Monday, August 6, 2018

Best of the West

The Western Conference has been intriguing thus far, and should provide drama up to the end. Second place and 10th place are separated by just 10 points. That may sound like a lot, but with some teams growing into the season and some seemingly losing their way. It really isn't.

As with the East: Club names followed by games played and points-per-game average, which is how they're ranked.

FC Dallas (22, 1.91)

Just when the Toros looked like they could run away with the West, their two most recognizable midfield faces are out the door. They lead the West for now, but concerns are piling up. The strike picture is unclear, the departure of Diaz brings back questions about how they'll carve chances from possession and Gonzalez has been inconsistent in goal. My preseason prediction that they'd miss the postseason isn't going to happen, but would anyone really be surprised if they ended up slipping down to, say, fourth?

Outlook: Unless they somehow construct a reliable new attack look within two months, I just can't see them winning the conference or getting too far in the playoffs.

Portland (20, 1.85)

Boy, was I right about the Timbers faring well this season and twice as wrong about how they'd do it. New boss Gio Savarese has altered the team's DNA while liquefying their shape, and most of the changes have worked since they got home from a rough season-opening road trip. Kudos for that. But after shipping Adi out, they could prove thin up front. 

Outlook: I originally tabbed Portland to reach MLS Cup. And while I'm not sure at this time that they'll make it to the title game, it's a fair bet they at least come close because this team rolls with the punches (injuries, formation switches, etc.) as good as anyone.

Sporting KC (22, 1.64)

This edition of KC's sunshine band is harder to figure than ones from seasons past. The defense has been hot and cold, the offense has bailed them out several times and they swooned much earlier than usual. Does that mean they got it out of the way before crunch time? Either way, they're actually slightly above where I picked them with a third of the season remaining.

Outlook: Given all the effort put into their strike chase, Nemeth's return comes off as anti-climactic. They still stand a decent chance to make the conference final, but the locals were hoping for a bigger pull.

LAFC (22, 1.64)

Other than the back half of their derbies, the new kids have generally played solid, attractive soccer. They've slipped a bit in recent weeks, but still have the best offense in the West and are to the US Open Cup final four. I foolishly had them picked to end up 10th, but that was prior to a few big pick-ups. 

Outlook: When making notes for this series, I had Bob Bradley and the boys on par with Portland and Sporting KC as current conference favorites. And then, they lost Kaye for the season. Barring a quick and quality defensive midfield catch, they will need Atuesta to step it up big time. As shrewd as their coach is, LAFC could easily tumble into a scrape for the last couple playoff slots because one absolutely can't allow space behind the strike line in MLS.

LA Galaxy (23, 1.52)

It's been a real roller coaster ride so far, but they actually stand right where I tipped them to finish. After a bleeech start to the season, they're now winning and sometimes even look good doing it. The problem is, the back five field players and the netminder are unpredictable - which is a nice way of saying mistake-prone.

Outlook: With Zlatan surrounded by a cultured attack cast, there will be goals. Oh, will there be goals. There will probably be enough goals to get them into the conference semis. From there, it's up to foes to stop enough of that scoring to get by a dark horse side nobody wants to face.

Real Salt Lake (23, 1.48)

The Royals have been up and down all season, and they're bad on the road. The midfield doesn't quite fit right for anybody involved and a couple of back line positions need settling. And none of those are their biggest issue. Still, RSL holds serve at home enough to tease at what's sure to be a brighter future.

Outlook: This club needs an impact striker far more than Sporting KC did (does?). Even if they get one, there are those other problem areas. They finished seventh last season, I picked them seventh this preseason and, well, that's where they look headed again.

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I have a busy couple days ahead, so we'll probably bump the bottom half of the West PPG standings until Wednesday.



- Greg Seltzer

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