August 10, 2010.
This time of year, top European club soccer teams go abroad to prep for the upcoming season. Teams like Manchester United used to come to the United States and play exhibition games against other European club teams. This summer, they took on teams from Major League Soccer (MLS). After beating the Philadelphia Union, a first year expansion club, Manchester United lost to the Kansas City Wizards, the 12th ranked team in the Power Rank. "The progress is obvious," said Sir Alex Ferguson, the silver haired dean of European club managers (think of him as the Dean Smith of European club football). "We realized that in the game against Philadelphia and just as much against Kansas City. There's a massive improvement in the organization and standard of play. That would be the reason I think they're ready to play the best teams in Europe now."
The 2-1 result against Kansas City was clearly a statistical abberation, as Manchester United handily defeated a more talented MLS All-Star team a few days later. But it's worth taking a closer look at the game to see how far MLS has come. Kansas City had a 1-0 lead until defender Jimmy Conrad got a red card for a tackle in the penalty area that led to a goal on a penalty shot. With a tie game and a one man advantage for the remaining 50 minutes, Manchester United clearly had the upper hand. However, Kansas City scored in the very next minute and held off their European competitors in the second half with their backup goal keeper. Not a bad result, especially since Manchester United would not even think about adding single one of Kansas City's players to its roster.
It's time to give MLS respect and properly evaluate the teams. The Power Rank shows clear domination from MLS teams in the Western Conference. Los Angeles and Real Salt Lake played for the MLS Cup a year ago and have a good chance of playing for it again. While the Columbus Crew are the only elite team from Eastern Conference, they have the talent to beat any team in MLS. The New York Red Bulls are the most interesting team in the Power Rank. While New York currently sits at second in the Eastern Conference table, the algorithm places them at 11th out of 16 teams and worse than the average MLS team. The Red Bulls recently added French goal scorer Thierry Henry and Mexican defender Rafa Marquez, two players that have recently helped Barcelona emerge as the best club team in the world. The media now consider New York a MLS Cup contender, but their ranking hasn't budged after two ties against struggling Houston and Chicago. Follow the Power Rank to see how this story unfolds.
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