Monday, July 25, 2011

Season's half over... What does the table look like?

With every MLS team now over the halfway mark in the 34-game season I thought it would be good to look at the overall table. Currently, most MLS teams are playing ridiculous friendlies that and the media like to think are more important than MLS Cup, US Open Cup or CONCACAF Champions League. Usually, we see some teams tail off after this point in the season due to fatigue, heat and loss of form and I'm sure one or two teams will do the same this year as well. Match congestion should play a massive part in this season with most teams playing worthless summer friendlies and five of those teams playing Champions League football.

Overall table as of 7/25/2011

1. LA Galaxy 42
2. FC Dallas 39
3. Seattle Sounders FC 38
4. Real Salt Lake 33
5. Philadelphia Union 31
6. Columbus Crew 31
7. Colorado Rapids 31
8. New York Red Bulls 29
9. Chivas USA 26
10. Sporting KC 26
11. Houston Dynamo 24
12. San Jose Earthquakes 24
13. DC United 23
14. Portland Timbers 21
15. New England Revolution 20
16. Chicago Fire 18
17. Toronto FC 18
18. Vancouver Whitecaps 15

Currently, Sporting and Chivas USA sit in the final playoff spots on 26 points and Vancouver looks to be the only team out of the play-off picture. TFC and Chicago will need something special in the second half to reach the post season. The Fire, however, are in the semi-final of the US Open Cup and may focus on that competition. MLS had the initial idea of making more play-off spots to make the league more competitive down to the end of the season. However, as the season wears on I think we'll see the league turn out similarly to the past few seasons. Now with the added bonus of two more undeserving teams having chance to win the MLS Cup.

Sporting KC has been on a 12- match unbeaten run in which they have amassed 22 points. This has gotten them right in the hunt for the play-offs after a disasterous start. However, KC supporters should slow down a little bit. Of the the 12 teams they have played, only five of them are currently in the play-offs as of now; and of those five, Sporting only managed one win while drawing the other four. That win came against FC Dallas, and was an unexpected result at 4-1. Other than that result, KC has played just as well as the other play-off teams around them, but rarely better; and were lucky to escape with draws against the likes of Philadelphia, Chivas, Houston and Colorado. Meanwhile, Sporting's four wins other than at FCD have come against teams currently below 11th place: San Jose, Vancouver, Portland and TFC. Despite being on a roll at the moment, lets see where Sporting KC is at the end of August after they play RSL, Seattle and FCD. Arguably, the other hot teams in the league right now.

The two teams that I feel most sorry for (if you can feel sorry) are LA Galaxy and New York Red Bull, for two different reasons. LA is the best team in the league hands down, but again this team will most likely fall in a one-off play-off match come the autumn. With all the fixtures of MLS, Champions League and ridiculous friendlies that this team has added to it's full schedule I cannot see this team keeping up come play-off time. The Red Bulls on the other hand have spent money and tried so hard to get to the next level. But despite all the spending and tinkering they just aren't as good as they should be. Tim Ream especially has looked vulenrable as of late, and the defense has been extremely shakey. The upside for the Red Bulls is they could enter the play-offs like Colorado and RSL in years past and make a solid run to the cup final.

The more this season goes on the more it looks like seasons past. Teams beat up on each other, a few run away teams and a play-off that gives underachieving teams the chance at a trophy. Yes, it keeps the league interesting. How many people would go out and watch a New England or Chivas game if they weren't in the hunt for the play-offs? It's unfortunate the league believes to make people care they must hold meaningless friendlies and have over half the teams in the league make the play-offs. MLS keeps the soccer mom culture
going in a country that doesn't want it anymore. If the league tried to breed the culture they sell during the meaningless World Football Challenge they would attract the fans they have always targeted. But alas that's another story.

Monday, July 4, 2011

To Add quality and Depth or Not, that 'Tis the Question

We have reached the halfway point in the MLS season and the transfer window opens in 11 days. Many MLS teams are already looking abroad to strength their teams, but there is talent within the league that could be up for grabs. The gap between the last playoff spot (Houston Dynamo on 20 points) and the last place in the league (Vancouver on 14 points) is only six points. Based on points no team is out of the playoff picture and we have to hand it to MLS, because this should make the second half of the season extremely exciting. Especially, coming in what could be MLS's biggest year to date due to both the NFL and NBA possibly having a lockout. Though we could yet again see an undeserving underachieving team win the MLS Cup this season.

We've already seen one of the biggest names in MLS move for a second time this season when Dwayne De Rosario was shipped to DC United last week. I don't anticipate too many high profile names moving, but what about the role players or players who have had a fantastic first half of the season that could help propel his new club into the playoffs or beyond in MLS, US Open Cup and Champions League play. I've compiled a short list of players from non-playoff teams at the midseason point that could help the upper half of the league.

1. Dominic Oduro
I have been blown away with what this forward has done this season. Prior to this year he looked like another throw away striker when Houston traded him to Chicago for Calen Car (terrible player and terrible trade). However, Oduro has found a home scoring five goals so far this season. He has scored a quarter of his career goals in 2011, and has been Chicago's best player by far. As a matter of fact he has scored a quarter of Chicago's goals this term. Currently, the Fire sit on 18 points, so they're hanging around the playoffs. We have seen throughout MLS's history that all teams can be tempted with a trade, and I think Chicago could be tempted to move Oduro for another midfielder. They have the cover at the striker position and their defense is returning to the steady hard to beat core that they were prior to Carlos de los Cobos's ruining of the team.

Who he'd be perfect for: I think Oduro would be perfect for Seattle. He would add much needed pace to Seattle he could take the pressure off of Montero. Adding his pace to Seattle's team would do wonders in opening up space for Montero. I've said repeatedly I believe Seattle has the best midfield in the league on paper. Oduro has the ability to run on to balls the midfield plays in the channels. He is also the opposite of Montero and can give a defense a different set of problems.

2. Paulo Nagamura
Chivas's central midfielder has had a stellar career in the league and at only 28 has more years in his legs. He has only featured seven times thus far for Chivas and would be a fantastic addition to any midfield in need of some bite. He is a player able to make a tackle and distribute the ball as well. Nagamura was the linchpin in Chivas's team during their successful Preki years. Chivas is in need of an identity and talent. Possibly some allocation money or draft picks could pry Nagamura away.

Who he'd be perfect for: Sporting KC could use some depth in midfield as well as add a player who can add bite and passing ability. Currently, they have used Julio Cesar there and he has done a decent job though he cannot pass and is error prone. Nagamura would fit in well sitting in front of an improved SKC backline who is unbeaten in eight matches. A return to LA Galaxy would also be a postive for both involved. LA loves to play on the counter and the addition of Nagamura to break up the play and distribute to Donovan and Juninho to start the attack could push LA over the edge this time around.

3. Sainey Nyassi
Nyassi burst on to the MLS scene in his first full season in 2008 and since then has been a steady midfielder for the New England Revolution. He is a speed guy that can add a lot to the wing, though his final ball has always been lacking, he can work hard down the sides. This is his fourth full season in MLS and maybe it is time for him to move on to another team to continue his development as a player. New England currently sits in last place, and really could use quality around the pitch sans a few positions. They don't have an outright scorer and their defense is decent, but nothing special. It also seems time they removed the old man that plays in goal and brought in someone who is more mobile. New England is notoriously thrifty and could part with Nyassi for draft picks, some cash or maybe even a set of footballs. Oh, that's not soccer/footballs that's footballs for Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Who he'd be perfect for: Columbus Crew. The Crew don't have much speed on their roster despite having crafty midfielders ala Eddie Gaven. Nyassi could add that speed to get down the wing and provide the service to Andres Mendoza who finally looks like a DP.

4. Adam Moffat
Another player that burst on to the MLS scene that has seen his career go south since suffering a knee injury in 2008. Moffat was predicted to be the next big thing in Columbus until that injury, however, this season he was deemed excess goods and let go in the expansion draft. Since arriving in Portland Moffat has only played four matches all as a substitute. Moffat could add depth to a number of teams and with the right coaching could find the form he showed for the Crew a few years ago.

Who he'd be good for: Houston once had an American international with Scottish roots that was one of the best players in MLS before he went off to Bolton Wanderers. I think Moffat could be their next Stuart Holden. Though they have a crowded midfield Moffat is a more skillful player than the likes of Lovel Palmer or Corey Ashe and would add more to the team than either of those players.

5. Nana Attakora
Frozen out in Toronto, Attakora has only appeared in six MLS matches and has not played since June 4. Attakora's failure to sign a new deal in Toronto has put him in the doghouse though he is of better quality than some of those around him. Still in his early-20's, he is a player that a defense could be molded with if paired with the right central defense partner. TFC is looking for defenders and I don't think Attakora would come cheap right now. I won't be surprised if he sits out the remainder of his contract and is in the re-allocation draft next fall.

Who he'd be good for: Colorado could use some defensive cover to shore up their squad. Colorado has given up 21-goals halfway through the season and though it's middle of the table the team could turn a few of those draws into wins with some steady defense. Often this season Colorado's defenders have looked slow on the pitch chasing after attacking players. Some fresh blood to a team that won the MLS Cup last season wouldn't hurt a team that is massively underachieving.

6. Chris Pontius
Finally injury free Pontius is fulfilling the expectations DC United had for him when he was selected in the first round of the MLS Superdraft in 2009. Pontius has started all 16-matches for DC thus far in the league and has scored five goals; a career best so far and second best on the team this season. Overall, DC is a young team and some experience at the back could pry Pontius away. The team already has Charlie Davies, Josh Wolff, Joesph Ngwenya and now Dwayne De Rosario; they have got a lot of attacking talent. They could use defensive players whether that is at the back or in midfield if they hope to push for the playoffs, and Pontius could be used as bait. DC recently hired Soony Silooy as assistant to Ben Olsen. I don't see this as a straight up move, rather I see this as the man to take over for Olsen whether it be this season or next if DC continue to draw or lose matches. Possibly one of Olsen's guys is traded to bring in a Silooy player.

Who he'd be good for: Houston again could use a player of Pontius's quality. They need someone to step up and score goals. Mr. Dynamo Brian Ching only has one goal this season. Cam Weaver and Will Bruin have eight of their 21-goals. Ching is on his last legs and DP Koke failed within a month of signing. Pontius is a player they could hang their hat on for the near future. Unfortunately, Houston's roster doesn't yield much quality in return.