We're 33 weeks into the 2016 MLS season, so there are no more secrets. The teams that are winning are doing – by and large, anyway – the same things that they've been doing for months. The teams that are losing can say the same.
And so here we are, down to the wire and down to the last. Let's go around the entire league...
Good Times Bad Times
The best player on the best team in the league is Mauro Diaz, and he showed it by setting up a pair of goals in FC Dallas's 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders. Diaz's chip to Carlos "Methuselah" Ruiz is our Pass of the Week:
That may also end up being Diaz's final pass of the season. He was stretchered off minutes later after a collision with Seattle fullback Tyrone Mears, and early reports have Diaz being taken to the hospital. Slightly less early reports have Diaz with a torn Achilles, an injury that would sideline him probably until the middle of the next season (and yes, this is the Cthulhu-inspired nightmare that has haunted Dallas fans all year).
Add that to the fact that Kellyn Acosta also came off injured, and was reportedly on crutches after the game, and you have the ultimate Pyrrhic victory for FCD.
Dallas hold the Shield lead, and are one point away from becoming the first team in MLS history with back-to-back 60-point seasons. But they have to go on the road to LA next weekend and most likely get a result to claim the regular-season title, and even with Diaz and Acosta, that's a tough job. Without them, it seems like too steep a mountain to climb.
I think the door is open for Colorado...
The Rapids play a 4-2-3-1. On Thursday they trotted that formation out with striker Kevin Doyle – a No. 9 for life – playing in a "false 10" role, as Marcelo Balboa dubbed it. Doyle wasn't asked to pass, really. Instead he was asked to win second balls in midfield, harass the defense, and make late runs.
It worked. Colorado won 2-1 against San Jose, and at least gave themselves a chance.
And honestly, they should be in with more than a chance after putting Portland under pressure all day on Sunday before finally losing 1-0. Doyle hit the woodwork twice and, generally speaking, the Rapids did what they always do. The Timbers just happened to do it better.
So here's the scenario: Colorado host Houston at home next weekend, and as I mentioned, Dallas go on the road to LA. Anything but a Colorado win guarantees the Shield for Dallas. Any Dallas result, however – win or draw – means FCD take the Shield.
"We’re in uncharted waters as a club at the moment," Pablo Mastroeni said after the game. "There’s moments where you go on the road to Portland and you think ‘Well why didn’t you guys win? You’re chasing the Supporters’ Shield.' But the reality is we’ve had three games in eight days. We’re a group that’s on the rise and really pushing the boundaries of the group. With guys coming in, coming out, playing a ton of minutes. Guys on this roster having the best seasons of their careers, there’s a lot of things going in. What we need to do to get the three points [against] Houston is continue doing what we’ve done all year."
Hey Hey What Can I Do
It's too many points squandered over too many weeks for the New York Red Bulls to defend their Shield, but they have not lost since July 3. This is a team that has covered over their defensive flaws with week after week after week of relentless attacking pressure, and in Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan have the most productive 10-9 combination in the league.
Following Sunday's 3-2 win over Columbus BWP now has a three-year goal haul of 67, which is six better than the previous league mark. Kljestan, meanwhile, picked up his 18th and 19th assists – tied for second in league history. Only one person (Carlos Valderrama had 26 in 2000) has had 20+ assists in a season.
The most important goal, however, was scored by winger Mike Grella. If RBNY are to finally claim an MLS Cup – and honestly, they play the best soccer in the league so now's as good a time as any – they need a third threat. Kljestan and BWP are always there, but this year's version of the Red Bulls have lacked goalscoring from the flanks and they know it.
"Sometimes I think Mike's really hard on himself. As things maybe don't start coming his way from a scoring perspective, he starts to think too much. And so even he and I talked a little bit about the zone and players who talk about in the zone, and Michael Jordan is one of those players, right, where he said actually when I was in the zone, I wasn't even thinking," RBNY head coach Jesse Marsch tried to explain afterward. "And in some ways, you know, it's not like I wanted him to start thinking, but I wanted him to stop putting so much pressure on himself and I wanted him to just go out and enjoy playing.
"I said in a lot of our lead-ups to games lately that Mike has been really good at training and we've seen his form pick up and he's looked really good. And I'll say that to just about all our guys; our group is fired on all cylinders and we're excited for the next couple months."
This team shouldn't be overthinking it. They're pretty well defined, and pretty well unbeatable when they're locked in. That's a good formula for November and beyond.
A few more things to ponder...
8. Gregg Berhalter has been experimenting with some new personnel in Columbus, and he may have hit upon something: Adam Jahn had three goals in two games this week for Crew SC. Granted they only got one point from those two games, but look at this:
That's pure filth. Columbus drew 2-2 at Chicago midweek before that 3-2 loss at New York, and this added depth up top can perhaps lead to a bit of flexibility and activity on the trade market this offseason for a team that may very well need some new blood on the backline.
7. Also in need of new blood on the backline are the New England Revolution. They're not officially eliminated from the playoffs yet, but considering they're three points and 12 goals behind the Philadelphia Union, it's safe to say 2016 is over for the Revs following their 2-1 loss to the Fire on Sunday.
Expect a fairly busy offseason for New England. But at the same time, expect the front six – providing Gershon Koffie gets healthy – to look a lot like it did in September for those few weeks when the Revs were unstoppable.
6. LA played a 4-4-2 with Gio Dos Santos and Alan Gordon up top against Houston, along with Landon Donovan on the flank. This formation is very, very similar to what the team looked like in 2014 when they won MLS Cup.
A 1-0 road win at the Dynamo is a nice start, but there's got to be more to come for LA to claim their sixth MLS Cup.
5. There also has to be more to come from San Jose, who scored one goal over two games this week. First was that 2-1 loss at Colorado at midweek, before a scoreless draw at home against Vancouver on Sunday.
4. Philadelphia lost 2-0 at home to Orlando City, and are backing into the playoffs only because the Revs couldn't beat Chicago. The issue for Philly is twofold: First, C.J. Sapong is no longer goal dangerous. Second, because Sapong is no longer goal-dangerous they have to send more guys forward and takes more risks, and that leads to breakaways in the other direction.
It is dumb to say "the problem with this team is that they don't score goals," but... for real. They've scored only five in their last six, and every time out it seems like they're throwing another fullback forward. That makes for exciting soccer, but it's also made for some sad fans in Chester.
3. The trials and tribulations of playing against Dom Dwyer, expressed via ripped garments:
Nobody in the league is playing better soccer than D.C. United, who mostly dominated NYCFC in a 3-1 win on Sunday.