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The lead pack in Major League Soccer is taking shape and this week's results set up a pair of big-time match-ups for next week.
Chivas USA remains the top team in the MLS Power Rankings despite its tie vs. Kansas City, but will be tested for that spot by surging Chicago, which moves up to No. 2 with a second straight victory. The conference leaders will square off on Thursday on ESPN2.
Another intra-conference clash sure to be worth watching is Houston-TFC, two teams that posted impressive victories this weekend. Amado Guevara is playing amazingly, having earned MLS Player of the Week honors for his two-goal effort. Houston battered San Jose early and often to post another victory.
Here is how this week's SBI MLS Power Rankings shook out:
SBI MLS Power Rankings (Week 10)
1 (Last week- 1). Chivas USA (7-1-3) Last Week: Tied Kansas City Wizards, 1-1, on Saturday. This Week: vs. Chicago Fire on Thursday (10:30pm, ESPN2). Outlook: Playing on the extremely narrow field at Kansas City didn't help Chivas USA any, but the Goats still should have found a way to beat a nine-man Wizards squad. The ultimate match-up against unbeaten Chicago awaits on Thursday. 2 (3). Chicago Fire (4-0-6)
1 (Last week- 1). Chivas USA (7-1-3)
Last Week: Tied Kansas City Wizards, 1-1, on Saturday.
This Week: vs. Chicago Fire on Thursday (10:30pm, ESPN2).
Outlook: Playing on the extremely narrow field at Kansas City didn't help Chivas USA any, but the Goats still should have found a way to beat a nine-man Wizards squad. The ultimate match-up against unbeaten Chicago awaits on Thursday.
2 (3). Chicago Fire (4-0-6)
Last Week: Beat New York Red Bulls, 1-0, on Sunday
This Week: at Chivas USA on Thursday (10:30pm, ESPN2); vs. FC Dallas on Sunday (Telefutura).
Outlook: The Fire has put the defensive lapses of the early season in the past and is looking more like the stingy defensive squad we remembered from last season. Chris Rolfe's game-winning goal should keep him in the starting lineup while Wilman Conde has a Defender of the Year look to him.
3 (2). D.C. United (3-1-7)
Last Week: Beat the New York Red Bulls, 5-3 (U.S. Open Cup); tied Real Salt Lake, 0-0, on Saturday.
This Week: at New England Revolution on Saturday (7:30pm, Direct Kick)
Outlook: Smoked the Red Bulls at midweek, but delivered a snoozer against RSL. Tom Soehn's decision to play the veterans and bench Chris Pontius and Rodney Wallace was a curious one that might have cost his team two points.
4 (5). Houston Dynamo (4-2-3)
Last Week: Beat San Jose Earthquakes, 3-1, on Saturday
This Week: vs. Toronto FC on Saturday (8:30pm, Direct Kick)
Outlook: Two goals in the first twelve minutes finished San Jose off before the game even got started. If Brad Davis can start delivering service like that on a regular basis then the Dynamo attack just might have the ingredient its been missing.
5 (7). Toronto FC (4-3-4)
Last Week: Beat New England Revolution, 3-1, last Saturday.
This Week: at Houston Dynamo on Saturday (8:30pm, Direct Kick).
Outlook: Amado Guevara is, dare I say, looking like a serious MVP candidate these days. The recent form of Guevara and DeRosario almost makes up for the terrible finishing of Toronto's forwards. Almost.
6 (4). Seattle Sounders (4-2-4)
Last Week: Tied Colorado Rapids, 2-2, last Saturday.
This Week: vs. Columbus Crew on Saturday (10:3pm, FSC)
Outlook: A tie in Colorado is a good result but one win in seven matches does not a championship contender make. Fredy Montero scoring a goal is big for the Sounders, who now face Sigi Schmid's former team in what should be an exciting clash. It will be interesting to see how the Sounders do if they are forced to play without Osvaldo Alonso, who left the Colorado match with an injury.
7 (6). Colorado Rapids (3-2-4)
Last Week: Tied Seattle Sounders, 2-2, on Saturday.
This Week: at New York Red Bulls on Saturday (7:30pm, MSG)
Outlook: With Colin Clark in good form, the Rapids attacking trio of Clark-Casey-Cummings is proving a handful for anybody. They'll get a chance to halt their road woes against struggling New York, which is a tougher opponent than people realize.
8 (8). Kansas City Wizards (4-4-3)
Last Week: Tied Chivas USA, 1-1, on Saturday.
This Week: at Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday (10:30pm, Direct Kick)
Outlook: Claudio Lopez's stunning free kick was memorable, but losing two players to red cards was forgettable (and a bad job by the referee). Now the Wizards must face Los Angeles without leading scorer Josh Wolff and Santiago Hirsig. KC will struggle to score without Wolff against a Galaxy team that has mastered the "art" of keeping games ugly and low-scoring.
9 (9). Real Salt Lake (3-5-2)
Last Week: Tied D.C. United, 0-0, on Saturday.
This Week: at San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday (10:30pm, Direct Kick)
Outlook: It wasn't a road win, but Real Salt Lake can walk away from its tie vs. D.C. confident in its play. RSL had the better chances and more chances in what was a pretty ugly game. All that said, Real Salt Lake isn't winning many road games with its 4-5-1 formation. Then again, San Jose is up next and the Earthquakes look incapable of beating anybody.
10 (10). New England Revolution (2-3-4)
Last Week: Lost to Toronto FC, 3-1, on Saturday.
This Week: vs. D.C. United on Saturday (7:30pm, Direct Kick)
Outlook: While Shalrie Joseph might be scoring some goals at his new position of forward, you have to wonder what his absence in midfield is doing to the Revolution. With D.C. United up next, Steve Nicol might have no choice but to play Joseph and Ralston in more traditional roles, or risk having his midfield dominated.
11 (11). Columbus Crew (1-2-6)
Last Week: Bye week
This Week: at Seattle Sounders on Saturday (10:30pm, Direct Kick)
Outlook: Another week for the Crew to recover and get healthy. Up next is a suddenly-struggling Seattle squad that hasn't looked quite as invincible at home in recent games. With the pack in the East continuing to rack up points, the Crew are moving toward must-win mode, or at least "Really need to win" mode.
12 (13). Los Angeles Galaxy (1-1-8)
Last Week: Tied FC Dallas, 1-1, on Saturday.
This Week: vs. Kansas City Wizards on Saturday.
Outlook: When you can't beat a 10-man FC Dallas team just how much can a long unbeaten streak really mean? The Galaxy keep on racking up the ties as Landon Donovan's time to leave for national team duty moves closer. Facing KC without Josh Wolff is fortunate, very fortunate, but may still not be enough to help LA finally win a game.
13 (12). New York Red Bulls (2-6-3)
Last Week: Lost to D.C. United, 5-2, on Wednesday (U.S. Open Cup); Lost to the Chicago Fire, 1-0, on Sunday.
This Week: vs. Colorado on Saturday (7:30pm, MSG)
Outlook: The Red Bulls played what was probably their second-best game of the year and still came away without a point. Another loss against Colorado on Saturday will make the shouts for Juan Carlos Osorio's job start to ring more loudly.
14 (14). FC Dallas (1-6-3)
Last Week: Tied Los Angeles Galaxy, 1-1, on Saturday.
This Week: at Chicago Fire on Sunday (3pm, Telefutura)
Outlook: Overcame a red card to earn a draw vs. Los Angeles. Losing Bruno Guardo to a knee injury hurts, but not as much as having to face unbeaten Chicago on Sunday.
15 (15). San Jose Earthquakes (1-6-2)
Last Week: Lost to the Houston Dynamo, 3-1, on Saturday.
This Week: vs. Real Salt Lake on Saturday (10:30pm, Direct Kick)
Outlook: The return of Jason Hernandez wasn't enough to help San Jose's defense stop the bleeding. Two early goals surrendered vs. Houston spelled doom for a team that just doesn't have much reason for optimism these days. Facing an RSL team that is notoriously bad on the road should help, but I can't see San Jose beating anybody these days.
I will add more observations to this post tonight. For now I'll offer a few:
Kansas City and Colorado are pretty close and I nearly moved KC ahead of the Rapids, but Colorado is playing better than people realize. Now, if the Rapids stumble and KC can upend LA, you'll see a correction.
I moved LA ahead of the Red Bulls, but not because I think they're better. Points are points so you can't ignore the Galaxy's unbeaten streak despite its ties, but the Red Bulls looked significantly better against Chicago than LA looked against a short-handed FC Dallas team.
That's all for now. Share your thoughts on this week's rankings in the comments section below.