MLS Table Talk | A Tale of Two Conferences

MLS rolls up to the brink of mid-season with the type of parity-infected table we've all come to expect by now. The Dynamo have their noses in front in a nip-and-tuck battle with Chivas for the top spot, while DC United fly the flag for the East in their wake. Arrayed behind United are the surprise package, the expansion Sounders, followed by the Fire, Rapids, and a three way Eastern Conference dogfight for the last two playoff spots between the Crew, Toronto, and the Wiz. Within a three-point striking distance of that struggle are RSL and the Revs, trailed slightly by the Galaxy. And down in the relegation places we have Dallas, the Quakes, and the Red Bulls.

The points-per-game table, a fitting measure given the handful of outliers beyond the 14-15 games played mean (DC United, Colorado, the Revs, the Red Bulls), paints a somewhat different picture. In the ppg context, the Dynamo (2.0 ppg) are clear leaders, followed by Chivas (1.8) and the Rapids (1.7), highlighting the both the disparities in the West and the parity in the East. Hereafter, the Fire (1.5) carry the banner of the East in a dead heat with the West's #4 side, the Sounders. Behind them is a four-way Eastern scrum on 1.4 ppg consisting of DC United, the Crew, TFC and KC. The Revs (1.3) are also part of that Eastern parity party, just above the West's scrubs, from RSL and LA (1.1) to Dallas and the Quakes (0.9). And rounding out the bunch are the lowly Red Bulls, struggling along at 0.6 ppg.
  • It's in the net! We have a new leader in the goal-scoring sweepstakes, and yes, it is the freakin' Rapids, scoring at a 1.7 goals per game clip. Hello, rest of the league? The Rapids? DC United (1.6 gpg) and the Fire (1.5 gpg) are their closest competitors, but the field is fairly even, save for the Red Bulls (0.9 gpg), limping along in league's wake.
  • Kick save, Onstad! The cliche runs that defense wins championships, and the Dynamo (0.6 allowed per game) and Chivas (0.8) are making it hold up. At the opposite end of the table, it's (shockingly!) not the Red Bulls setting the bar low, but the Quakes, who surrender to the tune of 1.9 goals allowed per game.
  • The Difference Engines. The Dynamo and Red Bulls sit on opposing ends of the spectrum, with the former at +11, and the later in perfect symmetry at -11. The middle is messier, but generally holds to form.
  • The Eastern Mediocracy. How shamed must the Red Bulls be? Every side in the East is packed into a narrow band of points per game, from the Fire's 1.5 to the Revs 1.3, save for the lowly Bulls, haunting the basement at 0.6.
  • The Great Western Divide. I mentioned it above in the points-per-game discussion, but it merits repeating that the four top sides in the West all equal or better the best in the East, from the Dynamo (2.0) to the Sounders (1.5). The bottom half of the conference is completely detached and possessed of a kind of parity of its own with every side between 1.1 and 0.9 points per game.
Those last two talking points, should they continue to be the case, will prove extremely interesting in the context of the playoffs. Only two teams from each conference are guaranteed playoff spots this time around, with the next four finishers on the single table being awarded the wild card spots. Let's imagine that the current state of affairs continues. That would leave the top four in the West finishing comfortably in playoff positions as they hammer their lesser conference compatriots. But the East would be a mess. Four spots would be up for grabs, but six teams would potentially be competing for them, with wild swings in finishing position going right down to the final weekend.

Of course, this is MLS, and the Parity Police are sure to wield their truncheons with devastating effect in the second half of the season. But, just for kicks and giggles, let's imagine the playoffs were they to occur tomorrow. And I'll base this on points per game, seeing as how not every team has played the same number of matches (and yes, 2-4 in the East are a mess as they're all on the same ppg, have all only drawn with each other, and thus go to goal difference for distinction, if I'm reading the rules correctly).

The East
(1) Chicago Fire v. (4) Toronto FC
(2) DC United v. (3) Columbus Crew

The West
(1) Houston Dynamo v. (4) Seattle Sounders
(2) Chivas USA v. (3) Colorado Rapids

I wonder just how much will have changed by the time the dust settles on Round 30?

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