Thursday, September 27, 2012

The MLS Cup favorites

A quick side note to get us started. I've begun work on a fairly drawn-out post for the excellent Futbol Intellect that was born out of a strange run of about 30 minutes I spent tweeting what Hemingway might tweet were he a soccer fan. It was more fun than perhaps even I expected (maybe my favorite: Rivulets of rainwater and blood washed Brian McBride's face and we could see his pain but could not feel it. so I have endeavored to expand the idea into a full-fledged story. For some reason my inner Hemingway channeled the Chicago Fire, so the general gist is that we'll follow Hemingway and a rowdy group of Fire supporters on a march into the Home Depot Center for a Galaxy game. I'll post it here too when it's done (probably in the next few days), but there it is in all its declarative Hemingway-esque glory.

So. I've handicapped the dark horses. Staged a premature awards show. I even did this very list last year. But our list bonanza must march on, and this is the pre-playoffs biggie. In the interest of being thorough I've expanded the list from five to 10, in order, as judged by my internal judging mechanism I've named "Clarence." Best if you don't ask questions.

This is broken into four parts, with each tier representing teams currently in different stages. Not all of these teams have write-ups. I profiled teams with more interesting and blatant storylines, and this list is as much about the rankings themselves as it is about in-depth measurement of each team. Keep in mind that I opted to expand this from a top five to a top 10. Thus is our age of parity. Leggo.

The pretenders

#10. FC Dallas

#9. Houston Dynamo

The outside lane

#8. DC United

This is why DC's hot. This is why DC's not. DC has been bipolar all year in that it has the second-best home goal differential of any playoff team and the second-worst road goal differential. Plan your picks accordingly.

#7. Real Salt Lake

It seems as though the game is speeding by RSL. The Royals dropped a 1-0 decision to Colorado on Aug. 4. What might have seemed like an anomaly at the time turned into a dire predictor. RSL followed with consecutive losses to Vancouver and Dallas — two teams on the playoff periphery — and sprinkled in a draw against a dreadfully mediocre Philly team for good measure. Indeed, RSL's only two wins since July came against DC and Portland, but at least those came in two of their last three. The saving grace is that Alvaro Saborio is on a career-best scoring tear and few rosters boast as much big-game experience. The only problem may be weathering a rocky finish to the year and securing a good position for the postseason. Whether RSL crashes out of the playoffs in the opening round or it makes a run to the MLS Cup, neither result can be considered all that surprising. This is a very good team with the ability to lay down an egg at any time.

#6. New York Red Bulls

#5. Seattle Sounders

If you remove a pair of 2-1 losses to San Jose (and really, everyone's been losing to San Jose) Seattle's form over the last several months gets a lot less choppy. Those two out of the equation, Seattle is 6-0-5 since late July and the back end of that has been without cross-master Mauro Rosales, who is about to make his return on the eve of the playoffs. Maybe it's the league's best 1-2 combination up top (sorry whichever one of you big lanky brutes decides to pair with Wondo on any given night), or Ozzie Alonso's frightening ability to grab a game by its haunches and drop-kick it into submission, but Seattle seems poised on the edge of something. Of course, if you want to take their previous playoff contributions as evidence, those rumbles may just be an extended bout of flatulence.

The heaters

#4. Chicago Fire

The Fire have lost just once in the last two months. Everything Chicago touches is turning to gold right now, including (but not limited to) the late charge of super-rookie Austin Berry, the remarkable second-half turnaround from keeper-of-the-future Sean Johnson, or the fact that Chris Rolfe cannot. Stop. Scoring (seven goals from his last nine games). You only wonder if the old Chicago from earlier in the year will show up once the playoff furnace gets the coals raked in, the one that had Marco Pappa and still lost to New England, Portland and Colorado. Can we trust a team that hasn't been in the playoffs in three years? We're about to find out.

#3. LA Galaxy

Fire away at the Galaxy's tremendously poor start to the season, because LA deserves to hear the disapprobation. There's no real excuse for LA's horrendous 3-8-2 start, no readily available reason that LA should've been middling in Toronto's neighborhood rather than San Jose's. But this quote from Mike Magee in July is strangely instructive in a what-is-he-saying kind of way.

“It was bad. We downplayed it a bit, but it wasn't like us. There's a lot of veteran guys and guys like myself that just weren't performing. We'd all look at each other, and the worst part was we weren't fighting for each other. Obviously, last year, there were times guys had bad days, but everyone else just picked it up. This year, no one was picking other guys up.”

It's such an oddly vague way to frame the problem. It's not that Magee is holding back on some hugely important issue, but rather it seems as though even he doesn't know how to word it all. LA wasn't winning. That's sort of the beginning and end of the matter. But the important part for LA — and for the Galaxy's inclusion this high on my list — is that we don't have to ask these bizarrely worded questions anymore. Because the Galaxy are good again. Really good. LA is 7-0-2 in all competitions since a 4-0 dusting of Chivas in the Superclasico on Aug. 12 touched off this run that's burned a hole into the Western Conference table. Sure, it was an easier stretch of the schedule, but how else to describe a real contender than one that takes care of its business? We'll find out even more when LA closes with RSL, San Jose and Seattle. With an in-form group of stars, LA is finally really good again.

The giants

#2. Sporting KC

#1. San Jose Earthquakes

Good lord guys, who's beating this team right now? Other than two inexplicable losses to Vancouver, which might not even make the playoffs, San Jose has a legitimate argument to make that it owns some part of every rivalry against every team in the league right now. This is one of the most prolific scoring machines in MLS 2.0's history, and taking an adjustment into account for how far the league's come since those artificially puffed-up goal totals of yesteryear, it'd be pretty easy to make an argument for the 2012 'Quakes as the league's best offense of all time. And to top it all off, the defense has two legitimate defender of the year candidates in Victor Bernardez and Justin Morrow. If you were to build the perfect playoff club from the implements available, it would probably look something like what Frank Yallop has constructed this year. The MLS Cup is San Jose's to lose until the Quakes prove otherwise.

- Will Parchman


ewocky said...

Erm, the list indeed contains 10 team names, but only 6 of them have write-ups. That on purpose?

Will Parchman said...

Indeed it is.