Shea Salinas goal celebration with Andres Rios at LAFC
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The teams most deserving to make the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs | Andrew Wiebe

Before we get to the soccer talk, a message to every last one of you reading this column. You deserve freedom. You deserve justice. You deserve opportunity. You deserve equal rights under the law. We all, flawed as we may be, deserve to love and be loved. I love this North American soccer community, and I love all of you.

I love this country, too, despite its clear and obvious shortcomings. That statement would hold true no matter the election results, which will require patience. This experiment isn’t perfect, and let’s not pretend like it’s anywhere close to it. Instead, it’s our duty as citizens to demand what we deserve and what the Constitution guarantees us for the next four years and forever. Together.

In soccer, “deserve” is a loaded word. It means precisely nothing. It’s the language of blown leads, missed chances and points dropped. “We deserved more,” is what you say when you don’t get the job done.

In this game of ours, nobody “deserves” anything. They get what they’ve earned under the rules of the competition and via the quality of their performances. You might quibble with the rules of the competition this year, particularly if you’re below the playoff line in the Western Conference, but the fact is the performances are still the measuring stick.

The teams that get the most points per game are getting in, all 18 of them. If your team misses the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, it’s because the average results they earned weren’t good enough. Simple as that. Those performances were and are controllable, even if the circumstances are awfully difficult. Complaining about missing the postseason while you hover around 1 point per game and could have benefitted from a pandemic expansion of playoff places is a bad look.

Four golden tickets are left. Nine teams are desperate to get in the factory gates. Here’s who I’d like to see in the postseason field, for soccer and entertainment reasons. Don’t take any of this as an endorsement of their MLS Cup chances or their season accomplishments. In normal years, these are not playoff teams. This is not a normal year.

Finally, just to be clear, I left your team on the outside looking in to troll you, and specifically you.

Eastern Conference

Chicago Fire

Raphael Wicky’s Fire try to play good soccer. They have players who want the ball and can make the game flow when they have it, but they’re also not afraid to whomp it into Robert Beric’s feet and play bump and run. They’re also their own worst enemy, results disappearing with a poof thanks to unforced errors and run-of-play control that doesn’t translate to results.

Chicago are an entertaining, flawed team. They create a lot of chances (7th overall in MLS), chances from open play (8th) and big chances (3rd). They’re decent at home, and beyond poor on the road. Their wins, apart from taking down Seattle just days after the MLS is Back Tournament, are against non-playoff teams (CIN, HOU, ATL, DC). I can comfortably say that, in a normal year, I would never say they deserve anything.

I’m still not saying the Fire deserve this, but they’ve got quality, even if it hasn’t come to bear consistently, and they have a plan, though it often gets blown to smithereens by individual errors. What I’m saying is they have … something different than the teams around them. The bar is pretty low when you’re talking about 10th place in a 14-team conference. Having something interesting is enough for me to want to see them in the playoffs.

Inter Miami CF

Can Gonzalo Higuain help lead Inter Miami CF into the postseason?| USA Today Sports

I will not use the D word here. A playoff place would not be deserved. I’ll refer you back to my comment about a point-per-game clip being the mark of a mediocre team benefitting from unprecedented conditions.

I see a future in which Inter Miami handle FC Cincinnati at home, D.C. United beat Montreal and, because of tiebreakers, the expansion side gets in over Chad Ashton’s boys despite both finishing with 1.04 points per game. Honestly, I’d rather see D.C. in the field because their form is better. I just don’t think it’s going to happen.

Should my scenario play out, we’ll get more than a decent consolation prize. It could set up an all-expansion play-in game against Nashville SC, which is what we, the viewer, deserve after months/years of comparing the two approaches and roster builds. Just imagine the narratives!

Meanwhile, the questions for Miami are myriad. Is this just a blip from Gonzalo Higuain or is one goal in more than 700 minutes a warning sign? Is Blaise Matuidi leggy and adjusting to MLS or is he simply past the point of being a 90-minute protagonist? What is the identity of this team? What do they want to be? Why haven’t the young Argentines fired? Is 2020 just a false flag thanks to a disrupted transfer market and pandemic conditions?

I don’t expect a playoff game or two to give us definitive answers, but I do know I’m down for an Expansion Bowl battle royale. It’s the most entertaining option, and the one I’m taking.

Western Conference

Colorado Rapids

Despite a break in play because of a COVID-19 outbreak, the Rapids are on the verge of reaching the playoffs.| USA Today Sports

I’m going chalk out West. It’s boring for #content purposes, but I believe it’s the best thing for compelling playoff soccer (and also the most likely scenario).

The Rapids didn’t play for a month thanks to COVID-19, and they still appear to be a better soccer team than the teams chasing them in PPG, by the eye test and by the numbers, despite the gap in games played. That really says it all.

They’re not in yet, though. Prove it, Colorado. You’ve got to go to Portland and get a result to keep your healthy lead over the Whitecaps and Galaxy. You’ve got to go to Houston and handle business that ought to be handled. Don’t give anyone the opportunity to poke holes in your already skimpier resume.

San Jose Earthquakes

  • W-W-W-L-W-D-L-W … 16 points
  • L-L-W-W-L-W-L-L … 9 points
  • L-L-L-L-W-L-L-W … 6 points

That’s the eight-game form for the Earthquakes, Whitecaps and Galaxy. Form matters when it comes to playoff performance. I want the team trending up, the team liable to be in a 5-4 game, the team that believes against all odds in their unconventional approach. I want the San Jose Earthquakes, and I think they’ll make it, though Wednesday’s match against LAFC (11 pm ET | TV & streaming info) will be a stiff, stiff test.

Put it this way, what’s the marquee ride at an amusement park? It’s the roller coaster. Come playoff time, I’m riding the roller coaster. Hopefully it’s a good one.