Where the battle in MLS’s Western Conference stands after Week 6

Written By Harrison Hamm on May 25, 2021

With the Seattle Sounders sitting comfortably atop the standings, even after a 1-1 home draw with Atlanta United over the weekend, one of the most interesting storylines to watch in MLS is the series of teams directly below them. Any number of them, including some underperforming and overperforming sides, could challenge for one of the top spots in the competitive Western Conference.

Right now, the odd group of Sporting KC, the LA Galaxy, Houston Dynamo, and Colorado Rapids round out the top five. The standings today are dependent on a series of unsustainable factors like injuries and strength of schedule. Any number of clubs, even those at the bottom like Minnesota United and FC Dallas, could factor in if things break right.

Sporting KC should be a contender this year

SKC, currently second after a stretch of three wins in four matches, look like they could be well-built to stick around. They have a midfield that can control the ball and play defense, which they showed in a dominating win against the man-marking San Jose Earthquakes. The production of Alan Pulido and Johnny Russell would indicate that they have the elite talent in attack necessary to win against the best teams.

But Sporting’s last three wins might not tell us everything. They’ve faced the slumping Quakes, the dismal Vancouver Whitecaps, and expansion Austin FC, with a 1-0 loss to the Dynamo thrown in. Earlier this season, they took a 3-1 loss to Real Salt Lake. As is usually the case early in the year, it’s been uneven for a lot of teams.

Galaxy’s goal differential problematic despite good start

There isn’t much concern about SKC’s backline, though, and the same can’t be said for some other teams. The Galaxy went down to 10 men after Derrick Williams picked up a pretty bad red card and ended up getting torched by the Portland Timbers. The 3-0 loss to a Cascadia team was the second of its kind for the Galaxy this month, as they’ve also lost 3-0 to Seattle. LA has four wins and two losses from six games, but they somehow have a negative goal differential. As we’ve written, there’s been some good signs for the Galaxy this year, but the dual concerns about their defense and their attacking production beyond Chicharito might keep them from being elite.

Houston Dynamo grinding out games with veterans

The Dynamo are a surprising team to see higher in the standings. They’re mostly filled with competent, hard-working MLS veterans, and that means they know how to grind out results. They won this weekend against Vancouver despite playing Boniek Garcia (who is not a center back!) at center back.

One thing working in their favor is that they have the best defensive forwards in MLS. Maxi Urruti, Fafa Picault, and Memo Rodriguez are good at playing defense from the front, pressing and making it difficult to complete quality passes into midfield. I’m still skeptical of their ability to make the playoffs, given the general weakness of their team, but they will make things hard for their opponents.

Teams that can still rise up

It’s Portland, LAFC, and (possibly?) Minnesota United who should be the other top contenders in the west, at least in theory. The Timbers have had to deal with Concacaf Champions League fixture congestion and have still kept pace, with midfielder Eryk Williamson taking a big leap as a box-to-box counterpart of Diego Chara.

LAFC are a tougher case, as they’ve been a mixed bag. With Carlos Vela finally starting again, they beat the Rapids 2-1 on the weekend. Diego Rossi scored twice. They’ve dropped results this year as a result of some weakness at the back and inconsistency in attack. They remain a sleeping giant — one that could awake if Vela can stay healthy and play somewhere near his real level. Minnesota is in last place coming off a bye week with a soft upcoming schedule.

Another team, like Colorado, could factor into this discussion. For now, there is an opening near the top of the conference.


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