MLS – All Star Break Ups and Downs Part 1
It was a long wet night for the MLS All Stars last night as they fell to La Liga powerhouse Atletico Madrid in the summer MLS All Star Game. Before a sell out crowd of over 25,500 fans at Orlando FC’s home, Exploria Stadium. While the All Stars had some shining moments they struggled to finish in the final third. Something Atletico didn’t struggle with on the road to their 3-0 win. The fans did have plenty to see though and likely got to see fan favorites Chris Wondolowski and Nick Romando play in their last MLS All Star games. You never know about the ageless Wondo who set the all time MLS goal scoring record earlier this year (and has tallied 9 on the season), but Rimando has already announced his retirement at the end of the season. After 20 full seasons as a professional Rimando is finally packing it in as a player. But we may well see him on the sidelines still in a coaching capacity?
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
So with the MLS season about 2/3 finished its crunch time. Teams have just over two months solidify or make a run at their playoff chances. So lets see how the final stretch is looking and how that compares to the preseason Eastern Conference expectations laid out back in this spring.
Atlanta United FC – Last year’s MLS champions are still looking strong. Losing a quality manager like Tata Martino is never a good thing. But Frank de Boer has taken over and done a superb job. They are still extremely tough to beat at home having gone 8-1-3 to date. Playing in front of an average home crowd of over 51,000 certainly is a big plus. However, on the road, they are a different team having a meager 3-8-0 record. Clearly come playoff time Atlanta wants to be at home. Currently second in the conference, they likely will get a home match or two come the playoffs. And they still have an attack led by Josef Martinez who has scored 17 goals, good for second in the league.
Chicago Fire – Going into the season there were a lot of question marks surrounding the Fire. Two thirds the way through the season there still are and they find themselves second from the bottom in the conference. Being 9 points, 3 full games, from the playoff cut its likely that the Fire will be watching the post season on tv. They are just ok at home (5-2-6) but winless on the road (0-8-3) and that just isn’t going to cut it. And their fans are not happy with their play either as they have the lowest attendance in the league averaging under 12,000. At least Chicago has the Cubs.
FC Cincinnatti – Well as it goes for most expansion teams in sports, Las Vegas Golden Knights hockey not withstanding, first seasons are difficult. Cincinnatti has two problems. First they don’t score. They have found the back of the net only 22 times in their first 23 matches. “Good” for last in the league. They have allowed 53 goals, also “good” for first in the league. When a team averages a whopping -1.3 goal differential/game, well lets just be nice and say you won’t win much. But also like expansion teams, they do tend to have solid attendance. And Cinncy fans are showing up in droves to the tune of over 27,000 fans/match. That is good for third in the league. With such fan support, if the team can start to put some quality on the field this side could grow to be a perennial power.
Columbus Crew SC – Columbus starter the season on a high note before they played a single match. They were staying in Columbus. However, their fan support has been less than enthusiastic drawing just over 13,000/game, second worst in the league. And the Crew haven’t been playing well either. Mired in the middle of the bottom half of the division they will have to make a really big push the rest of the way to make the playoffs. Probably not going to happen especially given that they have the second worst goal differential in the conference.
DC United – The preseason expectations for DC were that they should be a strong playoff contender. Especially if they could keep Wayne Rooney healthy and fit. Well so far so good. DC sits tied for second in the conference and just one game out of first. And Rooney? With 11 goals he is fifth in the league. Not bad for a 33 year old striker plus he also leads the team in assists. With a stingy defense that has only allowed 26 goals they are well positioned to make a playoff run.
Montreal Impact – The Impact currently find themselves sitting in sixth in the conference. Good enough for a playoff spot. The bad news is that they have very little room for error. They sit on 33 points, one behind the Red Bulls, tied with the Revolution, and one point ahead of Toronto. But all three of those teams have a game in hand. For any given match day these four teams can go from a in to out so it will be an interesting watch the rest of the way. Given that they have the worst goal differential between these four teams it will be hard for them to find themselves on the inside at the end of the season.
New England Revolution – The preseason rumble around NE was whether or not manager Brad Freidel could get the team heading in the right direction. His first season was marginal at best and team ownership (led by NFL Patriots owner Robert Kraft) wanted to see marked improvement. Well they didn’t and Freidel didn’t last long being replaced in mid-May with Bruce Arena. Under Arena is so far so good. In fact when they host league leading LAFC on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium, they will have a chance to set a club record unbeaten run at 12 games. With a game in hand over conference leader Philadelphia Union, they can move to within one game of first place. Lots of time left but look for the Revs to make the playoffs.
New York FC – Casual fans may look at the standing as think that NYFC are just playing well enough to creep into the playoffs. Plus they are but one point ahead of their cross town rival Red Bulls. But the key is to look at the all important games played column. NYFC has only played 20 matches thus far, two fewer than every other team in the league. And look even closer. They have played 3 or 4 fewer matches than every other playoff contender in the conference. They have the best points/game stat in the conference! If they stay healthy they have a strong shot to finish at or at least near the top of the conference.
New York Red Bulls – No surprise here really. They are well positioned for a playoff spot. However, their home record is a bit of a surprise. Having gone only 7-4-1, they have the most home losses of any of the teams currently in the playoff mix. Of course, the flip side is that they also have the most away wins of any teams in the hunt. Unusual as it is, it makes them a tough team to figure. Home field advantage is usually very big in soccer especially come playoff time. Might not be the case with this team?
Orlando FC – Sitting six points out of the last playoff spot things don’t look real good for Orlando’s post season hopes. Too many teams above them to hope they can pass several to make a run. Possible but not likely. Teams with losing records at home rarely make the playoffs. Just can’t make up enough ground on the road. Some good news for Orlando fans though. They got to host the All Star game and put on a good show across the board. They are averaging almost 23,000 fans/game. I was in Orlando two weeks ago on some business and their purple logo was everywhere. Billboards, apparel, bumper stickers, etc. Good to see and it bodes well for the future.
Philadelphia Union – As pointed out in the preseason review, the Union had made a lot of changes and brought in some young talented players. While they looked to have a playoff shot this year a more reasonable expectation was they could be good if not really good in 2020. Well one thing about youth. They can overachieve and come on earlier than expected and that is happening in Philly this season in spades. They sit atop the conference by a full game albeit having played one more than most teams. Their 41 goals is good for most in the conference so its no fluke either. They play an exciting attacking style of soccer. Hopefully their fan interest will increase as we get near the playoffs. The Phillies being just 1/2 game out of the NL Wild Card standing certainly isn’t helping them any. But nonetheless you have to put the Union up at the head of the list of first half surprises. The real question will be can they handle the pressure as the season winds down. Whiel they score in bunches they also allow goals in bunches. When you get to crunch time and especially in the playoffs it becomes harder to score. Will their defense be able to hold up?
Toronto FC – Toronto fan support is the opposite of the Union. The Blue Jays stink so they aren’t keeping fans away from soccer games. TFC is averaging almost 25,000 fans/game. Pretty darn strong for a team that currently is on the outside looking in at the playoffs. However they are good enough that they could easily make the playoffs. The real issue becomes what could they do if they get there? The key for Toronto will be if Jozy Altidore can continue to score. While he only has 9 goals on the season he has also only played in 13 matches having missed a bunch due to the Gold Cup and injury. He is averaging 0.87 goals/90 minutes which is good for third in the league. If he stays fit the rest of the way they could be in good shape. But as always with Altidore that’s a big if.
There’s a look at the Eastern Conference. Part 2, the Western Conference will follow in a few days. In the meantime some big games this weekend:
Atlanta FC hosts LA Galaxy Saturday at 5pm EDT on Fox
New England Revolution hosts LAFC Saturday at 730pm EDT on MLS and ESPN+
DC United hosts Philadelphia Union Sunday at 730pm EDT on FS1
Seattle Sounders host Sporting KC Sunday at 10pm EDT on FS1
Steve is an avid fan of all things soccer and the O's. Originally from the west, he grew up in the Baltimore area. He returned to the west for college where he earned a BS degree in Chemical Engineering from Montana State University and spent 36 years working at the Idaho National Laboratory prior to retiring in 2013. It was during his school years in Baltimore where he learned to play soccer and that developed into a life long passion. He played competitively for over 40 years and was a four year starting goalkeeper at MSU. He also coached and refereed in the Idaho premier soccer and High School programs for many years.