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In Form — Barnes’ MLS Power Rankings: Matchweek 4

Who’s up, who’s down? Each week, Philly Football Daily MLS contributor Noah Barnes ranks Major League Soccer’s ten hottest clubs, based on results, performances, and however else Barnes attempts to justify positioning in his column, In Form.   

MLS Power Rankings Matchweek 4 

OK, that was fun.

If you ask me, this past weekend’s fixtures were nothing short of incredible. And, if nothing else, the games in Matchweek 4 showed that football in the United States is on the up, and Major League Soccer is far from the lifeless retirement league it’s so often referred to.

This matchweek had it all. From the advent of the first ever El Trafico Derby and the dazzling debut of one Zlatan Ibrahimovic, to the goalfests on coasts East to West, the weekend’s fixtures did not disappoint. 

My only quip with MLS so far this season is in regards to scheduling, but it’s one I’ve held for some time now. 

Last weekend was the international break, in which a handful of teams still played games. Then, combine that with a full slate this past weekend, and you have some clubs who have played five games while others have played only three.

So, with that being said, for this week’s In Form Power Rankings I’ll consider this the Matchweek 4 Edition. Trust me, it will all straighten itself out in the end, but for now, I’ll take a look at who is In Form.

1. New York City FC 

Well, it’s another week and another win for Patrick Vieira’s team, and at the moment, the Cityzens look unbeatable.

New York City Football Club remain unbeaten this season. They currently boast four wins out of five and 12 points from a possible 15. Not to mention, those wins have come against quality opposition, too, as they have picked up seven points from a possible nine against clubs in this week’s In Form.

Defensively, they are sound, with players like Alexander Callens stepping up massively for the club. Offensively, they are getting the job done, too, and finding a way to score just enough.

I worry that David Villa may be reaching the end of his rope, but if Maximiliano Moralez and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi can continue to produce in big games, then this team could legitimately dominate the league.

2. Atlanta United (+2)

The bounce-back of Atlanta United continues.

After a win, plus losses from the teams above them, United jump two spots in the Power Rankings, despite sitting third in the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta is on a tear, at the moment, having won their last three MLS games by a combined margin of 8 goals scored to 2. They recorded their first clean sheet of the campaign last time out, despite going down a man against Minnesota United.

Having a game in hand on the two sides above them in the conference is an added bonus for Gerardo Martino’s squad, who temporarily go second after a win at the weekend.

Atlanta have a big run of games coming up, however, as their next three opponents are all in this week’s Top-10.

3. Columbus Crew 

Columbus Crew SC remain third this week, despite a loss to Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Surely this will make the rare Vancouver reader upset, but I stand by this decision.

This was Columbus’ first loss of the season, and it sees them go level on points with their Canadian adversaries. It was also a game in which the Crew dominated possession and peppered the Whitecaps with shots; they were unfortunate to come away with a loss.

That is not to take anything away from Vancouver, either. In my opinion, Columbus probably deserved a point, at the very least. However, Columbus have yet to pick up a meaningful win against a top side since their opening day win against Toronto Football Club.

Columbus’ last two fixtures against Top-10 opposition have resulted in only one point. Troubling times could be ahead, if this does not change.

4. Vancouver Whitecaps (+1)

I am sure that if Whitecaps fans chad the opportunity to throw a brick at me, they would.

A win last time out against Columbus sees the club go second and level on points with Sporting Kansas City in the Western Conference.

It was yet another superb performance from forward Kei Kamara, who continued his good run of form. Now, do the Whitecaps deserve to crack the In Form podium? Probably. Am I going to put them there? Not yet.

While NYCFC is a runaway for the top spot, the next four are currently a toss up; through just four to five matches, I could justify any team being in one of those spots. Patience, Vancouver, your time will come. If it’s any consolation, ESPN has you at No. six.

5. Los Angeles FC (-3)

Watching Los Angeles Football Club this season gives me serious déjà vu as a Liverpool fan.

Going forward, they are electric and, in my opinion, they are by far the most exiciting team to watch attack so far this season, as they have hit the back of the net nine times in just three games this campaign.

Comprised of Carlos Vela, Marco Ureña, Diego Rossi, and Latif Blessing, LAFC’s front four have been spectacular, so far, especially the budding Uruguayan Rossi.

Rossi, a Uruguayan Youth National Teamer has astounded so far, directly contributing to six of his club’s first seven goals. But, while the stars in the attacking third of the pitch may be shining for LA, the back end is in disarray.

Although there are other sides, who have conceded more goals so far, with every passing game, LA’s back line looks primed to bend and break. And against the LA Galaxy this past weekend, in the first ever El Trafico Derby, it did just that.

Conceding four second-half goals is never a good thing, but to do so in a derby game is even worse. It may seem harsh, dropping head coach Bob Bradley’s team three spots for a first loss, in their inaugural season, but they have to figure out how to close out games. And, with two games in hand, LAFC have some time to recover, as well.

6. Sporting Kansas City (+1)

While LAFC move down, because they conceded goals, Sporting Kansas City move up simply because, well, they didn’t.

Some might point to a clean sheet against goal-stricken D.C. United as an expected task, but Sporting will take anything they can get, at this point.

Up until this past weekend, the club had yet to keep a clean sheet and conceded an astounding nine goals in four games. Fortunately for head coach Peter Vermes’ side, the goals have been pouring in, helping them stay at the top of the Western Conference.

But while a clean sheet bodes well for the future, SKC need to desperately sort out their defensive issues against tougher opposition. Sporting look good, but they need to develop a defensive backbone to make the “next step.”

7. New England Revolution (N/A)

Now, for the first of three new additions to this week’s In Form, the New England Revolution. 

After the first game of the season, no one, including myself, would have predicted the  Revolution to come anywhere near a Top-10 not for goals conceded or red cards shown.

However, first-year manager Brad Friedel’s squad have turned it around nicely since an appalling opener, and it has been largely due to the emergence of New England’s youth.

Goalkeeper Matt Turner and midfielder Cristian Penilla have helped the Revs collect two wins from their last three games, including a massive away win against Houston Dynamo at the weekend.

New England also salvaged a deserved point at home against NYCFC, despite being the  far better side on the day. I am not quite ready to say that New England is back, but a 2-1-1 record and fourth place in a competitive Eastern Conference is not bad at all.

8. LA Galaxy (N/A)

LA Galaxy are another club that sit at 2-1-1, and they recently jumped ahead of cross-city rivals LAFC after this past weekends wild El Trafico win.

It wasn’t just a statement victory for the Galaxy, winning the first-ever LA Derby. Zlatan’s inspiring performance will, perhaps, be season defining for the club, too.

While there is little doubt the Galaxy are a quality side, there are questions of whether they can do it again, against big opposition this season. LA will hope that more statement wins, such as that in El Trafico, will put those questions to rest in the near future.

9. New York Red Bulls (N/A)

And finally, for the final new addition to In Form this week is a club many were expecting to be on the list from the start. 

New York Red Bulls got off to a quiet start this year, and part of that has to do with the club’s excellent run in the CONCACAF Champions League.

NYRB have not really faced anyone of note. Head coach Jesse Marsch’s side has two wins from four games, and they have yet to win in consecutive league games. A lack of squad depth has showed in recent defeats to Real Salt Lake and Orlando City SC.

But there is little else to say about this team, at the moment, other than it seems that the club is making the Champions League a priority, which is to be expected. I fully expect the Red Bulls to turn their season around, though it may have to come at the expense of the Champions League.

10. Philadelphia Union (-4)

Philadelphia Union are, perhaps, this season’s most confusing team. One minute, their offense looks scintillating, and then the next, it looks as it has for the last several seasons: sputtering, abysmal, and at times lost.

Granted, Philadelphia had a tough task last time out, playing at high-altitude at a frigid Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. But Union fans were rightfully expecting more than a three-nil drudging to a middling Colorado Rapids.

This game proved that winning away from home is paramount to having a successful season in MLS, and the Union will have to figure that out, and figure it out soon, if they are to have any shot at a post-season this season.

At the very least, the Union need to drastically improve their road form from last year. They have the benefit of having only played three matches. Wins in upcoming matches would put any concerns to rest, for the time being.

However, more than anything, the club needs to maintain consistency, both at home and away, which is something that can be difficult with a squad as inexperienced as theirs.

Philly fans are finally getting the youth movement they asked for, as the Union are finally “playing the kids.” But what remains a concern is whether these youngsters will have the grit needed to grind out wins in games like the one last weekend, in Colorado.

Check back at the end of next Matchweek to see who’s up, who’s down, and of course, who’s In Form. In the meantime, let me know what you think of my Top-10 on Twitter. Cheers.