The Stretch Run: Can these nine guys make it a race?

David Ferreira

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images

As the season hits the three-quarter pole this weekend, we're taking the next few days to look at some of the key players in the playoff race.

We'll begin with a look at the teams in the back of the pack, those on the outside looking in. Some  Montreal, FC Dallas, Columbus  are a bit closer to the promised land than others and can have real hopes of sneaking into the playoffs.

But even those seemingly out of it have reason to fight on. Whether it's the chance to spoil the party for a hated rival, leave a positive impression on management or simply for pride's sake, there is always a reason to battle once the boots are laced up.

And every team' has at least one guy who we expect to stand out and put his respective team on his back. If he does, a playoff berth may be awaiting. If he doesn't, then the season may feel a whole lot longer than it should.  

Check back on Wednesday for a look at the key players for the Eastern Conference's current playoff squads.

Player

What We See


David
Ferreira

(DAL)

 

If you've been watching the past month of FCD games, then you know why he's at the top of this list. Ferreira is one of the very best pure playmakers MLS has ever had, and right now he's out there proving it 90 minutes at a time. The 2010 MLS MVP looks like his old self, and as a result, Dallas are starting to look like their old selves as well. The multiplying effect he has on guys like Brek Shea and Fabián Castillo is very easily quantifiable  just look at the "wins" column. Five points back with seven games left is a tall order, but with Ferreira driving Dallas, it's not out of the question.

  • Season statistics: 10 GP (9 GS), 797 minutes, 2 G, 6 A
  • Current Western Conference standing: Sixth (32 points, 27 games played – five points behind fifth-place Vancouver)

Patrice
Bernier

(MTL)

 

There wasn't much fanfare when Bernier signed with the Impact, but he's quietly been Montreal's best player in their expansion season. Defensively, he's like a bowling ball of doom in the central midfield, launching into challenges from touchline to touchline and usually coming away with the ball and a pound of flesh. Offensively, he combines silky smooth passing with underrated ball skills. And, of course, he's money from the spot. A good sign for a team that happens to be the hottest in the league at the moment.

  • Season statistics: 18 GP (18 GS), 1,564 minutes, 7 G, 7 A
  • Current Eastern Conference standing: Sixth (36 points, 27 games played – one point behind fifth-place D.C. United)

Jairo
Arrieta

(CLB)

 

Robert Warzycha has been through a laundry list of forwards since taking over in 2009, and it looks as if he's finally found a go-to guy in Arrieta. The Costa Rican veteran knows how to win  he's done plenty of it with Saprissa  and has blended seemlessly into a league that's a shade more physical than he's used to. Just as important as his goals is the space his unselfish off-the-ball work has opened for the likes of Eddie Gaven, Dilly Duka and  in one appearance so far  Federico Higuaín. Bottom line is that he makes the entire side much more dangerous offensively.

  • Season statistics: 6 GP (6 GS), 510 minutes, 3 G, 1 A
  • Current Eastern Conference standing: Seventh (30 points, 22 games played – six points behind D.C. United)

Juan
Agudelo

(CHV)

 

Brek Shea's rapid decline in form has garnered most of the headlines this year, but what has happened to Agudelo? This guy was unquestionably the rising star in the US forward pool 18 months ago, but this season he's scored just one goal and rarely looked threatening. The Red Bulls were only too happy to ship him to Chivas USA, who badly need scoring in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. There's no doubt Agudelo has the talent to become a go-to forward, but is the will to succeed there? Goats fans better hope so, or this season's done already.

  • Season statistics: 8 GP (7 GS), 765 minutes, 1 G, 1 A
  • Current Western Conference standing: Seventh (27 points, 22 games played – 10 points behind Vancouver)

Michael
Farfan

(PHI)

 

Philly's had an up-and-down season, and the bulk of the "ups" have been provided by this guy. At times, he looks like he's on the verge of joining the list of the league's elite playmakers  he wears No. 21, but he's really a No. 10  and at others, he disappears for games at a stretch. If he puts it together the way Graham Zusi or Brad Davis have done, the Union have a decent chance of making those games in hand really count. Farfan has the ability to get his strikers tap-ins. It just needs to happen more often.

  • Season statistics: 21 GP (20 GS), 1,812 minutes, 1 G, 4 A
  • Current Eastern Conference standing: Eighth (24 points, 22 games played – 13 points behind D.C. United)

Conor
Casey

(COL)

 

Of MLS players with 50 or more career goals, only six players have a higher goals per 90 than Casey's .54. He's been an elite player ever since Toronto shipped him to Colorado, and the only thing that's slowed him in the last five years was a torn Achilles last season. He's still working his way back to full fitness, but if he regains his customary scoring touch along the way, some of those one-goal losses the Rapids have been staring at could turn into one-goal wins. Still, time is running short.

  • Season statistics: 13 GP (9 GS), 793 minutes, 2 G, 2 A
  • Current Western Conference standing: Eighth (26 points, 25 games played – 11 points behind Vancouver)

 

Benny
Feilhaber

(NE)

 

Nobody much noticed that Feilhaber was one of the league's best playmakers last season, registering four goals and seven assists despite the turmoil in New England. He's been just as good this year, ranking among the league leaders in chances created, fouls suffered and even doing solid work tracking back defensively. But the Revs need goals, and if Feilhaber wants to be elite, he simply has to do what guys like Ferreira and Davis are doing  namely, put the team on his back and put the ball in the net when it matters most.

  • Season Statistics: 21 GP (18 GS), 1,650 minutes, 1 G, 1 A
  • Current Eastern Conference standing: Ninth (23 points, 24 games played – 14 points behind D.C. United)

Darlington
Nagbe

(POR)

 

It would take a miracle for Portland to reach the playoffs at this point, so we're not holding our breath. But we have been holding our breath waiting for Nagbe to break out ever since he was taken second overall in the 2011 SuperDraft, and it looks like we can finally exhale. The switch has been flipped in the past two weeks as the Liberian (soon to be American!) attacker has gone from "far too passive" to "far too dangerous to try to contain with only one guy." Every touch is positive, and when running at a defense, few players in the league are as thrilling.

  • Season Statistics: 23 GP (21 GS), 1,905 minutes, 5 G, 0 A
  • Current Western Conference standing: Ninth (21 points, 24 games played – 16 points behind Vancouver)

Luis
Silva

(TOR)

 

Like a lot of rookies, Silva struggled to adjust to the pace of the professional game in his first few months. Since then, however, he's looked like one of the brightest young attackers in the league. He doesn't have breathtaking skills or athleticism, just a sharp passing eye and a knack for turning up in the right place at the right time. In other words, he's exactly the type of guy Toronto have always shipped out of town for pennies on the dollar (or loonie, I guess). Chances are they won't make that mistake this time, especially with another huge CCL campaign in full swing.

  • Season Statistics: 20 GP (12 GS), 1,210 minutes, 3 G, 2 A
  • Current Eastern Conference standing: Tenth (20 points, 24 games played – 17 points behind D.C. United)