By now most MLS fans know who this guy is but for those that don’t its Carlos Vela. Super striker for LAFC (and the Mexican National Team). Last season we saw the single season MLS scoring record set by Atlanta FC’s Josef Martinez with 31 goals across his 34 games. But that record might be short lived if Vela continues his goal per game average. Currently after 22 games he sits on 22 goals. When a player is averaging a goal per game that is some world class scoring regardless of the league you are playing in!
Colorado Rapids – In the preseason review it was suggested that the Rapids had to makeup to make the playoffs this year. But that they were going to need to improve their goal differential over last season. Well first the good news…..Oh are you still waiting for the good news? Sorry but there just isn’t much to tout. Their attendance is down over 1,000 fans/game and they sit in last place in the conference a full 10 points out of the playoffs. And the preseason key? Not so good there either. They are sitting at minus 9 goal differential, fourth worst in the entire league. They have allowed 48 goals (only newcomer Cincy has allowed more) and that just isn’t going to cut it. Come October Rapids fans will have to find something else to do. Not sure what that will be though. Rockies aren’t making the MLB playoffs and things don’t look real good for the NFL Broncos either. Guess they have basketball and hockey.
FC Dallas – Preseason Dallas looked to be a maybe playoff team and that’s right where they are sitting. Currently in 7th, the last playoff spot, but only 2 points ahead of the Portland Timbers but the Timbers have 2 games in hand. The positive side has been that Dallas has been very good on defense allowing only 28 goals to date, 3rd best in the league. As the season gets into crunch time goal scoring gets tougher so the strong defensive teams tend to gain value. Look for Dallas to stay on the cusp of the playoffs right up to the last day of the regular season. Keep an eye on 19 year old Paxton Pomykal. The young midfileder may well get a transfer to Europe this winter (fingers crossed) and may be on the USMNT come WC 2022.
Houston Dynamo – Houston has historically been one of the best defense sides in all of MLS. Unfortunately they have slipped a bit this season and currently sit 3 points out of the playoffs. They play very well at home (7-3-3) but poorly on the road (2-8-0). Something will have to change for them to be in the mix come October. And they will need to change in a hurry. Coming off a home loss to Chicago, a game where they controlled possession but couldn’t score, they travel east this week for matches against NYFC and the Philadelphia Union. They could easily lose both of these matches and should feel lucky if they come home with a single point.
Los Angeles FC – What is there to say about LAFC that hasn’t been said already this season? Best in the league. Running away with it. Damn they are good. Lots of platitudes and they have earned them all. Just look no further than their last match. On the road to the Revs who were riding an 11 game unbeaten streak. LAFC said no big deal to us, we’ll just whip up on them 2-0. They have scored an insane 61 goals so far, 15 more than the next best in the league. All the while only allowing 23 goals (fewest in the league). A goal differential of +38. Lets put that number in perspective. That is higher than the number of goals 16 other teams have scored!! Simply put you can’t beat that. And nobody is, at least in LA. They are undefeated at home (9-0-1) and an MLS best on the road (7-3-3). They will make the playoffs. They will garner a first round bye. They will probably be at home the entire playoffs. They will be favored to win the Audi MLS Cup. Pressure?
Los Angeles Galaxy – Two things were prevalent in the preseason for the Galaxy. First was their need to improve their defense. And to that they have done ok so far and they find themselves solidly in the playoff mix currently in 5th. But they have also been a bit weak offensively and have a minus goal differential. The only Western Conference team currently in a playoff spot with such a statistic. The second thing was the proclamation from striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic that he would break Josef Martinez’s MLS scoring record this season. Well the record may well be broken but not by him. Although he certainly is having a very good season having scored 16 times. The problem is the entire team only has 14 goals scored by other players. That will need to improve down the stretch especially if Ibrahimovic leags start to tire. He is after all 37 years old. Now that said take a look at this goal. Not many players can do that ever let alone at 37.
And by the way he scored a hat trick in that match to lead the Galaxy past LAFC. So yes LAFC is not unbeatable…well except at home.
Minnesota United FC – A relative newcomer to MLS (joined in 2017) they have steadily progressed up the ranks but have failed to make the playoffs in their first two seasons. Good news Loon fans. They will this year! They are currently 2nd in the division and barring a real collapse down the stretch Loon fans should get their first shot at playoff fever come October and if things hold they will even get to see them at home. The Loon don’t score a ton of goals (39) but they are very stingy on defense having only allowed 30 so far, second best in the conference. And Loon fans are loving it. They began play this year in the brand new soccer specific stadium, Allianz Field. And fans have shown up to an average of 19,726/game. Not bad for a stadium with a capacity of 19,400!! Probably going to be a lot of sports excitement this fall in the Twin Cites with the Twins in the playoffs and the Vikings to be in the hunt for the NFC North crown. Good for the Twin Cities to have something to keep their mind off the gawd awful weather they face from November till March!
Portland Timbers – The key for the Timbers was simple. Find a way to not fall so low in the standings to stay within shouting distance until the renovations were finished on Providence Park. The Timbers had to start the season with a full two months of road matches until their first home game on June 1st. Starting with 12 straight away matches if just brutal in sports and the Timbers managed to survive going 4-6-2 over that stretch. They currently sit in 8th just 2 points out of the playoffs but with a game in hand. The Timbers have 12 games left in the MLS regular season but a whopping 11 of those are at home. Playing in front of an average of over 25,000 fans in green they should move up the table the rest of the way.
Real Salt Lake – Preseason projections had RSL near the playoff cut line and that’s right where they sit. Currently 6th in the conference but only a point ahead of Dallas and 3 points ahead of the Timbers (who have a game in hand). Its going to be a battle all the way to the end for them. They are, as with most teams, much better at home (8-2-1) than on the road (2-7-3). They do have a slightly more favorable schedule the rest of the way and they will need every advantage they can get. It would nice to see them make the playoffs in goalkeeper Nick Rimando’s final season. The career MLS leader in wins ought to see the playoffs one last time. I am pulling for them (my closest MLS team) but its going to be tough for them to see October.
San Jose Earthquakes – Its nice to see when a team ownership is really committed to trying to win. Club ownership hired Tom Fox in the summer of 2017 as the Club President. Bringing him over from a successful stint as the CEO for English side Aston Villa. Fox has made a number of changes to the club most noteworthy being the hiring of Matias Almeyda as the head coach last October. Have those moves worked? I’d say so! The Quakes are tied for 2nd in the conference and playing a well balanced blend of attacking soccer and solid defense. While they aren’t one of the best teams at home (8-3-2) they are still pretty good but they are one of the better teams on the road playing near .500 ball (3-4-3). In attack they are led by ageless Chris Wondolowski with 9 goals. Not bad for the 36 year old goal poacher. He isn’t fancy but he does find himself in the right spot at the right time. And if Wondo is not on form the Quakes have several other guys who can score as well including Vako, Shea Salinas, and Magnus Eriksson who have combined for 18 goals.
Seattle Sounders – Outside of Atlanta, no fans support an MLS team better than the Sounders drawing an average of just under 40,000 fans. And those fans are being well rewarded for their support as they see the Sounders sitting tied for second in the conference. Is going to be a dogifht the rest of the way to see how they fare compared to Minnesota and San Jose but history is on their side. The Sounders typically start slow and finish strong. This year they didn’t start too slow but likely no matter how strong they finish the best they can hope for is 2nd in the conference as nobody is catching LAFC. But a second place finish would guarantee them home field advantage until the Conference Final. I think most fans would find that a very good result.
Sporting Kansas City – Bluntly not the best season so far. While not out of the hunt they are sitting in 10th and 5 points out of the playoffs. The biggest surprise this season has been their defense. Historically one of the best teams in the league in keeping opponents out of the net they haven’t been that good this year. They have allowed 41 goals so far. Compare that to last year when they only allowed a mere 25 for the entire season. Suffice it to say that SKC is not going to win the conference like they did last year. Still the pieces are there led by Felipe Gutierrez (10 goals) and Tim Melia (73 saves) to see them into October. Bottom line is they need to play much better the rest of the way especially in the back.
Vancouver Whitecaps – Preseason projection said nope they are not a playoff contender. Where do they stand? Just as projected, next to last in the conference and only a point ahead of the Rapids who have a game in hand. They may well end up in last place in the conference come October. Surprisingly enough they are still getting really good support from their fans drawing just under 20,000 fans/game. Not sure why though as they have the 2nd worst goal differential in the league. Although BC is a hot bed of soccer and they don’t have a lot of professional sports pulling fans away. The CFL BC Lions are terrible too. Having only qualified for the playoffs once in the last three seasons and destined to fall short again this year, something needs to change up North.
The rest of the way is going to be the proverbial dogfight with 10 teams still with legit shots at the playoffs and four teams within a single point of each other vying for second. Going to be a fun ride!
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Written by Steve Birrer.Posted 2 weeks ago in Soccer.
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.