Examining the 10 Playoff Teams

Examining the 10 Playoff Teams

  • Posted by Drew Epperley
  • On October 24, 2012
  • 0 Comments
  • 2012 MLS Cup Playoffs, 2012 MLS Season, Features

San Jose and Kansas City lead their conferences but both could slip up in the playoffs. (Getty Images)

We may not know where each team will be seeded in this year’s playoffs just yet but we do know a thing or two about each squad. We know how they’ve gotten this far and how well they’ve done to achieve reaching the playoffs after a long season.

In MLS it is typically about how you get hot in the season and when you get hot. Teams that typically get hot late do well in the post season, if we look at the history of the league. But in this day and age in MLS it is also how well you start in the season. Most of the teams that qualified had a strong start to the season. Those who failed to reach the post season were likely hampered by a slow start or a long dry spell that they could not overcome.

As it stands today, I think there are some favorites to win it all. San Jose is an obvious one for their Supporters’ Shield win and given the talent they have offensively. Sporting Kansas City is another with their defense. But overall, each of the 10 has a shot and if they can get hot for four (five for those in the knockout round) games, anything is possible.

So here are reasons why each team can win MLS Cup and also reasons why each team could stumble on the path to glory.

Eastern Conference

Sporting Kansas City – 17-7-9, 60 points

The Supporters’ Shield may be out of reach for this bunch but a possible home field advantage during the Eastern Conference playoffs is still up for grabs.

Why Sporting KC will win MLS Cup: Simple for me on this team, their defense is ridiculous. Matt Besler, Chance Myers, and Aurelien Collin have been stellar this season. Sporting KC leads the league in defense in terms of goals against with just 26 goals scored on them this season. Throw in the fact that they have a MVP candidate in Graham Zusi leading the midfield, which means to me that this team can go very far in this playoffs. Oh and before tonight’s finale with Philadelphia, Sporting enters the game on an 11-game unbeaten run. Not a bad bit of mojo to have going into the post season.

Why Sporting KC will not win MLS Cup: Where is the offense? Seriously. Aside from Zusi’s stellar service the Sporting KC offense has been lacking this season. The run and gun play has gone away to some games where they hold on for dear life to get a result. A little perspective on the 40 goals scored this season, it is just a shade more than lowly Toronto (who have scored 35 on the year). Defense does win championships but you do need a bit of offense to save your butt every now and then.

D.C. United

It has been an interesting season for Ben Olsen’s club. A great start followed by a slow summer that saw the 2011 MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario go down for the season. Some how United turned it around after his injury to clinch their first playoff berth since 2007.

Why D.C. United will win MLS Cup: Heart, strong home play, and just some crazy will power to get results. United may not be flashy all over the place and their Designated Players may not be doing what you’d want a DP to do but the guys that are stepping up are carrying this club on their backs and during this time of the year you want guys like that leading the charge. United can score a lot of goals which has to make them a threat too. Chris Pontius has proven that he could be the best Comeback story this season too.

Why D.C. United will not win MLS Cup: They struggle against the big boys of the league. Against playoff clubs United is just 3-8-4 on the season with a few of those losses coming in blowout fashion. They have to get a win in the finale against Chicago on the road to get some sort of momentum against playoff teams or else they could be staring at a tough series against the Fire that they won’t have home field advantage for (United is 12-1-4 this season at RFK Stadium).

Chicago Fire

The Fire didn’t feel like a playoff squad until the summer hit. Once Frank Klopas made a couple crafty moves in the middle of the summer the Fire have been a strong and difficult team to deal with.

Why the Fire will win MLS Cup: The defense is strong and the offense can carry their own as well. The Fire rank near the top of the league in terms of defense for goals allowed with just 40, while the offense has done pretty well scoring 45 on the year. When this team is hot they are difficult to break down due to their relentless work rate and gritty defense.

Why the Fire will not win MLS Cup: As good as the team has been since August, a lot of it has come against teams they should have been beating anyways. Throw in the fact that in their last five games they’ve only won twice – losing three games in that span and two of those were against non-playoff teams. Playing on the road could be an issue as well for them as they are just 6-8-3 away from the Windy City this season. A decent road record but nothing that will exactly strike fear into the big boys of the league.

New York Red Bulls

The talent is certainly there to carry this team with names like Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry. But surprising guys like Dax McCarty and Conor Lade have been a good story too this season for the Red Bulls. But can this team overcome years of sloppiness and lack of success to actually win a trophy?

Why New York will win MLS Cup: Based on pure talent alone, the Red Bulls do have what it takes to win four or five games in a row if they want to. Henry, Kenny Cooper, Sebestian Le Toux, Joel Lindpere, Cahill, and the rest are all capable of getting the job done. New York has quietly done well in their last ten games, only losing two games. Their 54 goals on the season is third best behind San Jose and LA. If they get games at home they are very strong as they only dropped two games at Red Bull Arena this season.

Why New York will not win MLS Cup: It is all mental with this bunch. The off the field stuff has also been an issue and no one really knows what Hans Backe is truly thinking when he puts a lineup on the field. The defense of this club has been an issue this season, giving up 46 goals, the second highest of any playoff team. Their goalkeeper situation continues to come and go, which can always be tricky. Away from home this season they are 4-7-5 with a -8 goal differential.

Houston Dynamo

At one point in the season the Dynamo looked to be one of the best teams in MLS. But since the summer months came and went the team has cooled off a bit. Thankfully they boost the best home record in MLS, going unbeaten at the new BBVA Compass Stadium.

Why the Dynamo will win MLS Cup: They’ve been there. This veteran team can do the impossible again because they were in a similar place this time last season. They’ve been very consistent this season, losing only five games since the start of June. The midfield has more shape with the addition of Oscar Boniek Garcia and guys like Will Bruin are doing very well to take advantage of every opportunity in front of goal. Defensively they are still one of the strongest teams in the league, giving up just 39 goals this season.

Why the Dynamo will not win MLS Cup: The potential of a knockout game doesn’t help given the loaded schedule they’ve had to face this season. Their 11 draws this season (tied for most in MLS with Seattle and Dallas) doesn’t exactly strike fear to the rest of the league that this team can win games. But going back on the knockout round game, if they have to play away from home they are just 3-8-5 on the season – not exactly a record that says they are a great team.

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Western Conference

San Jose Earthquakes

An impressive year for the Quakes who just broke ground on a new stadium that will be open in 2014. This certainly seems like a club on the rise and the only thing left to achieve this season will be a MLS Cup.

Why the Earthquakes will win MLS Cup: Goals, goals, goal. They’ve scored 71 goals and counting. Chris Wondolowski, Alan, Gordon, Steven Lenhart and Simon Dawkins have combined to score 57 of those 71 goals. Yes 57! That’s better than all but one team in MLS. The offense is more balanced than we’ve seen in years past and the midfield play is very strong. San Jose is also 10-1-6 at home this year (unbeaten at Buck Shaw Stadium however, the lone loss came at AT&T Park against Houston in March), meaning that going through them will be very tough given their home field advantage in the playoffs.

Why the Earthquakes will not win MLS Cup: Defense wins championships and honestly their defense doesn’t scare me that much. They’ve given up their fair share of goals this season, 42 to be exact. Of the possible knockout teams that they could face, Vancouver actually has a winning record against them this season. The playoffs are all about staying hot as well and if someone frustrates them well enough for two games in the semifinal round like Vancouver or LA could, we may see an upset. LA knows how to score on them and Vancouver knows what it takes to beat them.

Seattle Sounders FC

The second best defense in the league is also one of the top offenses in the league led by the come back story of Eddie Johnson. Seattle is a difficult team to get a handle on as they can win big games and then also lose big games.

Why Seattle will win MLS Cup: As mentioned above, their defense is very impressive. Jeff Parke is having probably his best season to date and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado is also a very quality center back that is proving to be a difficult guy to deal with in MLS. Their midfield is strong as Mauro Rosales continues to be one of the best in the league. Seattle has an impressive 11-4-2 record at home this season, making them a tough team to deal with in front of their loud crowd. The Sounders have also lost just four matches since the start of June too.

Why Seattle will not win MLS Cup: Against San Jose and RSL they have a losing record this year going winless against the Quakes (0-3-0) and drawing a pair against RSL (0-1-2). Their road record isn’t anything worth mentioning either as they have the second fewest wins of any playoff team away from their home venue with just four. If you frustrate Fredy Montero and Johnson enough, you can slow down their big attack too. Then there is the mental part of this all too, they’ve crashed out in this first round each year since joining MLS. Should they fall behind early it could be a tough thing for them to overcome once again.

Real Salt Lake

The veteran squad knows what it takes to win in this league and now that they crashed out of the Champions League they will be looking to get back in it with a MLS Cup win.

Why RSL will win MLS Cup: Just like teams like Houston, they’ve been there before. They know what it takes to win and in a year that could be all or nothing, this team will be giving everything it has to win it. Defensively they are still strong with Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers. Offensively Alvaro Saborio has scored 17 goals this season, good for second best behind Wondolowski.

Why RSL will not win MLS Cup: Saborio has not been lights out against playoff teams this season, the majority of his goals have come against weaker teams in MLS. RSL has lost eight games since the start of June too, the second most of any playoff team. Some of those games were at home and others included blowout losses to playoff teams like San Jose. Just when you think this team has mojo they lose it in a weird fashion.

LA Galaxy

The defending MLS Cup champs have had a long and tough road to the playoffs. From the early season struggles to the summer dominance, LA will be looking to get another title to add to their trophy case.

Why LA will win MLS Cup: This is still the same make up of a team that won it all last year. They can score at will with guys like Robbie Keane who is having a MVP type season. Their defense is miles better now that Omar Gonzalez is healthy. But more importantly Bruce Arena knows how to get his teams in contention to win MLS Cups. Veterans will step up this time of year and given how this team know show to win, you can never count them out. They have only lost four games since June.

Why LA will not win MLS Cup: You never truly know what you are getting out of this club. Is Landon Donovan really in the right mind frame to play these days? Is he healthy? Without him LA isn’t nearly as good, that can be proven left and right. Defensively, how good will they be if AJ DeLaGarza doesn’t come back in time for the playoffs? We know they have only lose four since June but three of those came against playoff teams, including a couple crazy games where they gave up four goals.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC

The Caps made history by becoming the first Canadian club to reach the playoffs. They may have backed into the post season but they made it none the less.

Why Vancouver will win MLS Cup: Martin Rennie has won titles before in his career and he can get his team there once again. Five potential games start with a trip to LA once the regular season is up. Vancouver has proven in the last few weeks that they can score goals and that their defense is still gritty and tough as ever.

Why Vancouver will not win MLS Cup: Let’s be honest, this team backed into the playoffs and just has been dreadful for a couple months now. Had FC Dallas not gone on such a long dry spell earlier in the year we’d probably be talking about them here in this spot instead of Vancouver. The offense has been weak for ages as they put too much stock in two Scottish DPs. Their defense has no depth which means once Jay DeMerit, Martin Bonjour or anyone else goes down, no one is good enough to back them up.

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