Morning Morning Center Back: Here comes the West

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Yes, I will admit it. I thought the MLS Western Conference was toast, a collection of speed bumps, a series of rest stops on the way to legitimate soccer in the stronger Eastern Conference. There was a clear gap between the East and West not too long ago, as evidenced by a lop-sided record in favor of the East. That record make it a foregone conclusion that the East would snatch five of the eight playoff spots, with the West settling for three.

Now, don’t be so sure about that.

The West posted an impressive 8-4-4 record against the East in September, including a dominant 5-1-1 mark in the past two weeks. That collective success has helped Western teams close in on their Eastern Conference counterparts for the league’s final playoff spots.

Now, not only has Real Salt Lake moved past D.C. United in the playoff race, giving the West back a fourth playoff spot, but now FC Dallas has pulled to within two points of the New York Red Bulls, the fourth-place team in the East.

Yes, that’s right, the West could wind up with five teams in the playoffs.

So how did this happen? How did the East suddenly slip enough to let the West catch up? There are several factors that have gone into the balance of power in MLS shifting Westward. Here are a few:

Toronto FC collapses, San Jose awakens

Back in June you would have figured TFC to be a potential playoff contender while San Jose was looking capable of setting a league record for futility. How things have changed. TFC has fallen into a horrendous rut, brought on by terrible offense, worsening defense and international call-ups that have made finding consistency near impossible. Now TFC has gone 1-8-5 in its past 14 matches, with the team’s fighting for playoff spots in the West (Real Salt Lake, Chivas USA and FC Dallas) accounting for four of those eight defeats. The team’s in the East’s trailing pack (New York, D.C. United and KC) have accounted for just two of those eight TFC losses).

While Toronto has collapsed, San Jose has gone the other way. Before this past weekend’s loss to Real Salt Lake, the Earthquakes were riding a nine-match unbeaten strike spurred on by a boat-load of new acquisitions. The improved ‘Quakes feasted on Eastern Conference competition during that time, going 3-0-2, while their record against the West during that span was a not-as-impressive 1-0-3.

Chivas USA gets healthy, D.C. United falls apart

Here are two other teams whose fortunes have been reversed in the past two months. When Brad Guzan left Chivas USA for Aston Villa, the Goats looked doomed. Injuries to Ante Razov and Maykel Galindo, coupled with the team’s need for a replacement for Guzan, made it feel like there was little reason for hope on the red side of Home Depot Center.

Then along came that wounded team from Toronto, which faced the Goats twice in a row and gave Chivas USA a pair of vital victories that helped spark the club on a 4-1 run that now has Chivas USA in sole possession of second place in the West (and yes, three of those four wins came against the East).

While Chivas USA was getting healthy and finding form, D.C. has been in shambles. Injuries to Marcelo Gallardo, Fred, and Gonzalo Peralta (among others) have had D.C. scrambling to field a potent lineup and the results haven’t been pretty. After Sunday’s loss to FC Dallas, D.C. United dropped to 0-3-1 for the month of September, with all four matches having come against West opponents.

Rapids say goodbye to Clavijo

When the Colorado Rapids parted ways with Fernando Clavijo in late August, two straight losses following the move made it appear as if the change would do nothing for the struggling squad. That was until September rolled around. Saturday’s 5-4 victory against the Rapids capped a perfect month for Colorado, which went 3-0-1 in September under interim head coach Gary Smith (with wins against Chicago and New York). Now instead of being on the outside of the playoff race, the Rapids head into October tied for third place in the West.

These are just some of the key factors that have gone into the West waking up in time to make things extremely interesting in the final month of the regular season. With as many as four of the league’s eight playoff spots still up for grabs, the West Revival is just what MLS needs to keep interest going in the league as we make our way through the fall.

What do you think of the West revival? Think the West will wind up with five playoff teams? Think East strugglers D.C. and New York will wake up to help the East keep five playoff spots?

Share your thoughts below.

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20 Responses to Morning Morning Center Back: Here comes the West

  1. Mario in SJ says:

    Ives,

    With Colorado’s record of 3-0-1 for Sept it would be interesting to get an inside view on exactly what is the new coach doing that the old coach wasn’t.

    They are pretty much the same team!

  2. RapidsMan says:

    If only Clavijo would have left sooner!

  3. brett says:

    assuming the fire can keep up their pace and strike at least the 3rd spot, i truely dont care how many west teams make it… perhaps with the fewer east sides, we may actually see a East side win the league, as apart to previous years where the East dominated in spots, yet failed at the championship O.o

    GO FIRE!!!

  4. Strider says:

    While the West’s comeback is impressive, I still think the east will get 4 playoff spots (Clb, NE, Chi, & NY), but now doubt they will get 5. DCU has looked so poor lately and they still have an overloaded schedule with the non-MLS games to hang with the teams that aren’t as stretched. For some teams, falling out of outside competitions is allowing them to focus on MLS.

  5. brett says:

    are the Crapids playing with any different players with the interm then they did with Clavijo?? or is it possible that they are simply playing better under the interm??

  6. RapidsMan says:

    Mario,

    I could go into detail about all the faults FC had, but it would take to long. I will just mention a few.

    Practices consisted of running….thats about it no actual coaching of any kind.

    He did not watch game tape of the teams they were going to play.

    He told players to play certain postions,but did not offer up any tactics. When he subbed off players he did not explain to them what they were doing wrong.

    He was to quick to give up on young players.

    Those are just a few.

    Things are different now when I go to watch practices. They fight to win! Even if it is the smallest of drills. Also Gary gets into the action, he explains everything. He has brought confidence to our team.

  7. brett says:

    Strider – DCU are out of the race… their schedule is too clustered and they are riddled with injuries… perhaps NJ taking the 4th, and IF the East get the 5th, it would be KC…. but i wouldnt hold your breath O.o

    i think RBNJ will muster up the wild card 4th spot for the east, but then the 8th spot will be a toss up …. with KC being 2 points behind the the 8th spot race, its really a toss up on who’s going to come out and play the remaining of the season

  8. Mario in SJ says:

    Thanks Rapids Man.

    Watching them beat NY ceratainly gave me the feeling they were fighting to win.

  9. Strider says:

    One other question for the Rapids contingent. Didn’t Cory Gibbs come onto the team about the same time FC departed? Is his help in the defense having an impact? I haven’t gotten to see the Rapids play lately. Thanks.

  10. Steve says:

    I don’t think that 4th spot in the East going to NY is any sure bet with their schedule down the stretch. After TFC this weekend they are staring down @RSL (for their stadium opening), Columbus, @Chicago. This has to be a must win for the Bulls.

  11. RapidsMan says:

    Strider,

    If you would have seen the game on Saturday night you would have seen that Gibbs was our biggest liability.

    However, other than that game Gibbs has become a leader in the back.

    Also, look to Kimura(a young guy that fell out of favor with FC after a knock) he has been a beast. Combine those two with Petke and newcomer Harvey and you have a decent defense.

    Its no Chicago or Houston, but for the most part they get the job done.

  12. James says:

    Amazing.

    FC Dallas plays Columbus close (closer than most teams), then turns around and smokes Chicago IN CHICAGO and then torches DC United, and they get no mention. Funny, Colorado beats Chicago 1-0, yet they get a mention.

    Maybe – just maybe – the fall of Toronto had something to do with the loss of Cunningham who has been on a tear with Dallas.

    Add that to the fact that the team seems to be adjusting to the way the coach runs his ship and buying into his system, and you finally have all that talent on the team pulling in the same direction.

    Dallas may or may not make the playoffs this season – but they are going to make whoever does earn it.

  13. RapidsMan says:

    James,

    Just for fun…

    We beat Dallas on the road, Chicago(2-0 Btw), tied NE, and Beat NY.

    All of those teams were pretty good.

    Dallas wins and ties at DC who have gone winless in 5 straight, lost to us, but you did have a covincing win over Chicago.

    But overall our September was a bit better than yours.

  14. brett says:

    james- i think FCD has been so inconsistant this season, expecting them to continue their current form for the remaining 4 games is iffy at best… if they can maintain it, the they could very well make it…. they’ve got the fire power as shown in the past 2 weeks…

  15. Alex says:

    It’s almost like I predicted it…

    link to soccerbyives.net

    Chivas USA’s poor season has largly been the result of injuries. If you look at the stats and and compare games that Kljestan, Razov, or Esky were available, you will see goals were scored. Without those key players, goals weren’t. Most games were played with only one of those three attacking options.

    Same comment can be reversed for the defense.

    My point is that the team is starting to look healthy (for once) Only seven people are on the injury list (only). Esky, Razov and Kljestan are available and healthy. This is good relativly speaking. Their best squad all season could be on the field Saturday, and they are still missing Galindo, Marsch and a few others.

    Posted by: Alex | September 17, 2008 at 07:03 PM

  16. Brant says:

    @ James

    “Maybe – just maybe – the fall of Toronto had something to do with the loss of Cunningham who has been on a tear with Dallas.”

    I don’t think trading away a guy who wasn’t playing anyway (and was banished to the JV locker room) somehow made TFC play worse, but it sure seems to have helped FCD.

  17. kpugs says:

    The two Rapids guys:

    Look a win is a wain. I won’t deny that or try to make excuses. But did you watch the game? An under-11 team could have put of 5 against that defense on Saturday.

    I’m sure the Rapids have been playing well given their September record. But having seen only their most recent match this month if you want to stay positive you might want to focus on their prior wins. They did, after all, just give up FOUR goals, even if they snuck five past the worst defensive performance I’ve seen by this team in several seasons.

    Again…the Rapids are on fire, I don’t deny it. I just hope for your sake there are more positives to take from their other September games than there were from Saturday.

  18. alex says:

    whoa, did someone suggest that Jeff Cunningham leaving had something to do with Toronto’s fall?

    Not all his fault (the team is strategically flawed) but he was practically wearing goal repellant evey time he got on the field. He didn’t do much.

    Despite cooling off a bit as of late, I think RSL has impressed me the most. They are playing liquid football by MLS standards :)

  19. James says:

    First off, not trying to take anything away from Colorado. Just trying to say that Dallas’ resurgence has had enough to do with the West regaining stature to be included in the conversation.

    Second, if you go back to the second LA game here, we beat up on them 4-0, won the only road game at TFC at the time (has anyone won there since? I know Columbus didn’t), played pretty close with Columbus home and away, had a struggling set of games with KC and Colorado, but then put together two dominating performances against Chicago and DC. That is a pretty solid run outside the KC and Colorado games.

    Third – spot on about Chivas – they are going to be dangerous in the playoffs. If Houston doesn’t survive the CCL in a way that allows them to regain their form for the MLS playoffs, they could be in big trouble with Chivas leading the way to take them down.

  20. James says:

    Oh, and as for Cunningham – I was more pointing to the fact that they had talent and didn’t hold onto it.