Daily Kicker: Contender/Pretender Game

Daily Kicker: Contender/Pretender Game

  • Posted by Drew Epperley
  • On July 7, 2008
  • 4 Comments
  • Pretenders

Fifteen weeks are in the books for Major League Soccer and it’s clubs. All but three clubs (Toronto, Chicago and KC) have played half or more of their season slate, hell New England has played two or three more than anyone else already.

Half way through and we really have a solid understanding about each club now. Sure reinforcements are coming in for some clubs to help boost their attack, defense or whatever for the stretch run of the season. But even with new players I think it is fair to say we know what we need to know about each club right now.

We have three categories here, the Contender, the Pretender and the Better Luck Next Year.

As we all know eight clubs will reach the playoffs, the top three from each conference and then two wildcards. Currently there is a log-jam in the middle of the overall MLS table, 11 clubs separated by five points, and four of those clubs tied in points. Which of those clubs are actual contenders is the question. Now this is more of a playoff look rather than a MLS Cup look so there will be more contenders, in a couple weeks I will do a true contender/pretender look for the MLS Cup.

The Contenders:

New England Revolution: Probably the most legitimate contender out of all 14 clubs right now. In 17 games they have 33 points. Sure they’ve played a couple more than everyone else but they’ve also won the most and have pretty much made the most of what they’ve been given. Even with early season stumbles due to injuries to Steve Raltson and Taylor Twellman, the Revs continued to hover around the top of the table. Now they are mostly healthy and look extremely dangerous.

Columbus Crew: Half way into the season and the Crew look legit with 27 points in those 15 games. Sigi Schmid is pushing all the right buttons this year with this young bunch. Probably is the league’s toughest club to close out a game against. Chicago, San Jose and Chivas all know about that. They still could use another scorer up top but still have enough creative jucies in the midfield to get the job done.

DC United: A month ago they would have been clearly in the Pretender category but now they look like the Black-and-Red that we all expected to see. The defense is still a bit suspect but the offense is clearly firing on all cylinders.

Chicago Fire: Yes they are currently in a mid-summer struggle but I still believe they have the talent on board and possibly coming in (Brian McBride) to hammer through it. Their schedule is still favorable to fight for the top of the east with the three above them. Plus you never count out a guy like Blanco.

LA Galaxy: Remember this is for playoff discussion, not MLS Cup. Right now I see the Galaxy getting into the playoffs but I don’t know if they are a true MLS Cup Contender yet, that will be a discussion for another day. Still as weak as the west is the Galaxy have the offense to win it but they still need a lot of work on their defense to be sure to have any hope of beating one of the clubs above them here.

Chivas USA: When healthy, I think they are the team to beat in the west. But I don’t know if this club will remain healthy enough for that. Saying that though I believe they are a contender in the west to get a playoff spot, more importantly a automatic bid in the west as one of the top three. If Ante Razov can heat up like I think he will, this club could move ahead in the west. They still need some help and a trade or two…or a move or two could help out.

Toronto FC: I would have put them a little higher on this contender list but they are my final one for now. I believe they will make the playoffs as an automatic bid and not a wildcard. Thing is to do that they need to win on the road. They have the talent in place and will have a new player or two on the way here shortly. It can be done and for the rest of the league if they do so it could be a very bad thing. I honestly would not want to face this club at BMO Field in the playoffs right now.

The Pretenders:

Houston Dynamo: Hard to believe this club is a pretender for the playoffs right now but its all about consistent play in this league and the Dynamo just haven’t found that yet this season. Sure they are a win away from jumping way up the table but its going to take a few solid games in a row to get me to rethink this right now. Its mostly offensively issues as we all know but their defense tends to nap a little more than I would expect out of them. They are the closest club to the contender status out of the pretender group but what’s below them isn’t much anyways.

Real Salt Lake: Some will have this club as a contender for a playoff spot but I just don’t see it yet. First of all they are solid at home but that home location will change in the coming months to a new venue so I think all bets will be off then. Secondly, no one still will take this club serious when they are on the road. As good as they are at home right now they are still largely terrible on the road. Lastly, their finishing as we saw last week is too damn terrible to even begin talking about. That won’t get you into the MLS Cup, much less the playoffs!

Colorado Rapids: Even with a dominating win over New York they are still way out of range for the playoffs again this season in my book. Far too inconsistent for my taste and for the most part I just cannot understand why Fernando Clavijo still has a job.

FC Dallas: This club is a wildcard at best right now. I do like some of the changes taking place with this club and they are finally showing some heart that I thought I would see out of them. Still young and still have room to develop are these Hoops. A playoff bid at this point isn’t too far out of question but they have a lot of work in front of them to do so.

New York: Those reinforcements better be good or Juan Carlos Osorio’s time in New York will be just about like every other coach in front of him, short. They could contend but I honestly think not having healthy DPs (Claudio Reyna and Juan Pablo Angel) for a season, plus the transfer of Jozy Altidore, doubled with an already weak lineup is still enough for me to believe this club is more overrated than any other in this league. This club borders the next category more in my mind right now than any of the other pretenders.

Better Luck Next Year:

Kansas City Wizards: Yeah, offensively they are nothing like what people expected. Defensively they are young and inexperienced to win this year. Again, blame the schedule all you want, at some point these young players either have it or don’t. I’m starting to wonder if its more of the ladder though. There is potential but I’m honestly not expecting anything out of this club anymore, the east is far too deep for them to make a push and getting a wildcard bid is going to be even tougher.

San Jose Earthquakes: Its not a bad thing for the Quakes to be here. The foundation is set for future success, not success this year. The bar was set low and the Quakes are actually meeting those expectations fairly well. I’ve said before they are well ahead of previous expansion clubs like Salt Lake and Chivas in 2005 and last year’s Toronto. That’s a good thing Quake fans, glad to see some of you tough it out.

  • Sean

    I would put New York in with better luck next year. Their new players can't bring in chemistry, and that's a big problem there.

  • Sean

    I would put New York in with better luck next year. Their new players can’t bring in chemistry, and that’s a big problem there.

  • Allen

    With the top 3 teams in a conference guaranteed a play-off spot, it seems like hyperbole to be writing off anyone in the West except for San Jose right now. CO have a game in hand on Kreis' merry band of hacks and the orangsicles. Even with a tie they're in 3rd place based on goal diff. And at that they're only 2 points out of first. Not that I'd defend what Clavijo is doing with the team…. but who in the West is doing anything worth talking about? The Galaxy? Really? Their defense couldn't stop my grandma from scoring if their lives depended on it. They've been just as inconsistent as the others.

  • With the top 3 teams in a conference guaranteed a play-off spot, it seems like hyperbole to be writing off anyone in the West except for San Jose right now. CO have a game in hand on Kreis’ merry band of hacks and the orangsicles. Even with a tie they’re in 3rd place based on goal diff. And at that they’re only 2 points out of first. Not that I’d defend what Clavijo is doing with the team…. but who in the West is doing anything worth talking about? The Galaxy? Really? Their defense couldn’t stop my grandma from scoring if their lives depended on it. They’ve been just as inconsistent as the others.