MLS: Analyzing the Eastern Conference Playoff Race

Ned HarwoodContributor IIIOctober 10, 2011

MLS: Analyzing the Eastern Conference Playoff Race

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    With just a few weeks left in the MLS season, the race for the final playoff spots is now in full force, as teams from all across the nation battle for a bid into the postseason tournament.

    The Eastern Conference race is especially competitive, with six teams all still in contention to win the conference come late October.

    However, some teams have an easier route to the playoffs than others, and that is why I have analyzed the current situation for each of the competitive teams.

    Who will take home the Eastern Conference crown? Click through to see. 

New York Red Bulls

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    Current Position: 43 points, fourth in East, (Wild Card spot).

    Remaining Games: At Sporting KC, home vs. Philadelphia.

    The X Factor: Rafa Marquez.

    It’s all going to come down to the play of Rafa Marquez, especially considering he is NY’s defensive rock against two high-octane offenses.

    His mental lapses and positioning mistakes simply cannot occur if the Red Bulls have any chance at grinding out some tough points to finish off the season.

    Predictions: 

    Tie vs. SKC 1-1

    Win vs. Philadelphia 2-1

    (47 points)

    The Verdict: I know you are probably sick of hearing this phrase by now, but NY is simply too good to miss the playoffs.

    Henry will find a way to salvage a point on the road before the team thrives at RBA the following week. The Emirates Cup isn’t the only tournament that might give New York some silverware. 

DC United

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    Current Position: 38 points, sixth in the East (out of playoffs).

    Remaining Games:

    At Vancouver, home vs. Chicago, home vs. Portland, home vs. Sporting Kansas City.

    X-Factor: Charlie Davies.

    De Rosario has had too much placed on his shoulders due to Davies’ lack of consistency in the latter half of the season.

    If DC has any hope at making the playoffs and bringing the MLS Cup back to Washington, Davies is going to have to step up and prove that De Ro and Najar aren’t the only dangerous attackers.

    Predictions:

    2-2 Tie with Vancouver

    3-1 Win over Chicago

    2-1 Win over Portland

    1-1 Tie vs. SKC

    (46 Points)

    The Verdict: DC controls their own destiny and it helps that three of their remaining games come home at RFK. The way the team has been playing lately makes me question anyone who doesn’t see DCU pulling out eight plus points and advancing to the playoffs. 

Houston Dynamo

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    Current Position: 43 points, 5th in the East, (Wild Card Spot)

    Remaining Games:

    At Portland, Home vs. Los Angeles 

    X-Factor- Los Angeles’ Commitment.

    As funny as it may sound, Houston’s life might actually rest in the hands of Bruce Arena, who may choose to rest his starters during Houston’s vital final game. With the Supporters Shield all locked up, Arena has no reason to play his starters other than to give the fans a good show. My guess is that Houston will take on LA’s B team, which is an opportunity the Dynamo must take advantage of. 

    Predictions:

    2-0 Loss to Portland

    3-0 Win vs. Los Angeles

    (46 Points)

    The Verdict: Getting three points on the road at Jeld-Wen is easier said than done, especially given the game importance for both teams. A home win against the Galaxy will be nothing more than three points in the table as DCU and NY best the Dynamo in the home-stretch. 

Columbus Crew

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    Current Position:  44 points, 3rd in East, (Automatic Qualifying Spot)

    Remaining Games:

    At New England, At Chicago

    The X Factor: Team Composure.

    It must be alarming for the Crew to see New York and United all of a sudden in their rearview mirror. Since August 20th, Columbus has only managed to pick up four points in seven games and has been outscored 17-9. No matter how badly Columbus might want to, they simply cannot get tempted by the panic button with so much on the line. 

    Predictions: 

    2-0 Win over New England

    1-0 Loss to Chicago

    (47 Points)

    The Verdict: Two months ago, these two games would have been labeled as having “blowout potential,” but not anymore. Although the results may not show it, New England’s level of play has certainly been enhanced the last couple of weeks and the team is surprisingly playing with some pride. Chicago is also one of the hottest teams in the league and will be determined to earn three points in their final home game of the season. However, I still think three more points are in the Crew’s future and the most likely game for that to happen would be in New England. 

Sporting Kansas City

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    Current Position: 45 points, 2nd in East (Automatic Qualifying Spot)

    Remaining Games:

    Home vs. NYRB, At DC United

    The X-Factor: Fatigue.

    Thanks to an untimely friendly against Chivas Guadalajara on Wednesday night, Sporting Kansas City has three games in 10 days to finish off the season. The organization will have to decide if it is more important to entertain the fans on Wednesday or put forth a full squad on Saturday night against a determined Red Bull team.

    Predictions:

    1-1 Tie vs. Red Bulls

    1-1 Tie vs. DC United

    (47 Points)

    The Verdict: Sporting has two tough games to finish off the MLS season against New York and United. With their opponents both desperate for points, I find it hard to predict SKC getting any more than two points against the determined teams. Two draws however would still keep KC in a prime playoff spot.

Philadelphia Union

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    Current Position: 47 points, 1st in East, (Eastern Conference Champions)

    Remaining Games: 

    Home vs. Toronto FC, At New York 

    The X-Factor: Faryd Mondragon.

    The injury to Mondragon hasn’t affected the Union’s results too much in the last couple of weeks, but Toronto and NY have the capabilities to take advantage of Macmath if Mondragon does not return. While Peter Nowak surely doesn’t want to rush Mandragon back onto the pitch, starting an inexperienced keeper could have some serious side effects in their final two games.

    Predictions:

    2-0 Win vs. Toronto

    2-1 Loss to New York

    (50 Points)

    The Verdict: Philadelphia is in the best spot of all these teams, so they are not too desperate for results like their Eastern Conference counterparts. However, considering how well Le Toux and Adu have been playing recently, the Union are destined to pick up a few points regardless of their situation. 

Eastern Conference Final Table

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    Let us look now at the probable finish of the Eastern Conference and see which team is left out of the postseason. 

    1. Union—50 Points

    2. Red Bulls—47 Points (+8 GD)

    3. Sporting Kansas City—47 Points (+7 GD)

    4. Columbus Crew—47 Points (-2 GD)

    5. DC United—46 Points (+3 GD)

    6. Houston Dynamo—46 Points (+1 GD)

    What are your thoughts on how the Eastern Conference is going to end? Comment below. 

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