MLS Table Talk - Whither Goliath?
We're on the cusp of the final third of the Major League Soccer regular season--the time the teams that are going to make some post-season noise start to round into form. The question is going to be: will anybody make a bold move away from the pack to claim the Supporters' Shield definitively? Or will it be another race to the wire? For a while, it looked like the Revs would be good value to claim the regular season crown, but Chicago's weird hex has pulled Nicol's men back into a leading trio of contenders.
With every club having played either 18 or 19 matches, the points-per-game table is nearly aligned with the current standings. The three leaders in the East are also the league leaders. New England, Chicago, and Columbus are within a 2-point spread at the top, with the Revs holding a game in hand. Behind them comes the ever-widening pack of playoff contenders. Just two points separate RSL in 4th from Toronto in 10th. The dregs of the West are slightly detached at the bottom, but a string of results would put any of the four (excepting possibly the Quakes) in contention for not just a playoff spot, but the conference crown as well.
If you hold that goal differential is the true hallmark of a team's play, then you'll be wanting to put your money on the Fire. At +12, they're far and away the league leaders. Not coincidently, Chicago are also the most dominant defensive side, boasting the league's only sub-1.0 goals allowed per game mark (0.79). On the flip side, San Jose linger at a -10 goal differential, and score at the same rate (0.79) that the Fire allow, though that number may trend upward as the Quakes' new attacking options make their mark.
When it comes to goals, it's not hard to pick a team to watch. The Galaxy are banging in two per game and allowing slightly more (2.11). Their only rivals in both departments would be DC United, who score 1.72 per game and allow 1.78 per game.
It's hard to pull any trends from the numbers. Does defense make you a good team? Well, four of the top five allow under 1.17 goals per game, but the Crew give up 1.42 per game, more than four of the bottom five, including the three that would be in the relegation places if we had them. Does scoring goals do the trick? Well, the best in the league are DC and LA, currently residing 7th and 11th in a 14-team league respectively. In fact, Colorado is scoring to the tune of 1.42 per game, a number that finds them in good company with the top two in the entire league, New England (1.44) and Chicago (1.42), and puts them well ahead of the leaders of their own conference, RSL (1.16) and Houston (1.17). Heck, the second-from-bottom Rapids even have a positive goal difference.
What to make of these numbers? I suppose the easy out is that nasty "P" word: parity. What do you think? Is it positive and exciting to have an entire league that resembles the middle of a typical league table? Or is something lost when you don't have any Goliaths to slay or Davids to cheer on?