MLS Table Talk - Cling-Ons or Borg-ism?
Well, well, well, looks like the points-per-game nonsense isn't quite finished after all. The postponement of the Houston-San Jose clash leaves us with two teams sitting a game back for the next few weeks. Regardless, we'll plunge right ahead with the table analysis, tossing in PPG hand-waving if and when it becomes appropriate. Après vous, madames et monsieurs!
Columbus reigns supreme with a five-point lead heading into the last five games. Of course, the next game is against the #2 Revs, so perhaps that significant lead will be more than halved in the week ahead. Courtesy of Ike, Houston sits eight points off the pace with a game in hand, just one point above the stuttering Fire, and four above the Red Bulls. Chivas has pulled level with United at two points behind the Bulls, while KC's recovery sticks them just a point behind those two and one ahead of Colorado, who claim the third and final playoff spot in the West from RSL by virtue of goal difference, while KC are on the outside looking in despite being ahead on the table.
The aforementioned RSL sit just one point above Dallas and two above LA and San Jose (though the Quakes have a game in hand), while TFC have just about slipped off the map altogether, trailing the Gals and Quakes by two points and a playoff spot by six. The top four are pretty much making their post-season plans already, while New York needs a couple of results to get over the finish line. After that, pretty much everybody else, save probably TFC, is fighting for those last three golden tickets to the playoffs. Just four points separate those eight teams, with six of the eight being within a single game of vaulting over each other.
On the goal difference front, the top and bottom mostly make sense, while the middle is a confusing mess of alchemical Twinkie-filling. The Crew's dominance is reflected in their +13 mark, while TFC's miserable run sees them sink to -10. Houston and Chicago are also relatively strong at +7, but after that it gets odd. Observe. Chivas USA is second in the West and sixth overall, yet they boast the league's second worst goal difference at -5. Contrast that with FC Dallas--fifth in the West and eleventh overall, but trailing only the Crew, Dynamo, and Fire at +3. I suppose that you'd expect those kind of numbers in a league that is 25 games into its season, but can still see sides jump four of five places on a fourteen team table in a single weekend.
LA's five-spot against United both boosts their lead in goals per game (1.96 vs. the Crew's 1.76) and narrows their dubious claim to the goals against sweepstakes (2.04 vs. United's 1.72). As for the goal-shy? Well, the Quakes recent climb and TFC's recent deluge of suck has seen the two pull level at just a goal per game, and KC's return to finding the net sees them starting to pull clear of the laggards. But the Fire's miserable defensive run of late sees them nearing the one goal-against line at 0.96, a number that is still well clear of the Present and Past Quakes (San Jose and Houston) at 1.17.
Looking at that white gap in the middle of the table raises a question that I wouldn't mind hearing some opinions about. The current playoff format guarantees three spots to each conference, a practice with the potential to leave a team that finishes above the third place finisher in the other conference out in the cold. Now, in my cynical little world, I'm fairly certain that this rule is a subset of the Beckham Rule (get Becks on TV as much as possible!), but does it seem inherently unfair?
On the one hand, the schedule isn't perfectly balanced between the two conferences. On the other, it's near enough that the points total, combined with salary-cap-induced roster parity, should probably be an accurate reflector of performance vis-a-vis the rest of the league.
What do you think? Give the playoff spots to the top eight regardless of conference? Cling to the conference structure like my fellow Keystone Staters apparently cling to their guns and religion? Or just call the whole thing off, surrender to the single-table Borg, and laugh snootily down our noses at American sports-playoff provincialism?