The Audi MLS Cup Playoffs are almost here, which means time is running out to make predictions about where teams will settle when the dust clears.
We're here again to beat the mad rush for prognostication legitimacy. You all saw how things work for this exercise with yesterday's Eastern Conference table finish picks, so there's no need for any great set-up.
Let's get straight to the nuts and bolts.
Though the Sounders have not yet secured the Western Conference's top spot, that should soon enough seem like a mere formality. Good results in their next two games (at third-place Colorado, vs. second-place Sporting KC) could seal the deal. And they may have Nico Lodeiro and Jordan Morris back in the mix before the playoffs start. All potential foes between here and MLS Cup have now been duly warned.
Peter Vermes' boys have been only slightly less consistent than Seattle this season, so anything less than a second-place finish would compel disappointment around Children's Mercy Park. Even with a defense that has slipped a bit of late, Sporting KC are a genuine title contender once Alan Pulido returns to fill out their front line hydra between MVP candidate Daniel Salloi and showman skipper Johnny Russell.
The first half of the Timbers' season was very trying, but the last couple of months have been like devouring The Reggie at Pine State Biscuits: deeply satisfying. Portland have won seven of nine to move clear in the all-important fourth spot in the Western standings. With Sebastian Blanco fully back, the defense playing its best soccer of the season and one of the easier remaining slates in the West, I don't think they're done climbing.
Don't be offended at the small drop, Rapids fans. I like your well-balanced, well-managed, fully fit side very much. The thing is, a few cracks may show when they've just come off an unbeaten run that lasted two months and happen to have a rough stretch run schedule. And truth be told, this team seems a season away from authentic MLS Cup contention to me.
The Whitecaps have dropped just two games from their last 17, and that's the kind of consistency that fuels table rises. The summer acquisition of Ryan Gauld has doubled down on the team's strengths, while also solving problems regarding their weaknesses. The Whitecaps currently stand a point below the playoff line. By the time their regular season is in the books, I'm guessing they'll be a couple of slots safely above it.
After residing in the West's top four spots basically all season long, a recent swoon has made the Carson crew's postseason plans a lot more tenuous. Part one of the good news is that Chicharito is fully fit again and warming. Part two of the good news is last Saturday's win over Portland was their first in two months. Part three of the good news is the Galaxy can all but put a playoff berth in their pocket with wins over their next two opponents (at Houston, home to FC Dallas).
Filling out this last slot involved a good amount of agonizing. I vacillated between three choices before simply deciding the Loons have the fewest problems to work out these days. Real Salt Lake run as hot-and-cold as they come, while LAFC are currently without their three most important players. On the other hand, Adrian Heath has a deep, well-seasoned group working an ingrained system. They know exactly what to do as a group, and could be as dangerous as teams like Portland and Colorado if Adrien Hunou starts finishing plays on the regular.
Close but not quite:
- Real Salt Lake