By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Oct 4, 2018) US Soccer Players - MLS is certainly a crazy league. The best team in the league heading into the final month is a team that sits in 5th-place in the Western Conference table. The hottest team in the league is out of the Eastern Conference playoffs, for now. If those two teams, Seattle and DC, keep playing the way they have been for the better part of the last couple of months, it is not unrealistic to expect the two to play for MLS Cup 2018 title in December.
The rest of the league is still trying to sort themselves out in each conference. October is about playing your way into a favorable playoff spot or getting a spot at any costs. That fight has made for interesting rankings, where a fifth-place team is coming in higher than the Supporters’ Shield frontrunners.
1. Seattle (1)
The Sounders came back to reality from their unprecedented winning streak when the club lost consecutive matches since May 26 and June 2. However, Seattle snapped out of that funk by posting a convincing 4-0 win over Colorado to close out September. Seattle enters the final month on 47 points and in 5th-place but could move into 3rd or possibly even 2nd-place. None of the four teams left on Seattle’s schedule will make the playoffs. Collecting 12 points and moving up the table is certainly possible.
2. Atlanta (2)
With rumors flying about the future of head coach Tata Martino, Atlanta is still trudging forward. The club went 3-2 last month but finished with a disappointing 2-0 loss at the Red Bulls. It was just the second time since March 11 that Atlanta hadn't gotten a goal. Atlanta has three winnable games remaining (home against New England and Chicago, at Toronto) and should walk away with the Supporters’ Shield.
3. NY Red Bulls (3)
New York had perhaps its most important win of the season on September 30, beating Atlanta United 2-0. It may not be enough to eventually overtake Atlanta for first place in the Eastern Conference/Supporters’ Shield race but it will provide New York with extra motivation should the teams meet in the playoffs. New York won both meetings against Atlanta this season. The only real blemish in September was the 3-0 loss to Montreal to open the month.
4. FC Dallas (5)
At a glance, a pair of scoreless draws looks like a problem. However, those draws came against likely playoff clubs Columbus and Portland. That's proof that the defense is playing well and just in time. The three goals allowed by FC Dallas in September is the fewest in one month since the team allowed two goals in three games in March. FC Dallas does not have as potent of an offense as the team has had in recent years but rather a well-balanced scoring unit, but the defense will be critical come playoff time.
5. Sporting KC (4)
Sporting KC is still very much a force in the Western Conference. The team dropped two games last month but the club’s 1-1 draw against Real Salt Lake to close out September had the feel of a playoff game. Sporting KC is tough to beat and will be tough to beat come playoff time. The defense is not perfect, but the team’s mindset and work rate are top-notch. Sporting KC though will have to work hard to keep its spot in the table, with the Galaxy, FC Dallas, and LAFC left on the schedule. The plus side is those games will prepare the club for potential playoff battles.
6. LAFC (6)
If anything good came from the club’s 3-1 loss at Chicago, it was that Adama Diomande started and played the longest he has since July 26. He has not scored since July 7, but the club will need his scoring ability back to close out the season strong. LAFC’s fate is still very much up in the air. The team can climb into 2nd-place. The only playoff contender left on their schedule currently holds that spot. Or, it can drop down into 4th or 5th-place with more efforts like the one the club gave in Chicago.
7. Columbus Crew (8)
Gyasi Zardes is one goal away from setting a career high in a season in which he has regained his form. Zardes’s consistency continued last month as he scored a goal against Colorado. He has not gone more than three consecutive games without scoring. His steady play is a major reason why the club has been a solid playoff contender from the start of the season.
8. DC United (14)
Only in MLS can a team that was too inept to beat anyone is now a team that would be a nightmare draw in the playoffs. Such is the case with DC United. DC is a force in the league now. Wayne Rooney’s arrival and Audi Field’s opening has helped turn the club into one. DC has won nine of its 13 home games. They'll surely continue gaining points in October as four of its five games this month will be at home.
9. Real Salt Lake (7)
RSL had the chance to test its playoff mettle at Sporting KC in the last game of the month. The club passed the test with flying colors. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando was the stalwart he has been for more than a decade, and the club will need him come playoff time. RSL needs to get back to winning games though to secure a spot in the postseason. A 1-1-2 haul from September was decent. If RSL slips at all, the Galaxy could pass them.
10. Portland Timbers (10)
There may be no club quite as inconsistent as Portland. They won a close game on September 19 against Columbus only to head out to Minnesota and lose. They returned home and played out a scoreless draw against frontrunners FC Dallas. The Timbers might be in a solid enough place to make the playoffs. Unless something drastic happens, that is the ceiling for this club.
11. New York City FC (9)
Patrick Vieira’s absence was going to be an issue at some point. That point has come. Dominic Torrent won five of his first six games in charge of NYCFC, but the club has struggled since then. NYCFC enter October having won just one of its last eight games. Vieira put the team in a good position in the Eastern table, but that will not last come playoff time.
12. Philadelphia (13)
The Union’s results were all over the place in September. A 2-2 draw at Orlando City SC was poor and 4-1 home loss to Montreal was worse. They followed that up by snapping Seattle’s MLS record winning streak. The Union has not allowed a goal in its last three league games, which is good considering the team had the US Open Cup final to deal with.
13. LA Galaxy (16)
If the Galaxy had played the way it did against Seattle and Vancouver throughout the course of the season, the team would be heading to the playoffs as the first or second seed in the Western Conference. Instead, the team faces an uncertain future. A loss at Sporting KC to open October might make the last two games of the season meaningless. With Sigi Schmid gone and Dominic Kinnear taking over, the Galaxy has played better. Still, Kinnear’s first road test was a bomb, a 5-3 loss at Toronto. How the team plays at Children’s Mercy Park will show just how much that they've improved.
14. Minnesota United (18)
Minnesota’s defense is still a bit of a mess as the team’s last shutout came on May 26, but the club showed a bit of muscle in September. Wins against Portland and NYCFC were strong as was the road draw against Real Salt Lake. Minnesota still has a pulse in the playoff race, but that is only thanks to mathematicians. Still, the Loons could play spoiler. The club’s home finale on October 21 is against the still-alive LA Galaxy. A win there could knock the once-mighty Galaxy out of the race altogether.
15. Vancouver (11)
The Whitecaps finally cleaned house by sacking Carl Robinson ahead of a critical match at the LA Galaxy. The move was necessary but did not inspire the Whitecaps much as they fell 3-0. Vancouver always seemed like a club that had potential but could not quite fulfill it. Robinson’s teams finished second in the west in 2015 and third a year ago. The other two years were like this one, uninspired play leading to mediocre results.
16. Montreal Impact (12)
Montreal enters October on 40 points and in the sixth and final spot in the playoff race. If the club’s last game of September was any indication that is as good as it is going to get this season. Montreal had a playoff-like challenge against DC United on September 29 and fell flat on its face, losing 5-0. With DC two points back with two games in hand, the future looks bleak for the Impact.
17. New England Revolution (15)
New England did not have a bad September. The only loss was a tough one, 4-1 at Toronto FC. It's the three draws that are catching up with them. The club’s meager 35 points is not good enough to contend for the playoffs.
18. Houston Dynamo (19)<'h2> Houston won a trophy, which is something positive the team can point to from 2018. The team clearly had the US Open Cup final on its mind since winning its semifinal game in early August. The team did beat Portland 4-1 on September 15, one of two wins last month. A dreadful October awaits though as Houston plays Seattle twice, LAFC, and the LA Galaxy.
19. Toronto FC (20)
The good times were rolling in Toronto in September, for a bit anyway. Toronto FC beat the Galaxy 5-3 and New England 4-1 at BMO Field last month. There is not much left to look forward to next month as this miserable and disappointing season comes to a close, but Toronto FC could still influence the Eastern Conference and Supporters’ Shield race. Atlanta will visit BMO Field on the final day of the season. A win could send Atlanta to second place in both races. It is a far cry from where the team was a year ago this time, but the defending champions can still walk away from this season with some semblance of pride.
20. Chicago Fire (22)
Chicago had two wins in September, which is two more than the club had in July and August combined. One victory came against Orlando, no big deal, but the other was a dismantling of LAFC. Perhaps that was an aberration on both sides, but Chicago should try to keep that is a good memory of a forgettable season. Chicago plays a home-and-home against DC and also visits Atlanta in October.
21. Colorado Rapids (17)
Colorado lost all four games last month, outscored 11-1 in those games, and will carry a six-game losing streak into October. What little drive the team had found during a modest three-game unbeaten run in August has long since evaporated.
22. San Jose Earthquakes (21)
If San Jose played in a three-team league with Minnesota and FC Dallas, the ‘Quakes would win the Supporters’ Shield. As it stands, a perfect record against those clubs is meaningless. For some reason, San Jose cannot beat any other team in the league. Everyone else is an unbeatable monster for the ‘Quakes. The club went 0-5 last month and is just three games away from making the pain stop.
23. Orlando City SC
How bad of a season has it been for Orlando City SC? The club had a pair of draws in September, will carry a 270-minute scoreless streak into October, and fell further behind the field in the Eastern Conference. Yet it was a successful month. The club gained more points in September than it did in August and June combined. The two draws do not take away from the fact that Orlando is the worst team in MLS, and possibly the worst team MLS has seen in the last several seasons.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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