It's that time of year. The kids are going back to school, the leaves are just beginning to show the first signs of autumn, and MLS teams are clinching playoff spots. Pumpkin spice-flavored everything is here.
We knew LAFC was in, but Week 26 added two more teams to the list and the first to lock up berths in the Eastern Conference. NYCFC and Philadelphia still have work to do in terms of seeding (not so much for LAFC), but at least they know they'll get a chance to play for the Cup.
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The next few weeks should bring plenty more clinching, which is great because "clinch" is such a fun word to say.
Previous rankings: Week 25 | Week 24 | Week 23 | Week 22 | Week 21 | Week 20 | Week 19 | Week 18 | Week 17 | Week 16 | Week 15 | Week 14 | Week 13 | Week 12 | Week 11 | Week 10 | Week 9 | Week 8 | Week 7 | Week 6 | Week 5 | Week 4 | Week 3 | Week 2 | Week 1
1. LAFC (19 wins, 5 draws, 4 losses)
Previous ranking: 1
Next MLS match: Saturday at Orlando City, 7:30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+
Bob Bradley rotated his squad against the Loons, including leaving Carlos Vela out of the proceedings altogether. Will the Minnesota win crack LAFC's confidence? Losing without Vela won't dent the narrative that they are overly dependent on the Mexican star, but don't overlook Mark Anthony Kaye being left out of the first half.
2. Philadelphia Union (15-6-8)
Previous ranking: 3
Next MLS match: Saturday, Sept. 14 vs. LAFC, 7:30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+
In any normal season, Jim Curtin would be leading the race for Coach of the Year. The performance the Union laid down in Saturday's win over Atlanta was what we like to call a "State of Serious Intent Game," or SSIG. We're not saying the acronym is good; we're just saying Philly is a club to watch out for.
3. New York City FC (14-8-5)
Previous ranking: 4
Next MLS match: Saturday vs. New England Revolution, 3:55 p.m. ET
If it's possible to be quiet and also from New York, then NYCFC pulled off the trick for the better part of three months. Scheduling quirks meant the club lagged behind the East's top teams on points but could close the gap. Now, the gap is essentially gone.
4. Minnesota United (13-6-9)
Previous ranking: 4
Next MLS match: Wednesday, Sept. 11 at Houston Dynamo, 8:30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+
Mason Toye led the Loons to an incredible, confidence-boosting win in Los Angeles. For their purposes, it doesn't matter that Vela didn't play: Adrian Heath got his tactics right, Toye took his chances, and Minnesota United looks to be more than just a "playoff qualifier."
5. Atlanta United (15-3-10)
Previous ranking: 2
Next MLS match: Saturday, Sept. 14 vs. Columbus Crew, 7:00 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+
One moment you're winning a U.S. Open Cup title and threatening to claim first place all by yourself, and the next you're dropping into third place. It's a safe bet that the Five Stripes will still have something to say about the ultimate finish despite taking a 3-1 loss on the chin in Chester.
6. San Jose Earthquakes (13-5-10)
Previous ranking: 5
Next MLS match: Wednesday, Sept. 11 vs. Real Salt Lake, 9:30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+
The Quakes are fascinating: An all-action team, led by a man with a penchant for ancient Japanese codes of honor, featuring an MLS legend who gets too little of the respect he's earned. Something amazing is happening out by the San Jose airport, and that's not a thing people say very often.
7. Seattle Sounders (13-7-8)
Previous ranking: 8
Next MLS match: Saturday vs. Colorado Rapids, 9 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+
The Sounders were good, then bad, then good again and pulled off a wild 4-3 win over the Galaxy on Sunday. There's not much more we can say that will do the game justice, though Cristian Roldan and Jordan Morris rightfully earned themselves an extra bit of the spotlight.
8. Portland Timbers (12-4-11)
Previous ranking: 11
Next MLS match: Saturday vs. Sporting Kansas City, 10:50 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+
The most reductive observation possible about the West's playoff picture is that the Timbers are playoff-bound if they can just make their back-loaded home schedule count. It doesn't matter how they do it, just that it gets done. Saturday's un-pretty win against RSL was about the win, not the lack of pretty.
9. New England Revolution (10-9-9)
Previous ranking: 7
Next MLS match: Saturday vs. NYCFC, 3:55 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+
Draws at this time of year rarely making anyone happy. That's definitely the case for the Revs, though Bruce Arena and his boys will also be relieved to even scrape a point at home after going down with 16 minutes left. Sure, Gustavo Bou scored the equalizer, but that won't be one that makes the end-of-year highlight reel.
10. LA Galaxy (13-3-12)
Previous ranking: 9
Next MLS match: Wednesday, Sept. 11 at Colorado Rapids, 9 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+
There's really no telling which Galaxy team is going to show up on any given weekend, and that fact is coming to a head with the regular season coming to a climax. The loss in Seattle, a game in which the Galaxy defense gave up four goals, puts LA just two points up on eighth place in the West.
11. Real Salt Lake (13-4-11)
Previous ranking: 10
Next MLS match: Wednesday, Sept. 11 vs. San Jose Earthquakes, 9:30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+
RSL is one of several teams bouncing around the Western Conference standings based on single round of results. They have the look and feel of a playoff team, but with the Timbers bearing down on the field and points at a premium, it's too early to be sure.
12. FC Dallas (12-7-10)
Previous ranking: 13
Next MLS match: Saturday, Sept. 14 at Chicago Fire, 3:30 p.m. ET
First, let's just acknowledge that FC Dallas was supposed to win this week, and anything but a win would have been a disaster. That said, FCD kept their playoff dreams on track with a convincing win set in motion by a remarkable player whom people don't talk enough about: Ryan Hollingshead.
13. Sporting Kansas City (10-7-11)
Previous ranking: 15
Next MLS match: Saturday at Portland Timbers, 10:50 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+
Slim hopes are still hopes. Sporting's win over Houston was hardly impressive (no one in MLS wants the season to end more than the Dynamo) but any result that staves off the little "e" next to the club's name in the standings is an unqualified success.
14. Toronto FC (10-8-10)
Previous ranking: 16
Next MLS match: Saturday at FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+
No Jozy Altidore, no Justin Morrow, no win on the road in New England in a massive playoff six-pointer. The Reds have a lead on Montreal and Orlando in the race for the playoffs, but it's worth wondering if they'll rue dropping two points from a winning position via Quentin Westberg's howler.
15. D.C. United (11-9-10)
Previous ranking: 18
Next MLS match: Sunday, Sept. 15 at Portland Timbers, 7:30 p.m. ET
There's a much-needed win, and there's a season-saving win, and it's quite possible D.C.'s victory in Montreal was the latter. No Wayne Rooney, no momentum, but three points that could A) ensure United gets into the playoffs at all, and/or B) gets a home game when they get there.
16. Colorado Rapids (8-6-14)
Previous ranking: 20
Next MLS match: Saturday vs. Seattle Sounders, 9:00 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+
A tip of the Power Rankings cap (it's a bowler) to Robin Fraser, who ran in from Toronto to take the Rapids over on short notice and scored his first win for his new club on the road in Harrison. Here's hoping Fraser gets the support needed in the offseason to remake the Rapids.
17. New York Red Bulls (12-5-12)
Previous ranking: 10
Next MLS match: Sunday, Sept. 15 at Seattle Sounders, 3:30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN
Last week, the Red Bulls were forced to address a noxious smell that descended on Red Bull Arena. This week, Chris Armas was forced to address unhappy fans calling for his ouster after a noxious performance against Colorado. Everything stinks in Harrison at the moment.
18. Orlando City (9-7-13)
Previous ranking: 12
Next MLS match: Saturday vs. LAFC, 7:30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+
The Lions got the double whammy in their trip out to Northern California: a loss that damages their chances in the East's playoff race and an injury to Nani. If Nani misses any time, especially with the club short-handed thanks to the international window next weekend, the loss might be a 2019 death knell.
19. Chicago Fire (8-10-12)
Previous ranking: 14
Next MLS match: Sept. 14 vs. FC Dallas, 3:30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+
Still alive mathematically, the Fire did themselves no favors with a draw against Columbus. Chicago didn't do a good job putting the ball in the net when they had chances to do so, which (checks notes) is really hard to overcome when you're trying to win a soccer game.
20. Columbus Crew (8-7-15)
Previous ranking: 19
Next MLS match: Saturday, Sept. 14 at Atlanta United, 7:00 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+
One goal, one point, one more step toward the end of the season for Columbus.
21. Montreal Impact (11-4-15)
Previous ranking: 21
Next MLS match: Saturday, Sept. 14 vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+
The Impact scored a midweek win over Vancouver in controversial fashion, but lost a massive game to DC United in the race for the playoffs. Here's a question: What exactly is Wilmer Cabrera expected to do with a mediocre roster he's had no time to work with this late in the season?
22. Vancouver Whitecaps (6-9-15)
Previous ranking: 22
Next MLS match: Saturday, Sept. 14 vs. Houston Dynamo, 10:00 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+
Vancouver lost to Montreal on Thursday, then Vancouver lost to NYCFC on Saturday. That second loss officially eliminated the club from postseason contention. More news as events warrant.
23. Houston Dynamo (9-4-15)
Previous ranking: 23
Next MLS match: Wednesday, Sept. 11 vs. Minnesota United, 8:30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+
There's a pretty good chance you've stopped reading by now. If you haven't, it might be because you're a Dynamo fan. In the interest of not pouring salt in an open wound ... let's just say there's always next season.
24. FC Cincinnati (5-3-20)
Previous ranking: 24
Next MLS match: Saturday vs. Toronto FC, 7:30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+
FCC was officially eliminated from playoff contention after the loss against Dallas. The math going bad is usually what pushes a team to start looking ahead, but there's every reason to believe that the 2020 project for Cincinnati started months ago.