Saturday, October 24, 2015

Playoff Positioning, Supporters' Shield on the Line

After a season of teams being as far apart as five matches played, every team in MLS is finally on an even number of games for round 33 of 34 for the season. The league has scheduled the kickoff times for all games tomorrow (Sunday, Oct 25th) to occur at 5 PM and 7 PM (eastern) to increase the energy around the games.

This semi-planned and heavily promoted event is being called "decision day" by the league this year. It's an attempt to mimic the intensity of the final days of leagues across the world where teams are promoted, relegated, win European league spots, meet or miss board expectations and / or secure extra millions of dollars for finishing a spot or two higher on the final day of the season. It's an overwhelmingly awesome event that impacts hundreds of teams and dozens of leagues at all levels across an entire continent.

In MLS, it's more just to figure out who's playing who in an intraleague cup tournament. Nevertheless, there are implications for failure on #DecisionDay.

In the West, there is still some question as to who will be sitting out this year's MLS Cup. Most of it hinges on whether or not San Jose gets a result in their matchup against FC Dallas. A win means Seattle and Kansas City need 3 pts from their matches and Portland needs at least a draw.

FC Dallas1257Bye, playing for SS
L.A. Galaxy1151Playing for Position
Vancouver Whitecaps650Playing for Position
Portland Timbers-150Playing to stay in, position
Seattle Sounders FC648Playing to stay in, position
Sporting Kansas City248Playing to stay in, position
San Jose Earthquakes347Playing to get in
Houston Dynamo-442Out
Real Salt Lake-841Out
Colorado Rapids-737Out

The East has been settled since midseason but there is some drama to be had as far as positioning. Most teams want to skip the crappy midweek game and walk directly into the two-legged conference semifinals next weekend.

New York Red Bulls1857Bye
DC United351Playing for Position
Columbus Crew050Playing for Position
Toronto FC149Playing for Position
Montreal Impact348Playing for Position
New England Rev.-147Playing for Position
Orlando City-944Out
New York City FC-737Out
Philadelphia Union-1434Out
Chicago Fire-1430Out

The Columbus Crew SC put themselves in a good spot. A win earns them a Get Out of Midweek MLS Cup Scheduling Hell Card (quite the card, I must say). A draw or a loss drops them in the mixer.

It's going to be a tough game for the Crew. Outside of the intensity around the game (national TV will be in the house) the Crew will be missing both Kei Kamara and Federico Higuain due to card accumulation. 

One thing helping Columbus is that under Ben Olsen, DC United only play as hard as they have to. In this match they likely only need to earn a point. In that scenario, Toronto can catch them with a win and a +2 goal difference, but I think Montreal will give them a stiff enough test to prevent that.

I've said for most of the year that 3rd place is not a bad sport for a team to be because you get a bonus home match, midweek, against an inferior opponent. From a business perspective, this should be a win, and should you move on, even a bigger win (unless you are a member of the ticket sales or stadium staff, I guess). Bonus home game!

The only way it would be a loss for an MLS organization is if the team loses money holding an event. Boy, would that jack up the books if that is the case. Given the embarrassingly low attendance for last year's game, it's entirely possible that this is the case for Columbus.


Two teams left fighting for the most difficult to obtain trophy in the league are FC Dallas and the NY Red Bulls. Both teams are on 57 points and play at 7 PM tomorrow. 

Red Bulls have the easiest pathway here, as they face last-place Chicago. On the other side of things, FC Dallas face a needing-a-win San Jose.

I would like to see Oscar Pareja and his Dallas team win this one. Pareja is the best coach in Major League Soccer. He proved what he could do in the hinter MLS lands of Colorado and has taken it to the next level on the fertile youth player grounds in the Dallas, Texas area.

In hindsight, it does make some sense FC Dallas is doing better this year. With the Hunt family moving the burdensome Columbus Crew franchise from their books they have been able to sharpen their focus. 

Dallas has always had inconsistent results. Some of that, one could argue, was because Hunt Sports Group folks were pulled in a few too many directions. They are even taking some of that Crew money and attempting to build a soccer hall of fame.

Eitherway, NY or Dallas lifting the shield will be a huge accomplishment. Navigating a MLS season is tricky, at best. As the league expands it won't necessarily be the best team that earns this but the one that is best prepared for the wackiness of the calendar.

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