In this final installment of the MLS Dogpile for 2007, we'll focus on the remaining members of the Playoff Pack and dismiss the Bum-Sniffing Omega Mutts to go off and chase their tales in the corner for the duration of the long, cold winter.
Before ranking the survivors, I think it's pretty damning that of the eight playoff sides, only two--Houston and Chicago, have winning records over the last five games. Drop that to three games and you're left with only Chicago. Sure, a few others are breaking even and technically don't have "losing" records, but the overwhelming majority can be painted with the broad strokes of whatever strained metaphor you want to run with--limping into the playoffs, backing in, creeping through the back door with tails between their collective legs, collapsing on the doorstep and vomiting blood across the threshold while desperately holding in their guts with slippery fingers while the icy hand of death . . .
Alright, maybe that last was a bit harsh--but I see that chilled look in your eye FC Dallas! Whatever the case, we don't really have any "hot" sides tearing it up going into the post-season, so our MLS Dogpile resembles more of a midden heap. May the best turd win!
1. Houston Dynamo - Okay, so they couldn't close the deal against Chivas. Sure, they're carrying some dings. Maybe the engine of their midfield has gone missing--paging Rico Clark, Mr. Ricardo Clark? Oh . . . rrrriiiight . . . forgot about that little incident with the boot and the Fish. But the fact is, Houston are a tough side to break down, as demonstrated by their tremendous defensive record this season. They've also got some real quality depth, are well-organized, and can surely remember how they closed the deal last season.
The Challengers with Snarl
2. DC United - Injuries to front-line strikers Emilio and Moreno in the final game of the regular season put a dent in United's chances. They also didn't exactly storm into the playoffs with a strong head of steam. That said, they're the deepest team outside of Houston; boast an array of attacking options that will be hard to hold down, assuming they're all healthy; and prior to the loss in the final game, were riding a long, long unbeaten run that carried them to the Supporters' Shield. Besides, the added incentive of having the final in your own house has to help, doesn't it?
3. Chicago Fire - The biggest obstacle to United making the final may well be their first round opponents. The Fire are riding a long unbeaten streak of their own, but will be troubled by the number of draws during that run. They are also a fairly lean squad, so injuries to some key pieces would really put a damper on their chances. That said, they've got major playoff mojo over United, seem to be playing as a tight unit under Osorio, and have an unpredictable wild card up their sleeve in the crafty Blanco. Write them off at your peril, as many were doing at the halfway point of the season.
4. Chivas USA - Losing Razov is a big blow to the Goats' playoff chances, but they can put up a stubborn defensive effort, as demonstrated in their final match against the Dynamo. Like the Fire, Chivas are a bit on the thin side, but they should have enough to get past the Wizards. With that mission accomplished, it comes down to a one-off match in their home stadium to get to the final, something that they are perfectly capable of pulling off.
5. New England Revolution - They haven't exactly been lighting things up going into the playoffs, but the Revs are efficient, experienced campaigners, and you'd be foolish to dismiss their chances of getting to yet another final. This time, however, they'll be buoyed by the fact that they finally overcame the finals voodoo and won the "big one"--in the form of the Open Cup final earlier this season. Can they make it two?
Waiting For the Parting Gift
You'd think I'd learn about sticking my neck out like this, but where's the joy in that? These three sides can just shuffle off stage left and collect their parting gifts on their way to their tropical vacation paradises. This year, we've got copies of Football Manager 2008, basically the "home version" of our game. Better luck next time, you Omega Mutts in disguise!
6. New York Red Bulls - sing to the tune of "That's Amore" - They've boatloads in attack / but there's nothing at the back / poor Arena! If they can somehow manage to score more than they let in, the Bulls might have a fighting chance, but managing to do that consistently might be an issue.
7. Kansas City Wizards - They almost managed to blow it again and collapse on the doorstep, but fortunately, fate and the soccer gods threw them a bone in the form of FC Dallas for their "win or bust" game at the end. Unfortunately, that just prolonged the inevitable, as the Wiz will be busy booking tee times in a few weeks.
8. FC Dallas - What happened? For so much of this season Dallas looked a strong side, getting results despite a leaky back line. But then a big, steaming pile of Denílson landed on them and things haven't been the same since. Can they get it together for one last hurrah? I might give them a shot against a lesser side, but Houston should maul them pretty handily. The one thing that might throw a spanner in the works is the lingering bad blood from the Clark contra Fish affair.
So there you have it. By my flawless logic, that means that all the higher seeds advance in the first round. And that always happens in the wild and wooly world of the American sporting landscape, right? Right? Hey, who let those crickets in here?