MLS Table Talk - It's All About the Hard Hats
For the second week running, the MLS table is nice and neat, with everybody level on 22 games. The Crew surge past the Revs to grab a narrow 2-point lead in the race for the Supporters' Shield. Three back of the Revs sit Chicago and the West-leading Dynamo. United and the Red Bulls (the current holders of the "at large" playoff bids) are level on 32, and RSL looks to be in a fairly solid 2nd place in the West on 30 points.
After that, it gets messy. Real messy. Try "half the table within three points of each other" messy. The Goats stormed out of Doldrums-ville to get a finger hold on the final playoff spot, but every other team in the west is within a single game of catching them. The Eastern Conference cellar-dwellers would be in with a shout as well, if only it weren't for that nasty playoff structure. TFC and KC both sit just one point behind Chivas in the final playoff spot, but six points behind the teams they actually need to catch in order to enjoy the post-season.
Don't look now, but the Crew are slowly inching their way toward the Fire's Goal Differential Crown as well. Considering the five-point lead Sigi's men hold over the Fire (and the eight point lead over the Red Bulls), and the fact they they won't be facing CONCACAF Champions' League play down the stretch like the Revs, Dynamo, and DC United will be, the stars may be aligning for a Hard Hat Shield Dance.
And how about the fact that the Crew have caught DC United at 1.64 goals per game, a figure that ties them for second behind the Galaxy, who are starting to fall within striking distance at 1.91? Schelotto for MVP? It's worth considering at this point, though we do have eight games to go. When it comes to defense, the Fire are still holding strong at 0.82 goals against, while Houston's solid play sees them tied for second with those exploding Quakes 2.1 (have all the bugs been expunged in this version?)
On the flip side, all the shakin' going on in the Quakes offense over the last month or so sees them closing in on the elusive goal-per-game mark, but they're still at a league-worst 0.95, a figure now under threat by TFC and KC, who are locked at 1.05 and falling fast. Defensively, we all know who is being used and abuse--the Gals 2.05 goals against is looking worse and worse as three shutouts in four matches have dropped one-time challengers, DC United, to a more respectable 1.55 goals against.
So what's the tale of the table this week? I'd say that the Crew and Revs are pretty much guaranteed their playoff spots, with the Fire, United, and Red Bulls looking pretty solid locks for the final Eastern spot and the two "wild card" bids. Houston seems to have sewn up their post-season bid in the West, and RSL looks to be in a decent position as well, but still remains vulnerable to pretty much the rest of the conference. That leaves TFC and KC on the outside looking in already.
Of course, Champions' League play might throw a wrench in the works. The Revs are looking increasingly exhausted, Houston and DC don't exactly have enough points to lock up their post-season place, and Chivas might be considering sacrificing a cup run to stay fresh for the playoff dogfight. That's assuming that Chivas and the Revs can book their passage to Champions' League group stage this week. I'm fairly certain the Revs will come through. Preki's Chivas? "Ask again later" says the magic eight-ball.
Anybody else want to weigh in with predictions or opinions? Have at it! The floor is yours.