The timing of the international break meant that this was a jam-packed week of MLS action, with most teams playing midweek and on the weekend in an effort to squeeze as many games in as possible. That alone would have been hard enough for most teams. But on top of that, the league designated this week to be “Rivalry Week”–or the time when all of the league’s biggest grudge matches happen.
The timing of the theme week may be questionable considering how many players are simply hoping to stay fit for upcoming World Cup qualifiers, but the end result wasn’t so bad, as nobody suffered major injuries. Instead, Rivalry Week heralded an end, of sorts: It’s the last real break most MLS players will have before the stretch run of the season truly begins. Week 25 saw Toronto FC reassert its dominance at the top of the table, while the names in the cellar also stayed more or less the same. The real intrigue sits in the middle, where a handful of teams are making pushes that could lead to playoff berths once summer turns to fall.
Here's how MLS stacks up entering September:
1. Toronto FC
Is there any stopping Toronto FC? At this moment in time, no, there is not. Sebastian Giovinco is hitting top form, with two superb free kick goals in two comfortable wins this week, 3–0 vs. Philadelphia and 3-1 vs. Montreal. By the time it plays its next game, TFC will not have lost for two months, and is also riding a four-game winning streak. A couple more wins, and the Supporters’ Shield will pretty much be wrapped up.
2. New York City FC
NYCFC earned a draw against its rival, but the 1–1 scoreline can be deceptive. Patrick Vieira’s side was largely outplayed in that game, having held far less of the ball and struggling to create meaningful scoring chances. A draw away from home in a rivalry game certainly isn’t the worst thing in the world, especially since it extended an unbeaten run to four games. But the performance left a bit to be desired.
3. Seattle Sounders
The Sounders’ monster unbeaten run goes on, but the team seems to have cooled slightly after an all-Cascadia week of 1–1 draws against Vancouver (on Wednesday) and Portland (On Sunday). Clint Dempsey has been in good form, but Jordan Morris continues to struggle in his sophomore season–the striker failed to convert two breakaway chances against Portland.
4. Sporting Kansas City
Hurricane Harvey forced the postponement of Sporting KC’s game at Houston until October, but draws this week from Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver mean SKC didn’t lose much ground in the West. It returns from the international break with a trip to the Big Apple to face NYCFC.
5. New York Red Bulls
Friday’s draw with NYCFC wasn’t the best result from home, but the Red Bulls’ performance in the match will give Jesse Marsch reason for optimism. The Red Bulls now will play two straight on the road against Dallas and Chicago–two teams once among the MLS elite that have fallen on hard times. Perhaps the points can be made up there.
6. Atlanta United FC
Atlanta fell behind early to Philadelphia, but showed good character to fight back and earn a 2–2 draw, with the last goal coming in stoppage time. Wednesday, though, was a different story: A Michael Parkhurst own goal sent Atlanta to a surprising 1–0 defeat to D.C. United. Overall, Tata Martino will be hoping for a big defensive improvement come playoff time (assuming Atlanta makes it).
7. Houston Dynamo
The Dynamo’s Saturday game against SKC was called off due to Hurricane Harvey, but the club’s 3–3 draw at Dallas on Wednesday might well have been the most entertaining match of the week. Houston was 3–1 down away from home in that one, and the display of fortitude required to come back from that was impressive (and improved Houston’s still-woeful road record).
8. Portland Timbers
It was a positive two-game week for Portland, which earned a 2–1 win over Colorado on Wednesday before earning a 1–1 draw away from home at Seattle on Sunday. The Timbers currently have a three-game unbeaten run, which ties the longest the team has had all season. If they’re going to extend that run, it’ll have to be away at NYCFC after the international break.
9. Montreal Impact
The Impact had a run of four straight wins brought to a halt on Sunday thanks to Giovinco and TFC, and the Impact’s schedule for the rest of the season won’t be pleasant reading for them: two more meetings with Toronto remain, both at BMO Field. Montreal’s run has pushed the club into playoff contention–can it stay there?
10. Real Salt Lake
Last week’s narrow loss at Montreal didn’t affect this team’s mentality going into a two-game homestand this week. RSL was utterly dominant in both games, dispatching San Jose 4–0 before getting a 4–1 win over rival Colorado that secured this year’s edition of the Rocky Mountain Cup. Once an afterthought, RSL is now looking like a legit contender for a playoff berth.
11. Vancouver Whitecaps
The Whitecaps’ slow creep up the table continued this week with a draw at home against Seattle and a win away from home at Orlando. Like Portland, Vancouver’s biggest problem all season has been consistency, and a win or draw in its next game would give it a season-record unbeaten run. Unfortunately, Vancouver’s next game is against the red-hot Real Salt Lake.
12. Columbus Crew SC
A win at the LA Galaxy and another at home to FC Dallas brought Columbus's unbeaten run to four games, which is enough to see the squad surge to a comfortable playoff position in the East. Ola Kamara scored in both those games, giving him five goals in his last six games.
13. San Jose Earthquakes
The Earthquakes had just about as uneven a week as you can imagine; A 4–0 loss to Real Salt Lake on Wednesday, followed up by a dominant 3–0 win over the LA Galaxy on Sunday. One undeniable positive to emerge from those results: Saturday marks new coach Chris Leitch’s first win away from home since taking over the Quakes earlier this season.
14. Chicago Fire
A mysterious run of bad form continues to ail the Fire, with Saturday’s 2–1 home loss to expansion side Minnesota United being perhaps the most alarming example. That’s Chicago’s fourth straight loss, and its sixth loss in its last seven. Are tired legs to blame on a team stocked with veterans? Unfortunately they won't get a break, as Chicago plays on through the international weekend with Saturday's tilt at Montreal.
15. FC Dallas
It is truly alarming to see how far Dallas has fallen in the last several weeks. At one point, it was challenging Toronto for the Supporters’ Shield. Now, it’s out of playoff position. This week Dallas gave up a 3–1 home lead in a 3–3 draw against Houston, then traveled to Columbus and lost. Dallas hasn’t won since July 22.
16. Minnesota United FC
An away win! The Loons finally recorded the first one in their MLS history with a 2–1 win at Chicago, on the back of two goals from rookie striker Abu Danladi. The 2017 first overall pick has looked in good form lately, but it is likely too little too late for the Loons, who still sit 11 points outside the playoff places (though with a couple of games in hand).
17. D.C. United
Before Week 24, D.C. United looked like it could rival some of the worst teams in MLS history, having not won since late June. Now, Ben Olsen’s side has won three straight, all by 1–0 scorelines. Two of those wins came this week, with home results against Atlanta and New England. It’s far too late for playoff hope, but maybe, just maybe, D.C. can still close out RFK Stadium on a good run of form.
18. New England Revolution
While many other teams in MLS show upward or downward mobility at least once over the course of a season, New England has stayed stagnant. The Revs’ 1–0 loss to D.C. United happened without the services of Kelyn Rowe and Lee Nguyen, but it still continued a season of disappointing results with seemingly no reason for optimism.
19. Philadelphia Union
Andre Blake is back from injury, but the Union continue to fall down the Eastern Conference. Jim Curtin’s side was soundly beaten by Toronto on Wednesday then surrendered a 2–0 lead to draw 2–2 with Atlanta at home on Saturday. The team will look to rebound after the break with a trip to Minnesota.
20. Orlando City SC
As if Orlando’s awful run wasn't enough, the Lions lost for the fifth time in their last seven outings thanks to a goal from Brek Shea–whom they traded to Vancouver earlier this season. Cyle Larin’s partnership with Dom Dwyer has under-delivered–Larin was benched in favor of Carlos Rivas for this one, though he did come on and score a goal.
21. Colorado Rapids
Two away games, two losses for Colorado, the last one a humiliating 4–1 defeat at the hands of rival Real Salt Lake. Tim Howard isn’t playing all that well in goal, though to be fair the defense in front of him isn’t helping much either. The Rapids are one of two teams remaining in the league that have yet to win away from home.
22. LA Galaxy
The Galaxy have been outscored 10–1 in their last five games, have lost four of those (the other was a 0–0 draw) and haven’t scored at all in their last three. On Sunday the team suffered its eighth home loss of the season, and its fourth straight at home–the first time that’s happened in the team’s history.