MLS Previews Week 35: Mild, Mild East

MLS Previews Week 35: Mild, Mild East

HenryingAll good things must come to an end. So do other things, such as the 2013 MLS Previews. Over the course of the season I managed to grow my reader into at least 6 or 7, and I thank each and every one of you. Seriously, I’ll do it personally, using your name, if you introduce yourself. But first, let’s see where we stand, vis-a-vis playoffs.

Things settled:

  • West playoff teams are set (unless, say, Colorado gets pummeled 7-0 and San Jose beats Dallas 6-0…it could happen).
  • New York and S. Kansas City are some permutation of 1-2 in the East.

Things not settled:

  • The Supporter Shield. NY and KC, with their advantage of getting to beat up on DC and Toronto multiple times (NY 4-0-2, KC 4-1-1), are in what your grandfather would call “the catbird seat.” To which I say, “what’s a catbird?”
  • Third, fourth and fifth in the East. Five clubs are vying for three spots, and even the once-awesome Montreal could face expulsion. (Remember when we all envied their shrewdness in hiring relatively inexpensive Italians? Turns out they had an expiration date.)
  • Exactly who will finish in what spot.

Will the New Jersey Eleven find Hoffa? Might Portland actually win a trophy Seattle didn’t win before them? Will Philly- er, never mind! Find out this weekend! Drama! Competitiveness! Bus parking!

With this the Previews end for 2013 – I may do some playoff previews, we’ll see. I’m also likely going to make the traditional MLS Fan Post Enumerating All Things Wrong With MLS And How I Would Fix Them Quickly And Easily.

Top Match

(Winning clubs with best combined record)
New York vs Chicago (Combined 30-21-15)

After a season that started in relative shambles, the recently devalued Supporters Shield is the Ruddy Steers’ to lose. On the other hand, after a season that started in relative shambles, a playoff spot is Chicago’s to lose. Both clubs have most of their parts relatively oiled and working (save the mysterious lack of Joel Lindpere).

Will Thierry Henry manage to give us one last existential goal celebration? Will he do the Achy Breaky again? Or will he try something new, like attempting to play connect-the-dots with Jeff Larentowicz’s freckles? Hey, “Breaking Bad” is over, so this is all we’ve got.

Bottom Match

(Losing clubs with worst combined record)
None

I told you about this last week — only four clubs have more losses than wins, and only Dallas and Vancouver can join them. This season has been about 15 clubs mostly beating up on three weak teams, then playing roughly even against each other. MLS calls this “competitive.” I call it “limited skill.”

Closest Match

(Clubs with least points-per-game differential)
Seattle vs. Los Angeles (0.03 PPG differential)

The final match of the regular season is also the closest. Unfortunately, it’s no longer the marquee matchup ESPN had planned when they paid for it: Seattle, who continued their descent into madness in Frisco (the one in Texas) last week, faces a not-completely-healthy Starries club.

Unlike the other matches in these previews, this one has little urgency for either club, although it’s in everyone’s best interest to not have to face the one-game “wild card” playoff. The best news is for Portland and Salt Lake, who are guaranteed to finish ahead of at least one of these two clubs. The story instead is the 67,000-plus fans who will be there, rain or shine, despite the recent flailings of their home club. Hell, someone may even tune in thinking it must be the Seahawks.

El Burrito Grande

(Clubs with greatest points-per-game differential)
DC vs. Houston (1.03 PPG differential)

What’s the opposite of a victory lap? A Defeat Lap? A Lap of Shame? Either way, DC makes its curtain call, with zero doubt that they were the worst club of 2013. In fact, once again a Joiner tilt against a below-the-red-line club beats out even a West matchup of second-place RSL vs. last-place Chivas.

Don’t be fooled though — there’s a ton at stake here. DC can set the new record for fewest wins in a full season, even beating Chivas’ dismal 2005 season. Meanwhile, Houston found out how easy it is to fall below that thin red line, and need at least a draw or most likely a win to make the playoffs. Of course, this is virtually the same situation the Generator faced last year at this time, and they managed to become the sacrificial lamb to their AEG big brother once again.

Who’ll end up on top? Gotta watch the games to find out. Or read the Internet. One or the other.

 

October 23, 2013 Comments are Disabled Read More
MLS Previews Week 34: Slap Fight!

MLS Previews Week 34: Slap Fight!

Will Johnson EmbellishmentThe penultimate week of the MLS regular season is here, and…the only real change from last week is that Dallas is mathematically eliminated. 15 of 19 clubs are still in playoff contention. The top club in the West — now Portland — could still miss the playoffs entirely.

The story, though, is Seattle, which is on a 1969 Cubs-like race to the bottom. Just four weeks ago they would have had to suffer the biggest choke ever to put themselves out of Supporters Shield contention. Well, guess what?

Now the scenarios for their missing the playoffs are scary — If Seattle loses both remaining games and either San Jose or Vancouver wins out, they’re out. On the plus side, winning just one of two ensures…well, a one-game “wild card” playoff.

Not to take away from the Wild Wild East, where Les Impactines have taken a slower but just as precipitous tumble, and now sit in the Danger Zone with Chicago, Philly and New England, all within a single point of each other. Montreal still has un jeu in hand, but we saw how well that went for Seattle.

Oh, and for stat geeks like me, it was awesome that last Saturday three different clubs held the fifth East playoff spot within the same day: first New England after their win over Montreal, then Philly after their draw in DC, and finally Chicago, leapfrogging the both of them after also mathematically eliminating Dallas.

The most disappointing part of all this: as of Seattle’s loss in Portland (which featured the pretend fight between Oswaldo “Elbows” Alonso and Will “Smack Talkin” Johnson), no team will win more than half its matches this season. A table of mediocrity? You decide…

Top Match

(Winning clubs with best combined record)
Portland vs. Salt Lake (Combined 28-15-21)

Despite being in the upper reaches of the table for some time, Portland hasn’t had a Top Match due to its underwhelming winning percentage. That changes today. And in a stroke of great timing, it’s now that we can finally give the Trees the 2013 Silver Meh Award as the club with the most ties.

Meanwhile, the Actuals have quietly (thanks, Seattle!) slid into a bit of mediocrity themselves, winning only one of their last four. Does it sound like I’m excited? Wait, there’s more…

Bottom Match

(Losing clubs with worst combined record)
None

I’ve checked ahead to next week, and that’s it  – we’re all out of Bottom Matches for the season. A season of MLS mediocrity competition that caused 16 clubs to simply take turns beating on DC, Toronto and Chivas while playing more or less even with the rest of the league means we can no longer enjoy a good Battle of the Losers, because there just weren’t enough losers. It’s like the equivalent of a grade-school track meet.

There’s always next year, I guess.

Closest Match

(Clubs with least points-per-game differential)
Portland vs. Salt Lake (0.03 PPG differential)

Hey, Portland, don’t say we never give you anything.

Another Fun Factoid™: MLS yet again changed the first standings tiebreaker in the midst of the season this year, making wins the most crucial commodity. That means Portland is especially vulnerable, as all of its ties will get them nowhere should they pull up even for the Shield or a playoff spot. Even sixth-place San Jose would pass them if they managed to win out while the Larches lost out. No word on whether the Timbers Army will unveil a protest tifo in the final home match, although I guess draws are technically more authentic…

El Burrito Grande

(Clubs with greatest points-per-game differential)
Kansas City vs. DC (1.13 PPG differential)

Sing it with me: Because DC.

They may not have enough competition for a Bottom Match, but we still have the Burrito. And there would only be two clubs who could Burrito DC better than KC (whose city abbreviation is not — I repeat, is NOT — “SKC,” at least until the sign on the freeway is changed to “Welcome to Sporting Kansas City”).

After managing to eke out a draw last weekend, the Joiners unfortunately won’t finish tied for the most losses in MLS history, but they’re only two non-wins away from the record for the fewest victories in a season. Think about that: DC fans have seen the joy of a victory in league play just 3 times — one-fifth of the celebrations in KC, New York, Salt Lake and Seattle and a good 10 fewer than Montreal, Chicago, Philadelphia, Portland, LA, Colorado and San Jose.

Good thing the US Open Cup victory ensured Ben Olsen’s job renewal, huh?

October 15, 2013 Comments are Disabled Read More
MLS Previews Week 33: It’s a Knockout

MLS Previews Week 33: It’s a Knockout

Three weeks. Three weeks. Three weeks to go…and we’re no closer to a definitive Supporters Shield frontrunner than we were three months ago.

Of course, the Supporters Shield was tragically devalued when MLS instituted its highly unbalanced scheduling — if you don’t think there’s a difference between having to face LA twice at home versus facing them twice at Scalper Center, I don’t know what to say to you. Nevertheless, there is value to finishing on top of the league, with its guaranteed home field advantage should the club make the MLS Cup final, guaranteed CONCACAF Champions League berth if it doesn’t, and snazzy revised Shield that is actually now in the shape of a shield.

And as of today, Philadelphia still has a mathematical chance of winning it.

The only club with its Shield destiny in its own hands is still Seattle with its games-in-hand, but even they are likely going to need to win out to secure the top spot because with 10 teams within mathematical striking distance and 5 teams within one win of top spot, someone else IS going to win out.

Not that any of them managed to start that roll last week, besides Portland and KC. NY couldn’t put away the Rebels, Salt Lake couldn’t keep Mansally from being Mansally, and Seattle…I haven’t seen anything that brutal since Gigli.

Buckle in, because this will be a wild last three weeks. I mean “competitive.”

 

Top Match

(Winning clubs with best combined record)
Houston vs. Kansas City (Combined 28-20-14)

By virtue of facing the middling Vancouver and tie-tastic Portland, Seattle breaks its string at the top, bequeathing it to the two most central clubs in the league in the very first match of the week. The most likely result of a Houston win here is that they’ll probably also face The Team Formerly Known As The Wiz in the first round of the playoffs.

Can Kansas City pull out a shocker in Houston? Er, maybe I should use a different word.

Bottom Match

(Losing clubs with worst combined record)
None

In fact, DC is the only club with a losing record who’s playing this week. In even more fact, right now only 5 of the 19 clubs in MLS have losing records. The only way a higher percentage of teams could break even or better would if MLS started awarding double wins for beating the bottom teams by 3 or more goals.

Closest Match

(Clubs with least points-per-game differential)
Dallas vs. Chicago (0.07 PPG differential)

Neither club in this match holds its playoff fate in its own hands anymore. Chicago are in the middle of a pack vying for the East five-seed, and played their most winnable remaining match last week in DC.

Meanwhile, after failing to beat a 10-man Salt Lake last week, Dallas is pretty much Texas Toast unless a perfect storm occurs, meaning they win their remaining three matches while at least one of LA or Colorado loses all three of theirs,  San Jose does worse than winning two of their three and Vancouver doesn’t win out.

Actually, when I put it that way, it doesn’t sound so improbable.

El Burrito Grande

(Clubs with greatest points-per-game differential)
DC vs. Philadelphia (0.97 PPG differential)

Uni vs. Uni. Another home game for DC against a club fighting for a postseason berth. Unlike last week, however, the DC Unis’ first string will be rested up after their two-week US Open Cup break (and they say MLS can’t honor non-league windows…).

Even so, if the Philly Unis can’t find a way to win this one, they deserve to spend the postseason watching a tape loop of Jack Mac missing the goal.

October 9, 2013 Comments are Disabled Read More