While everybody’s filling out NCAA Tournament brackets (having worked in college athletics, I can’t bring myself to follow NCAA Division I men’s basketball anymore — doing so makes me feel dirty. Women’s college basketball and Division II and III men’s are another story, since they don’t have the same reek of exploitation), here’s my prediction for how the 2011 Major League Soccer standings will look by season’s end.
I’ve decided to list it in a single-table format rather than breaking it down by conference. The top ten will most likely be the playoff teams, unless the Eastern Conference turns out to suck vis-á-vis the West even worse than anybody thinks right now. I won’t guess point totals, other than to say I think things will be very, very tight, especially from fifth to fifteenth place. There will be a lot of teams that will miss the postseason by just a couple of points.
- Los Angeles Galaxy
- FC Dallas
- New York Red Bulls
- Real Salt Lake
- Seattle Sounders FC
- Colorado Rapids
- Columbus Crew
- San Jose Earthquakes
- Sporting Kansas City SC
- Philadelphia Union
- D.C. United
- Chicago Fire
- Portland Timbers
- CD Chivas USA
- Toronto FC
- Houston Dynamo
- Vancouver Whitecaps FC
- New England Revolution
One of the things that makes MLS predictions tough is that, as a whole, the league tends to improve quite a bit with each passing year. One team looks to be much improved, but you don’t know whether that’s enough compared to everyone else to make all that much of a difference. This is why I’ll end up saying Chicago and Chivas, for example, will be better than last year, but I still have them winding up 12th and 14th, respectively.
My ordering of teams from about #6 to #15 is basically a crapshoot. Clearly, I think Portland will be the better of the two expansion teams this year. Vancouver seems to be setting itself up to be a heck of a team in a couple of years, but this year will likely be necessary collateral damage from their long term plans. The only other two I see being truly bad are Houston and New England. Frankly, New England will have a season on par with D.C. United’s disaster last year or the Pink Cows’ epic 2009 adventure through the bowels of the standings.
Conversely, L.A., Dallas and New York will be the big three this year, with Seattle and Salt Lake knocking on their door. The way things stand right now, the Galaxy have to be the favorites (as much as I hate to say it) with Dallas (as much as I hate to say it) and the Soft Drink Commercials (as much as I hate to say it) giving them a run for their money. Meanwhile, RSL and Seattle will be looking to crack that top tier (and could very well do it, but so far I’m viewing the first three mentioned as the safer picks). So, yes, I’m picking the three teams I despise the most to finish one-two-three.
I wasn’t sure where exactly to put Colorado, as they tend to be a very hot-and-cold team, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt from being the reigning MLS Cup champions and put them sixth. If they do finish that high, it’ll probably be in part because they totally ignore the CONCACAF Champions League and crash out of the group stage in totally embarrassing fashion to MLS (I clearly don’t think the Rapids’ MLS Cup win in 2010 is the same as RSL’s surprise win in 2009: a harbinger of the rise of one of the league’s — and the continent’s — great teams).
I’m going a little out on a limb by thinking Columbus has reloaded in the off-season more than begun a rebuilding process. I saw San Jose play at Philadelphia last year, and they frankly impressed the heck out of me. The ‘Quakes are a very well-coached, well-disciplined team that plays very well together and doesn’t seem to need a lot of big star power. I was tempted to flip-flop their place with that of Colorado; if there’s a “sleeper pick” for 2011, it’s probably San Jose. KC always seems to be on the edge of being a fairly good team, and it’s a total guess of mine in putting them ninth.
D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago and Chivas will all be significantly improved over last year, but whether or not that’s good enough to get playoff spots is anybody’s guess. I will say I wouldn’t be surprised if a few or even all of them manage to crack the top ten by season’s end. I went with Philly at the top of that group, not out of personal bias, but rather out of the fact that when you look at the numbers from last year, they probably would have been a strong contender for a playoff spot if only they’d had a decent goalie. As long as Faryd Mondragón stays healthy, that problem’s been solved. If they’d had a decent goalie and held the red card/defensive brain farts to a minimum, they probably would have been in the playoffs as an expansion team last year. A year of experience for this young team and a few more acquisitions look like they’ll help there, too.
Toronto, which has spent every previous off-season retooling its staff and roster to the extent that it’s like getting an expansion team all over again, will see more of the same this year as it once again spent the off-season retooling its staff and roster to the extent that it’s like getting an expansion team all over again. At least this Toronto might-as-well-be-an-expansion team will be a little better than some of the others they’ve had, but it won’t make a difference against an equally improved league.