- Posted by Drew Epperley
- On August 21, 2012
- 3 Comments
- 2012 MLS Cup Playoffs, 2012 MLS Playoff Race, 2012 MLS Playoffs, 2012 MLS Season, Features
A few weeks ago the MLS playoff races in both the Eastern and Western Conference looked rather boring. Both were just a five team race to determine which team was seeded where and no one from the outside was really threatening to crash the party.
As we enter the second half of August – or the first leg of the home stretch in the MLS season as I like to call it – both conference races are a little tighter at the top and are seeing teams from outside of the playoff zone creeping up to put pressure on those who are stumbling.
Each conference has a couple sides that are hot and some that are just plain not. Below are two teams from each side that I see having potential to crash the playoff party (or potentially more) this season and two that could crash out of the playoff mix all together.
Eastern Conference – Hot
Chicago Fire – Yes the Fire are in the playoff zone as we speak but I see this group achieving more today than just a three seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. At 41 points, the Fire are within an arm shot of both the New York Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City. Since the beginning of July the Fire have only dropped two games and their new look offense has finally taken shape to give this club the boost forward that they needed so badly back in May and June. They do have a game-in-hand at the moment over the Red Bulls and Sporting – which if they can use that to their advantage and hope that those two drop a game in the process it could make them a top seed contender in the East.
Columbus Crew – This one could easily change in the next couple of weeks when the Crew catch up to everyone in the games played department. Currently Columbus have anywhere between three and five games-in-hand over their conference foes. Sitting at just 30 points (or seven outside of fifth place), the Crew will need to take advantage of those extra games starting with Wednesday’s showdown with rivals Toronto. Three of their next four are at Crew Stadium and are against clubs they should beat.
Eastern Conference – Not Hot
D.C. United – The last few weeks have been rather interesting for Ben Olsen’s club. They are in the mix but are only hanging on by a thread. And now there may be some issues between players in that locker room after this past Sunday’s game with the Philadelphia Union. Oh boy. Now I figure that petty locker room stuff will get worked out, if it hasn’t already, but the play on the field lately speaks for itself. They are 3-5-1 in their last nine games – not the kind of form you want going into the final few weeks of the season. They have some winable games ahead but things need to turn around in a hurry if they want to hold off Montreal and Columbus.
New England Revolution – Not in the playoff mix and definitely not hot at the moment. I place them here on the list to point out exactly how cold they’ve gone lately. Six losses in their last seven games with three of those being at home. Back in June this club looked like they were on the up and up with Saer Sene and Jerry Bengtson up top and Benny Feilhaber running the show in the midfield. Now the offense is in shambles yet again and the defense is as leaky as ever.
Western Conference – Hot
FC Dallas – What a difference a couple weeks make. Schellas Hyndman gets David Ferreira back and even at 80% as he would say and Dallas is flying high again. Fabian Castillo is living up to his potential that the club hoped he would bring in and Brek Shea is starting to look like his 2011 self again. Dallas is just five points back of LA and Vancouver and now having to continue their form and hope that someone above them continues to stumble. The good luck could be continuing too for Dallas as striker Blas Perez is set to return in the coming weeks as well. The big striker has been out since June with a foot injury and if he can Ferreira can get on the same page quickly, Dallas could sneak into the playoffs.
Seattle Sounders FC – Aside from a rough two games two weeks ago (the USOC final loss and a road loss at San Jose), the Sounders have been pretty solid since the start of July. Seattle still has to navigate the tricky Champions League waters but with the new group stage set up they only have two less games to deal with than they did in the last two seasons. The club will go as long as Fredy Montero and Eddie Johnson allow them to but the real key is their defense. Two shutouts in their last three games show improvement. For them it won’t be all about getting the Supporters’ Shield but more about gaining that number 2 spot and a home field advantage in the playoffs.
Western Conference – Not Hot
Real Salt Lake – Let’s face it, things haven’t been that great lately in Salt Lake with this bunch. Two wins in their last eight games (nine if you count their CCL match in late July). Their road form has also been terrible as of late – losing four straight road games – their last win away from Sandy, UT, came in early June against Chivas USA. Now things get tougher as RSL only has three more home games in league play left this season with road trips to Philadelphia, Houston, LA, and Seattle all left. I don’t see them falling out of the playoff zone but slipping from that #2 spot seems likely at this point with LA and Seattle surging up the standings.
Vancouver Whitecaps – The ‘Caps have lost two in a row, and are just 3-6-3 in their last 12. Martin Rennie spent much of this summer re-doing his roster and at times it looked like it would pay off. Adding in Dane Richards and getting Barry Robson on the roster seemed to help matters out but the offense still has really yet to come alive this season and now the defense is getting banged up left and right. When things were good this year it was due to the defense – now things don’t seem do clear anymore. If any club in MLS were to fall out of the playoff zone, it could be this one.