If you're like most of the visitors to this fine online establishment, it's likely, dear reader, that you've recently accessed our standings page and noticed the astounding lack of separation among the top four teams out West:
This is perhaps best reinforced in that the Vancouver Whitecaps, Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders have each held claim to No. 1 this month. Prior to that trio – believe it or not – were the Houston Dynamoe (August 14), then Sporting Kansas City (July 31-Aug. 7) and before-the-fall FC Dallas (July 24).
With no more than six games on anyone's docket, let's take a spin through the contenders and see how the battle for the West regular season title is about to shake out.
Currently: 13-9-6 (1st)
Points: 45 | Goal Differential: +6
Remaining Matches: vs. COL, @ SEA, @ SKC, @ NY, vs. SJ, @ POR
The Case For: They're peaking at the right time!
The Case Against: Name their best player … We'll wait.
The 'Caps sit atop the standings after a gradual, season-long ascent. Carl Robinson, finally provided a full complement of post-injury players, has his team of runners flying downfield and finishing. But the closing slate is unforgiving – five of six opponents above the playoff line, four matches on the road (including their three competitors here). It's been a surprising run, but ends short of the summit.
Currently: 12-10-8 (2nd)
Points: 44 | Goal Differential: +3
Remaining Matches: vs. ORL, @ SJ, vs. DC, vs. VAN
The Case For: So much talent in the attack
The Case Against: No truly sustained success, and a couple of real clunkers.
Oh, Portland. You tempting fruit of all soccer everything. The overall momentum is there, as is the XI and Diego Valeri, firing on unknown-even-to-him-level cylinders in a potentially MVP-worthy campaign (It's him or Villa. Full stop.) And yet, just doesn't feel like this is the year. Soft, soft final four though. Possible they take 12, but bank on 7. [Sad trombone]
Sporting Kansas City
Currently: 11-6-11 (3rd)
Points: 44 | Goal Differential: +13
Remaining Matches: vs. LA, vs. VAN, @ MIN, @ HOU, vs. HOU, @ RSL
The Case For: That defense! The cohesion!
The Case Against: We're pretty sure their offense is good enough. Pretty sure.
Last year, the Colorado Rapids showed a historically good defense could carry a deep playoff run. What it couldn't do was the one thing that ultimately decides the match: put balls past the opposing 'keeper. The clutch moment never came, Seattle advanced to MLS Cup, and that, as they say, was that. This year's SKC team is about to enter the playoffs able to pounce. If Gerso, Diego Rubio and Latif Blessing can make the magic happen, Sporting goes from (very) good to great mighty fast.
Also, none of those final six matches give me pause until we hit the finale at RSL … when Kansas City will be cruising through the result.
Currently: 11-7-11 (4th)
Points: 44 | Goal Differential: +7
Remaining Matches: @ RSL, vs. VAN, @ PHI, vs. DAL, vs. COL
The Case For: They're undefeated in 13 games
The Case Against: … with like a million draws. Also, JoMo Fever is not contagious in Year Two.
Fine, fine: Seattle's not poorly positioned here. If they pick off points at the RioT on Saturday, then top Vancouver mid-week, it's cold chillin' the rest of the way for the Rave Green. But Jordan Morris is out for a while, and the last two weeks of draws (1-1 at LA and 0-0 in Dallas) were mostly uninspiring. Can Will Bruin step ably into the void? Track record says he'll be competent, though not quite game-changing. And whither Cristian Roldan?
Sorry to break it to you, Cascadia – Sporting Kansas City is the pick to snag that No. 1 seed, which means it's a three-team brawl for the other bye. Embrace the mayhem.