Sunday, August 5, 2018

Bottom five, start your rally engines!

The race for the last two playoff spots in the East should be thrilling, but I only have one of the current bottom five clawing their way above the playoff line. Gee willikers, can you guess who that might be?

As before, games played and current points-per-game are in parentheses.

Montreal (24, 1.21)

Well, the Impact looked DOA for the first couple months, and then pulled off an improbable 6-0-2 run. Through it all, the defensive margin for error was too thin with both strikers coming up duds. And yet, they stand fifth in the East standings, which is quite an accomplishment for a team that basically has one idea (sit-and-break) and one (rather effective) weapon.

Outlook: If they can finally manage to lure a reliably scary striker, they could easily eke out the last playoff spot. If not, I can't help but think they fall short of the postseason. A one-trick pony can only run so far.

Toronto FC (22, 1.05)

No one anticipated the champs would be five points below the playoff line at this time of the season, but then who could have predicted the injury epidemic that ravaged their spring? Altidore, Mavinga, Moor and Morrow have each missed at least 11 games, and then there's the 22 total games missed by Vazquez and other key supporting cast members. They're finally almost fit again, which of course means they're playing much better. Did they leave themselves enough time to rally?

Outlook: After all they've struggled through, I still think Toronto FC is the favorite to race up to the fifth slot in the East.

Orlando City (23, 1)

Yeah, I was wrong on this one. My call was for a fourth place finish, and that's not gonna happen. Their defense was never going to be among the best in the league, but injuries have consistently defanged it all season long. The offense has the ability to rescue some results, but it's far too much to ask those guys to put up three or four in dramatic fashion every week. And so here we are.

Outlook: It's very tough for a midseason hire to organize a new group of charges efficiently. So far, I'm not seeing a clear tactical idea from the new boss... or, at least, the squad isn't at all pulling it off. Until everyone's on the same page, and a clever one at that, there's no need discussing the playoffs. It's a shame. Some big pieces are there and the Lions fans deserve more fun.

Chicago (23, 0.96)

In my preseason limb walk, I had the Fire finishing sixth in the East. And then, their fullbacks both went down for months. This, even more than the lost wares of Accam, has tactically devastated this team in 2018. Chicago simply hasn't been able to play its tested-and-true A game, which caters to their midfield strengths and keeps an open supply line to Nikolic.

Outlook: As far as I'm concerned, they have four days to sign up an impact player in both attack (preferably a #10... still) and defense (preferably a right back who can ably slide to the middle if needed). If they can't, playoff hopes will be beyond them soon enough.

D.C. United (17, 0.95)

Yep, having Rooney changes things for the capital crew, who were actually starting to look up on offense before he arrived. The midfield has matured and the wingers are causing trouble. And yes, they have loads of games in hand and play 12 of their last 15 at Audi Field. What they still lack is a dependable back line, with the fullback spots of primary concern.

Outlook: They'll probably make a valiant run at the sixth spot, but miss out in the end. It's not ideal, but it is positive momentum followed by an offseason to balance the squad.

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So to recap, my picks for the top six finishers in the East:

Atlanta
NYCFC
NY Red Bulls
Columbus
Toronto FC
Philadelphia

Tomorrow, we'll turn focus to the West.



- Greg Seltzer

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