With only nine games left in the season, the MLS playoff race is heating up. Despite the fact the race for a spot is still pretty wide open, there are clearly now three tiers of teams as we approach the big dance:
A League of Their Own:
New England, Columbus, Chicago and Houston.
These four are almost certainly going to make the playoffs. Nicol continues to work magic in New England, while Schelotto and the Crew continue to play solid soccer. Chicago is actually the most dominant team in the league, but lack their Eastern foes point total because they either seem to lose by one or blow their opponent out. Houston has always been the class of the West and the addition of Jaqua makes them the clear number one seed in that division.
On the Verge:
D.C., New York, Salt Lake and Dallas.
After a slow start, D.C. seems to be finally gelling. New York has made some great acquisitions and Angel is finally looking halfway healthy. Salt Lake has been a surprise, and barring a breakdown should compete in this year’s playoffs. Dallas is an enigma, but so long as the defense holds and Cooper keeps scoring, the former Burn should qualify for the postseason.
Living on a Prayer (i.e., The Pushovers):
Toronto, Kansas City, Colorado, L.A., Chivas USA and San Jose.
Toronto has been good this year, but the East has been stacked and it looks like they will miss the playoffs. Ditto for Kansas City who has thrown away a good early run.
As for the West, any of the four teams above could still conceivably qualify for the playoffs. The Rapids and Chivas just seem to lack enough healthy bodies to make a considerable push. San Jose, although fighting mercilessly, looks like it will have too little, too late.
That just leaves the Gals. Arena would need to stop the bleeding, and quickly, to get to the postseason, but stranger things have happened (like Alexi Lalas being a GM). For my money, I bet they squeak in the playoffs above Salt Lake. RSL is prone to blowing it, and Beckham and Co. have more riding on this season that anyone.