MLS Playoffs Power Rankings: Can anyone beat the New York Red Bulls?
The regular season is over, which means it's time for the MLS Cup playoffs. Twelve teams enter the postseason, all with dreams of a championship. Here's how they rank after 34 games:
It would be wrong to put the Red Bulls anywhere but top of the rankings after a record-setting regular-season point haul and the Supporters' Shield that came with it. Despite a coaching change midseason, New York looks to be even better than before. Bradley Wright-Phillips and Luis Robles will give them a chance at advancing even on a day when they aren't playing their best.
The final day didn't go as planned, and the injury status of Miguel Almiron looms large, but Atlanta's regular season was largely a triumph. Josef Martinez's record goal haul and talent throughout the squad makes United an obvious Cup contender. Tata Martino's impending departure could either be a distraction or spur the club on to an MLS Cup.
When the season began, there was a reasonable question about who would score the goals in Kansas City. Thirty-four games later, the answer is ... lots of players. Johnny Russell, Daniel Salloi & Co. are proving good enough to get the job done together. SKC can score and also play tough defense. They're the obvious choice as the favorite in the West.
The Sounders' run to the postseason culminated in a Decision Day climb into second, earning the club a bye into the conference semis. Seattle has won 12 of its past 14 games and is riding the hot hand of Raul Ruidiaz -- scorer of 10 goals in 14 appearances. As long as they stay healthy, the Sounders can compete for a return to the MLS Cup final.
5. D.C. United
The Black and Red scored a home playoff game thanks to a final day draw and will host Columbus at Audi Field. United looks dangerous right now, with Wayne Rooney's quality and the buy-in across the squad paying off in a big way in the season's second half. Don't overlook the contributions of Russell Canouse in midfield and a backline anchored by Steve Birnbaum.
LAFC set a record for most points in a season by an expansion team and gets a home playoff game for the effort. It will be the big favorite against Real Salt Lake because of the danger in the attack, with the likes of Carlos Vela and Adama Diomande leading the way. Bob Bradley's biggest issue is making sure there's enough defensive strength in midfield.
NYCFC's late-season swoon didn't cost it a home playoff game, but there are questions surrounding Dome Torrent's team. The best news for the club is that it is finally healthy -- Yangel Herrera's return can't be overstated in its importance to the playoff run. With a full complement of players, homefield advantage and David Villa, NYCFC is a dark horse in the East.
8. FC Dallas
Dallas is a bit of an enigma after 34 games. Good play was often balanced out by poor stretches, and goals sometimes went missing completely. The club didn't have a player in double-digit goals this year and will need to play nearly perfect soccer to go all the way.
Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco make the Timbers a tough out in the playoffs, leading an attack that can strike at any moment. Portland's defense is more questionable, and it will need Diego Chara to stay healthy if there's going to be a deep run this year. The Timbers rely heavily on set-piece goals, something that could help their playoff chances.
10. Columbus Crew SC
No playoff team in the league scored fewer goals during the regular season than the Crew. The difficult circumstances of the year make it tough to judge, but that might be a problem in the playoffs. The pressure is on Gyasi Zardes as the postseason arrives, with the striker leading the team with 16 goals, and on veteran creator Federico Higuain.
Philly blew a chance at a home playoff game on the final day, but still overachieved with a middling roster. The play of a young group of homegrowns and the emergence of Corey Burke stand out as highlights of the club's run back to the postseason. There's experience in the squad and leadership will be crucial when the Union try to prove they can play with the East's best teams in the playoffs.
12. Real Salt Lake
Is it fair to say that RSL backed into the playoffs? Mike Petke's team sat out Decision Day and made it into the playoffs via the Galaxy's loss. The home form was good for most of the season, and the club scored a few big upsets. Goals are still a problem for RSL, whose leading scorer was Damir Kreilach, a natural defensive midfielder played at striker.