With the dog days mostly behind us, Major League Soccer looks towards the stretch run and the playoffs. September and October usually showcase the best of MLS, as teams jockey for position and try to gain post-season momentum. Ironically, you often see your best soccer this time of the year, the kind a casual fan could enjoy, when most people are occupied elsewhere.
Houston Dynamo (40 points), Columbus Crew (39 points), and Chicago Fire (38 points) are locks for the playoffs. Of these three, the Dynamo, who just signed Mexican forward Luis Landin and are starting to get healthy again, look the best. Columbus seems a little shaky, and they have the distraction of the CONCACAF Champions leauge, but they continue to get results. The Fire have plenty of points but haven’t played particularly well. Starting defender, Bakary Soumare, seems to be on his way to France, and Coach Hamlett seems to have some issues. Chicago could still put it together, though.
The L.A. Galaxy are a virtual lock with 35 points. They look like a strong contender for MLS cup with Bruce Arena at the helm and Landon Donovan focused in. They do rely on some old guys, though, and you never know who might break down in the fall. For the four remaining playoff slots, you have Chivas U.S.A. and Seattle Sounders with 33 points, Colorado Rapids, Real Salt Lake, Toronto F.C., and New England Revolution all with 30 points, and D.C. United with 29 points.
Never count Preki out (he will sweep the knee), but I don’t like Chivas. Toronto has too many games away from home, and D.C. has a tough schedule, CONCACAF Champions Leauge, and an aging roster. I think Seattle is in. They have Sigi Schmid as coach and Kasey Keller in goal and that’s enough for me. I like Real Salt Lake’s schedule and their overall talent. Colorado also has a favorable schedule, so I’ll give them a playoff spot as well. For the last spot, I’ll pick the Revs, because you just don’t count Steve Nicol out. This would turn the playoff balance in favor of the West, which seems about right to me.
For MLS Cup, I’ll homer and pick the Fire to face the resurgent Galaxy. Galaxy wins that one unless all their old men have broken down. But there’s still a lot of soccer to be played, and with MLS’s continued expansion the playoff race is more riveting than in years past. Let’s see how it shakes out.