Welcome to the Wednesday Q&A series, where we focus on one particular topic – today's being the MLS stretch run – and ask you to react, share, and discuss in the comments section. However, feel free to ask about anything game-related (MLS, USL, NASL, USMNT, CanMNT, etc.) over the next several hours.
It feels like it's taken forever, but here we are with over 75% of the season in the books and the stretch run well and truly here. Our good friends at American Soccer Analysis have gone ahead and published the playoff odds, which will thrill or depress you depending upon the colors you're wearing:
I'll say it again just to head off the inevitable comments section crowing: I was 100% wrong about my early-season prediction re: NYCFC. As they were dropping home points week after week, I became pretty certain that they'd never make up enough points on the road to qualify for the playoffs. But they're as good as in, and have still maintained the best road record in the league.
A few other notes:
• Sebastian Giovinco still gets my vote for MVP, and he'll almost certainly win that award for the second straight year even if he misses all of September. The other contenders are David Villa, Sacha Kljestan, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Ignacio Piatti, Mauro Diaz and Diego Valeri, but there are strikes against each of them. You could argue, for example, that Frank Lampard's actually been the key player for NYCFC; that Kljestan and BWP will split the RBNY vote; that Montreal and Portland haven't been good enough to justify voting for Piatti and Valeri, respectively; and that Diaz's numbers aren't quite good enough.
All those are fair points. So is this one: Giovinco will win because he's the best and most valuable player in the league.
•I prefer "Young Player of the Year" to Rookie of the Year, but that shouldn't detract from the fact that this is a spectacular rookie class -- one that I will argue is the best in league history. Here's the Rookie XI:
GK: Andrew Tarbell (SJ)
RB: Keegan Rosenberry (PHI)
CB: Joshua Yaro (PHI)
CB: Jonathan Campbell (CHI)
LB: Brandon Vincent (CHI)
DM: Rodrigo Saravia (CLB)
CM: Tsubasa Endoh (TOR)
RW: Alex Muyl (RBNY)
LW: Jack Harrison (NYCFC)
FW: Fabian Herbers (PHI)
FW: Jordan Morris (SEA)
Add in other useful-looking rookies like Omar Holness (RSL - CM), Tony Alfaro (SEA - CB), Hadji Barry (ORL - RW), Michael Salazar (MTL - RW), Kip Colvey (SJ - LB), Femi Hollinger-Janzen (NE - FW), Julian Buescher (D.C. - CM) and Alphonso Davies (VAN - RW), and this season has produced a bumper crop of young players. We'll see how many pan out in the long run, but I count at least six I'd expect to have some sort of international future.
•And finally, this league is still predominantly a 4-2-3-1 league with a good slice of 4-3-3 and just a little bit of 4-4-2 thrown in. Of the 12 teams currently above the red line, six are fulltime 4-2-3-1 teams and four are 4-3-3 teams. The only hold-outs are LA (they've switched between the 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 all year) and Toronto FC (they're probably best in a 4-3-1-2, but have been effective toggling between that, the 4-4-2 and the 3-5-2).
That emphasis on the 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 has made for a big year for the league's "pure" No. 10s, and also for wingers like Kevin Molino of Orlando City and Piatti of Montreal. You can watch them tonight (7:30 pm ET; TSN5 in Canada | MLS LIVE in the US), though it's unlikely Molino will play given his exertions for Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday.
Ok folks, thanks for keeping me company this afternoon!