MLS Playoff Predictions: Who's Hot and Who's Not
As the MLS season begins its stretch run, a unique dimension about the league takes shape.
Unlike so many other major sports, MLS teams jockey for position and yet remain fairly close in the standings.
Months of league play have done little to separate many of the teams, a sign of effective parity.
So with the playoffs now beginning to emerge on the horizon, many squads still have a decent chance at postseason play.
Here's a look at some of the hotter teams, and conversely some that are downright gruesome.
Sporting Kansas City
After going through the month of August unbeaten (3-2-0), K.C. is decidedly hot.
They have a propensity for winning close games (every win in August was by one goal) and can do a number of things very well.
For the playoffs, they may very well be the top seat in the East and the team is one to watch.
New York Red Bulls
With the Red Bulls, it's difficult to quantify them as "hot" or "not" (a characteristic that is often apt).
More accurately, their offense is hot (in the last three wins dating back to July, they've scored at least two goals in each successful contest).
Their defense, on the other hand, is not. No Eastern Conference team that's in playoff position has conceded more goals (37) than New York.
For the Red Bulls to finally break through and snap up a title, they will need both units to be on the same page.
After an absolutely scalding hot July (in step with national weather patterns apparently), the Dynamo have cooled a little in August.
One win, two draws and one loss have them at lukewarm rather than either hot or cold.
Yet they haven't exactly lost too many games lately, so the Texas powerhouse seems poised for a potential playoff run.
A disappointing, one-win July has given way to a more pleasant August.
Three wins offset a lone defeat to D.C. United.
That said, Chicago will have to battle the same issue as New York. They seem perfectly prolific in front of net, while remaining unable to keep the ball out of their own net.
Addressing this in the final month will be a top priority.
At one point earlier in the year, they looked assured of taking not merely a playoff spot, but a top one.
Barely a month later, and that confidence has evaporated.
A winless July and a recent 3-0 defeat to Montreal (among other results) have sent D.C. tumbling down the standings, until now where they are officially battling to remain in the playoff picture.
I believe that they will (solid remaining schedule, quality players to right the ship), but for the purposes of discussion here, they are very much not hot.
San Jose Earthquakes
The Earthquakes have a chance at a No. 1 seed, and they seem determined to entertain (an MLS-leading 52 goals).
Like so many teams, there are no questions about their offense, which has been plentiful.
Chris Wondolowski is once again leading the scoring charts, and players like Alan Gordon (11 goals) are no slouches, either.
If they can work out their back-line, then San Jose could shoot to the finals with little surprise.
They might be the hottest team in MLS after that 6-2 thrashing of Chivas last Saturday.
It was an emphatic result, and it closed out August league games with a 3-1 record.
They also outscored opponents in that time 13-4, pretty impressive.
And also there's the fact that Seattle is the best defense in the West right now. They are about as close to scalding hot as an MLS team can get in regular-season play.
Real Salt Lake
After doing so much to recover in July from a sub-par June, Real have backpedaled once again.
One win and three defeats (plus one draw) have sent them back down into a mid-seed playoff team at the moment.
Their chances of challenging San Jose for the top spot are dwindling with every point lost.
Salt Lake fans may fear that they let an opportunity to get the one seed slip through their fingers.
Though they will probably be a playoff team, they are decidedly not hot.
Much like their oft-compared counterparts in New York, L.A. are a team that can score many goals but leak almost as many.
No playoff-contending team, in either conference, has allowed more goals (40) than the Galaxy.
Blame this on a slow start to the season (and missing Omar Gonzalez). Blame it on too much offensive focus and the incessant need to fit so many talented attackers into an unbalanced lineup.
Regardless, the Galaxy are the defending champions and have a pedigree like few other squads in the league.
They will make the playoffs, and having won three of their last four by a combined score of 11-2, are quite hot at the moment.
There are hot teams, there are lukewarm teams...
...And then there are the Vancouver Whitecaps. Four losses in five games have them teetering on the edge of playoff oblivion.
True, they still have a five-point edge on the next closest team (Dallas, who it should be noted have made an impressive fight back since being all but dead and buried a month ago).
Yet the lead looks tenuous based on their recent performances (which includes a loss to Dallas).
Vancouver is the least hot team on this list of playoff teams right now. They will need to shape up if they want to remain on it.