Weekend Kick-Off: Round 29 / by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@Harrison_Crow)

This week we inch closer to what the playoffs might look like coming November. Though it's not that we don't already know what the picture looks like. I mean, even going by last week's odds, I think we all were sitting in the same situation we were back in 6th grade watching 'Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?' as they reveal the third piece of the puzzle and we're all pretending as if that wasn't the Eiffel Tower in the background… “guess we need one last piece, huh!”.

No. You know what? We don't one more piece. Sure, technically speaking DC United didn't become the first team to punch their ticket but right now ASA, Sports Club Stats, and even Sidereal of Sounder at Heart all have United, as well as Red Bulls, Crew and Revolution at sitting 100% probable for the playoffs. Even the most pessimistic projections concerning the race for the last spot in the East have Montreal sitting better than 80%.

The one real race left on the table is in the West. The Quakes battle Seattle and Portland for two spots for the remaining three teams. There is plenty of skepticism surrounding Sporting Kansas City too but realistically they are still sitting above 80% in most if not all playoff projections. I'd be very surprised to even see Sporting fall to one of the bottom two playoff positions.

The question going through the rest of the season really falls into the last thought. It's not the image of who is in the playoffs but where they fall. But that doesn't mean teams that are sitting down there are to be ignored. Houston and Real Salt Lake as improbable as it seems could do something amazing and I'm rooting for that.

CONCACAF Champions League

Match Day five is underway this week and next, with only one more round of matches left to go I thought it would be worth exploring the current state of MLS teams still involved and their probability of going on to the quarterfinals. The percentage or "likelihood" is not our number but rather the numbers provided by SportsClubStats. So please, complain to them. 

- DC United, clinched.

This was one, if not THE, easiest group of all teams in the mix. United grabbed all nine points in three games with a plus six goal differential. The question going forward is whether they'll have Bill Hamid and a legit scoring threat for the quarterfinals.

- LA Galaxy, 99.1%

Right now they've pulled six points from both matches. A win next week against Trinidad and Tobago's CFU winner Central and they'll solidify their trip to the quarterfinals. But don't count out the underdogs just yet. W Connection, the CFU runners-up, knocked off Costa Rican giants Saprissa this past week.

- Real Salt Lake, 86.8%

Two games in and Real Salt Lake has put up back-to-back clean sheets on their opponents and looked every bit the formidable foe they've traditionally been in this tournament, regardless of the step back in league form. The only question is whether they can keep performing at this high level.

- Whitecaps, 68.8%

Arguably, the most competitive group in the entire tournament. The Vancouver Whitecaps found themselves early on in the group of death. But from that moment, they've managed to find the driver's seat despite going on the road for each of the next two matches and being on the same points as the Sounders. As one of the leaders in MLS for the Supporters' Shield, the question on the table is can they achieve both, let alone one of them?

- Seattle Sounders, 25.7%

Last year's reigning Supporter Shield winner has only one match left in an attempt to take control of their destiny as they host Cascadia rivals Vancouver . Dropping points to Olympia on the road is tough but not surprising. But as they fight for both a playoff and quarterfinal berth, the question surrounding them is similar to that above with the Whitecaps, can they do both or even one?

Weekend MLS Games:

Friday, 9/18

FC Dallas (xGDeven, 0.05) [at] Sporting Kansas City (xGDeven 0.29)

Key Player: Fabian Castillo and Matt Besler

Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas' leader in xGoals Scored with 6.96, is headed even further down the road of being an elite player and continually on the cusp for some really exciting things. Castillo and the Hoops are very likely an MLS Cup contender and a dark horse to bring home the Supporters' Shield.

It's really tough to consider and evaluate the strength of a defense or, tougher yet, a defender. Besler is a really important piece to what head coach Peter Vermes does with his squad and to try to resurrect KC from the funk they've been in of late.

Saturday, 9/19

Colorado Rapids (xGDeven, -0.22)  [at] Toronto FC (xGDeven, -0.29)

Key Player: Kevin Doyle and Sebastian Giovinco

I'm not been a supporter of the Doyle signing and I'm not here to change my tune. I still believe there was a much better way to spend their money and I think that they've invested in too many pieces that limit the total upside of the purchase. That said he's not been a bad signing and I'll freely admit that I'm probably underestimating the value of his veteran leadership and tactical awareness; the latter a huge values for a team that is rather void of it and needed with all the young strikers sitting behind him.

Giovinco has been great all year. There isn't much that I could say that would really do anymore than what he's already done or what you've seen. So I want to give a shout out to my boy, Joel, back in 'bama. The biggest Gio/MLS fan in the state of Alabama.

San Jose Quakes (xGDeven, 0.18)  [at] New York City FC (xGDeven, -0.65)

Key Player: Chris Wondolowski and David Villa

Wondo does what Wondo does. He finds himself in great position and once again finds himself above 10 xGoals for the 5th straight season. The only player in we can say that about in the five seasons of data.

Villa is one of the few bright spots in a rough first season for NYC. He's currently third in xGoals among the field and only one of six players with double digits in xGoals.

Columbus Crew SC (xGDeven, 0.38)  [at] DC United (xGDeven, -0.46)

Key Player: Kei Kamara and Alvaro Saborio

Kei Kamara is probably one of the few players that could make a run at Giovinco's MVP claims being that A) he's not a DP and B) the highest accumulated xGoals (and actual goals) in MLS. I think in terms of the word and definition, Kamara makes a competitive a very run at the award. Also, Happy Birthday to him.

Saborio breaks the mold of DC building it's core around undervalued US players. But getting him was an interesting move that I honestly can't decide whether I was in favor of or against. He's gotten more minutes than either of the last two years (and he could end up with more minutes this season than either two of the past two combined) but has fewer shots and less total xGoals. Okay, maybe I'm less in favor of it than before.

Seattle Sounders FC (xGDeven, 0)  [at] Vancouver Whitecaps (xGDeven, 0.01)

Key Player: Obafemi Martins and Octavio Riverio

I'm perpetually under cutting what Oba brings to the Sounders. But after all the time off earlier in the season, having him back on the team with the enormous work rate has shown me what he really brings to the club. Not just being a tremendous finisher but truly a dynamic and elite player.

Riverio is probably having his newcomer of the year trophy straight up stolen from him by Giovinco. The 23 year-old may just end the season by having accumulated the highest xGoals in the last five years for someone that is eligible for the 24 under 24.

New England Revolution (xGDeven, 0.34)  [at] Montreal Impact (xGDeven, 0.10)

Key Players: Lee Nguyen and Dieder Drogba

Lee Nguyen, I feel, is constantly overvalued for one very good season. Being considered an elite player when he's another valuable cog in another machine that has a strong and deep cast attacking cast.

Drogba. He's great. The end.

Orlando City SC (xGDeven, -0.34) [at] Chicago Fire (xGDeven, -0.47)

Key Players: Tally Hall and David Accam

Tally Hall is a someone that OCSC waited to get healthy and had planned to build the defensive side of their team around. Unfortunately he's having another season that seems to point towards the idea that the team might have to search for another option.

When Accam was brought into the league he's compared to other quick and speedy wingers such as Fabian Castillo. While most thought, and you can throw me into the mix too, that was a pretty lofty comparison. It seems more apt now, than originally thought.

LA Galaxy (xGDeven, 0.14) [at] Real Salt Lake (xGDeven, -0.10)

Key Players: Steven Gerrard and Javier Morales

Steven Gerrard is someone that could either end up being really really good for LA or could be the reason for the downfall in a season that has so much possibility. Maybe that seems a bit of an overreaction, but he could cause so much distraction. That said, he's looked so very good on the pitch at times and so very dominant.

Morales seems to be ageless… when he's not having health issues. He's going to be difficult if not completely impossible to replace but the team and the organization needs to start working out a solution and soon.

Sunday, 9/20

New York Red Bulls (xGDeven, 0.28) [at] Portland Timbers FC (xGDeven, 0.30)

Key Players: Diego Valeri and Bradley Wright-Phillips

Admittedly, Valeri is having a down year. That being said he is still a vital creator for the Timbers and a lot of what they need right now as they fight for a playoff spot.

BWP is probably going to miss the match due to fatigue and how many minutes he's accumulated over the last few few weeks and with upcoming playoffs it's a good time for him to find some time to rest up. Trying to replace his production is going to be tough and against a fairly rigorous defense. This is going to be a pretty tough affair for NYRB.

Houston Dynamo (xGDeven, 0.13) [at] Philadelphia Union (xGDeven, 0.27)

Key Players: Giles Barnes and CJ Sapong

Giles Barnes has come back in a huge way. He's having a huge season between his time on the national team with Jamaica and his club season with Houston, he's showing what a valuable and vital piece he can be for a team that is trying to reorganize and find it's center amidst a season of new faces within the club structure.

Sapong has been delivering much needed performances since returning from his DUI incident late this past spring. His form has finally found that spot that he had once captured with KC a couple years ago prior to the trade and injury. Now the question is can starting bringing consistency and can he take this club from being average and unlucky to a team that is going to compete for the #1 seed in the east. It's a lot to ask and he likely won't be able to do it himself.