At the beginning of the season, we took a poll. We asked you, the reader, where teams were going to finish within their respective conferences. The polls asked readers simply to rank teams first-to-last, and the results for the Eastern conference can be seen below.
We’re going to take a look back at those predictions that were made by the community and compare them to the current table and outlook of the playoffs. Maybe bring up some reasons on why teams are where they are now.
Sporting Kansas City
At the top of the list is none other than Sporting Kansas City, which was about the easiest-to-pick number one that there was coming off an MLS Cup victory. Their defense is near the top of all MLS, and their attack is widely considered to be one of the best with big names such as Dominic Dwyer, Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber.
While most people point to the defensive issues they’ve had, I believe their second half drop-off is largely attributed to their attack. They’ve now fallen to a point where their offensive expected goals sit just below the league average.
New York Red Bulls
Even on our pre-season podcast, I made it known that New York was a team of which I was pretty skeptical coming into the season. However, looking at the 400 of those that voted, 89% thought they would make the playoffs, and after this past weekend’s performance, it would seem that New York is at least bound for the play-in match.
Speaking of things that no one believed, no one could have guessed that TFC would be sitting six points out of a playoff spot with two games left. In fact, nearly identical to New York, a solid 88% of people prior to the start of the season projected them with a playoff spot.
Sure they’ve had struggles beyond your typical team with front office maneuvers, and losing Bradley and Defoe for stretches essentially left Toronto with the same squad that stunk last year. But things are very bad right now. They need a coach for the future, be that Vanney or someone else; they need stability within the roster; and most of all they need top-to-the-bottom direction and a real vision for the future of this organization, i.e., substance over slogans.
We all know that Houston has struggled quite mightily this season, and I’m not sure many could have predicted that. The Dynamo have scored about eight fewer than what one would expected them to score given quality and quantity of their shots, and one could only assume that those goals could have made up a seven-point differential between them and the Columbus Crew for the 5th playoff spot.
Philadelphia has been all over the map—both good and bad. While I’m not sure that anyone was absolutely certain that they were going to find themselves in the playoffs, their fifth position in our poll is enough to at least think they could come much closer to 50 points than 40.
New England Revolution
I was genuinely shocked at the lack of respect that was given to the Revolution; a young team that came to prominence on the back of their youth which had a very strong showing against Kansas City in the playoffs while on the road. Though it was close enough to be a legit question mark as to who between the Revs, Union, United and maybe even the Fire would sneak into that last spot, New England is instead pushing Sporting for being number two club out of the East.
It’s sad to say that we saw this coming--missing the playoffs anyway. Harrison Shipp provided a huge boast when needed, but it’s hard to survive when your star player goes down for the season. Mike Magee is a huge influence on the club, and without him it’s clear Chicago has to depend on creating more chances each match rather than depend on the consistency and quality of opportunities that Magee helps to create.
Our model doesn’t love them. The readers didn't love them. They don’t create a lot of chances, and they give up a lot of chances. What's happening here is that they are outperforming their xGD by 20 goals, split almost perfectly between offense and defense. Twenty goals is more than enough to explain DCU's current position, and it would seem that regression is coming. But we've been saying that for a while.
Surprisingly everyone just about hit the nail on the head with Montreal. I’m not sure if it’s because of the significant drop off at the end of 2013, their third-worst xGD in the East last season, or if it was just because of the lack in changes to an aging team. Probably some combination of the three. Their last place position was predicted pretty accurately, and it’ll be interesting to see the changes that will be in store for the club this off-season.
Lastly, there's Columbus. By ranking disparity, the Crew is the second biggest surprise of the 2014 season behind DCU. But a positive xGD suggests that Columbus is actually this good, which perhaps makes it the most surprising. Unless you’re me, who predicted that they would make the playoffs, and I said they would push for a top-3 spot. Honestly I’m all about the Higuain, which has become a meme on this site for the season. I consider Federico Higuain to be a top-5 player in this league, and those types of players can influence huge results. They’re likely to become last club in the conference to nail down a playoff spot, currently sitting at 98.8% playoff probability. Hat tip to Higuain and the Crew.