By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)
In most sports after an All-Star game, the remaining portion of the schedule is called the “second half of the season.” But with the manner in which Major League Soccer administers it's schedule and the general accumulation of games that are played during that time period, I look at it slightly different. I look at pre-All-Star game as the first act, the All-Star game is intermission, and post All-Star is the second act.
In other words, Soccer is straight drama. The great Bill Shakespeare once said:
As the page turns anew, I submit to you that we are only one third of the way through this great 2015 story. Strap in and let's take a look at what we have going on this season.
The Major Characters:
Toronto FC (Shield: 21%, Playoffs: 99.7%, according to our probabilities) – The curse that follows the Reds seems hell bent on ruining every chance this team has. Despite having the most dynamic and triumphant talent in MLS at this moment in Giovinco (hands down the MVP for the season, regardless of if he even played another game) they seem to be handcuffed game-to-game with Jozy Altidore's health and Michael Bradley's performance. Despite being our leaders in probability for the Supporters' Shield out of the Eastern Conference, nothing is guaranteed for the giants north of the border.
New York Red Bulls (Shield: 11.6%, Playoffs: 98.6%) – Say what you want, but this the team has a great chance for the Supporters' Shield according to our model. They did what was needed to get better by adding to their very talented pool of players with Shaun Wright-Phillips strengthening an area of weakness on the wings.
FC Dallas (Shield: 29.5%, Playoffs: 99.1%)– Oh, yeah that team that always fades after the first two amazing months of the season has not faded to this point. In fact, they've won five straight games. The question is how they are going to manage their fitness in the second half and will they be able to keep up with the teams that injected additional talent into their teams. Fabian Castillo has arguably been the best player in the Western Conference not named Benny Felihaber and could have an MVP case should Big D find it's way to their first Supporters' Shield.
Sporting Kansas City (Shield: 14.2%, Playoffs: 94.3%) – The hype surrounding Benny Feilhaber is approaching hyperbolic stature and yet it still seems as though more will be needed for US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to call him into camp. A Shield and an MVP trophy would go a long way to further his case.
Vancouver Whitecaps (Shield: 12.2%, Playoffs: 95.7%) – At times the Whitecaps seem like the best team in MLS. Octavio Rivero burst into the scene and Pedro Morales picked up where he left off last season as an MVP caliber talent. But they drop random matches they shouldn't and have inexplicable breakdowns. They're probably the best team out of Cascadia, right now. Unfortunately I don't think that's saying a lot.
DC United (Shield: 2.9%, Playoffs: 98%) – We count them out perpetually but somehow they just keep winning and winning and winning. It drives me crazy, but there is enough to think adding Alvaro Saborio makes them more than formidable going forward. The primary concern is whether the team can stave off the decline of Saborio, Fabian Espindola, Chris Rolfe and Sean Franklin, all on the wrong side of 30, to make a run towards silverware.
The Supporting Cast:
Seattle Sounders (Shield: 5.2%, Playoffs: 87.8%) – The Rave Green are the Jon Snow conundrum <<<POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT>>>; Have they been killed off or will they arise in this next act? Can Obafemi Martins, Clint Dempsey and Brad Evans be enough help this phoenix arise from the ash?
LA Galaxy (Shield: 1.1%, Playoffs: 73.6%) – Steven Gerrard's first two games are enough for me to eat a giant Costco sized humble pie. Then they went and sent truck loads of money to Europe and grabbed Gio Dos Santos, adding to their excellent pick-up of Sebastian Lleteget, who is looking like a possible DP caliber player himself. Add a healthy Robbie Keane and you have a team that looks like they have some how managed to swipe the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak and become the Juggernaut of MLS.
Columbus Crew (Shield: 0.07%, Playoffs: 88.8%) – Grabbing goals leader Kei Kamara for his second stint in black and gold seems to be one of the shrewdest moves of off-season. So much talk went into whether or not his game as a winger would convert to being a lone striker. His game has adapted, Ethan Finlay's evolution has further developed this season, and the potent attack pieces already in place in Columbus can finally couple the solid defense.
New England Revolution (Shield: 0.00%, Playoffs: 65.7%) – Jermaine Jones' health problems this season have gone a long way to hinder the high expectations and dreams of the Revs and their fans. Dating back to the first of June, the first game Jones went missing, Jay Heaps and company have only managed 7 of 27 possible points and a miserable .77 points per game ratio. They're crashing and NYCFC/OCSC are licking their chops.
Montreal Impact (Shield: 0.01%, Playoffs: 76.9%) – I mean no disrespect here by calling them a 'cameo appearance'. The arrival of Didier Drogba in the airport at Montreal was unreal and he's going to do something so fetch in this league. But they're too far gone to become a serious title contender and still need a couple of pieces to challenge for it over a full season. That said, they very well could push beyond the 5th seed and into something of a disruptor in act two.
Portland Timbers (Shield 0.08%, Playoffs: 61.3%) – A year and change late but it looks like the Timbers might have finally fixed the hitch in their giddy up. Sure, they added yet another young Argentinian in Lucas Melano and that's exciting, but the defensive problems that plagued them for years look finally to be resolved. The additions of Nat 'Treebeard' Borchers and Jorge Villafana, integration of DP Liam Ridgewell and development of Alvas Powell have turned their back line into something resembling an MLS Cup contender.
Orlando City (Playoffs: 25%) – Kaka.
I don't mean to be naive but I don't see much on this roster that leads me to believe they are anything specifically special. It's been great to see a resurgent Brek Shea be an impact talent, but the signing of Javier 'Chichirito' Hernandez falling through the cracks and the failure to find a striker that can help Kaka and the fact he is doing EVERYTHING on the attack gives me concern.
New York City FC (Playoffs: 24.8) – The mad scientist experiment of MLS. Throwing together a bunch of high end talent and surrounding it with a collection of blue collar, hard working, journeyman types that are just going to run all over the field. They could challenge for a late spot in the playoffs if everything gels or could be a terrific tire fire on I-95. Anything in between is going to be a lot less fun. At least we know they have the best hair in the league.
San Jose Earthquakes (Playoffs: 39.8%) – The blessings of Dominic Kinnear, priest of MLS, have been disrupted by injuries and absences due to CONCACAF call-ups. It's possible, though unlikely, whatever mysticism Kinnear uses at the end of the season is used once more to get the Goonies into a late play off spot. That however is going to require a few different clubs to drop stumble and I'm not sure that's very likely.
Houston Dynamo (Playoffs: 25.3%) – The analytics experiment that is Houston is still wanting, but there probably isn't much they're going to be able to do to the end of the season so for now I think we can give Matt Jordan a bit of a pass. The arrival of Erik 'Cubo' Torres is obviously going to help the attack and take the pressure to the other team. The hope and dream would be they stabilize the offense and find a way to produce the consistent goal scoring needed to be an above average team going into next year with a defense that is arguably one of the best in MLS. Still, Brad Davis and Damarcus Beasley aren't getting any younger.
Real Salt Lake (Playoffs: 14%) – The addition of Luis Silva gives them a great piece to couple with Javier Morales or even possibly replace has his time on the pitch slowly ends. A healthy Joao Plata and Nick Rimando are all by themselves going to cause mayhem that not even All-State could protect. They're a prototypical bracket buster and while we have them as less than 14% odds at this point to make the playoffs, they could make things uncomfortable for more than one or two clubs.
Philadelphia Union (Playoffs: 11.4%) – The Union are the prototypical team that isn't good on defense and is good on the attack. Can they just boost their attack with Tranquillo Barnetta to the point that they can stay bad on defense, and just try to outscore their opponents?
Chicago Fire (Playoffs: 11%) – Adding Gilberto is arguably the highest ceiling of any of their many attacks in a group of David Accam, Harry Shipp, Mike Magee, Igboananike and Shaun Maloney speaks loads of his potential. The problem is their defense is, very simply, not good and their attack is crowded. If they were going to spend money on any position that probably should have been on a starting caliber defender in the vein of Liam Ridgewell.
Colorado Rapids (Playoffs: 8%) – I already wrote about how they are an awkward assembly of pieces just kind of meshed together, and it's not as if there is no talent. The problem is that the wrong people are starting, and it seems as if Pablo Mastroeni thinks they are going to some how “turn things around” at this stage. They aren't and it's time they figured out what they are going to do for the future. Are they a team that is going to follow the DC United method of assembling veteran talent? Are they going to rebuild through youth? Will they find a nice mixture of both aka LA Galaxy route? They just need to identify what they are going to do and start working towards it because they're six kinds of crazy.
August 1st/2nd - Weekend Line-up
To kick off the starting act we have some interesting games including a Cascadia match-up in the Emerald City, a new rivalry in the works between Columbus and Orlando, and a rematch of Houston and Sporting which have provided us with great drama in the past.
Saturday - August 1st
#MTLvNYC (xGD -0.08, -0.37)
Top Attackers: Ignacio Piatti 8.88 xG+xA, David Villa 13.69 xG+xA
#RSLvDC (xGD -0.52, -0.32)
Top Attackers: Javier Morales 7.25 xG+xA, Chris Rolfe 6.84 xG+xA
#NYRBvPHI ( xGD 0.37, -0.05)
Top Attackers: Bradley Wright-Phillips 14.61 xG+xA, Sebastian Le Toux 6.96 xG+xA
#TORvNE (xGD 0.21, -0.05)
Top Attackers: Sebastian Giovinco 17.21 xG+xA, Charlie Davies 7.64 xG+xA
#CLBvORL (xGD 0.02, 0.13)
Top Attackers: Kei Kamara 15.33 xG+xA, Kaka 11.28 xG+xA
#HOUvSKC (xGD 0.14, 0.30)
Top Attackers: Brad Davis 5.83 xG+xA, Benny Feilhaber 9.57 xG+xA
#LAvCOL (xGD -0.01, 0.01)
Top Attackers: Robbie Keane 8.04 xG+xA, Dillon Powers 6.52 xG+xA
#VANvSEA (xGD 0.15, 0.07)
Top Attackers: Octavio Rivero 10.14 xG+xA, Clint Dempsey 9.16 xG+xA
Sunday - August 2nd
#PORvSJ (xGD 0.04, -0.12)
Top Attackers: Fanendo Adi 8.51 xG+xA, Chris Wondolowski 8.25 xG+xA
#CHIvDAL (xGD 0.12, 0.10)
Top Attackers: Harrison Shipp 7.12 xG+xA, Mauro Diaz 8.59 xG+xA