Week 4: Power Rankings & Picks Tally

Memo to myself: STOP making picks based on wishes. Holy shit, did I manage a terrible week: I went 1-for-6 on the action Saturday through Monday and that punch to the gut drags my record for the year to 10-18. It was a wacky week, sure, but not that wacky.

Before turning to the power rankings, let’s look at some interesting talking points from Week 3. In no particular order:

- I’m not buying the Eddie Johnson “rebirth” tale just yet, a point I elaborate on in the Week 4 wrap I sent over to Write On Sports. When Johnson makes the grade against competition tougher than DC and Toronto, I’ll hop on the bandwagon, for both Johnson and KC - but not till then. For what it’s worth, the same piece after the link reviews the week’s action.

- The “feature” concept I almost used for that piece was a concern that the (safe, sometimes stiflingly dull) style of play working so well for the Chicago Fire and Red Bull New York may tilt the rest of the league to imitation; I shied away from doing so because the data are too thin to back that assertion so early in the season. But, call this a trend to watch - and pray it doesn’t happen. We’ll all be fortunate if time doesn’t stop outright when these two teams meet.

- As nearly everyone mentioned, the atmosphere at BMO Field looked pretty swell. Better still, word is the fans applauded their team after the game. Shitting on the home side has its place - though I’m partial to disgusted silence myself - and I understand why it’s done, but I just can’t feature getting mad to the point where I’ll boo the home team. It’s just not that important to me. I go to the game and pay of my own free will and, when the team I’m watching sucks, chances are I know this going in.

- If there’s one bright spot for Toronto, it’s that teams will become increasingly apprehensive about playing them the longer their goals and wins drought continues. Apprehension breeds anxiety, which breeds mistakes, which breeds goals and losses: that’s how I’m seeing the subtle panic that will afflict each successive team that faces TFC: who wants to go down in the books as being the first team on which TFC scored, never mind beat? What happens when that edge evaporates? I don’t know...though I don’t think it will help Toronto (who, incidentally, fascinate me).

Right, moving on now to the power rankings...

Last week’s ranking appears in parentheses immediately after this week’s ranking. So’s as to not misrepresent my judgment as entirely first-hand, the following key shows the distance of my observations: “@” means I watched a given team’s most recent performance in its entirety; “$” means I caught it through Quick Kicks, which provides extended highlights; “&” means I watched only the rump highlights available through MLSnet.com.

On with it now, fer reals - with the caveat that rankings five through ten are essentially one big, mashed toss-up - e.g. the same results, or even totally different ones, could have been achieved by spitting wads of paper at target, with the same approximate validity.

1. (2) Red Bull New York (& + final 10 min. v. FC Dallas)
Let the record show I surmounted the mental block and joined the herd in Week 4: Red Bull looks like the best team in MLS right now. It was their final 10 minutes against FC Dallas last Thursday that tipped the balance - such an assured killing of a game.

2. (1) Chicago Fire (@ - with some regret)
I hate this team right now. It’s not due to rivalry, the arrival of Blanco, etc. It’s that they’re relentlessly dull to watch. But, damn, are they looking strong and seriously hard to break down. Still, can’t wait for Blanco - or anything to spare me from Chad Barrett.

3. (5) New England Revolution (&)
As y’all know, this is more or less my team (more later), which makes placing them so high stink of a jinx. But they’re also getting the job done and, based on what I saw, they came awfully close to not having the one “L” that weighs down their record. Taylor Twellman, in particular, is looking very good, but that same stingy defense is there as well.

4. (4) Colorado Rapids (@ - in big snippets)
What can I say? Colorado is one of this year’s crushes. Their defense - which gave very little to RSL on Monday - makes the case for high placement; but their offense, which looks better than recent years, justifies their place at the top of the West.

5. (11) Los Angeles Galaxy (@)
This week’s big movers and they earned the jump with the precision of their attack against Chivas. Even when they gave up a lot possession, a few stray shots, even a goal, they looked bizarrely safe and confident. I’ll eat anything people feel like mailing me if they miss the post-season this year.

6. (8) Columbus Crew ($)
Last weekend’s defensive performance against DC convinced me that their second-rate breakdowns against the Revs were an aberration. As such, the Crew has half a strong team. By the power of Grabavoy, I think their offense will come on line at some point - and then they’ll justify my crush...not to mention this ranking.

7. (9) Kansas City Wizards ($ and a bit of @)
Records count for something, right? With these guys standing third in the stronger Eastern Conference, they’re likely nothing to sniff at - and their lone loss came against a team I rate pretty highly. Still, I’ll need to see more, and against teams better than Toronto, before moving them up the rankings.

8. (6) Houston Dynamo (@)
Here, reputation counts for something. Frankly, Houston looks like crap. They know it and their fans should as well; how else can one characterize one goal in four games? They’ve got good players who look like they’re misfiring. Another team that needs to show something before they stop heading south.

9. (3) Chivas USA (@)
The week’s biggest drop comes courtesy of two factors: the way they seemed to come unglued against LA and the “Amado” issue. It will take less for them to convince, but there’s a look of insecurity about this bunch.

10. (7) FC Dallas (& + &)
The harshest call this week and it grows from one thing: I don’t trust their defense. Yeah, they performed well enough against both Red Bull and New England and, according to what I’ve read, faced a lot of pressure thanks problems with Dallas’ possession. The point is, this defense appears unable to hold up when the offense misfires, so that’s a problem.

11. (10) DC United ($)
These guys reek of uncertainty. Yeah, they’ve got the horses, but they’re clearly spooked. But till these guys find some kind of confidence, they’re doomed.

12. (12) Toronto FC ($ and a bit of @)
I resisted the temptation to bump these guys above DC on the strength of their unflappable and vocal home support; it goes back to that thing about the horses. They’re combative at the least and, from what I saw, came pretty close to scoring their first. They look to be headed in the right direction, but have a hell of long walk ahead.

13. (12) Real Salt Lake (@ in big snippets)
It’s not that they looked all that awful, but - JESUS! - these guys could write a book on how to lose a game.

Finally, the standings...here's the official version if you want to check me.

Eastern Conference:
1. Red Bull New York: 10 pts. (3-0-1: 5 GF, 0 GA, +5; home, 2-0-0; away, 1-0-1)
2. Chicago Fire: 10 pts. (3-0-1: 5 GF, 2 GA, +3; home, 2-0-0; away, 1-0-1)
3. Kansas City Wiz: 9 pts. (3-1-0: 9 GF, 4 GA, +5; home, 1-0-0; away, 2-1-0)
4. New England Revs: 7 pts. (2-1-1: 7 GF, 3 GA, +4; home, 1-0-0; away, 1-1-1)
5. Columbus Crew: 6 pts. (1-0-3: 3 GF, 2 GA, +1; home, 1-0-2; away, 0-0-1)
6. DC United: 0 pts. (0-3-0: 3 GF, 7 GA, -4; home, 0-1-0; away, 0-2-0)
7. Toronto FC: 0 pts. (0-4-0: 0 GF, 10 GA, -10; home, 0-1-0; away, 0-3-0)

Western Conference
1. Colorado Rapids: 7 pts. (2-1-1: 6 GF, 5 GA, +1; home 1-0-1; away, 1-1-0)
2. FC Dallas: 7 pts. (2-3-1: 7 GF, 9 GA, -2; home, 1-2-0; away, 1-1-1)
3. Chivas USA: 6 pts. (2-2-0: 7 GF, 4 GA; +3; home, 2-0-0; away, 0-2-0)
4. Los Angeles Galaxy: 4 pts. (1-1-1: 4 GF, 3 GA, +1; home, 1-1-0; away, 0-0-1)
5. Houston Dynamo: 4 pts. (1-2-1: 1 GF, 1 GA, -1; home, 1-1-1; away, 0-1-0)
6. Real Salt Lake: 2 pts. (0-2-2: 2 GF, 8 GA, -6; home, 0-1-2; away, 0-1-0)

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