mind rates them, but there they are 4th in the West, just four points off the pace. They might be graceful as a drunk on roller skates, but they're taking bigger scalps than a lot of MLS clubs. And they were lethal once they pinned Columbus into their own end.
PURGATORY (In Need of Grace and Good Works)
9) Houston Dynamo (2)
Portland came bearing gifts – three of 'em! We are nice! (Smile till it hurts, Portland!) – but the Dynamo keeps showing enough for me to think they know what they're doing. In other words, crisis from two weeks back averted. Nothing impressed me like the way their left played out of pressure deep in their attacking third. They won this one without a ton of help from Giles Barnes, too.
10) Sporting Kansas City (4)
When figuring where to place KC, I checked the results map for their run of form, looked at who they lost, too, etc. After looking again, yeah, I'm a little puzzled. Chalk up the high ranking to good bones and Dom Dwyer starting to find the net. Ah, the benefits of an off-week...
11) Toronto FC (3)
I admit I'm cooler to TFC than most, but what's true for them is true of Colorado (see below): you go up when you earn it. They showed they can still generate chances in this weekend's draw, and ballsy goal by Michael Bradley, but they're lucky to be on the right side of the playoff stripe, because East.
12) Orlando City FC (2 1/2)
Thought losing Aurelien Collin would mean a bit more. Ditto on losing Kevin Molino. Without declaring it a trend, Cyle Larin has answered Orlando's need for forwards pretty ably the last couple weeks. Huge win, but their overall form ain’t great.
13) Real Salt Lake (2)
Gifted Ignacio Piatti a field-day up in Montreal, but RSL was victimized just about every possible way on Saturday. The offense wasn't terrible, but that doesn't matter when the defense is that terrible. And, significantly, defense was RSL's early season strength. So...now what?
14) Los Angeles Galaxy (3 1/2)
This team doesn't look like LA, never mind defending MLS champions. Random losses happen, even to expansion clubs, but the trend noted before the rankings argues that this wasn't random. LA's like a body missing its brain this year.
15) Portland Timbers (11)
Echoes of 2014 have, admittedly, freaked me the fuck out about my Portland Timbers (see extended notes), but they've earned their spot outside the playoff frame. Multi-goal games are rare, rarer than poor pairings of brain-fart goals.
HELL (In Need of New Signings...or an Exorcism)
16) Colorado Rapids (3)
Another club with a bye week. As noted late last week, they're stocking up. Trouble is, they're also stocking up on draws, Chicago 2014 style. I don't care who they sign: the Rapids stay in the Devil's torture chamber till those "D's" become "W's."
17) Chicago Fire (2 1/2)
Even with the game against NYCFC coming on the road, this constituted one of Chicago's better chances to pick up points on the road this season. To their credit, they flew forward, but with more speed than accuracy. In their defense, NYCFC's goals came from some higher realm than garbage, but going up 2 and failing to close out is what it is. Especially against NYCFC.
18) Montreal Impact (3)
The Impact reminds everyone of how they went deep in the CCL, only this it wasn't a punch-and-counter offense, but an all-methods dismantling of RSL - who haven't been, uh, themselves lately. Great, encouraging result and all, but this is still their first win in MLS.
19) New York City FC (2 1/2)
Credit NYCFC for gutting their way to a draw. Maybe it's something to build off, but – and stop me if I've said this before – a time comes when the nobility of a result matters less than the result itself. That said, it helped a lot that David Villa turned in a good night. And stop dumping on Mehdi Ballouchy, people.
20) Philadelphia Union (2 1/2)
I clapped and laughed out loud when Pfeffer scored his winner and the sound echoed around the empty bar. I heard good things about the first half (yay!) and caught glimpses of the pre-game protests. I can't call this a sign of things to come, but I'll monitor the situation, and hopefully.
All done...did this feel comfortable to anyone who read it? I stand by my rankings, but realized that I'm talking about the same...goddammit, never mind. I'll sort it out. Think I'm due another format change. Week 12's not too late, right? More later...