Posted: Mon March 11, 2013 2:34PM; Updated: Mon March 11, 2013 2:33PM
Avi Creditor

Canada shines, but America's best still lead MLS Power Rankings

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Toronto FC
Toronto FC bounced back from an opening defeat at Vancouver by downing Sporting Kansas City 2-1.
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All hail the maple leaf. With some of the top teams in MLS on bye to focus on the CONCACAF Champions League, an unprecedented and historic week took center (centre?) stage and highlighted Week 2 ...

1. Oh, Canada. Canadian soccer has been through enough in the last calendar year. Whether it was the women feeling robbed of a result against the U.S. in the Olympic semifinals; the men falling apart in an 8-1 defeat in Honduras with a chance to qualify for the CONCACAF Hexagonal; the U-20 men falling to the U.S. with a chance to qualify for this summer's FIFA U-20 World Cup; or the general malaise and circus encompassing Toronto FC reaching new lows.

So Saturday's historic feat, in which all three Canadian MLS teams won on the same day for the first time, is certain cause for celebration in the Great White North. Toronto FC snapped a 15-game league winless drought, securing three points for the first time since July and handling Sporting Kansas City, of all teams. That Vancouver took care of business at home against Columbus is not surprising, but to do so without injured captain Jay DeMerit while getting vital contributions from high-priced forward Kenny Miller and newcomers Nigel Reo-Coker and Daigo Kobayashi is an excellent indicator of things to come for Martin Rennie's side.

The most impressive, though, might just be the Montreal Impact, who breezed through two of the league's toughest opposing venues -- Seattle's CenturyLink Field and Portland's Jeld-Wen Field -- and emerged with six points. The only other team that pulled off that double in one season was Real Salt Lake last year. Montreal has done it in consecutive weeks under new management that has thumbed its nose at those maintaining that foreign coaches have a rough go in MLS. Marco Schallibaum's defensive and counterattacking tactics have been expertly executed by his charges, and for Montreal, which has already matched its road win total from a season ago, it appears to have staying power potential as long as its aging veterans are able to hold up over the course of the season.

The Canadian sides all did things a bit differently as well. Toronto and Montreal were completely dominated in terms of possession (Sporting KC had a 68-32 edge on possssion over TFC, while Portland saw 62 percent of the ball compared to Montreal's 37), but were able to be effective on the counter and cash in on their opportunities. There was a bit of home-turf advantage as well, as Sporting KC and Columbus both had defensive lapses in possession that gifted goals for Toronto and Vancouver, respectively, and paved the way for their results.

Where these teams go from here and whether the Canadian reign becomes a theme of the season remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: The rare Canadian sweep won't be repeated this coming week. Montreal and Toronto square off with one another, and Vancouver is on bye.

2. Finding perspective in slow starts. In most sports, but especially MLS, it's vital to remember the cliche, it's not how you start, it's how you finish.

The forgiving league format in which 10 out of 19 teams make the playoffs after a 34-game season creates plenty of margin for error, so those fretting after a winless couple of weeks should be mindful. Of course, not all seasons and teams are created equally, so those finding solace in the fact that the LA Galaxy began 3-8-2 last season before turning it on and winning another MLS Cup might want to temper their comparisons a bit as well.

The 0-2-0 Colorado Rapids and Chicago Fire, for example, don't have a Landon Donovan-David Beckham-Robbie Keane-caliber trio to turn to, nor do they have a pending Omar Gonzalez return in waiting. They are both dealing with key absences, though, players who should be able to help rectify their issues.

Chicago is yet to play with Arne Friedrich and Logan Pause, two veterans who can tighten the back line. Coach Frank Klopas has the attacking talent at his disposal to churn out a prolific team, but the new pieces are still finding their rhythm. In the meantime, it is on the club's defense to pull its weight, but after conceding four goals to the Galaxy and then failing to come up with a sound clearance to ultimately allow New England's Jerry Bengtson to head home the shock game-winner Saturday, that unit is not getting the job done. Friedrich especially, with his positional expertise and ability, will help alter that once his hamstring heals.

Colorado was always going to need time to work in its hoard of new parts. The Rapids still have not had integral playmaker Martin Rivero or forward Edson Buddle, both hurt, see the field and instead have turned to rookies Dillon Powers and Deshorn Brown in big spots early. The team's leading scorer from a season ago, Jaime Castrillon, might not be able to play until August after knee surgery. Like FC Dallas showed last season, it is quite realistic to stem the tide during player absences and make a run from the bottom of the table to playoff contention. It appears that is what Colorado must replicate to become a player in the Western Conference.

3. Miller Time haunts New York again. "Miller Time" has never carried a positive association for New York sports fans, not after Reggie Miller's NBA playoff heroics in mid-1990s. This version is self-inflicted, though.

Roy Miller's new nickname should be "The Cat," because the New York Red Bulls left back appears to have nine lives. The Costa Rican international has been at the heart of some performances that would see countless others earn one-way tickets out of town, only for him to be given chance after chance to redeem himself. Only the chances at redemption have gone begging worse than his ill-fated free kick that sealed New York's playoff exit last season.

On Sunday, he pulled off the impressive feat of being beaten for a late equalizer, committing a handball that gifted San Jose a stoppage-time penalty and then needlessly encroaching when Chris Wondolowski's initial spot kick was saved by Luis Robles. The reigning league MVP made good on his second chance to bury the Red Bulls and ensure they walked away from their season-opening two-game road swing with one point instead of the six they could have had. After Miller's latest failure, the writing may be on the wall for Connor Lade to step into the lineup or for Heath Pearce to slide to left back.

4. Scheduling priority in plain view. MLS catches plenty of flack for its scheduling, most notably games during international breaks throughout the season, but the league did a solid by giving Houston, Los Angeles and Seattle bye weeks this past weekend, with all three involved in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

In his preseason address, MLS commissioner Don Garber reiterated his goal at making his league one of the best in the world by 2022, and a step in that process is becoming the best in the region. To do that, regular CCL success and earning a place at the FIFA Club World Cup is a must, and the fact that the league will go to lengths to assist its teams in the competition as much as it can is commendable. It is not unprecedented for the league to show preference to CCL participants. Two years ago, the league allowed Real Salt Lake to reschedule a league game against the Philadelphia Union that was initially slated in between the two legs of the CCL final against Monterrey in an effort to provide an advantage, albeit one that ultimately did not pay off.

With Houston, L.A. and Seattle all having realistic chances of advancing after last week's first legs, the extra rest and preparation time afforded to them will certainly come in handy and provide a luxury that the opponents of the Dynamo and Sounders, Mexican sides Santos Laguna and Tigres UANL, won't have after they had to play this weekend. Whether it pays off this time will be determined this week, but at least MLS is trying and has its priorities lined up.

5. Team of the Week

Goalkeeper: Matt Reis (New England Revolution)

Defenders: Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia Union), Hassoun Camara (Montreal Impact), Dejan Jakovic (D.C. United), Austin Berry (Chicago Fire)

Midfielders: Patrice Bernier (Montreal Impact), Daigo Kobayashi (Vancouver Whitecaps), Juan Toja (New England Revolution)

Forwards: Robert Earnshaw (Toronto FC), Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA), Kenny Miller (Vancouver Whitecaps)

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Week 2 MLS Power Rankings
New Rank Old Rank Team
1 1 Houston Dynamo (1-0-0)
Given a bye from league play because of their involvement in the CONCACAF Champions League, the Dynamo carry a 1-0 edge with them into Torreon, where they eye rare MLS success on Mexican soil and hope to eliminate Herculez Gomez's Santos Laguna to seal a place in the tournament semifinals. Win or lose, awaiting the Dynamo next weekend is the start of a tough league stretch and a Texas rivalry bout with FC Dallas.
2 2 Los Angeles Galaxy (1-0-0)
Like Houston, the Galaxy were off from league play, with all focus on finding a way to seize advantage over Herediano this Thursday after a scoreless draw in Costa Rica in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal. The bye also helped the Galaxy in the sense it's another week gone by without Landon Donovan before an anticipated return later this month, but one in which he did not have to miss out on a league game.
3 10 Vancouver Whitecaps (2-0-0)
Sure, the Whitecaps may have been gifted their go-ahead goal, but the club earned its win over Columbus and rides into its bye with a perfect mark, which has a two-fold effect. It allows the early-season momentum to carry another week, and it gives the back line that lost Jay DeMerit to a ruptured Achilles time to mesh even more after a pair of mostly stout showings without the hobbled captain.
4 11 Montreal Impact (2-0-0)
Pulling off the impressive road double in Seattle and Portland has all eyes turning toward the Impact. It's not just the defensive organization, but also the quality of the club's goals has been tremendous. Davy Arnaud's sumptuous finish in Seattle, Hassoun Camara's bicycle kick and the sequence sparked by Patrice Bernier for Felipe's goal were applause-worthy efforts.
5 6 D.C. United (1-1-0)
D.C.'s home unbeaten streak is at 19 after a 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake, one that definitely won't net style points but was effective nevertheless. After eliminating rival New York from the playoffs, United returns to Red Bull Arena this weekend with a new swagger, looking to maintain bragging rights in the first of three meetings this season.
6 4 Real Salt Lake (1-1-0)
RSL opened up at two of the toughest places to win in MLS -- San Jose and D.C. -- and bagged three points, all while missing a number of would-be starters to injury and working in younger faces in place of departed stars. Plus, RFK Stadium has never been kind to the club, which fell to 0-5-3 there all time in league play after Saturday's narrow loss. All things considered, not a bad start.
7 3 Sporting Kansas City (1-1-0)
Opening with two road games is reason to give Sporting KC a bit of the benefit of the doubt for its shaky start, but Peter Vermes' typically sturdy defense is making a habit of committing serious early blunders. At the very least, Claudio Bieler is looking like a nice find after another clinical finish gave the DP striker his second goal in as many MLS games.
8 8 Seattle Sounders (0-1-0)
The Sounders were extremely fortunate to only be down 1-0 after their trip to unbeaten Mexican foe Tigres UANL in the CCL, and it's shaping up to be a potentially landmark week for the club if it can turn around its form. Advancing to the CCL semifinals and topping Portland at home would certainly take the stink off early-season struggles.
9 9 San Jose Earthquakes (1-1-0)
The newest member of the Goonies was initiated Sunday night. Unheralded rookie forward Adam Jahn, a late sub, scored a game-tying goal and won a game-deciding penalty. Given San Jose's tough early schedule, the three-point haul from Sunday's otherwise drab affair provided a bit of a buffer while Steven Lenhart, Alan Gordon, Marvin Chavez and Steven Beitashour recover from injuries.
10 5 Columbus Crew (1-1-0)
A poor giveaway by new center back Glauber cost Columbus a point on the road, and the club has one more game against the West this weekend before 13 out of 14 against East teams. Homegrown midfielder Ben Speas filled in admirably for Eddie Gaven and assisted on Jairo Arrieta's goal in just his second MLS start.
11 7 New York Red Bulls (0-1-1)
The Red Bulls held second-half leads in Portland and San Jose and have just one point to show for it. For a team with so many proven winners, from underperforming DPs Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill to MLS veterans Fabian Espindola, Jamison Olave and Dax McCarty, closing out games should not be such a chore and challenge. Fans' groans will grow if the club can't get a result against rival D.C. in this weekend's home opener.
12 15 Philadelphia Union (1-1-0)
The projections when Amobi Okugo and Jack McInerney were drafted in 2010 are continuing to come to fruition. Both scored in the Union's first win. Okugo is forcing manager John Hackworth's hand to keep one of two very capable center backs -- Jeff Parke or Bakary Soumare -- on the bench.
13 17 New England Revolution (1-0-0)
New-look New England did quite well to win away from home after enjoying a Week 1 bye. First overall draft pick Andrew Farrell had a mixed-batch night, but the fact that he didn't let some truly poor moments ruin the rest of his evening and get him down bodes well for his learning curve. Second-year midfielder Kelyn Rowe was a difference-maker off the bench and stated his case for inclusion in the starting XI.
14 18 Chivas USA (1-1-0)
The Chelis-Schellas battle went decidedly in the eccentric Chivas USA manager's favor, from every aspect in the game down to his colorful postgame comments. Slotting a fully fit Juan Agudelo in the starting lineup paid off for the Rojiblancos. The U.S. striker opened his season account with a nice individual effort and sparked a comeback win. Now maybe more than a handful of fans will fill thousands of empty Home Depot Center seats. .
15 12 FC Dallas (1-1-0)
On the plus side, David Ferreira's move to spring free down the left, cut in the box and deftly beat Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy brought back memories of his 2010 MVP campaign. The rest of the squad's showing against Chivas, however, was considerably less inspiring. The back line that was supposed to be a strength was torched after being staked to a lead.
16 19 Toronto FC (1-1-0)
The two key protagonists in Toronto's win, Robert Earnshaw and John Bostock, showed purpose and vigor that newcomers with strong pedigrees are supposed to bring. The problem is both are merely on loan with the Reds until the end of June. Attacking depth is not Toronto's strong suit, and the club is going to have to do what it takes to retain both in order to keep churning out positive results like the landmark win over Sporting KC on Saturday.
17 13 Portland Timbers (0-1-1)
There are plenty of early encouraging signs in the Caleb Porter era despite failing to win one of the first two home games. Now the Timbers are tasked with going on the road -- a horror no matter the city during the club's short MLS history -- to rival Seattle, feeling the pressure to come up with a three-point haul.
18 14 Chicago Fire (0-2-0)
Losing at L.A., the two-time defending MLS Cup champion, fine. Losing at home to New England is a little less forgivable. Being the first foe to visit Sporting Park to take on what is sure to be a SKC side hell bent on rectifying its early woes is not going to make life any easier. This 2012 playoff club has yet to score in two matches.
19 16 Colorado Rapids (0-2-0)
A goalkeeping gaffe cost Colorado another goal, but this time it happened with seasoned veteran Matt Pickens between the pipes. The combination of final-third futility and leaky netminding is a recipe for disaster, and that has proven to be the case for a Colorado side that has seen plenty of the ball but just hasn't been able to do much with it..

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