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Thursday, April 12, 2012
MLS Power Rankings: Game of the year?

By Scott French

It's barely a month into a long season, but Major League Soccer's “Game Of The Year” -- regular-season edition -- is already upon us. Perhaps.

Real Salt Lake (5-1-0) and Sporting Kansas City (5-0-0), the two best teams in the league after five weeks, face off Saturday at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan. It pits MLS's lone unbeaten team against its Supporters' Shield standings leader (with RSL's 15 goals trumping SKC's eight for that honor).

Might it be be a preview of the Dec. 1 MLS Cup final? Why not? Vibrant Sporting is the consensus favorite in the Eastern Conference, and RSL might be the most talented of the three big Western powers. The unbalanced schedule, because MLS somehow couldn't fit two extra games into an eight-month calendar, means these sides won't meet again unless it's in the MLS Cup. (Well, they could face off in the U.S. Open Cup, but would either field its first team?)

A game like this is really worth seeing, and you can -- if you get MLS's Direct Kick package on cable or satellite, subscribe to the “MLS LIVE” online streams, or head into the markets for local TV coverage. Tickets will be scare, but there are always scalpers.

NBC Sports Network has a game Saturday, several hours earlier. Columbus (2-2-0) vs. Philadelphia (0-3-1). We've got them Nos. 16 and 17 in our Power Rankings. SKC-RSL are Nos. 1-2.

Talk of MLS Cup previews are premature, of course. The way MLS works usually gives the advantage to the hottest teams at the finish, not necessarily the best teams in the league, so nearly any game could be such a thing. And there's another Saturday that, just maybe, could be the preview: moneyed New York Red Bulls against the surprising San Jose Earthquakes. That's No. 3 against No. 4.

Here are this week's power rankings:

1. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (5-0-0, 15 points), Last Week: 1
Week 5:
Kei Kamara slips his mark for a 40th-minute header and K.C. shuts down L.A. in a 1-0 triumph.
Latest: Sporting hasn't allowed a shot on goal in 245 minutes.
Deserves more credit: Defender Aurelien Collin anchors a backline that has given up one shot on goal twice and none twice in five games.
Next: Saturday vs. Real Salt Lake, 5:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

2. REAL SALT LAKE (5-1-0, 15 points), LW: 3
Week 5:
Paulo Jr. steps up for the PK in a 1-0 win over Montreal; Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola do the honors in 2-0 victory over Colorado.
Latest: Jason Kreis praises Colorado coach (and former Dallas teammate) Oscar Pareja before their first Rocky Mountain Cup meeting: “When people ask me for my top three players that I ever played with, he's always in that list.”
Deserves more credit: Chris Schuler's showing just how deep the Utahns' backline really is.
Next: Saturday at Sporting Kansas City, 5:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

3. NEW YORK RED BULLS (3-2-0, 9 points), LW: 4
Week 5:
Thierry Henry scores two more goals and assists one of Kenny Cooper's pair in a 4-1 rout at Columbus.
Latest: Henry wins MLS Player of the Week honors for the third straight week, whether deserved or not. He's Player of the Month, too, definitely deserved.
Deserves more credit: Cooper, with six goals already, might make us forget Luke Rodgers.
Next: Saturday vs. San Jose, 4 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

4. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (4-1-0, 12 points), LW: 6
Week 5:
Chris Wondolowski scores two more -- Nos. 5 and 6 -- as Quakes rally late for 3-1 win over Vancouver.
Latest: Yorba Linda's Steven Lenhart and former Galaxy/Chivas USA favorite Alan Gordon -- the Quakes' target men -- could miss Red Bulls showdown with hamstring injuries.
Deserves more credit: Sam Cronin is a force in midfield.
Next: Saturday at New York, 4 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

5. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (2-1-1, 7 points), LW: 2
Week 5: Former D.C. defender Marc Burch hits the post in stoppage, and Sounders settle for a 0-0 draw in the capital.
Latest: Eddie Johnson returns from hamstring ailments, makes his Sounders debut in D.C.
Deserves more credit: Uruguayan midfielder Alvaro Fernandez shines in the shadow of several bigger names.
Next: Saturday vs. Colorado, 1 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

6. HOUSTON DYNAMO (2-1-0, 6 points), LW: 5
Week 5:
Idle.
Latest: Brad Davis' calf injury could leave Dynamo without three starting midfielders when they return after two weeks off. Colin Clark and Adam Moffat are suspended.
Deserves more credit: Moffat a steadying force with a rocket leg in midfield.
Next: Sunday at Chicago, 4 p.m. (Galavision)

7. COLORADO RAPIDS (3-2-0, 9 points), LW: 7
Week 5:
Uncalled hand ball kills the Rapids in 2-0 loss at archrival Real Salt Lake.
Latest: Brian Mullan doing no media before his first game in Seattle since last year's Steve Zakuani incident.
Deserves more credit: Mullan isn't the thug opposing fans imagine him to be.
Next: Saturday at Seattle, 1 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

8. FC DALLAS (2-2-1, 7 points), LW: 12
Week 5:
Ugo Ihemelu shakes off cramps (and potential sub) to score header more than four minutes into stoppage, delivering 1-0 win over New England.
Latest: Ailing midfield takes another hit with Andrew Wiedeman's sports-hernia surgery.
Deserves more credit: Blas Perez has made a quick impact with the Hoops.
Next: Saturday vs. Montreal, 5:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick)

9. D.C. UNITED (1-2-2, 5 points), LW: 10
Week 5:
Second scoreless draw of the year, against mighty Seattle, extends unbeaten streak to three.
Latest: Nick DeLeon's frizzed-out hairstyle catches some flak from Ben Olsen. “He told me he was going to corn-row it at one point,” United's coach says. “I keep asking him what he's going to do. He’s like, 'Man, I don't have time.' I was like, 'What do you mean you don’t have time? I don't have time! I’ve got two kids and a real job! You don't have time to get your hair rowed?’ That’s crazy talk.”
Deserves more credit: Nick DeLeon is the early frontrunner in the Rookie of the Year race.
Next: Saturday at New England, 1 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

10. CHIVAS USA (2-3-0, 6 points), LW: 15
Week 5:
Ryan Smith crosses nodded home by Alejandro Moreno and Nick LaBrocca to beat Portland, 2-1.
Latest: Juan Pablo Angel's recovery from a concussion is troubling. So is Michael Lahoud's, if his reserve-game knock is anything.
Deserves more credit: Oswaldo Minda has already established himself among MLS's better holding midfielders.
Next: Saturday at Toronto FC, 1:30 p.m. (Fox Sports West and KWHY/Channel 22).

11. GALAXY (1-3-0, 3 points), LW: 9
Week 5:
Better defense but zero shots on goal in 1-0 loss at Sporting Kansas City.
Latest: L.A. has never lost three in a row under Bruce Arena, and this week's visitors -- Portland Timbers -- are in a funk of their own.
Deserves more credit: Mike Magee is more than a role player for L.A.
Next: Saturday vs. Portland at Home Depot Center (Carson), 7:30 p.m. (KDOC/Channel 56 and KWHY/Channel 22).

12. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (2-1-2, 8 points), LW: 8
Week 5:
'Caps get a new start-of-the-season shutout record (427 minutes), then conceded three in 11 minutes to lose, 3-1, at San Jose.
Latest: Jay DeMerit, in his Goal.com column, ranks archrivals Seattle's and Portland's stadiums his favorites. (Uh-oh.) The worst: “Crumbling” RFK, D.C. United's home.
Deserves more credit: Camilo quietly led the 'Caps in scoring last year, is making an impact again.
Next: Idle

13. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (2-3-0, 6 points), LW: 13
Week 5:
Revs lose a point when FC Dallas scores on final touch for 1-0 triumph.
Latest: Shalrie Joseph handed one-game ban for “reckless” challenge that hurt Dallas' Ricardo Villar, although he only received a yellow card on the play.
Deserves more credit: Chris Tierney has evolved into one of MLS's best left backs.
Next: Saturday vs. D.C. United, 1 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

14. CHICAGO FIRE (1-1-1, 4 points), LW: 14
Week 5:
Idle.
Latest: Cory Gibbs could miss six months after meniscus surgery. Time for Arne Friedrich to step up, and he needs more time.
Deserves more credit: Pavel Pardo, hardly a no-name, is a steady presence in the middle.
Next: Sunday vs. Houston, 4 p.m. (Galavision)

15. PORTLAND TIMBERS (1-3-1, 4 points), LW: 11
Week 5:
Kris Boyd pounces on a mistake, but Timbers surrender lead second week in a row to fall, 2-1, to Chivas USA.
Latest: “We need to grow up, be men, act like men and start getting results,” Scottish vet Kris Boyd exclaims.
Deserves more credit: Eric Alexander contributes in midfield.
Next: Saturday vs. Galaxy at Home Depot Center (Carson), 7:30 p.m. (KDOC/Channel 56 and KWHY/Channel 22).

16. COLUMBUS CREW (2-2-0, 6 points), LW: 16
Week 5:
Riverside's Chad Marshall connects on a header -- way to late to stop New York in a 4-1 loss.
Latest: Marshall's 200th career start for the Crew wasn't one to remember. “We didn’t get pressure to them at all,” he said. “They could do whatever they wanted to and we had nothing going offensively.”
Deserves more credit: Venezuela's Bernardo Anor contributes from midfield.
Next: Saturday at Philadelphia, 12:30 p..m. (NBC Sports Network).

17. MONTREAL IMPACT (1-3-1, 4 point), LW: 19
Week 5:
Sinisa Ubiparipovic and Andrew Wenger tally to beat Toronto, 2-1, the expansion Impact's first MLS victory.
Latest: Wenger nets decisive goal, flies back to Durham. Three more weeks' work for a Duke University degree. “If anyone out there wants to write my term papers, we can arrange something.”
Deserves more credit: Midfielder Felipe Martins is one of three to play every minute.
Next: Saturday at FC Dallas, 5:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick)

18. PHILADELPHIA UNION (0-3-1, 1 point), LW: 17
Week 5:
Idle.
Latest: Hometown advantage for Peter Nowak, who gets the nod as MLS All-Star coach for the July 25 game at Philly's park against Chelsea. He was coach in 2006 when the MLSers beat the Blues.
Deserves more credit: Former Cal State Fullerton standout Gabe Farfan amps up the energy.
Next: Saturday vs. Columbus, 12:30 p..m. (NBC Sports Network).

19. TORONTO FC (0-4-0, 0 points), LW: 18
Week 5:
Reds take two first-half leads, fold in second half of 6-2 CONCACAF Champions League semifinal loss at Santos Laguna for a 7-3 aggregate victory; Danny Koevermans' late goal can't save TFC in first Canadian derby with Montreal, a 2-1 loss.
Latest: Only one win in eight games (that over the Galaxy in the Champions League). “In the coming weeks, I’m going to change some things ...,” says Aron Winter. “It’s clear it’s not good, and I don’t accept it anymore.”
Deserves more credit: Terry Dunfield is key to the midfield foundation.
Next: Saturday vs. Chivas USA, 1:30 p.m. (Fox Sports West and KWHY/Channel 22).