MLS Table Talk | Stars and Tables Align
Well, will you look at that? The points-per-game table is almost perfectly aligned with the actual points table, the one exception being the Revs. Though head-to-head dumps them at the bottom of the three-member 34 points club, their two games in hand arguably should put them at the head of that trio. Sadly for Nicol, the games-in-hand advantage has eroded with their recent woeful rate of points return, putting them level with the final playoff club (DC United) rather than somewhere in the middle of the playoff positions, as had previously been the case.
Confused? How about a change of pace? I'll draw your attention to just one statistical point this week before moving on to the playoff picture and the table rundown. That point is this: goal difference continues to be the dividing line. Look at the evidence. Positions one through nine on the table boast positive figures, while ten through fifteen are in the red. Yes, statistics can be manipulated to get the results you want, but this pattern has been consistent of late. Does it guarantee that the Revs, 'Zards, and Reds are all going to be on vacation in a month? Food for thought.
So let's look at the state of the table. The top seven have between three and six games remaining on their schedules yet remain separated by six points or less. Smells like a photo finish to the season for my money. Realistically, you've got to peg the top four (Crew, Dynamo, Galaxy, and Fire) as the likely contenders for the Supporters' Shield (and the automatic qualification spots for the playoffs), though the Fire's dismal home record, the Galaxy's inconsistency, and the Dynamo having just three games remaining would tend to point to a Crew repeat. That said, they too have a congested end to the season, with the Champions' League drawing their attention as well.
The Sounders, Rapids, and Chivas appear relatively safe, though arguably that's only by virtue of RSL, TFC, and the Revs mounting sucktastic challenges to their sketchy redoubts. DC United? On the one hand, they've got injury problems at the back, issues with speed and scoring from open play, and an increasingly lame-duck looking coach. But on the other, they've posted the fourth-best record over the last five games, are tough to beat (only six losses from twenty-six league games played), are strong at home (only one league loss), and have three of their last four in the friendly confines of RFK.
Down on the bottom, the 'Zards are clinging to faint hopes, but I can't see all four of the teams sitting between them and a playoff spot screwing the pooch so royally that it lets them slip in the back door. Dallas? Dead and buried by last week's loss, they need complete melt-downs from a half-dozen sides and a much better return than the four points they've taken from the last five games. At the very bottom, the only question is: can the Quakes, with three games in hand and a four point cushion, manage to avoid the indignity of finishing bottom?
How about the playoff picture? I think it's relatively safe to mark down the Dynamo and Galaxy as your two auto-qualifiers from the West, and even more safe to tip the Crew and Fire from the East. After that, you've got to figure that the East will only be sending three this year, with one of United, TFC, or the Revs cracking the top eight. That leaves the West with the remaining five spots, meaning that the Sounders, Rapids, Chivas, and RSL (though mostly those first three) are duking it out for three spots, and none of them want to be the third. Why's that? Because #5 in the West becomes the fourth seed in the East, which means a likely opening round date with the defending champion Crew.