So what do we classify as the "home stretch"? Last third? Last quarter? I'll go out on a limb of my own creation and say it's all about the last five games, because, let's face it, the MLS regular season is all about finishing in the top half of the league so you can go to the post season. Until the Supporters' Shield carries more than Champions' League qualification (because MLS teams value that competition soooo much...), it's all about positioning and timing your peak form. And what do those positions look like this week?
The Dynamo have been (as leaders always seem to be in MLS) reeled back in by the pack. They hold a slender two point margin over the Crew and a three point edge over the Sounders and Fire, but the real news is how packed together those top nine are. Just six points (two games!) separate the Dynamo in first from non-playoff TFC in ninth. And TFC themselves are in the sights of RSL and the Revs, who both sit just three points back with games in hand. The Wiz are perilously close to losing touch with the playoff battle, and Dallas need a miracle to get back into the fight. The Quakes and Bulls? Dead and deader.
- The points per game table echoes the actual points table, with the top eight sides arrayed from the Dynamo (at 1.7 points per game) to a trio of teams at 1.5 ppg. Once again, TFC, RSL, and the Revs are hovering around the fringes at 1.3-1.4 ppg, KC is in no-man's land at 1.2 ppg, and Dallas (0.9 ppg), the Quakes (0.8 ppg), and the Bulls (0.5 ppg--are you kidding me?) are out in the cold.
- DC United, the Rapids, and RSL are your joint leaders in the goal-scoring sweepstakes (1.6 goals per game) followed closely by the Crew (1.5 gpg). The Red Bulls, of course, continue to set the record for futility, netting at half the rate (0.8 gpg) of the leaders.
- Despite their setback this week, the Dynamo still set the pace for defensive solidity with just 0.7 goals allowed per game. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the three in the "relegation" places, Dallas (1.7 apg), the Red Bulls (1.8apg), and the Quakes (1.9 apg).
- Goal difference paints a pretty stark picture this week. All eight of the playoff sides boast goal differentials of +3 or better, with the expansion Sounders leading the way at +10. Of the seven non-playoff sides, only two have positive goal differentials, and only one of those is above the magic +3 barrier (RSL at +5).