MLS Preview, Part III: The Final Reckoning

In Part I we broke down the East. Part II dealt with the West. Now we shuffle the deck and see how the single table might pan out. Analysis of each team's prospective fortunes is in the previous posts, so we won't rehash them. Instead, we'll focus on who makes the playoffs, and what happens once they're there.

Note that the playoff format is 2 + 2 this year, with the top two from each conference claiming the top two seeds in their half of the bracket. The next four spots are claimed by the highest finishers on the single table, with any excess from one conference spilling into the other's bracket, as the Red Bulls did last year.

Got it? Prognostication Helmets in place? Good. Let's do this thing.

2009 MLS Final Table
1. Real Salt Lake (W1)
2. Chicago Fire (E1)
3. Columbus Crew (E2)
4. Kansas City Wizards (E3)
5. San Jose Earthquakes (W2)
6. Houston Dynamo (W3)
7. New England Revolution (E4)
8. Toronto FC (W4 - from E5)
9. Colorado Rapids
10. Los Angeles Galaxy
11. DC United
12. New York Red Bulls
13. FC Dallas
14. Seattle Sounders FC
15. Chivas USA

RSL claim the benefits of having more games against the weaker West to pip the crown in a three way race for the Supporters' Shield. United, the Gals, and the Crimson Cows fall away in the final weeks as the playoff field narrows leaving a three-way tussle for the final two spots, with Nicol's magic beans and DeRo's clutch scoring seeing the Revs and TFC edge out the Rapids, who collapse in spectacular fashion on the final day, to the surprise of absolutely nobody.

MLS Cup 2009

The Eastern bracket seems straightforward, with the top two, Chicago and Columbus looking good bets to advance. But a stingy Wiz defense takes the Crew to the wire before eventually giving up the ghost. The other first-round encounter, Revs-Fire, is awash in the usual bad blood and slew of red-cards. Somehow, the Revs find a miracle to knock off one of the favorites and advance to the Eastern Conference final. Unfortunately, the magic abandons them in Columbus, as the defending champs book their passage to Qwest Field.

The West is also a minefield, with RSL's regular season making them the clear favorites. However, their strength over 30 games is not the same as the do-or-die playoffs. In the first round, they do just enough to outlast a late TFC charge. In the Western Conference final, they square off against a Houston side that is peaking just in time for a playoff run. After beating their San Jose doppelgangers in a scrappy, defensive struggle, they frustrate the crowds at Rio Tinto once again and advance to the final.

In the final, the Dynamo go up early, only to be pegged back at the end of the first half. The second half is a stalemate until things begin to open up in the later stages. Unfortunately for Houston, they have no DeRo to pull a miracle out of the hat, and a late Schelotto free kick is bundled over the line. Columbus repeat as MLS Cup champions, whereupon Frankie Hejduk grabs a Seattle scarf from the crowd and proceeds to defile it in front of an aghast Qwest Field and his former boss, Sigi Schmidt.

So that's how I see things playing out. Given the Parity Police and the havoc that reduced rosters will play upon teams this year, I expect that I'll be mightily embarrassed when I revisit these posts in the fall. But such are the perils of MLS prognosticators. Have at it, dear readers. Lay out your playoff scenarios in the comments. Or failing that, at least give me your predictions for MLS Cup champion and the Supporters' Shield winner so that at least one of us (here's hoping!) will be able to gloat in November.

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