With most teams in the league taking a bye week for the international break last week, the Major League Soccer regular season resumes this weekend. With the season nearing the halfway mark and the crucial summer months, when it comes time to start accruing the necessary points for a playoff run, fast approaching, we thought we’d take the opportunity to review the season so far.
Toronto Tops in the East
With a virtual lock on top spot in the standings, Toronto FC have carried on this season as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. Designated Player Sebastian Giovinco is having another fine season, but it’s USMNT striker Jozy Altidore who leads TFC in goals and assists. Barring an unprecedented collapse, Toronto are a shoe-in for the postseason and are currently in pole position in the race for the Supporters Shield.
Sitting right below Toronto, Chicago Fire have seen a dramatic turnaround from being the worst team in MLS last season to becoming a true force in the East. The Fire have added depth this season and revitalized their midfield, with the signings of Dax McCarty and Germany World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger. The Fire are also reaping the benefits of a hot streak from league-leading goalscorer, Nemanja Nikolic, who’s netted 12 goals in 14 appearances. Just one point behind TFC, the Fire are on-track for the postseason and are the side that’s currently best-poised to pip Toronto in the race the Supporters Shield.
Occupying third and fourth spot in the standings, New York City FC and Orlando FC are tied on 24 points each. Orlando have benefitted from a formidable home record that’s seen them lose just once at home. Brazilian playmaker, Kaka, has had a relatively quiet season with Canadian striker Cyle Larin filling in with the goals.
With eight goals and six assists, last season’s league MVP, David Villa continues to set the pace at NYCFC. NYC continues to improve under manager Patrick Veira and could definitely be a factor in the postseason if they remain on their current trajectory.
Rounding out the six teams currently occupying playoff sports, are the resurgent Columbus Crew and New York Red Bulls. The New England Revolution sit just outside the playoff berths and with half the season left to play, even the teams further down – Atlanta United FC, Philadelphia Union, Montreal Impact, and DC United, all remain within a shot at making the playoffs.
Some special mention is merited in the case of Atlanta. The expansion side has been a welcome addition to the league and under former Barcelona and Argentina boss, Tata Martino, has played some of the most expansive soccer we’ve seen in MLS.
Sporting KC: The Best in the West
Sporting Kansas City have set the pace in the West this season. The 2013 MLS Cup winners recently rebounded from a rough spell by blanking expansion side Minnesota United and earning a draw with Montreal Impact. KC owe much of their success this season to an airtight defense, anchored by USMNT starts Graham Zusi and Matt Besler. A spot in the playoffs is all-but-certain and with just three points separating them from Toronto, KC are within striking distance of the Supporters Shield.
Sitting second in the West, Portland Timbers have bounced back from last season’s dismal defense of their first MLS title and are back in the mix. Portland’s success this season can be described in two words: Diego Valeri. The Argentine playmaker is having a standout season and leads the Timbers in goals and assists.
Just below the Timbers are the two Texas sides – Houston Dynamo and Dallas FC – tied on 23 points each. Dallas have the second-best defense in the league and remain perhaps, the most balanced side in MLS, despite a run of choppy form that’s seen them paste RSL 6-2, and lose 2-0 away at Portland in recent weeks. Houston are riding a hot streak from striker Erick Torres who’s netted 10 goals on the season season.
Fifth-placed Vancouver Whitecaps are having a better than expected season, thanks in part to the offseason acquisitions of defender Brek Shea and striker Fredy Montero. Tied on 19 points with Vancouver, current MLS Cup holders, Seattle Sounders, have overcome a poor start to the season to climb into the bottom rung of the playoff berths.
Sitting just outside the playoff spots, also tied on 19 points, sit the San Jose Earthquakes, led by evergreen striker, Chris Wondolowski, who leads the team on goals and assists. One point below the Quakes, sits LA Galaxy, who like Seattle, have bounced back from a poor start to gain ground. The Galaxy recently returned from a road trip that saw them claim 10 points in four games, before dropping points to Houston at home last week.
Further down the Western Conference standings, the math gets a little trickier in terms of making the playoffs. Expansion side, Minnesota United have seen results improve somewhat after a difficult start to life in the league, but still look a long-shot in terms of the postseason. Real Salt Lake and Colorado Rapids occupy the bottom rungs of the table and must see results turnaround quickly if they are to maintain any hope of sneaking into the postseason.
Major League Soccer regular season play resumes Saturday, June 17. Check local listings for game times.