As is customary with MLS, the second half of the season isn’t really resolving our questions, but instead raising even more questions. Some teams that started strong are fading fast, others that couldn’t hit the backside of a barn in March are red-hot now.
No one can say it isn’t interesting. Here’s how the league stacks up as of today:
- Toronto FC (unchanged) – After a quiet first half, Toronto exploded in the second frame and trounced an in-form Portland squad 4-1. There are at least three or four MLS teams that can call themselves legitimate title contenders, but none more so than TFC. We’re approaching the stretch drive of the season, and the Reds have only lost three matches. Bet against them at your own peril.
- NYC FC (+2) – With Chicago slipping, it’s pretty safe to say that NYC is the second-best team in the league right now. After getting beaten down by Toronto a few weeks back, they’ve responded with a pair of convincing victories—first in the New York derby against the Red Bulls, then on the road against L.A. Manchester City loanee Yangel Herrera has been a revelation for the Baby Blues, and seems destined to play in Europe sooner rather than later.
- New York Red Bulls (+2) – It wouldn’t really be the latter half of the MLS season without a torrid run of form from the Red Bulls, who have emerged from the mid-table scrum in the East by winning a remarkable six of their last eight MLS fixtures. The only issue? Those two losses have come against crosstown rivals NYC FC. What a treat we’d be in for if we could see these two clubs meet in the postseason.
- Seattle Sounders (+7) – We should’ve known. The defending champions looked destined to miss the playoffs in 2016 before heating up the month before postseason play and riding that form to the MLS Cup. A couple months ago, the Sounders looked destined to miss the playoffs once again…and now they’re unbeaten in eight straight MLS games, with the cherry on top coming in a 1-0 win over then-West leaders Sporting Kansas City last weekend. Captain America himself, Clint Dempsey, has been the hero, earning three goals and an assist in his last two matches. Perhaps the Western Conference has an MLS Cup contender after all.
- Chicago Fire (-3) – It might be time to press the panic button in Chicago. What looked like the second-best team in the East has come apart at the seams in recent weeks—they’ve dropped four of their last five matches, including 3-1 and 3-0 defeats at the hands of Columbus and Montreal in the last seven days. It’s tough to be too upset, though, as this is a team that finished dead last in the East each of the last two seasons. Regardless of their current slump, this franchise is undoubtedly heading in the right direction.
- Sporting Kansas City (-3) – Not an easy team to get a read on. They haven’t had any poor results lately, per se, but drawing Atlanta at home and surrendering the Western Conference lead to Seattle in consecutive weeks won’t inspire much confidence in a fan base. SKC is airtight at the back, but it remains to be seen if they have enough offensive punch to make a deep playoff run.
- Atlanta United (-1) – Late-game heroics continue to keep the expansion club in good shape in the playoff hunt. They’ve laid the groundwork for what is going to be an awfully fun franchise to watch over the next few years, but there’s enough talent on this roster to make some noise in the postseason this fall. They’ll be switching to their new, permanent stadium in the coming month, which is exciting for AUFC, but leads to a lot of matches shoved into a small period of time. Something to keep an eye on.
- Houston Dynamo (+1) – The Dynamo remain two things: stupidly fun up front, and virtually impossible to beat at home. They were both of these things in a 3-0 beatdown against San Jose. No one’s put serious thought into Houston as an MLS Cup contender, but perhaps it’s time to do so—they’re first in the West right now by goal differential, and their home form is going to make them very tough to top in a two-legged playoff series.
- FC Dallas (-2) – “What’s going on with FC Dallas?” could be the most common question uttered around MLS in the past two seasons, given how talented this team has been and how they haven’t gotten close to an MLS Cup…but it has never seemed more relevant than it does right now. In the last three weeks, FCD has gotten blown out by Vancouver and Philadelphia and held at home by Colorado, and yet they’re still first in the West in points earned per game with two games in hand against the three first-place squads. The bad news for a team looking to bust out of a slump? They get SKC and Houston next. Or maybe that’s good news? Who knows with this team.
- Montreal Impact (+7) – A couple weeks ago, we mentioned that the return of Nacho Piatti might provide a spark for the Impact. We didn’t realize how big that spark would be. The Impact are red-hot right now, having won three straight matches including a 3-0 trouncing of Chicago on Wednesday. Piatti has been sublime, totaling four goals and an assist during that stretch. The Montreal Fighting Nachos now look like a sure bet for the final playoff spot in the East, and perhaps a bit more?
- Columbus Crew (+3) – The Crew and Impact are both rounding into form around the same time, which is wonderful for viewers and less so for opposing teams. The catch? Unless both clubs can overtake Atlanta—unlikely—there’s only room for one of the two in the playoffs. Securing all three points against lower-tier teams will be vital for the Crew down the stretch; they could use a six-for-six run against Orlando and L.A. this next week.
- Portland Timbers (-2) – No shame in losing to Toronto on the road, though perhaps a 4-1 loss wasn’t exactly what Timbers fans were hoping for. Nonetheless, the Timbers seem to have rescued themselves from a slump that threatened to remove them from playoff contention, and should find themselves solidly on the upper side of the red line. They probably don’t have the defensive mettle to do much damage in the postseason, but they have the goal-scoring abilities to make things fun.
- Vancouver Whitecaps (-5) – A 1-0 loss to New England was a bit of a gut-punch for the Whitecaps, as it temporarily knocked them below the red line in the West. It’s looking increasingly like a Vancouver-San Jose duel for the final Western Conference playoff spot; many would favor the ‘Caps in that battle, and they’ve got a splendid opportunity to vault themselves up the table with back-to-back home matches against conference leaders Houston and Seattle.
- San Jose Earthquakes (-1) – In the East, the Quakes would be a long shot to qualify for the postseason. In the West…well, they’re still a bit of a long shot, but as of this moment, they’re sitting pretty in the number six spot. The Whitecaps are just a point back with two games in hand, though, and that’s not even accounting for the bizarre, bottom-of-the-table charge from RSL. At any rate, San Jose is still very much alive, particularly given that their next three matches are against three teams below the red line.
- New England Revolution (unchanged) – The Revs have been quietly respectable lately, earning wins in three of their last four games. They’re likely too far buried in the table to make a legitimate run at the postseason, but their solid form plus impressive activity in the latest transfer window should have Revs fans encouraged about the long-term direction of this team, something they haven’t been able to say in quite a while.
- Real Salt Lake (unchanged) – One of the sorriest teams in the league at the beginning of the season, RSL had slowly begun to string together solid performances, but with nary a three-point day to show for it. A match against D.C. was just what the doctor ordered, and a gritty 1-0 win has vaulted Salt Lake to just three points behind the sixth-place Earthquakes. They also haven’t lost in their last six MLS games. Beware of Zombie RSL.
- Orlando City SC (-5) – You’d think that the addition of Dom Dwyer to an already formidable front line containing Cyle Larin and Kaka would be huge for the Lions, but they’ve been just dreadful lately, and haven’t won a match since June. They’re not technically out of the playoff race yet, thanks to a bright start to this season, but it feels like a weekend match against Columbus is pretty much a must-win at this point.
- Philadelphia Union (unchanged) – It’s always one step forward, two steps back for the Union. A remarkable upset against Dallas was followed by a home defeat at the hands of Montreal. The latter was essentially a playoff six-pointer, and coming out on the wrong side probably means that Philadelphia’s hot-and-cold form has doomed them to spend playoff season at home.
- Colorado Rapids (+2) – Signs of life! It hasn’t quite resulted in big-time points, but the Rapids have been punching above their weight lately, earning draws with Toronto, Vancouver, and Dallas in their last four matches. It’s still a massively disappointing season for the 2016 Western Conference semifinalists, but perhaps they trip up a team with playoff aspirations or two down the stretch.
- LA Galaxy (-1) – Things are just going from bad to worse for MLS’ biggest name-brand club. They haven’t won a match since June, and are currently on an eight-game winless streak. That’s inexcusable for a team with this much talent. At this point, all that’s left to do is just revamp the squad in the next transfer window. Zlatan, anyone?
- Minnesota United (-1) – The Loons haven’t beaten anyone with a pulse for ages, and their defense has reverted back to its horrid early-season form, but honestly, that’s what most had expected from their first season in the U.S.’ top-tier league. They’ve provided us with some fun moments, and will have a full offseason to reconfigure their roster to MLS standards.
- D.C. United (unchanged) – D.C.’s game against RSL on Saturday was rained out and postponed to Sunday, which is the most exciting thing to happen on-field for United this entire season. On the bright side, they threw down some uncharacteristic money in the transfer window, so ownership seems committed to making sure that the dreadful 2017 season will go down as a one-year aberration.
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