I've heard a lot of "they're peaking at the right time" over the last couple of weeks as certain teams have started stringing wins together. I'm not wildly comfortable with that bit of homespun wisdom, and in a second, I'm gonna tell you why.
But first: Please understand that I'm not saying "winning is bad!" Or "playing well is bad!" If given the choice between winning and losing, you can probably guess which one I'd pick. If given the choice between playing well and playing poorly, you can probably guess which one I'd pick.
2012: D.C. United went 5-0-2 in their last seven, then won one playoff round (in epic, TCHUB fashion) before being thoroughly handled in the Eastern Conference finals by a Houston team that had coasted into the postseason with three wins in two months.
That was one round after Houston had taken care of a Kansas City team on a 12-game unbeaten run. The Dynamo? They were 4-4-4 in their final 12 that season.
In the West, San Jose were unbeaten in their final nine, clinched the Supporters' Shield... and then were dumped out of the playoffs in 180 minutes against the LA Beckhams. LA, who went 2-1-2 in their final five, won the title that season.
2013: Not quite as dramatic, but still pretty significant. In the East, the Red Bulls went 6-0-2 over their final eight games including a massive, final weekend gut-check comeback win over Chicago to secure the Supporters' Shield. The Dynamo - who RBNY had stomped, 3-0, on October 20 of that season - did for them in the East semis.
The Revs were the second-hottest team from the East that season, coming in at 4-0-2 over their final six before Sporting clipped them in the other Eastern semifinal.
Of course, Sporting had gone 6-1-1 in their final eight that year before going on to win the franchise's second MLS Cup, so it's not like they were in bad form. But New York and New England were justifiably labeled as the two teams "peaking at the right time."
Out West it was all about the Timbers. They went 5-0-3 over their final eight, pushing the fight for the Shield all the way until the end. They won a playoff series against the Sounders, but were then throttled 5-2 by RSL (who'd gone a ho-hum 4-3-3 over their final 10 games) in the Western Conference finals.
2014: Columbus won five of their last six, then lost in the East semis to New England. D.C. had just one loss in their final nine before losing to New York on the other side of that bracket.
Out West, the only team to come in "hot" was Vancouver, who went 4-0-1 in their final five, then lost in the Knockout Round to an FC Dallas team that'd gone 4-5-0 in their final nine.
The Revs were the hottest team in the league at this point last season, going 9-1-1 in their final 11 games. They made it all the way to MLS Cup, where they lost to a Galaxy group that went 1-2-1 in October.
Not a lot of correlation there, right? For every 2014 Revs team that stomps a mudhole through the league en route to an appearance in the final, there's a 2013 RSL group that sort of meanders their way there. For every 2013 Sporting team that wins the Cup and leaves a trail of bodies in their wake, there are seemingly endless permutations of a Galaxy group that just kind manages to get it done with grim determination.
So by all means, play well now, collect those points, grab that homefield, get that Supporters' Shield if you can. Just don't start celebrating yet.
Onto the games:
1. Veridis Quo
Look upon Diego Chara as a lone defensive midfielder, ye mighty, and despair. Because he is coming to absolutely wreck you.
After 18 months of dreary pragmatism, Portland coach Caleb Porter channeled his inner Mat Cauthon and tossed the dice on a throwback, by-the-book 4-3-3 in two road games, first at RSL on Wednesday and then at LA on the weekend. They won the first 1-0, they won the second 5-2 in an epoch-making result (at least it felt that way), and there is no reason to think they'll move away from this tactical shift either next weekend or in November.
It'd be bad to bet against them playing in November, by the way:
To Toronto's great credit, they mostly kept Klejstan under wraps in Wednesday's 2-1 win by going to a low-block 4-2-3-1 and trying to eliminate any disconnect between the backline and midfield. Even then, though...
Kljestan created a bunch of danger by finding the spots where the defense wasn't.
There's no one way to play against this RBNY team. Yeah, they continue to be vulnerable to speedy wingers on the break, but they do so many things so well that, with a week left in the season, I'm finally ready to call them MLS Cup favorites.
I just think they'll peak at the right time.
A few more thing to ponder...
7. I wrote about Wednesday night's games,and how the "No. 10" has been the defining theme of this season. That includes Mauro Diaz, the magic little unicorn who has FC Dallas sitting on 57 points, locked in a dead heat with the Red Bulls in the race for the Shield. Diaz had a goal and two assists this week as Dallas beat Vancouver 2-0, then went to RSL and won 1-0 on Saturday.
Dallas host a desperate San Jose team in next week's finale, while RBNY travel to Chicago for a game that, on paper, they should win. But bear in mind that Toyota Park has been a perpetual house of horrors for this franchise.
6. Speaking of Chicago... they've clinched the Wooden Spoon after Sunday's 4-0 no-show at D.C. United. They will use their No. 1 overall pick to take Georgetown defender Josh Yaro, should he sign a Generation adidas deal.
For those who don't know: Yaro was injured for about a month early in the college season, and only returned to play in late September.
Since his return to the lineup Georgetown are 7-0-0 with 13 GF and 2 GA. Three of those wins are over ranked teams, and another came against a Providence team that made last year's Final Four.
Yaro would have gone No. 1 over Cyle Larin last year. In retrospect that would have been the wrong choice, but it goes to show how highly thought of he is, and the numbers and performance from the Hoyas pretty well bears that out.
5. For those who still sneer at the draft, I'll say the name again: Cyle Larin. Goals No. 16 and 17 came in Orlando City's 2-1 win over NYCFC on Friday night.
He probably should've had a hat trick, because Carlos Rivas's early cross is our Pass of the Week:
I've crushed Rivas in this space all year for his propensity to launch his crosses into the crowd, but the kid has clearly worked on his game over the past six months. He was dominant against NYCFC.
4. Also on Friday, the Quakes kept their hopes alivewith a 1-0 win over Sporting. It is very difficult to imagine them going into Dallas and getting the win they need to get a spot in the postseason (they also need a couple of other results to go their way), but this is MLS and weird things refuse to stop happening.
3. Among the weirdest is Montreal's wholesale turnaround since turning the reins over to Mauro Biello. Yeah, Biello has the good fortune of coaching Didier Drogba, but Drogba's not the reason this team is suddenly going on the road and pitching shutouts.
Their 1-0 win in New England was ugly as hell, save for Ignacio Piatti's space-time continuum-bending chip. It was also their second in a row by that scoreline. In Frank Klopas's year-and-a-half in charge, not once did Montreal grab a 1-0 road win.
2. I haven't had much to say about the Houston Dynamo this year. I think Sunday's 1-1 draw against Seattle pretty neatly summed up their season: A little bit of good, some bad, and precious little rhythm or creativity throughout.
Rico Clark got his eighth goal on Brad Davis's 10th assist of the season, but Davis turns 34 in three weeks and Clark turns 33 next winter. It'd be foolish to expect this level of production from the two veterans in 2016, and it's imperative they get someone who can move the ball more quickly and incisively from central midfield.
That doesn't necessarily mean a Kljestan- or Diaz-esque No. 10. A field-spreader like Michael Bradley or Dillon Powers (should he be available via trade) can move the ball quickly from deeper, finding Houston's surfeit of speedy attackers in pockets where they can do more damage because they have more time and space.
This is also an issue for Seattle, by the way.
1. And finally, our Face of the Week goes to Ashtone Morgan and Jonathan Osorio:
What other face are you supposed to make when you've just seen the (c'mon, we all know it's going to win) goal of the year? And it just so happened to be the goal that puts your team - your hometown team - into the playoffs after nearly a decade of futility?
Giovinco's been peaking at the right time: It's called "all season long." And I bet it continues into November.