MLS playing through the international break in Week Four meant MLS fans had the opportunity to see a lot of reserves take the field. Some of MLS’s best teams, therefore, were without their stars, allowing for favorable matchups for some fortunate opponents. As a result, the Countdown is in a forgiving mood for some, while its patience is wearing thin with others.
Here’s how this week's Stumptown Countdown shakes out:
1. New York Red Bulls (5) - The Red Bulls are rewarded for the most impressive win of the week, as they went into Columbus and knocked off the Crew 2-1. With two wins and a draw, the Metros’ winter midfield makeover is paying huge dividends early on, as the unit may be performing as well as any midfield in MLS.
2. Seattle Sounders (4) - Earned an away point in arguably the ugliest game of the year, but a road point at Dallas without Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, Ozzie Alonso, Chad Marshall, and Marco Pappa (arguably Seattle’s five best players) is nothing to shake a stick at, even if Dallas was without Blas Perez and Mauro Diaz and had Kellyn Acosta sent off early.
3. FC Dallas (1) - Such an ugly home draw to a heavily, heavily depleted Sounders team raises questions about the Burn even without Perez and Diaz. Or maybe everybody should be angry at MLS for playing through the international break and spoiling what should have been one of the games of the early season.
4. Vancouver Whitecaps (7) - It was a good week to leapfrog the pack with a win that was in many ways unconvincing. But, to their credit, Vancouver knows how to nick a result better than anybody in MLS. That counts for something early on.
5. D.C. United (12) - Yes, DCU only beat an LA Galaxy team that didn’t have Robbie Keane or Gyasi Zardes. But Chris Pontius’s stoppage-time winner is enough to lift United to the top of a very compact peloton.
6. Columbus Crew (2) - The goodwill Columbus earned against TFC is eroding after the Crew lost at home to the Red Bulls. New York is playing well right now, so it’s hard to call it a bad loss, but unless Columbus can earn a result at Vancouver, it’s going to be hard to keep them from falling even further as the influence of their Trillium Cup victory wanes.
7. Sporting Kansas City (8) - On the upside, they won at Yankee Stadium, which will likely be a difficult place to play until the expansion honeymoon ends in midsummer. Still, NYCFC didn’t have Adam Nemec, so the result is weakened somewhat. Or was it David Villa’s absence that made the difference? In any event, Graham Zusi’s hamstring injury looked bad, adding another layer of concern to SKC’s standing.
8. Toronto FC (3) - TFC is officially on notice. The B-team actually looked a little bit better than expected at Real Salt Lake without Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Damien Perquis, and Steven Caldwell, and were unfortunate not to come away with a draw, but TFC’s great opening-day win at Vancouver was a long time ago. Time for the Reds to show something more.
9. LA Galaxy (6) - The Countdown isn’t as concerned about the Galaxy’s loss in D.C. as much as it is LA’s body of work. A season-opening win over Chicago is still what L.A. is hanging their hat on, which, well, isn’t much.
10. New England Revolution (15) - The late-2014 Revs made an appearance in the first half, suggesting this is the team with the most upward mobility in the Countdown. Then they backslid again in the second half. Win at Colorado this week or it’s back to the bottom half for the Revs.
11. San Jose Earthquakes (10) - Looked like the Quakes of old in the first half as they were absolutely dominated by a Revs team that hasn’t done much dominating yet in 2015, but Dom Kinnear showed why he’s a huge upgrade at manager by making enough halftime moves to get San Jose back in the game.
12. Portland Timbers (9) - Where do you put the team that you’re pretty confident could draw every team in any venue, but not at all confident they could beat even middling teams at home? 12 seems right.
13. Real Salt Lake (11) - They won, but it was at home against a severely weakened TFC team that wasn’t exactly deep to start with. They’re unbeaten and in playoff position right now, but won’t be much longer unless their form improves. Also, Sebastain Jaime’s zero goals in nine appearances needs to change.
14. New York City FC (13) - The Citizens are forgiven somewhat for losing at home without David Villa. But the fact that they’re losing at home without David Villa to a Graham Zusi-less SKC team validates the Countdown’s skepticism about City.
15. Houston Dynamo (14) - 0-0 draws to the Rapids are in vogue in the early season, but that doesn’t mean it’s impressive. At least the Dynamo were shorthanded.
16. Chicago Fire (20) - To the extent beating Philadelphia at home is a revelation, the Fire were a revelation in Week Four. Harry Shipp is a legitimate MLS star, something that will be overlooked in the coming weeks when Shaun Maloney returns from international duty and the incompetent Frank Yallop marginalizes Shipp yet again.
17. Orlando City (19) - Played a heck of a 30-minute game against Montreal. Then sleepwalked through the final hour hand-in-hand with the Impact. It’s not the worst result for Orlando City, who travelled 15 players on account of international duty and injuries, and Pedro Ribeiro looks like he could provide a legitimate option in the attack for the Lions.
18. Montreal Impact (15) - Montreal's draw with OCSC is game a decent team would have won against a weakened expansion side. And for a couple minutes it looked like Montreal may prove their competence despite their early-season injury problems. But no.
19. Colorado Rapids (17) - An away point at Houston isn’t the worst thing in the world. Breaking the record for consecutive 0-0s to start the season is. As is 17 games winless and the Rapids' 510-mintute goalless streak.
20. Philadelphia Union (18) - Lost a not-very-competitve game to the Chicago Fire. That’s worse than Colorado’s 510 minutes without a goal.