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MLS Power Rankings: Four 2015 playoff teams off to 0-2 starts

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MLS Power Rankings: Four 2015 playoff teams off to 0-2 starts

Every year there are predictions before the Major League Soccer season gets underway, and often times the predictions are similar to how the previous season ended up.

It’s natural, of course. Why go against what you’ve seen play out?

However, MLS doesn’t cooperate with predictions. The unpredictable league is at it again with a few of the expected strong teams in 2016 off to 0-2 starts. Four teams that made the conference semifinals last year lost the first two games of 2016. The reigning Supporters’ Shield winners New York Red Bulls, last year’s MLS Cup runners-up Columbus Crew, the Clint Dempsey-led Seattle Sounders and the Vancouver Whitecaps all have early holes to dig out of.

[MORE: Fire showed progress in Orlando, but still have to improve]

Naturally, those teams won’t be expected to stay at the bottom of the league for long, but the slow starts could be legitimate warning signs for rocky years. It's difficult to properly rank teams with two losses knowing they have the talent to be in the top half, or higher, in the league. As a result, these first rankings are a mix between a team's expectations and talent as well as how they've performed through two games.

 

Rank
Team
Record Comment
1 2-0 Montreal Impact: Winning at Vancouver and then spanking the Red Bulls 3-0 is worthy of the top spot in the rankings. Ignacio Piatti is looking like an MVP candidate and he has teamed well with Harry Shipp in the midfield. Did you know Didier Drogba hasn't played yet? Yeah, Drogba hasn't played yet and the Impact are ranked No. 1. Watch out.
2 2-0 Sporting Kansas City: Two wins against 2015 playoff teams is an impressive way to start the new season. Dom Dwyer scored a must-see long-range laser to open the scoring in the 2-1 win against Vancouver and Brad Davis made his Sporting KC debut off the bench. Davis could end up being a huge addition for this team.
3 1-0-1 Toronto FC: The revamped defense showed some cracks against New York City FC on Sunday, but the team showed an extra something to fight back for an away draw against an improved NYCFC. The opening shutout win at the New York Red Bulls showed the defense has improved.
4 2-0 San Jose Earthquakes: Sure, both of San Jose's wins were at home, but 2-0 is 2-0. The Quakes knocked off the Rapids 1-0 and beat the defending champs 2-1 on Sunday, a game which included Quincy Amarikwa's potential goal of the season long-range chip.
5 1-1 Portland Timbers: They weren't a dominant force in the regular season last year, and even caught some luck to get by Sporting Kansas City in a penalty shootout in the postseason, so the loss at San Jose shouldn't be a surprise or a concern. The Timbers will be in the mix throughout the year.
6 1-1 LA Galaxy: So far this looks like last year's team, for better or worse. The Galaxy opened with a resounding 4-1 home win against D.C. United and then followed up by losing on the last kick at Colorado. LA struggled on the road last year, but losing on a last-second wonder goal by Marco Pappa isn't damning.
7 1-0-1 Real Salt Lake: RSL was a bit unlucky not to get the full three points in Orlando, giving up two stoppage time goals for a 2-2 draw. Perhaps that evened out with a late winner from Jamison Olave to beat Seattle on Saturday. Burrito Martinez is one of the most exciting players to watch in the league and Joao Plata is another dangerous attacker. This is a fun team to watch again.
8 1-0-1 Houston Dynamo: The 5-0 win against FC Dallas gave the Dynamo their first win against their in-state foes since 2012, and what a win it was. Arguably the most impressive win of the young MLS season. Houston has a league-leading eight goals through two games.
9 1-0-1 New York City FC: ESPN's Paul Carr dug out the stat that Andrea Pirlo had 110 touches in the 2-2 draw with Toronto on Sunday, which were the most for him since joining NYCFC. Getting Pirlo involved in a big way will be one of new coach Patrick Vieira's biggest tasks. Meanwhile, do they even miss Frank Lampard?
10 1-1 FC Dallas: The 2-0 win against Philadelphia to open the season looked like Dallas as most expected: a fast, talented team led by Mauro Diaz and Fabian Castillo. Against Houston? No one has a good explanation for that 5-0 shellacking, which makes them one of the harder teams to rank.
11 0-2 Vancouver Whitecaps: Two one-goal losses to two 2-0 teams that look really sharp to start 2016 isn't devastating. Vancouver should rebound, although the two losses do show some vulnerability in what should be a very tough and deep Western Conference.
12 0-2 Seattle Sounders: This isn't the way Seattle dreamed the post-Obafemi Martins era would start, but it's not like the Sounders have been totally outplayed. They played down a man for most of the match at home against Sporting KC and lost on a late goal at Real Salt Lake. The lack of offense - just one goal scored in two matches - is a concern though.
13 1-1 Philadelphia Union: Opening with tough away games at Dallas, which ended a predictable 2-0 loss, and Columbus, which was a shock 2-0 win, were a brutal way to start 2016. The team will have to be feeling good to have three points from those two games. Also, seeing Chris Pontius net a pair of goals could be a sign that he is back to his Best XI form of 2012.
14 0-2 Columbus Crew: The opening 2-1 loss at Portland was nothing to be ashamed of, but losing 2-0 at home to Philadelphia is an eye opener. Still, there's too much talent on this team for the Crew to not bounce back.
15 1-1

Colorado Rapids: The Rapids appear to have a stout defense again, but scoring goals may still be a problem. Marco Pappa's stoppage time winner against the Galaxy on Saturday was Colorado's first goal of the season, but they've only conceded one. It will be interesting to see how Jermaine Jones integrates with the team when he comes off suspension.

16 0-2 New York Red Bulls: It's hard to see the early struggles continuing to this level for very long, but just based on performance they have been the worst team in the league through two games. They are the only team in the league yet to score a goal and are tied for the most goals conceded (five). The loss of Matt Miazga appears to be looming large, but RBNY should turn it around.
17 0-0-2 New England Revolution: The Revs played to a high-scoring draw with Houston in the opener and then played to a scoreless draw with D.C. United the next week. A lack of consistency was a killer last season and playing two very different kinds of draws to start the season may be a sign of another up and down year for New England.
18 0-1-1 Chicago Fire: After last season, the Orlando game at least showed some positive signs, but the lack of possession and a still spotty defense are worrying. David Accam looks like a lock to be an All-Star and maybe even an MVP candidate, if the Fire win enough to warrant his contention.
19 0-0-2 Orlando City: The Lions held a man advantage for parts of each of the first two matches and both were at home. Despite being up a man for a total of 83 minutes, Orlando was outscored 1-0 in that time. That's ugly. Whenever Kaka returns that will be a big boost, but there's no doubt they've struggled out of the gate.
20 0-1-1 D.C. United: Holding New England to a scoreless draw on the road was a big improvement from the 4-1 drubbing United took at the hands of the Galaxy in the opener. Luciano Acosta could be one of the best additions in the MLS offseason, but the 21-year-old is being asked to do an awful lot for that attack.

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

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USA TODAY

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

Coach Veljko Paunovic still went with a second-choice lineup to start the Fire's preseason match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Wednesday, but the second half featured the first preseason action for Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Schweinsteiger came on for the second half, along with Nemanja Nikolic, Johan Kappelhof and a few other Fire regulars. The German sat out the first four preseason games, but looked sharp in his 45 minutes.

One of the highlights was this smooth move between two defenders:

Schweinsteiger also had an impressive switch pass to set up a shot for second-round pick Diego Campos in the final minutes of the game. Campos drilled the shot on target, but was unable to beat the goalkeeper.

The team did not say Schweinsteiger was injured despite the repeated absences in matches. The Fire have dealt with injuries to Matt Polster, Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Grant Lillard this preseason. None of those four, along with Dax McCarty, played in the 0-0 draw.

The Fire next play Saturday at Orlando in a final match in Florida before returning to Chicago. The Fire also play Tulsa, the team's USL affiliate, at Toyota Park on March 3 before taking on Sporting Kansas City in the season opener on March 10.

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

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USA TODAY

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.

The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).

Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.

The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.

All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.

Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.

Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.

The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.