It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Why? Take a look at the Major League Soccer standings, and you’ll see one beautiful mess.
At the top of the league, you’ve got eight teams with at least a shot of winning the Supporters’ Shield. Seriously, if the planets align and you get wins this weekend from LA, Montreal, Sporting Kansas City and Colorado, there’s a chance you could be looking at six teams within two points of the top. A lot has to happen, but the possibilities are intriguing.
But today, we’re not here to talk about the top of the table. Even though the team with the most points at the end of the regular season gets a trophy, a ticket to CONCACAF Champions League and stands to host MLS Cup if it can get its work done in the playoffs, we’re not here to discuss that.
No, we’re here today to talk about the fire down below.
We’re here to talk about the Red Line.
For as much as it’s right to celebrate the team that finishes on top, it might just be a little more interesting to study that line in the standings that separates success from failure, at least in the short term.
Sure, there will be time when the playoffs are completed to rip apart teams who don’t get through the first round, or who bow out earlier than they’d hoped. And, of course, there are teams like D.C. United and Chivas USA, who are already planning for 2014.
But entry to the MLS playoffs is where all dreams become possible for a team. Not getting into the MLS playoffs is where all the hope built from the first day of training camp ends. It’s that simple.
And there have been historic closing runs through the years that have provided fans with some of their greatest thrills. The greatest example is the 2002 New England Revolution, who went 5-0-1 down the stretch, going from non-playoff team to first place in the East in that time, and playing their way all the way into the MLS Cup final, which they hosted (but lost) in Foxboro.
And we’re set up well for madness down the stretch once again, beginning this weekend. Just look at the games with playoff implications.
Portland Timbers FC (43 points) hosting Colorado Rapids (45 points) – With Dallas sitting three points below the Timbers, who sit just above the Red Line, this match is critical for Caleb Porter’s men.
Montreal Impact FC (45 points) hosting Vancouver Whitecaps FC (38 points) – Might be last call at the Red Line saloon for the Whitecaps if they don’t pull off an upset against the Impact.
Toronto FC (23 points) hosting Sporting KC (45 points) – TFC have the chance to make things interesting if they can win at home against Sporting, especially if …
Columbus Crew (35 points) hosting Chicago Fire (39 points) – … Chicago can win at Crew Stadium, the Fire will trail SKC by a mere three points and …
Houston Dynamo (40 points) hosting Chivas USA (26 points) – … if the Dynamo can win, coupled with a SKC loss at Toronto, we’ve got a hot mess just above the Eastern Conference Red Line.
Real Salt Lake (48 points) hosting San Jose Earthquakes (38 points) – Basically, if the Quakes are going to make a move for the playoffs, it has to start with three points in their 30th game.
New York Red Bulls (48 points) hosting FC Dallas (40 points) – Dallas can pull even on points with Portland with a win and a Timbers loss, which would set up a frantic final four games.
LA Galaxy (44 points) hosting Seattle Sounders FC (48 points) – Here’s a game that could push the Galaxy into the Supporters’ Shield battle, or push them back in danger of the drop.
Like I said, the most wonderful time of the year…