Week 18 MLS Power Rankings: DC United on the rise, Columbus crash

Another double gameweek means a lot of movers in this week’s edition of our MLS Power Rankings. Two points from their latest three road games has Nashville down to fifth, while DC United’s good form has them rising quickly.

How the rankings work

These power rankings aren’t subjective, but use a stats-based model for each team to get a more in-depth look at where clubs actually stand. The model weighs points per game and strength of schedule heavily, and also factors in goal difference and expected goal difference to show not just how teams have done in the table, but how they’ve played on the field. If you’re interested in the methodology, the full model can be viewed here.

These power rankings aren’t an attempt to predict the final table, just to provide readers with a different angle from which to judge teams.

Week 16 power rankings

  1. Sporting KC (↑1)
  2. NYCFC (↓1)
  3. New England Revolution (↑2)
  4. Seattle Sounders (↓1)
  5. Nashville SC (↓1)
  6. Colorado Rapids (↑1)
  7. LA Galaxy (↓1)
  8. DC United (↑2)
  9. Philadelphia Union (↑2)
  10. Real Salt Lake (↓2)
  11. Minnesota United (↑1)
  12. Orlando City (↓3)
  13. LAFC (↑2)
  14. New York Red Bulls (↓1)
  15. FC Dallas (↑2)
  16. CF Montréal (-)
  17. Columbus Crew (↓3)
  18. Atlanta United (↑3)
  19. Portland Timbers (↓1)
  20. San Jose Earthquakes (-)
  21. Austin FC (↑1)
  22. Vancouver Whitecaps (↑1)
  23. Houston Dynamo (↓4)
  24. Chicago Fire (↑1)
  25. Inter Miami CF (↑1)
  26. Toronto FC (↓2)
  27. FC Cincinnati (↓1)

This week saw most MLS teams play two games, and the midweek fixtures were categorized on their own as “Week 17”.

Sporting KC take the top spot for the first time all season, largely due to a 4-1 thrashing of LAFC midweek. They leveled off with a 0-0 draw against Colorado on Saturday, and only 0.04 points separate them from NYCFC. New York had a fairly large drop after Week 16, drawing a pair of games against Chicago and Toronto, which gave their score a fairly significant hit.

New England Revolution have been pushing into the top three for weeks now, and have been barely edged out. A 0-0 draw with Nashville midweek didn’t have a major effect on their rating either way, but a solid 2-1 win over Philadelphia did enough to push them past Seattle and Nashville into third.

DC United and FC Dallas both were candidates for the best week. DC United knocked off Columbus 4-2 on the road midweek before taking down Montreal on Sunday. Meanwhile Dallas drew in Seattle before cruising past Dallas 2-0 at home.

Columbus’s form is getting concerning. After a Week 15 peak at 4.95 points, they’ve dropped a full mark. They lost twice at home this week, getting absolutely stomped 4-2 by DC United and then losing 3-2 to Atlanta. Only Miami have a lower expected goals total, and they continue to drop points in games they should win.

Houston were this week’s biggest losers. They drop four spots after a 3-2 loss to Austin and a 2-0 loss to Minnesota. It’s been eleven matches since their last win, and they’ve taken just seven from a potential 33 points in that stretch.

Nashville picked up a solid point in New England, but a disastrous 2-1 loss in Miami knocks them down to fifth. They’re still getting a huge boost from their early home form, but with really poor results on the road, and 10 matches still to play away from Nissan Stadium, their output needs to improve quickly. They’re still on pace for a playoff spot (more on that in a second), but they’ll continue to drop quickly if these results continue.

Projected standings

These projections are created by taking each sides home and away form and factoring them out across their remaining matches.

These projections will change significantly over the course of the season as teams get larger sample sizes at home and on the road (Nashville, for example, have played eleven at home and just seven away). And they’re not a concrete attempt to predict the final table, but rather to show each team’s trajectory based on current form.

Nashville’s grip on a playoff spot has actually increased with dropped points from Montreal, Columbus and New York. To look at things in a positive light, the rest of the sides fighting for those last playoff spots didn’t overtake them, and their away form has been poor enough that their road points per game didn’t decrease by much with the loss to Miami.

The real disappointment with their two points from three matches isn’t that their projected finish worsened. It’s that they missed an opportunity to gain ground in the race for a home playoff match. A win over Miami would have pushed them into fourth in these projections, level on points with NYCFC.

While the result in Miami was certainly frustrating (I think it has a strong case for their worst performance in MLS to date), it’s important to keep things in context. A win or two on the road would improve their projections quickly, and given the league-wide struggles to gain points on the road, it’s not completely unique.

However, Nashville has shown plenty of ability to compete with the best in the league. They’ve played three matches against teams ahead of them in the table and have taken seven points. Although their attack has slowed in recent weeks, it’s still among the league’s best, and their defense is still strong.

On the road, though, they’re out of wiggle room. Playing down to their opponent has to stop now, as does their apparent contentment to allow their opponent to dictate the game away from home. We’re just over halfway through a long season. Nashville will have plenty of opportunities to gain ground in the table over the next three months. They can’t afford to let another one slip.

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