With just a few games left there isn’t as much excitement around the playoff race with only four teams realistically fighting for the supporters shield for best record and two surging teams desperately trying to make up ground. In MLS, the top two teams in each conference qualify automatically to be the top two seeds in their respective conference brackets. However, the teams with the highest point totals, regardless of their conference, fill out the remainder of the brackets.
Here’s a quick look at the ten teams that are still relevant in the 2010 Major League Soccer season and my projections.
“Western Conference” Bracket
1) LA Galaxy
2) Real Salt Lake
3) FC Dallas
4) Seattle Sounders
“Eastern Conference” Bracket
1) New York Red Bulls
2) Columbus Crew
3) San Jose Earthquakes
4) Colorado Rapids
1) LA Galaxy (50 points currently): The Supporters Shield will return to LA for the first time since 2002. A hot start to the season put them well in front of the rest of the league, even though Salt Lake, New York, and even Dallas may still make a last minute push, and are only still possible candidates because the Galaxy only managed one victory (1-0 at Red Bull Arena) between July 22 and September 3rd in six games. Their mix of veteran leadership and young talent will carry them past the initial clumsiness re-integrating David Beckham into the starting 11. If the Galaxy were still playing CONCACAF Champions League games in October, they might not be such a sure thing.
2) New York Red Bulls (44 points): The Red Bulls will win the Eastern Conference and finish a close runner-up for the supporters’ shield, a remarkable turnaround from an abysmal 2009 season. The Red Bulls have one of the more favorable schedules down the stretch with three home games against Kansas City, Real Salt Lake, and New England and a short trip to Philadelphia. The squad should stay well rested and the Red Bulls will only risk losing a game if manager Hans Backe tries an unsuccessful lineup combination with new addition Mehdi Ballouchy at the same time he rests key players.
3) Real Salt Lake (48 points): Having already clinched a berth in the next round of the Champions League, RSL can focus on its remaining MLS games and keeping its players fresh. Manager Jason Kreis has already shown a willingness to do so resting four key players in a 1-1 draw vs. Colorado. Salt Lake hasn’t lost a home game since May 16, 2009, but that streak may be put to the test as Salt Lake closes out its season against playoff hungry FC Dallas and Colorado
4) FC Dallas (46 points): What’s more impressive than RSL going undefeated at home since May 16, 2009? Quite possibly FC Dallas not losing a match at home or away since May of 2010. Their only two losses this year came against the LA Galaxy and at New York Red Bulls (if you don’t remember Angel earning his Designated Player salary: LINK). That unbeaten streak will be put to the test as Dallas closes out its season at home against Chicago and Colorado and on the road against the LA Galaxy. One of the most anticipated matchups of the season will occur if Dallas takes its unbeaten streat to Rio Tinto stadium to challenge Real Salt Lake’s home undefeated streak on October 16. Look for the Burn to come out on top as Salt Lake will be between tough MLS games against the Red Bulls and Colorado as well as a CONCACAF Champions league game on the 19th.
5) Seattle Sounders (39 points): After trading Designated Player Freddie Ljungberg to the Chicago Fire and signing new DP Blaise Nfuko, the Sounders have been on a tear. With a fan base that is already legendary around the league despite the team only being in its second season, the Sounders will finish the season strong against four non-playoff bound teams. Which top seed will be unlucky enough to face Seattle in the 1st home/away round of this year’s MLS playoffs? The Galaxy might have their work cut out.
6) San Jose Earthquakes (39 points): San Jose currently holds the 8th playoff spot, but with five games remaining, three of which are against lowly DC, Houston, and Chivas, expect their stock to rise despite a tough loss to Chicago earlier this week. Wondolowski is having a career year and the re-emergence of Bobby Convey is doing wonders for the Earthquakes on the wing. Strategically bringing in a Designated Player made up for the absence of previous candidate for rookie of the year Ike Opara. Opara has recently started training with the team again, and his return could bolster a defense that has been inconsistent in his absence.
7) Columbus Crew (45 points): Sometimes, being a good club has consequences. And for the Columbus Crew, it’s that they have non-MLS league games in October for the U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League. Columbus must travel to Seattle on October 5th for the U.S. Open Cup championship, and then on October 21st fly to Trinidad & Tobago to take on Joe Public where only a win would guarantee advancement to the next round. Besides that, Columbus will play San Jose and Chicago, two teams fighting for playoff berths, and travel to Toronto where many teams struggle against a lively Canadian fan base (not kidding).
8) Colorado Rapids (41 points): Despite currently sitting in 6th place overall, Colorado finishes the season with games at Dallas, at the LA Galaxy, and home against Real Salt Lake. If Kansas City or Chicago were a few points closer at this point we might have seen a real close race for that 8th spot.
Chicago (29 points) and Kansas City (33 points) are the two realistically remaining teams left out this season even though they each have five remaining games compared to most teams having just four. Chicago has put together a solid run since making a couple of key acquisitions during the transfer window but it was too little too late. Kansas City has a brutal final five games with the only match against a non-playoff contender being a visit to New England later in October (the other four are @ NYRB, Seattle, @ Chicago, and San Jose).