The jockeying among Major League Soccer's hopefuls is already fierce, especially in the Western Conference, in which the new, unbalanced schedule has made absolutely every game vital.
We're only about a third into the regular season -- the playoffs are 5½ months away -- but we're already seeing separation between the contenders and pretenders, although determining which is which can be difficult, especially come playoff time.
Teams go through the ebbs and flows of the season in different rhythms, so just because a team is hot now (witness Sporting Kansas City's start) doesn't mean they'll be so dangerous in a few weeks (K.C. has lost three in a row).
The San Jose Earthquakes looked unbeatable until Vancouver beat them, and Chivas USA were moments away from saddling them with another defeat.
New York's beat-up lineup has won four in a row, all by one goal. Will the Red Bulls go in the tank once they're healthy? Could be, but right now they're one of the rising clubs, up to third in our power rankings.
Also on the rise: The Chicago Fire, who have so much talent and are starting to show it. New England, too -- the Revs just needed a little time to form under new manager Jay Heaps.
The Galaxy and Chivas USA are more difficult to gauge. Both are better than their records, certainly, and if they can solve their problems (L.A.'s primarily at the back, Chivas' mostly up front), watch out.
It's too early to predict who's going to make the playoffs, but that won't stop us. Here's a guess at the top five in each conference:
Western: 1. Real Salt Lake; 2. Seattle; 3. San Jose; 4. Galaxy; 5. Colorado.
Eastern: 1. New York; 2. Chicago; 3. Sporting Kansas City; 4. D.C. United; 5. Houston.
Here are this week's power rankings:
1. REAL SALT LAKE (8-3-2, 26 points), Last Week: 2
Week 10: Few chances for either side in a 0-0 draw at Chicago; Fabian Espindola strikes again to beat the Sounders, 1-0, in a Seattle showdown.
Latest: Weekend off means U.S. call-ups come early: Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman off with the national team for the next (they hope) four weeks.
All-time MLS mark: 80-90-61 (.478) in the regular season, averaging 1.3030 points per game.
Next: Saturday, May 26, vs. FC Dallas, 6 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
2. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (7-2-1, 22 points), LW: 1
Week 10: Fredy Montero heating up, scores twice in 2-0 win at FC Dallas; Sounders battle gamely in 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake.
Latest: Sigi Schmid, on loss to RSL: “When top teams meet, there's sometimes not a lot that separates the two.”
All-time MLS mark: 51-26-27 (.620), averaging 1.7308 points per game.
Next: Saturday at Vancouver, 2 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Wednesday, May 23, vs. Columbus, 7 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
3. NEW YORK RED BULLS (7-3-1, 22 points), LW: 6
Week 10: Kenny Cooper scores two more winners, in 1-0 victory over Houston and a 3-2 triumph at Philadelphia, as streak reaches four.
Latest: Word is Alessandro Nesta spurned Toronto FC to join the Red Bulls.
All-time MLS mark: 193-218-92 (.486), averaging 1.2903 points per game.
Next: Saturday at Montreal, 4:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Wednesday, May 23, vs. Chivas USA, 4 p.m. (Univision Deportes).
4. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (7-2-2, 23 points), LW: 3
Week 10: Alan Gordon's header delivers a late 1-1 draw with Chivas USA.
Latest: Right back Steven Beitashour getting attention from Iran's national team. It soon might be the U.S. sniffing around.
All-time MLS mark: 177-176-88 (.501), averaging 1.3175 points per game.
Next: Saturday vs. Columbus, 7:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Wednesday, May 23, vs. Galaxy at Home Depot Center, 7:30 p.m. (KDOC/Channel 56 and KWHY/Channel 22).
5. CHICAGO FIRE (4-2-3, 15 points), LW: 10
Week 10: Fire clamp down on Real Salt Lake in 0-0 draw; Dominic Oduro's late tally overcomes 10-man Sporting Kansas City, 2-1.
Latest: Four reasons the Fire could win MLS Cup: Dominic Oduro, Marca Pappa, Patrick Nyarko and Sebastian Grazzini.
All-time MLS mark: 189-148-111 (.558), averaging 1.5251 points per game.
Next: Sunday at Portland, 4 p.m. (Galavision); Wednesday, May 23, vs. FC Dallas, 5:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
6. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (7-3-0, 21 points), LW: 4
Week 10: Ex-Wizards lose their third in a row, falling at Chicago, 2-1, after Roger Espinoza's red card.
Latest: Peter Vermes says Espinoza's expulsion is “not a red card. There's nothing to speak of other than that. It was not a good call, and it changed the game completely.” Watch the video, you might disagree.
All-time MLS mark: 201-202-100 (.499), averaging 1.3340 points per game.
Next: Saturday at Colorado, 6 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick)
7. HOUSTON DYNAMO (3-3-2, 11 points), LW: 8
Week 10: Dynamo wrap seven-game road trip with a 1-0 loss at New York, then open their new stadium with a 1-0 victory over D.C. United, courtesy of Brad Davis.
Latest: BBVA Compass Stadium's debut draws a crowd, including Andrew Luck and his dad, Oliver (the former Dynamo president), Texans QB Matt Schaub and Astros legend Jose Cruz. And a win makes home teams 6-1-4 in soccer-specific stadium openers.
All-time MLS mark: 76-56-62 (.552), averaging 1.4948 points per game.
Next: Tuesday vs. Portland, 5:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Saturday at New England, 4:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
8. D.C. UNITED (5-4-3, 18 points), LW: 5
Week 10: Original Dynamo playmaker Dwayne De Rosario gets to open Houston's new stadium, but D.C. plays its role in 1-0 defeat.
Latest: Perry Kitchen's serious knee injury not so serious after all, wonderful news for injury-hit D.C.
All-time MLS mark: 217-197-90 (.520), averaging 1.3988 points per game.
Next: Wednesday vs. Colorado, 4:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Saturday vs. Toronto FC, 4:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
9. COLORADO RAPIDS (5-5-0, 15 points), LW: 9
Week 10: Idle.
Latest: Defense the key? Rapids have conceded 11 goals in their five losses, only once in five victories.
All-time MLS mark: 196-212-94 (.484), averaging 1.7308 points per game.
Next: Wednesday at D.C. United, 4:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Saturday vs. Sporting Kansas City, 6 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick)
10. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (4-6-0, 12 points), LW: 14
Week 10: MLS Player of the Week Lee Nguyen scores twice, assists a third to lead Revs past Vancouver, 4-1.
Latest: Nguyen, stunningly waived by Vancouver at the end of preseason, gets his ... well ... “I wouldn’t say revenge, but I’m just relieved. ... With the way it ended up, I couldn’t have scripted it any better.”
All-time MLS mark: 189-220-94 (.469), averaging 1.2465 points per game.
Next: Saturday vs. Houston, 4:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
11. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (5-3-2, 17 points), LW: 7
Week 10: Davide Chiumiento assists all three goals -- two by Sebastien Le Toux -- to beat FC Edmonton, 3-1, and advance to the Canadian Championship final on 5-1 aggregate; Eric Hassli, suddenly scoring again, provides a quick lead, but it doesn't hold in a 4-1 loss at New England.
Latest: Hassli says “sometimes I think [referees] have something against me. But I have to work to be quiet -- or, I don’t know -- just go away, but sometimes it’s really, really hard.”
All-time MLS mark: 11-21-12 (.386), averaging 1.0227 points per game.
Next: Wednesday in a Canadian Championship final first vs. Toronto FC, 7 p.m.; Saturday vs. Seattle, 2 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Wednesday, May 23, in a Canadian Championship final second leg at Toronto FC, 5 p.m.
12. GALAXY (3-5-2, 11 points), LW: 12
Week 10: David Beckham free kick punctuates a superb second half in rally for 1-1 draw at Montreal.
Latest: White House visit is a treat, even if the timing -- in front of another three-in-eight span before the early-June break -- could be better.
All-time MLS mark: 236-174-92 (.562), averaging 1.5498 points per game.
Next: Saturday vs. Chivas USA at Home Depot Center, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes); Wednesday, May 23, vs. San Jose at Home Depot Center, 7:30 p.m. (KDOC/Channel 56 and KWHY/Channel 22).
13. MONTREAL IMPACT (3-5-3, 12 points), LW: 13
Week 10: Impact swept from Canadian Championship in 2-0 semifinal loss at Toronto FC; Davy Arnaud provides an early lead as Impact dictate to the Galaxy for a half in a 1-1 draw.
Latest: Crowd count to see Beckham and Co. is 60,860, largest in MLS this year -- and biggest ever to watch pro soccer in Canada.
All-time MLS mark: 3-5-3 (.409), averaging 1.0909 points per game.
Next: Saturday vs. New York, 4:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
14. COLUMBUS CREW (3-4-2, 11 points), LW: 16
Week 10: Justin Meram and Sebastian Miranda score five minutes apart to beat 10-man FC Dallas, 2-1.
Latest: Crew is better than their record, and recent performances have confidence growing. Defender Josh Williams, after beating Dallas: “If we keep playing this way, we can play with anybody in the league.”
All-time MLS mark: 209-197-95 (.512), averaging 1.3892 points per game.
Next: Saturday at San Jose, 7:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Wednesday, May 23, at Seattle, 7 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
15. FC DALLAS (3-6-3, 12 points), LW: 11
Week 10: Shorthanded Hoops can't stop Fredy Montero in 2-0 loss to Seattle; Zach Loyd red card costly in 2-1 defeat at Columbus.
Latest: Hoops haven't won in a month -- six-game winless and three-game losing streaks -- but Schellas Hyndman says chemistry is no problem. “We’re all walking off this road and we’re all fighting for each other, but I think we’ve got a couple guys off the line, either through immaturity or through selfishness. And that’s kind of a normal thing.”
All-time MLS mark: 210-207-87 (.503), averaging 1.3591 points per game.
Next: Saturday vs. Philadelphia, 5:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Wednesday, May 23, at Chicago, 5:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
16. CHIVAS USA (3-6-1, 10 points), LW: 17
Week 10: Jose Erik Correa scores a great goal, and Chivas valiantly hangs on ... until the end, when San Jose claims a 1-1 draw.
Latest: There's steam rising from the Juan Pablo Angel-for-Danny Califf-and-Jack McInerney talk.
All-time MLS mark: 73-98-57 (.445), averaging 1.2105 points per game.
Next: Saturday vs. Galaxy at Home Depot Center, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes); Wednesday, May 23, at New York, 4 p.m. (Univision Deportes).
17. PHILADELPHIA UNION (2-6-1, 7 points), LW: 15
Week 10: UCLA's Chandler Hoffman scores his first pro goal to beat Germany's Schalke 04, 2-1, in a friendly; Lionard Pajoy scores twice, but Union can't keep the lead in 3-2 loss to New York.
Latest: First Sebastien Le Toux, then Faryd Mondragon. Now Danny Califf? Union faithful are ready to dump Peter Nowak.
All-time MLS mark: 21-29-23 (.445), averaging 1.1781 points per game.
Next: Saturday at FC Dallas, 5:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
18. PORTLAND TIMBERS (2-5-2, 8 points), LW: 18
Week 10: Idle.
Latest: Bright Dike gets a goal and an assist in his second game on loan to the L.A. Blues.
All-time MLS mark: 13-19-11 (.430), averaging 1.1628 points per game.
Next: Tuesday at Houston, 5:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Sunday vs. Chicago, 4 p.m. (Galavision).
19. TORONTO FC (0-8-0, 0 points), LW: 19
Week 10: Reggie Lambe scores early, Ryan Johnson adds another, and Reds make it to the Canadian Championship final with a 2-0 win over Montreal for a 2-0 aggregate triumph.
Latest: Shakeup on the staff: Assistant coach Bob de Klerk booted upstairs to technical director, original captain Jim Brennan promoted to assistant coach, and player-development director Paul Mariner takes on more active role in coaching forwards.
All-time MLS mark: 40-75-47 (.392), averaging 1.0309 points per game.
Next: Wednesday in a Canadian Championship final first at Vancouver, 7 p.m.; Saturday at D.C. United, 4:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Wednesday, May 23, in a Canadian Championship final second leg vs. Vancouver, 5 p.m.
All times Pacific