Soon enough now, we'll be transitioning from Table Talking to Playoff Prattling, but since we had a mini-week in MLS this time around, with only three matches on the docket, let's focus the entirety of the post on the playoff picture this week...
Yes, the top four look pretty secure for post-season places, but does that mean that they've snapped up the four "automatic" bids? Not yet. Check out how many games Houston has played. 25? Now look at some of the chasing pack. The Rapids are just four points back with two games in hand. The Revs and Chivas are seven points back with three games in hand. True, the Parity Police dictate the unlikelihood of anybody winning all of their games in hand, but it does make those "automatic" slots look a bit less secure doesn't it? In fact, with the top ten in the league all squeezed into a seven point range, nobody is entirely safe at this point.
What we can be pretty certain about is that the bottom four won't be making the post-season this time around. Even if they win their games in hand, they still have serious ground to make up on those currently sitting in post-season spots. The one exception? Perhaps the 'Zards, who, if they win both games in hand, will be on 30 points, just one result (three points) off the pace. That still reeks of "major stretch of the imagination" though. Toronto are the team in no-man's land, despite being just two points out of a playoff spot. The problem? They need to win and to have three of four other teams lose, including a couple that have to lose three games by virtue of games in hand, before the Reds are back in the frame. Not impossible, but not good odds either.
So what conclusions can we draw here?
- The Dynamo, Galaxy, and Rapids are fighting for the two automatic bids in the West. Yes, technically the Sounders are still in that fight as well, and if Chivas win their games in hand, they might have something to say, but LA and the Rapids are hot. The Sounders and Chivas? Not so much. In fact, the Dynamo aren't faring so well either of late, though it would be hard to pick against Kinnear getting the ship righted long enough to chart a course to the playoffs. But is the CONCACAF Champions' League just a bridge too far? Did it have an impact in their early playoff exit last year as well?
- While the Crew and Fire look pretty good for the top two spots in the East, the Revs may still play the spoiler. Unfortunately for Nicol, a victory this weekend against KC would have left his boys just two points back of the Fire with two games in hand. That failure leaves them treading water at the edge of playoff qualification. Sure, their games in hand should see them through, but stranger things have happened...
- With those five (the top two in the East and top three in the West) looking fairly comfortable, let's turn our gaze to the big battle for the remaining three spots. As I said above, I think we can leave the bottom four out of this discussion. That leaves six sides fighting for three spots. Five of the clubs are separated by just one point, and the odd man out, TFC, doesn't have any games in hand on its rivals. That marks them, to me, as the least likely to qualify. After that, you've got to say that the two teams with two games in hand on the rest of the field, Chivas and the Revs, probably have the best shot at making the post season. that leaves just one spot available for three claimants, all of whom are level on games played, with the Sounders having a slim, one-point lead. Based on current form, you've got to think that RSL might be the pick of this particular litter, but they also have a tendency towards the dramatic collapse and can't seem to maintain any sort of consistency. Seattle? They've got a strong, experienced coach and a good starting eleven, but Expansion Fever is sinking its nasty fangs into their flank at just the wrong time. And DC United? Great playing pedigree, but they're old, banged up, and fighting on two fronts. It might just boil down to who performs the best damage limitation.