Let's start by saying that my perspective of this game comes via the warped lens of Limarzi's radio call and the video highlights. With that in mind, my reaction is necessarily going to be more focused on the implications of last night's 2-2 draw against Coop and the Hoops. Now that we've got that bit of business out of the way . . .
That was a huge opportunity missed to pad our lead in the race for the final playoff spots. Considering the hellish schedule that lies ahead, strewn with potential Champions' League land mines as it is, six points would have been so much more comfortable than four. I know we were missing some significant pieces from the start, but we were playing at home, and when we came storming back to take the lead . . . well, that's a result that good teams find a way to hold on to.
The defense has never really cut out the kind of mistakes that were killing us early in the year, but for the most part, Crayton has been bailing them out of late, and the errors have seemed to dwindle, if only a bit. Last night, enough mistakes got punished, even if Crayton managed to smother a few of them.
So am I completely despondent? Not particularly. At this point, home field advantage in the playoffs was always a dream fading softly into the sunset. The focus has to be on getting healthy and getting into the playoffs with a little momentum. From there, it's a four game dash to the MLS Cup. Of course, considering the six Champions' League fixtures that will be sewn into our run-in schedule, that's far easier said than done.
With that in mind, where do the priorities lie?
Job #1: Qualifying for the playoffs. Yes, yes, the FO "built us for international competition", but let's face it--they've made a bit of a Frankensteinian hash of it. What's important now is that we have enough quality to make the playoffs and do some damage there, and if we don't make the playoffs then the season is a failure in my eyes.
Job #2: MLS Cup. Okay, maybe this should be Job #1, but I'm a glass half-empty kinda guy and enough of a realist to consider that our cup chances are about dark horse level or best at the moment. Can we still win it? Sure, but it's going to require getting bodies healthy and rested, the team starting to fire on all cylinders, and a healthy dose of luck. With the schedule ahead, health and rest are long shots at best, and with the rotation policy that we're going to have to employ with the roster in the months ahead, getting everybody in full sync isn't going to be a picnic either. Fortunately, we've already booked our international berth for next season by virtue of the Open Cup win.
Job #3. Champions' League. If anything is going to kill #1 and #2, this is its ugly mug. The travel and the fixture congestion are going to be brutal. Still, it is a competition that we want to show well in, and we certainly don't want to experience the humiliation that the Revs managed to heap upon themselves.
So, what's the plan of attack? Let's take a look at the next two weeks. We've got Saprissa at home for the CCL (Tuesday), then we hit the road for LA (MLS on Saturday), Marthon (CCL on Wednesday), and the return trip to Dallas (MLS on Sunday). Those MLS games are huge in securing our post-season spot, but the CCL games are two of the more winnable contests as well. I say we throw the best lineup we've got available at Saprissa and LA this week.
Failure to get the full three points in either of these matches puts the priority on MLS, and anybody with a ding or who seems to be tiring doesn't start against Marathon. If we drop points at home to Saprissa, our chances of advancing in the CCL take a big dent. If we drop points away to LA, we'll be dragged down into that morass of teams struggling to qualify for the playoffs. If we manage to win both matches, then we have a real go at Marathon and try to solidify our status in our CCL group. After that, injury and results elsewhere in the league and the cup will dictate how we proceed.
What do you think? Agree or disagree? What do you think United's priorities should be?