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Power Rankings: Lionel Messi & Inter Miami challenge for top spot | MLSSoccer.com

Power Rankings: Lionel Messi & Inter Miami challenge for top spot | MLSSoccer.com

What a week in MLS. Toronto beat Philadelphia. For the first time in years, I genuinely mean “What a week in MLS.” You think it runs out of ways to surprise you and then…what a time to be alive.

The Power Rankings are voted on by 15 people (give or take), and the author would really like you to know the order is not entirely his fault. Just remember that when your team doesn’t make the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs because the Power Rankings had them 19th instead of 17th. Look, we also think it’s weird these things decide who gets in.

Cincy lost at home for the first time this year, but they balanced that out with an excellent, playoff-clinching road win against Atlanta midweek. They’re still your Supporters’ Shield winners elect and the comeback against the Five Stripes proved why. It also just about wrapped up the Landon Donovan MLS MVP race.

And it’s not even just those guys, it’s…

It’s less of a long shot every day that they win MLS Cup. We all might as well start preparing for that eventuality.

It’s been a week since this and my brain still hurts.

No idea what happened there. But the Union recovered nicely with a big win over the Red Bulls on Sunday. They’re still in an excellent position to finish as high as second in the Eastern Conference.

The Crew dropped a tough road game midweek at Houston, but they responded in style at Montréal thanks to Cucho Hernández. Cucho bagged a hat trick as Columbus rolled over a probable playoff team, cementing himself as one of the most productive signings in MLS history. The number of MLS teams that can compete with Columbus when they’re clicking in attack is very small.

The Lions had the best week in the league. Yeah, it would have been better if they earned all three points at Charlotte instead of one. But they became the first team to take down Cincinnati at home this year and managed to clear a DP spot along the way.

Orlando transferred striker Ercan Kara to the Turkish Süper Lig and handed full control of the No. 9 spot to Duncan McGuire. With striker sorted via another remarkable SuperDraft find, they can add to an already solid roster in the offseason and potentially take another step forward. That could mean building off a top-four finish. Maybe more than that. Their ceiling feels like it’s getting higher each week.

They created plenty against Inter Miami, but the Herons finished and LAFC didn’t. Once they were chasing the game against Miami it felt like they were done.

That’s LAFC’s second straight loss. They’re now two points out of sixth place. They’re just as close to 10th-place Austin as they are to first-place St. Louis. Their remaining schedule is far from kind. The last few weeks could get kind of weird for LAFC if they’re not careful.

SKC got the better of them last weekend, but a midweek win over FC Dallas and LAFC’s second straight less kept them well out in front of the rest of the pack in the West. It’s a seven-point gap between St. Louis and LAFC for the top spot in the West now. That means it’s probably a good time to remind everyone this is the first year St. Louis have played in MLS. Seems important to remember their entire season is one of the wildest things to ever happen in the history of the league. Feels like we’ve almost become desensitized to it.

The Revs bounced back from a loss at Montréal with a four-point week. They eased past the Red Bulls midweek and picked up a draw against Austin on Saturday. So far, so good in the post-Djordje Petrovic era, even if they’ll be kicking themselves for allowing a stoppage-time equalizer to Austin.

For now, they’re still second in the East and have a chance to keep putting distance between themselves and the rest of the pack over the next four games. Minnesota, Colorado, Chicago and Charlotte is about as gentle a lead-in to the final stretch as they could have asked for. They’ll need to get some separation there before they head into a four-game playoff tune-up against Columbus, Orlando, Nashville and Philadelphia.

Houston’s hot streak slowed down Saturday at LA, but they still earned four points on the week. That included a 2-0 win over an excellent Columbus side. The Dynamo have earned 10 points from four games since Leagues Cup, have outscored opponents 10-0, and are only two points out of second place in the West. That’s thanks in part to Corey Baird, who’s doing the thing in front of goal.

There’s not much to add to Seattle’s narrative at this point. A four-point week that put them in second place felt like kind of a bummer after they blew a two-goal lead to Portland. Even when things are good, they don’t feel all that good. Weird year.

Nashville are still waiting for their first post-Leagues Cup win (and first regular-season win since July 1). Although, at this point, playing a full-strength Inter Miami side to a draw midweek probably feels like a win.

Either way, Nashville are still at the bottom of the pile among the best teams in the East. They’re six points behind fourth-place Philadelphia and it seems like a top-four spot is out of the question at this point. If they’re going to make a Leagues Cup-esque run through the playoffs, it seems like it will have to happen on the road.

A mixed bag this week for Atlanta. Wednesday’s loss against FC Cincinnati showed how far they have to go. Saturday’s draw at FC Dallas showed how much they’ve improved over the last few weeks. Earlier versions of this team absolutely would have found a way to lose with a rotated lineup on the road in an up-and-down game. Instead, they earned a solid road point.

Nothing went perfectly, but progress isn’t linear. This group is still heading in the right direction. The next step is figuring out what it takes to hold onto the two leads they had at the 60’ mark of both games.

The Whitecaps earned four points this week and are just three points out of second place in the West. Yeah, Julian Gressel is gone, but their underlying numbers have been excellent all year (and so has the perpetually underrated Ryan Gauld).

There’s still a chance Vancouver put it together and make a run. I know it seems like we say that every other week before the pendulum swings back the other way, but it feels like we should at least be conscious of the possibility.

It would have been time to hit the panic button if RSL lost to Colorado in the Rocky Mountain Cup over the weekend. But they took care of business and bounced back from a 2-1 midweek loss to Portland.

RSL aren’t at their best right now, but they’ve been gifted a handful of get-right(ish) games down the stretch to figure things out before the playoffs, including a Decision Day matchup with Colorado. It won’t be easy, but it could be a lot worse.

The Loons took care of business against Colorado and then earned a draw on the road in a six-pointer against San Jose. That point kept them ahead of the Quakes in the standings and may pay off in a big way down the line. Right now it’s the difference between a Round One spot and a Wild Card berth.

FC Dallas rebounded after a midweek loss to St. Louis with a draw against Atlanta. I’m not sure how happy they’ll be about blowing an early 1-0 lead in the first place, but the draw at least put them above the playoff line (albeit narrowly).

That’s two huge wins for SKC since Leagues Cup. Suddenly, they’re only two points out of ninth place in the West. It might be too little too late but, for the second straight year, SKC are surging late. Maybe this time they have enough juice to get over the line.

The Quakes lost to LA and drew with Minnesota this week. Both games were at home. It’s been a while since San Jose have looked like a bonafide playoff team. It’s even starting to feel like they’ve regressed as the year has gone on. For now, they’re sitting eighth in the West. 

Uh oh.

Montréal looked like Road Montréal in a midweek loss to NYCFC and then didn’t look at all like Home Montréal against Columbus. They’re still sitting eighth in the East for now, despite a goal differential of negative-12. It’s been a weird one. And catching up to Nashville or Atlanta ahead of them feels off the table at this point. But no one will care too much if they can take care of business over the last seven games and hold onto a Wild Card spot. At that point, we can definitively call year one a success for Hernán Losada.

D.C. United jumped back into a Wild Card spot after an impressive 4-0 win over Chicago. Now, they’ve got to fight to climb over Montréal before Inter Miami (likely?) catch up to them. Remember, you don’t have to outrun the bear chasing after you; you just have to outrun the other person being chased.

Well. Austin did technically end their losing streak with Alex Ring’s late equalizer at New England. That’s an excellent road point in the end. But Austin haven’t won a game in any competition since July 15. They’re below the playoff line and chasing FC Dallas. They need Ring’s goal to be a turning point.

It seems like LA are on a path toward doing just enough to convince everyone they’re about to sneak into the playoffs. They’re still sitting 13th in the West, but took four points this week against San Jose and Houston. It feels like this car is going to run out of gas before they’re able to coast into a station, yet they’re definitely making it interesting.

LA have at least a game in hand on everyone they’re chasing and are five points out of ninth. St. Louis and LAFC are up next though. El Tráfico could deliver a Mortal Kombat-style fatality to the Galaxy’s playoff hopes.

Usually a four-point week, one where U22 Initiative striker Mounsef Bakrar seems to have hit a groove, is a reason to celebrate.

Then NYCFC fans got a reminder that pain is eternal. With Maxi Moralez out for the year, their plans of climbing into the playoff field just absorbed a serious blow.

NYCFC midfielder Maxi Moralez suffered a torn ACL on Saturday and is undergoing surgery. What a brutal update.

Moralez, 36, was awesome since returning from Racing Club at the end of the summer. Awful news. pic.twitter.com/AcdFLCCDh1

— Tom Bogert (@tombogert) September 5, 2023

In the 81st minute against Orlando, they went up 1-0 only to surrender a goal minutes later. In the 93rd minute against Nashville, they went up 1-0 only to surrender a goal minutes later.

Charlotte were minutes away from perhaps their best week ever. They could have ended the weekend at eighth place in the East. Instead, they picked up two points and stayed below the playoff line. The second-year club might look back at these lapses as the moments that kept them from making a first-ever playoff trip.

If you, like me, have been waiting around the Red Bulls’ underlying numbers to come good and turn into points, I’m guessing you, like me, are fully prepared to abandon that idea. New York fell 1-0 to New England on Wednesday, then got thumped by Philly 4-1 on Sunday. It just doesn’t seem like they’re going to put it together.

Then again, their remaining schedule is about as gentle as it could possibly be and includes a handful of six-pointers. Five of their seven remaining games are against teams lower than eighth place. The other two are against a Cincy side that has the Shield locked up and seventh-place Nashville. Maybe it’s not time to abandon hope for the MLS-record 13-year playoff streak quite yet.

Do we want to call it a slightly delayed new-manager bounce? Interim coach Miles Joseph and the Timbers had an incredible week. They took down RSL and then ruined Seattle’s day with a late comeback. Again. That’s a four-point week against two of the West’s best.

Portland will need a few more weeks like this to get back in the playoff race. They’re still four points and an extra game played out of ninth place.

Sigh, let’s go back to the timeline.

I can see it → Oh, no → Oh, yikes, no → Well, maybe → Nope → But let’s just… → Oh, ok immediate no on that → But what if they tweak this → This looks better! → OH NO. THEY GOT ME AGAIN → No. → I’m not falling for that → No, forever. → Offseason → I can see it.

After four straight losses (including two this week), we’re either at “No.” or “No, forever.” They’re only one point out of ninth place in the East, but…c’mon…we’ve seen this story before.

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