Wednesday’s soccer news starts with MLS taking the work week off, a rarity since the season resumed. Many are correctly asking if it’s possible to determine much of anything about this league week-to-week. Pick a team, and there’s probably a lack of coherency and results that are cause for concern. The playoff safety net still looms, but it’s going to be a questionable reward for the teams that get all of one extra game.
As it stands, the four teams at the top of the Eastern Conference that automatically qualify for the first round of the playoffs are also the teams with the best records in MLS. Columbus is no longer a surprise. With 30 points from 14 games, they’re two ahead of Philadelphia and Toronto. 4th-place Orlando City is two points back of them.
In any other season, it would be easy to look at all four of them and see points squandered, questionable tactical choices, and the type of issues that could sink a campaign.
Columbus lost 3-1 to Toronto at Rentschler Field on Sunday, giving an early answer for how Toronto will adjust to its temporary home. Toronto dropped back-to-back games during its all-Canadian phase one, not exactly impressing in a 2-2 draw at DC United to start phase two. Philadelphia lost at Columbus on September 2 before embarking on a five-game undefeated streak where the only draw was at Cincinnati, a club out of the playoff spots. Orlando hasn’t lost since the first matchday of phase one, but that run includes back-to-back draws against Nashville and Atlanta and their most recent result a 0-0 draw at Dallas.
With all four of the top Eastern Conference teams losing twice, the draws end up being the story. Phase one favored some teams over others due to the strength of the regional schedule. In an inconsistent season, that didn’t play out as expected. Orlando was the best of a group that included Atlanta. Philadelphia didn’t regress in a tougher group of clubs that included Columbus. Toronto didn’t dominate in Canada.
That leaves us with modified versions of the same questions. Is there a dominant team in the Eastern Conference? Are we setting ourselves up for a crapshoot version of the playoffs where any team that gets in is automatically in contention? What that stresses is an old MLS issue in a newer form. What counts for good this season? Though it’s not going to flatter the top of the Eastern Conference table, we may already know the answer.
Also in the soccer news, Cameron Carter-Vickers wasn’t in the squad for Spurs and Christian Pulisic and Matt Miazga were out for Chelsea in their 1-1 draw in the League Cup. Spurs advanced 5-4 on penalties at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Timo Werner put Chelsea up in the 19th minute with Erik Lamela equalizing in the 83rd. Chelsea failed to convert in the fifth round of penalties.
“It’s a victory of a team, of a group,” Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said. “The ones who didn’t play Sunday, they gave everything. The ones who played Sunday, they were ready to help. The ones in the stands, they were here suffering. It’s a great feeling. Eric Dier, maybe one day he can explain his feelings about playing two 90 minutes in the space of three days, and special 90 minutes, because if you go to another league, intensity is lower, but you know, Premier League football is incredible. We beat an amazing team. To beat them was good for us, a great feeling for us.”
ESPN’s Mark Ogden looks at the situation for club finances in England. The Athletic’s Raphael Honigstein considers the situation at Schalke and the broader issues for German coaches in the Bundesliga. The Guardian’s Jonathan Liew asks a fundamental question about Borussia Dortmund. Reuters’ Simon Evans reports on player releases for the October international window. The Ringer’s Ryan Hunn with the issues we’re already seeing with Europe’s club schedule.
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Photo by Perry McIntyre – ISIPhotos.com