I know what the title says, but it's always fun to post pictures of Cupcake lover Zach Thornton, especially when he gets schooled for 5 goals by a USL First Division team. But even before last night's game I was going to have a new #1 team, so don't think last night changed my mind.
1. Seattle Sounders - Currently tied on points with Portland in first place, even though they've played one more game. But the proof in the pudding lies in the fact that it's been almost two months since they've lost a game. Not just in the league, but in US Open Cup games and friendlies. 6 wins and a draw in their last 7 in league games, and they have a highly favorable schedule the rest of the way. 3 games against Minnesota, 2 against California, and 1 against both Charleston and Atlanta. And 5 of their last 7 are at home. I'm thinking Seattle could end up as your regular season champs. AND even US Open Cup champs, as they host FC Dallas in the semifinals. Things look great for Sounders supporters right now.
2. Montreal Impact - That two-week layoff at the end of July really helped, as they made some roster moves and regrouped, winning their last two. Next they get Miami and California, but 5 of their last 7 are on the road. And they still have 3 to play against Rochester, which are always tough games.
3. Portland Timbers - I know, I know, and you can feel free to bash me. They're winless in their last four, scored only one goal in those four games, and are struggling. But when it comes down to it, I just can't put other teams above them. They're still a great team and a likely contender for the title, both regular season and in the playoffs. Their schedule isn't too daunting to close out the season, opponent-wise, but 5 of those final 8, including their last 4, are on the road.
4. Puerto Rico Islanders - Oh so close to coming out with some better results in the Vancouver/Seattle trip, but it was not to be. Maybe it was Shoe jinxing them in the Seattle game. My guess is the fact that it's the longest trip to make in the USL First Division. I don't even want to think about how long it is. Either way, they're still in a good shot at a return to the playoffs. But this weekend brings an Atlanta/Rochester trip before returning to the island for 3 to close out August. Hmmm....late August in San Juan. If you think Atlanta is bad this time of year, I can imagine the humidity down on the island.
5. Rochester Raging Rhinos - I won't drop them too much for a loss at Montreal. Both teams always get fired up for this rivalry, and a small 1-0 victory probably has to be put on the home field advantage or the ball bouncing the right way for one team. 6 left for the Rhinos, with the last 3 against Montreal. Who drew up these schedules?
6. Atlanta Silverbacks - I want to put them higher. I really do. I know they won 2-1 against Charleston, which was a big win. And we love Mac. I think Cupcake Nation is the happiest now that he's out there. But I'm just completely confounded that this team has no system, no style, and no plays. It seems that Jason Smith just throws them out there and says "Win the game." And they can do this because they have some great players. Take Antoniuk's goal against Charleston last Saturday. No buildup, just a ball from Liendo that Dizzy chested down, made a couple of great moves to free himself for a shot, and put it past Hudock. Total individual effort. I just wonder how good this team could be if they actually had a system, as opposed to just knocking the ball forward and waiting for a forward to try and control it. And if I see Rodrigo float another corner kick to the back post, I'm probably going to tear my hair out. 8 corner kicks last Saturday, and I can't remember one that was played in a different manner. Forget the height advantage with Mac and Antoniuk. Jesus, I'm starting to sound like Wynalda. Next thing you know I'll be hating Mexico.
7. Miami FC - Almost an unbeaten month for the Blues, as they finally ran out of gas in Charleston. It's do or die time for the Floridians as far as the playoffs go. They're not nearly the team they were last year, but still have a good shot at making the postseason. 6 left with 3 at home, but face two-straight at Puerto Rico in mid-August.
8. Charleston Battery - Woe is me. A nice two-game winning streak was put to an end by of all teams, the Silverbacks. Charleston just looked like they didn't have it on Saturday. Although Armstrong's goal was nice and they forced Ryan McIntosh into making some good saves. But this is another team that it's do-or-die time for. They host California on Saturday and Carolina on Tuesday. These games will make or break their playoff aspirations.
9. Vancouver Whitecaps - Well, a step in the right direction with a draw against Puerto Rico. But a look ahead is why I'm betting Vancouver will be in the postseason. After Saturday's trip to Portland, they end the season with 6 at home. All thanks to the U-20 World Cup. But still, it's now 9 games without a win. Let's hope they find their groove now, cause this team is too good to be left out of the playoffs.
10. Minnesota Thunder - Wow. Looking at their remaining schedule is a little striking compared to the rest of the league. 10 games to go, with 9 games in August. They play 3 in 4 days this weekend, as the do the Portland/Seattle/Vancouver thing. And in the middle of all this madness, they'll host an exhibition against the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay on the 21st. Let's hope they have some good trainers on hand.
11. Carolina RailHawks - Well, it took a visit from California to break out of their 8-game winless streak. And the Victory can make any team look like title contenders. Well, except for the Silverbacks, that is. But I don't think they have enough to make the playoffs, even with California and Minnesota still on the schedule. Their best bet might be going for the US Open Cup, where they'll play the winner of tonight's Harrisburg/New England game.
12. California Victory - This team is dead. I could barely stand watching last Friday's game on FSC at Carolina. Aside from goalkeeper Erik Reed, they just looked terrible. I started to feel bad for the players, because it's not that fault. They just don't have the talent and had their best player sold. Not traded, but sold. What kind of message does that send to them? I can't wait for the end of the season when this experiment gone wrong will be laid to rest forever.