By: McLeod Brown
The MLS regular season has come and gone and, to all of us that were not fortunate enough to see our teams advance to the playoffs (yours truly included), wah. However, there is some silver lining, and that is the postseason picture appears to be as wide open as it has ever been.
In the Western Conference, a mere nine points separates No. 1 seed FC Dallas (60) from the No. 6 seed Sporting Kansas City (51). The Eastern Conference is just as competitive, with the top-seeded New York Red Bulls (60) leading No. 6 seed Toronto FC (49) by just 11 points at the regular season close.
With such a muck among the top teams, the postseason is sure to provide highlights and surprises as we creep into November. Let’s have a team-by-team look at this year’s competitors.
No. 1 New York Red Bulls
Winners of the Supporter’s Shield (best regular-season record in MLS) for two out of the past three years now, the Red Bulls have moved one step closer to dumping the dubious “That’s so Metro” motto. Brothers Bradley and Shaun Wright-Philllips highlight the lineup, with Bradley leading the team with 17 goals on the year.
No. 2 Columbus Crew SC
The Columbus Crew check in at No. 2 in the West for the upcoming playoffs. The team advances to the playoffs for the second straight year, having not won the title since 2008. Kei Kamara is the obvious pulse of the team, having tied for first in the league in goals scored with 22 on the year. Ethan Finlay is also tied for second in assists with 11 total. Essentially, what Dallas fields in defense, the Crew fields in offense.
No. 3 Montreal Impact
Bonjour to the Impact and congratulations on advancing to the MLS playoffs in just their second year of play in the league. The young team is veteran-laden, led by two designated players in Ignacio Piatti and former Chelsea-great Didier Drogba. The 37-year old Drogba has made his presence felt in the league, with 11 goals in 11 games, good enough for 13th in the league. One can only imagine what he’d be able to do in a full-season’s worth of play. The team will play host to Toronto FC in the knockout round on Thursday.
No. 4 DC United
Say hello to the only team to enter the postseason with a negative (-2) goal differential. But I personally can’t help but rally for them (of course still remaining neutral). But seriously, it’s pretty remarkable to advance as far as they have with how inconsistent they’ve played. When they’re hot, though, they’re scorching. However, they enter the playoffs cold, losing six of their last nine. Good news though, the last win they had against a current playoff team is the team they’ll play host to in the knockout round, the New England Revolution.
No. 5 New England Revolution
The runner ups to the title last year, this season hasn’t been so much a case of the Revs falling off as it has been of other clubs catching up. Charlie Davies continues his resurgence while the young, talented enigma Juan Agudelo also heads the New England attack. Bottom line is this team is still as big a threat as any, and just as fun to watch with all the tantalizing potential. It’s a shame one of these flashes in the pan will have to bow out when the Revs visit the United.
No. 6 Toronto FC
Well, well, who would’ve thought the knockout round of the playoffs would’ve pitted two Canadian teams against each other? But lo and behold, here we stand. The team is checkered with recognizable US names, none bigger than Michael Bradley (hi haters) and Jozy Altidore. But the best player of, not just the team, but in my opinion in the league this season goes to Sebastian Giovinco. Dude led the league in scoring (22 goals) on his way to claiming the Audi Golden Boot. Good news? Toronto FC won the season series against Montreal 2-1 this season. The bad news? That one loss came just two days ago on Sunday when the team fell 2-1 to the Impact at the site of their knockout round match. Strategic advice? Don’t let Drogba get loose as he did for the two goals on Sunday. Very excited to see the fans’ passion in this one.
No. 1 FC Dallas
Dallas took home the Western Conference regular season crown for the first time since 2006 not so much by offense, but by staunch defense. Crazy stat of the day, the team’s top goal scorer wasn’t even in the top 20 of the MLS this season, with Fabian Castillo tying for 24th in the league with nine goals on the year. A goal differential of +13 will allow a team to survive without that flashy offensive talent. The team earned advancement past the knockout round by winning four of their last five contests to close out the regular season.
No. 2 Vancouver Whitecaps
All Canada everything. Except Vancouver is going to need to find their footing again fast. What looked like the best team in the league up until the last month, before their regular-season finale win over Houston, Vancouver had not won since Sep. 17th. Luckily for them, they get a bit of extra time to regroup as they earned a bye past the knockout stage. Injuries have robbed the Whitecaps of reaching their full potential, with Octavio Rivero and Kekuta Manneh being the two setbacks affecting the team the most. If they are able to get healthy during the extra rest, however, watch out.
No. 3 Portland Timbers
It’s going down… I’ll stop myself. Winners of four of their last five, you’d be hard-pressed to find a hotter team than Portland entering the playoffs. The Timbers have taken their last three games by a combined goal differential of +7. Peaking? I think so. A player to watch for Portland? Check out Maximiliano Urruti’s box score. The more he plays, the more magic he seems to create. Better suited to come off the bench, it’ll be interesting to see how he’s utilized against Kansas City.
No. 4 Seattle Sounders FC
And right behind their heated rival lie the Sounders. The face of the MLS, Clint Dempsey, would like nothing more than to complete his return to the States with a MLS Cup. Obafemi Martins is a beast plain and simple. The team’s nationally televised game against the Galaxy back on Oct. 5 showed the good and bad of the team. When they’re lackadaisical, bad things happen. But they can strike quick and forceful.
No. 5 LA Galaxy
Yeah losing the most decorated player in United States history is going to hurt you. That’s a given. But it has been enjoyable watching the Galaxy’s “other” guys step up and help replace some of Landon Donovan’s production. Robbie Keane is the new made man for LA with 20 goals to his name. My personal favorite to watch on the squad, however, is Giovani Dos Santos. More people need to take notice of the Mexican footballer, as he’s scored three goals in just nine games this year between being called up by the Mexican national team. A West Coast battle against their frenemies from Washington will be interesting to see.
No. 6 Sporting Kansas City
Hello Middle America! Kansas City enters the postseason being talked about the least, right where they want to be. Experience drives Sporting, with Benny Feilhaber acting as the heart and soul of the team. Enigmatic is the word to describe the team, and they could go either way against Portland in the knockout round.
Christmas has come early. Let’s eat fam. CUE THE DAMN MUSIC.