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MLS Power Rankings: Western Conference shows strength early

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MLS Power Rankings: Western Conference shows strength early

Entering this Major League Soccer season, the Western Conference was supposed to be the stronger of the two conferences and that's already proving to be true.

In 11 matches that pitted the two conferences against each other, Western Conference clubs have earned six wins and three draws against just two losses. As a result, CSNChicago.com's newest MLS Power Rankings have Western Conference teams in the top four spots.

Most of the league took a week off for the international window this past weekend. Only three matches played on Saturday. MLS is back in action with nine matches on the schedule this upcoming weekend.

[MORE: Fire hope to be fresher after week off]

Previous rankings: March 15

 

Rank

(previous)

Team
Record Comment
1 (2) 3-0 Sporting Kansas City: Three wins against three 2015 playoff teams is a fantastic way to start the season. Brad Davis' game-winner against Toronto shows he could be a difference maker for a Sporting team that consistently contends.
(7) 1-0-2 Real Salt Lake: RSL won its only home match and has two road draws. That's a solid formula. Then add in that those two road draws featured first half red cards and it starts to look more impressive. One concern is that even though RSL was shorthanded, they did blow 2-0 leads late in both away games.
3 (6) 2-1 LA Galaxy: This might be an aggressive ranking for the Galaxy, which continue to look like last year's team. Dominant home wins, outscoring their opponents 7-2 in two home victories, and a lackluster road loss. If the Galaxy figure out how to play on the road, watch out because this team won't drop many points at home.
4 (10) 3-1 FC Dallas: Shutout victories against Montreal and at D.C. restored order for Dallas after that puzzling 5-0 loss at Houston. FCD now has three shutout wins, all by multiple goals. That game at Houston may go down as one of the weirdest results of 2016.
5 (1) 2-1 Montreal Impact: The Impact came back to earth a bit with a 2-0 loss at FC Dallas. Losing in Dallas is nothing to be ashamed of though and Didier Drogba made his season debut off the bench. Getting Drogba reintegrated should make the Impact even stronger.
6 (3) 1-1-1 Toronto FC: TFC suffered a tough 1-0 road loss in Kansas City, but just needs to stay afloat while they endure this season-opening road trip. Four points through three games is good enough. Toronto's home opener doesn't come until May 7, after eight road matches, due to renovations at BMO Field.
7 (11) 2-2 Vancouver Whitecaps: The Whitecaps got back on track with back-to-back wins at Seattle and against Houston. Picking up a shutout against Houston in a 1-0 victory was especially impressive because the Dynamo scored a league-leading 11 goals entering that match.
8 (4) 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes: Losing on the road to the Galaxy is expected, especially when going down a man like the Earthquakes did on March 19. Still, the Quakes look like an improved team from 2015 and Chris Wondolowski has three goals already.
(5) 1-1-1 Portland Timbers: The Timbers rallied from 2-0 down, while playing against 10 men, to get a home draw against Real Salt Lake. That's not the most inspiring result, but the comeback shows something about the team's confidence and spirit.
10 (13) 2-1 Philadelphia Union: The Union have been one of the surprises early in the season with back-to-back shutout victories in Columbus (2-0) and against New England (3-0). Not much was expected of this team, but the decisive results show the Union could be pushing for a playoff spot.
11 (16) 1-2 New York Red Bulls: The Red Bulls' offense exploded in a 4-3 win against Houston, which followed two shutout losses. Meanwhile, the defense is really struggling with eight goals against in three matches, the worst defensive record in the league.
12 (8) 1-2-1 Houston Dynamo: The Dynamo scored an unbelievable 11 goals through three matches. The problem? They only got four points from those three games. Then on Saturday, Vancouver clamped down on the Dynamo with a 1-0 win in Canada.
13 (15) 1-1-1 Colorado Rapids: The big news is the eventual acquisition of Tim Howard, who follows Jermaine Jones as a U.S. National Team player to sign. Defense wasn't an issue for the Rapids last year though and they've only given up two goals so far. Meanwhile, Colorado has just two goals in three matches.
14 (19) 1-0-2 Orlando City: The Lions improved on two home draws with a road win at New York City FC, courtesy of a Josh Saunders mistake in goal. That gave Orlando its first win of the season. Cyle Larin (3 goals) is on fire. Kaka is yet to play so things could get even better.
15 (14) 0-2-1 Columbus Crew: The scoreless draw in Bridgeview was a step in the right direction for the Crew, who dominated the play at Toyota Park. That draw at least got the Crew on the board with a point, but the team was noticeably sloppy. All that talent on offense has scored just one goal in three matches.
16 (12) 0-3 Seattle Sounders: Another one-goal defeat for the Sounders, this time a 2-1 loss to Vancouver at home. Jordan Morris hasn't exactly hit the ground running. Seattle is the only team in the league without a point. Any team with Clint Dempsey has a chance in MLS, but this team may have more problems than most expected.
17 (9) 1-1-2 New York City FC: After winning a thrilling 4-3 game at Toyota Park to open the season, NYCFC got just two points from the three home matches that followed. The 2-2 draw against Toronto showed promise, but NYC has just one goal in its last four hours of soccer.
18 (18) 0-1-2 Chicago Fire: The defense has shown improvement in each of the first three games, but the Fire are last in the league in possession. The offense was non-existent without David Accam against Columbus. The team may be improving, but it's happening slowly.
19 (17) 0-1-3 New England Revolution: The Revolution were a streaky team last season with both a six-match winning streak and a five-match losing streak. With that in mind, the winless start may just be a downturn before a hot streak comes. Or it could mean the Revs aren't that good this year.
20 (20) 0-2-2 D.C. United: D.C. was a bit fortunate to get a home draw against Colorado after a goalkeeper mistake from Zac MacMath allowed United a late equalizer. On Saturday FC Dallas gave no such reprieve and hammered United 3-0 at RFK. Two goals for, eight goals against in four matches. Ouch.

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.