If you had to pick a contending team that has yet to qualify for Major League Soccer's playoffs, it's questionable whether or not Houston is the best selection. The Dynamo might have already made their run for 2012, and what we're seeing now is a team with its best soccer in the rearview mirror. Currently 5th-place in the Eastern Conference where only leaders Sporting Kansas City have formally advanced to the playoffs and with only a point separating them from 6th-place Columbus, this could be Houston's swansong.
Then again, Houston has a clear path to the postseason. Their subpar display against Philadelphia and inability to take points off the better Eastern Conference teams can be wiped away with wins over Montreal, Philadelphia, and Colorado. Those two Eastern Conference games are at home, increasing the pressure on the Dynamo to simply get it done.
Still, this is MLS where it's likely several Eastern Conference clubs will be watching results from other games as the season draws to a close. It's a game of odd club out, with New York, Chicago, DC, Houston, and Columbus all forecasting a future where they're not the one wondering what happened to their season.
With that in mind, why pick Houston? After all, Columbus is most improved since the transfer window, Chicago is the hottest team in the conference, New York can score, and DC has shown signs that they can put together results when needed. Any of them are a better pick than Houston right now. It's that weakness of schedule argument.
DC plays Toronto on the 6th and Columbus on the 20th. They close against Chicago on the 27th. All three of those games potentially complicate things for United. The tradition of the late season spoiler when they face a long out of contention Toronto, and then back-to-back games against fellow playoff hopefuls concerned with seeding. New York has Chicago at home and Sporting away before finishing against Philadelphia.
The wacky 2012 schedule favors Houston, almost gifting them the games they need to not only make the playoffs, but avoid the play-in round. At this point, it really is an advantage that's theirs to squander.
Corner Rating: (with one the Dynamo missing the playoffs, 6 making the play-in round, and 11 taking a top-three seed) 9.
Last Week's Corner: We're still getting the fallout from England's latest issues, but it's not enough to alter the rating. It stays a solid 4.