MLS Table Talk (Week 26) - Bottom's Up!
In an unlikely turn of events, the LA Galaxy have somehow managed to resurrect what seemed to be a lost season to set up the "Hollywood" ending of Becks returning from injury just in time for a push into the playoffs. What was once a three team scrum for the final playoff spot has expanded into a five team melee for two spots as the Wiz slide inexorably backward, the Gals, aided by their games in hand, surge up the table, and the Fire, Crew, and Rapids hold steady.
Above the playoff dogfight, Dallas and the Red Bulls are virtually guaranteed of post-season places, but are stumbling down the stretch and boast leaky defenses that will probably doom their MLS Cup ambitions. The top four continue to scrap for the regular season crown with everybody still in contention. Realistically, it's going to come down to United and Chivas, who currently sit 5 points back, but have a game in hand and aren't involved in continental competition, as DC are with Sudamericana. Finally, down in the murky depths, RSL and TFC will have to wait another year to sip at the sweet chalice of the playoffs.
The points-per-game table has nearly aligned with the actual table this week. The only difference is Chivas, whose 1.85 points-per-game would see them sit second, rather than fourth. Offensively, United's four against TFC have extended the margin of their dominance, as they sit at 1.96 goals per game, well clear of Eastern Conference rivals New England on 1.70 goals per game. TFC continue to be allergic to the net, managing a paltry 0.77 goals per game. Their only rival in sub-1.0 land are Clavijo's struggling ThunderCats . . . er - Rapids at 0.96 per game.
Defensively, the Western duo of the Dynamo at 0.78 and Chivas at 0.92 goals allowed, continue to lead the way. LA's recent run of not surrendering 5 goals every other game sees their dubious "lead" in the goals allowed department slip, as TFC, at 1.65 allowed, are closing in on the Gals at 1.69.
We've ignored goal difference up to this point somewhat, but a quick look at the table is revealing. Only five of the thirteen MLS sides have a positive goal difference, with three clearly dominant sides - DC, Houston, and Chivas, all near +20, and expansion fever ravaging TFC at their miserable -23. Dallas sitting in fifth with a -7 goal difference is testament to the fact that they've been employing a bit of smoke and mirrors this season. Once the draws and narrow wins started to convert to losses and draws, they started to sink to their natural level on the table. A couple more dropped results early in the campaign and they'd be stuck in with those fighting for their playoff lives.
The best regular season in MLS history continues to impress. Just three weeks to go and we still have four sides vying for the Supporters' Shield. What was once a three team fight at the edges of the playoff party has now expanded to a full five-team gala ball. There are some tasty matchups in store for the weeks ahead and it should be terrific entertainment as we wend our way towards RFK!