The playoff race is heating up, and so too is the charge up the SBI MLS Power Rankings.
Philadelphia and Houston each came up with important victories to make up ground in the Eastern Conference and climb further into the top 10. Even late-charging teams Toronto and Chicago, for whom the postseason is a longshot, are getting their due, with each moving up as well.
Out west, the top four teams are pretty entrenched in that tier, but a dip in form by defending MLS Cup champion Colorado has made the race for a playoff berth and fifth place in the conference a lot more interesting, especially considering Portland's resurgence.
Here are this week's SBI MLS Power Rankings (as voted on by SBI staff):
SBI MLS POWER RANKINGS (WEEK 27)
1. (Last Week — 1) LOS ANGELES GALAXY (16-3-10, 58 points)
Last week: Beat Vancouver, 3-0, on Saturday.
This week: at Columbus, 7:30 p.m., Saturday.
Outlook: The Galaxy coasted by the Whitecaps, with Robbie Keane continuing to show no problem getting acclimated to MLS. Keeping players fresh and balancing CONCACAF Champions League play with the quest for the Supporters' Shield figures to be Bruce Arena's biggest challenge going forward. This week is a prime example, with the club in Costa Rica for a CCL match against Alajuelense prior to a trip to East-leading Columbus.
2. (2) REAL SALT LAKE (14-7-6, 48 points)
Last week: Beat Sporting Kansas City, 1-0, on Saturday.
This week: at New York, 8 p.m., Wednesday; at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m., Saturday.
Outlook: RSL is on a four-game winning streak and is buoyed by injured playmaker Javier Morales accompanying the team on it's East Coast swing. The Supporters' Shield is still within reach for Salt Lake, which would be four points behind the Galaxy with five games to play if it could maximize points out of the games it has in hand. Regardless, RSL is rounding into shape as the postseason nears.
3. (3) SEATTLE SOUNDERS (14-6-9, 51 points)
Last week: Beat D.C. United, 3-0, on Saturday.
This week: at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m., Saturday.
Outlook: Mauro Rosales turned in another influential performance in the rout of playoff-contender D.C., but the MCL tear he suffered at the end of the match will keep him out for up to the next month. The team will continue to compete on three fronts (Open Cup, CCL, MLS) without him, and with a win over Cascadia Cup rival Vancouver, the Sounders can officially cement a place in the playoffs, something that has long been an inevitability.
4. (4) FC DALLAS (13-9-7, 46 points)
Last week: Lost to New York, 1-0, on Saturday.
This week: vs. Houston, 4 p.m., Saturday, Telefutura.
Outlook: It's been an extraordinarily tough month in Dallas, where losses on the field pale in comparison to the losses of life off of it. The club is likely settling into that fourth seed in the Western Conference for the long haul after dropping three of its last four matches, but it can take a gigantic step toward laiming first place in its CCL group with a mid-week victory over Pumas.
5. (5) SPORTING KANSAS CITY (10-9-10, 40 points)
Last week: Lost to Real Salt Lake, 1-0, on Saturday.
This week: vs. Philadelphia, 8:30 p.m., Friday, Fox Soccer Channel.
Outlook: There's no time to dwell on a tough loss to RSL as a nationally televised bout with Philadelphia looms on Friday night. These teams are hardly separated by much, as are well-positioned to claim first place in the Eastern Conference, and both have the same goal differential. Friday's winner would certainly have the inside track on first place and the automatic playoff berth that goes along with it.
6. (9) PHILADELPHIA UNION (9-7-12, 39 points)
Last week: Beat Columbus, 1-0, on Saturday.
This week: at Sporting Kansas City, 8:30 p.m., Friday, Fox Soccer Channel.
Outlook: Most thought that Faryd Mondragon's absence would really hinder the team's chances, but rookie Zac MacMath has turned in consecutive clean sheets, including one against the Crew that helped bring the Union back within range of the conference's top seed. Another plus for Philly is the performance of Sebastien Le Toux, who is re-emerging as a goal-scoring threat after struggling in the run of play earlier this season.
7. (7) COLUMBUS CREW (11-10-8, 41 points)
Last week: Tied Houston, 2-2, on Wednesday; Lost to Philadelphia, 1-0, on Saturday.
This week: vs. Los Angeles, 7:30 p.m., Saturday.
Outlook: With the schedule getting tougher, Columbus is doing just enough to tread water. Its tenuous lead of the conference is slipping away, though, and a game against the league-leading Galaxy is hardly a way to recapture past form. Granted much of his damage is being done from the penalty spot, but with two PKs against Houston, Andres Mendoza is within a goal of the lead for the Golden Boot.
8. (6) COLORADO RAPIDS (10-9-11, 41 points)
Last week: Lost to Toronto, 2-1, on Saturday.
This week: vs. San Jose, 9 p.m., Saturday.
Outlook: Colorado's return to BMO Field for the first time since capturing MLS Cup didn't go as well as it would've hopes, and the Rapids now have to sweat things out a bit considering that three teams that each have at least two games in hand are within striking distance of overtaking the club and pushing the defending champions to the brink of missing the playoffs. A home game against pesky-but-beatable San Jose should be a cure-all to Colorado's three-game losing skid.
9. (11) HOUSTON DYNAMO (9-9-12, 39 points)
Last week: Tied Columbus, 2-2, on Wednesday; Beat San Jose, 2-1, on Saturday.
This week: at Dallas, 4 p.m., Saturday, Telefutura.
Outlook: Again Houston failed to secure a win on the road, but again the Dynamo secured a home victory to reinforce the fact that the club's 0-6-9 mark away from Robertson Stadium won't necessarily prevent it from taking part in the playoffs. Next up on the slate is a Texas derby with FC Dallas, the latest chapter in a rivalry the typically produces some fireworks.
10. (10) PORTLAND TIMBERS (10-12-6, 36 points)
Last week: Beat New England, 3-0, on Friday.
This week: vs. San Jose, 10:30 p.m., Wednesday; at New York, 7:30 p.m., Saturday.
Outlook: The Timbers put together perhaps their most complete performance of the season in dismantling New England and are firmly in the playoff discussion. They must be wary of looking past the Earthquakes, however, no matter how large the weekend's match at Red Bull Arena is looming. Portland is currently tied with the Red Bulls on points through the same number of games but has a far worse goal differential.
11. (8) D.C. UNITED (8-8-10, 34 points)
Last week: Lost to Seattle, 3-0, on Saturday.
This week: vs. Chivas USA, 7:30 p.m., Wednesday; vs. Real Salt Lake, 7:30 p.m., Wednesday.
Outlook: D.C. returns to RFK Stadium to host a game for the first time in more than a month after an up-and-down road trip that saw the team top Chivas USA but lose Chris Pontius to injury and then drop three points to Seattle. The Goats will look to return the favor on the East Coast, as Pontius, the catalyst for D.C.'s 3-0 win at the Home Depot Center, remains out with a fractured tibia. Hat-trick hero Charlie Davies will be raring to go, though.
12. (12) NEW YORK RED BULLS (7-6-15, 36 points)
Last week: Beat FC Dallas, 1-0, on Saturday.
This week: vs. Real Salt Lake, 8 p.m., Wednesday; vs. Portland, 7:30 p.m., Saturday.
Outlook: Just when most were counting the Red Bulls out, they show up and top a title contender and manage to do so without the services of Thierry Henry. Juan Agudelo and the fit Luke Rodgers picked up the slack for Henry, while DP goalkeeper Frank Rost showed signs that he might earn his hefty salary after all in the win over FCD. Do the Red Bulls have any semblance of consistency in them? Games against potentially two playoff-bound opponents will dictate that.
13. (15) TORONTO FC (6-12-12, 30 points)
Last week: Beat Colorado, 2-1, on Saturday.
This week: at Chivas USA, 10:30 p.m., Saturday.
Outlook: TFC continues to spring surprise results, following up its win over Columbus with a home victory over Colorado. Danny Koevermans continues to prove that he can score goals in MLS, something that bodes well for Toronto's 2012 chances. Prior to a trip out west, TFC will look to keep its hopes of advancing in the CCL alive with a home match against Tauro FC Tuesday night.
14. (17) CHICAGO FIRE (5-8-15, 30 points)
Last week: Beat Chivas USA, 3-2, on Saturday.
This week: vs. New England, 4 p.m., Sunday.
Outlook: Is there a more unlikely 10-goal scorer this season than Dominic Oduro? The Ghanaian speedster hit double digits with his game-winner against Chivas and has really found his groove in Chicago after years of inaccuracy. The playoffs are not completely out of the question yet, and Chicago still has the U.S. Open Cup final to play for, so the Revs should expect a motivated opponent on Sunday.
15. (13) CHIVAS USA (7-12-10, 31 points)
Last week: Lost to Chicago, 3-2, on Saturday.
This week: at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m., Wednesday; vs. Toronto FC, 10:30 p.m., Saturday.
Outlook: The Goats have nobody to blame but themselves after a four-game losing streak has them in must-win territory this week at D.C. Injuries to the defensive corps certainly have not helped, either. After being so close to a playoff spot, Chivas' playoff hopes are slipping away, but a six-point haul against two Eastern Conference sides would put the Goats back in the mix.
16. (16) SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (6-11-11, 29 points)
Last week: Lost to Houston, 2-1, on Saturday.
This week: at Portland, 10:30 p.m., Wednesday; at Colorado, 9 p.m., Saturday.
Outlook: The Earthquakes gave Houston a bit of a scare but they couldn't hold onto an early lead and now face two difficult opponents on the road. This season certainly hasn't unfolded like Frank Yallop & Co. hoped it would, but on the plus side, Chris Wondolowski still has a shot at repeating as the league's Golden Boot winner.
17. (14) NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (5-12-12, 27 points)
Last week: Lost to Portland, 3-0, on Friday.
This week: at Chicago, 4 p.m., Sunday.
Outlook: The Revs had no answer for the Timbers' onslaught at Jeld-Wen Field and are all but eliminated from the postseason for the second consecutive season with just five matches remaining. Attention will slowly start turning to captain Shalrie Joseph, whose contract expires at the end of the season and could be wrapping up his final year in New England.
18. (18) VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (4-14-10, 22 points)
Last week: Lost to Los Angeles, 3-0, on Saturday.
This week: vs. Seattle, 10:30 p.m., Saturday.
Outlook: There's not much to cheer about in Vancouver these days as the club closes in on securing the second overall selection in the 2012 SuperDraft (expansion Montreal gets the first pick), but that shouldn't stop the fans from packing Empire Field for a Cascadia Cup rivalry match against the Sounders this weekend.