MLS Table Talk (Week 19) - Shifting and Drifting

A big week for movement in MLS. No team managed to move more than two places up or down, but nearly every team saw some shift on the table. The biggest change is that Houston have finally been toppled from the peak as Dallas and New England find themselves locked on 36 points atop the table. The Revs are in the pole position as they have an advantage in head-to-head results over the Hoops.

Despite all of the movement, the actual shape of the table has not changed much. The leading trio of New England and the Texan teams is followed by the remaining five playoff teams, huddled within 4 points of each other. A trailing pack of three playoff contenders is bunched 5-6 points off the pace and the Galaxy and RSL continue to stumble along at the tail end of the table.

The points per game table reads slightly differently, with New England and Dallas holding a slight lead over a pack of five led by DC United. There is a gap of nearly half of a point per game between this pack and the four sides sitting just off the last playoff position. Occupying the middle of that gap and the last playoff spot are the Crew, who will be looking over their shoulder at the trailers while desperately trying to catch up to the safety of the pack ahead of them. And, of course, behind that struggling gang of four, but starting to close somewhat, lay RSL.

The top scoring sides have not changed for some time, with the Revs at 1.7 goals per game holding a slight edge over KC and DC. RSL continue to be the lowest scoring side at 0.82 goals per game, though Colorado, Chicago, and Toronto all average 0.9 goals per game or below. Defensively, Houston continue to dominate at 0.71 goals allowed per game and nobody is even close. On the other end, reeling Toronto's replication of their early season defensive woes had seen them claim the dubious honor of allowing the most goals per game at 1.6.

So, a lot of small shifts and seizing of advantages, but some of that has to be down to the fact that a handful of teams did not see action this week. The gaps in the number of games played continues to narrow as we approach crunch time in the season, with Chivas, LA, and RSL all having the most games in hand. This season, of course, adds the complication of not just playoff qualification, but qualification for next summer's SuperLiga tournament.

While it doesn't have the cachet of say, the UEFA Champions' League, it does add a bit more excitement when only 4 of 13 teams qualify, rather than the 8 of 13 that advance to the MLS Cup playoffs. Of course, as the league expands, 4 spots out of a league of 16, or even 18, becomes much more significant. So much so, that I'd even venture to suggest that the value of the playoffs could increase with a reduction in the number of sides participating.

With that in mind, how about reducing the playoffs to six teams? Give the winners of the East and West (or the top two finishers if we can manage to rid ourselves of the conference structure) a semifinal berth and make the quarterfinals a single elimination game. In an about-face to the current structure, make the semifinals home and away and keep the final at a neutral venue. This format gives a more distinct advantage to regular season results as the top two will advance directly to the semifinals and gain a week's rest, while the third and fourth place finishers get the home advantage in a single winner-takes-all match to reach the semis.

Well, that's about it for now. The picture is still fuzzy and the race for the Supporters' Shield is still up in the air as we gather our breath for the final third of the season. Realistically, there are probably seven, possibly eight if you generously include the Crew, who could still grab that honor. Roll on Week 20!

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