By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)
September comes and as we often do as supporters we either start looking forward towards the playoffs or the next season. The reality is that for eight clubs the season is about to be over and even four playoff clubs that get a mere roll in the hay before being bounced have very little season left.
So let's focus on the big narrative: The MLS Cup. It's about to get real and someone is going to earn some hardware and a bid to CONCACAF Champions League next season. That also comes with some nice little allocation monies attached to it. Not to mention the star over their crest and all the bragging rights that come with adding such prestige to your club.
Additionally, there is more than just one single CCL Bid and hardware to pass out. The US Open Cup final is less than a week away. The epic conclusion to the four month tournament that started back on the 16th of June for Major League Soccer clubs. There is a lot to say in regards to this final so that's probably as good of a jumping off point as any...
Lamar Hunt US Open Cup
We're a little under a week away from what is going to be another US Open Cup final match between a David and Goliath. Only this time we're not sitting in the Philistine's back yard and instead have taken this game directly to the babbling brook. Philadelphia play host once more to the favorite and commonly thought heir to the Cup, Sporting KC.
We have been shown that within one-off matches, anything can happen. Sometimes the pre-written narrative is written and shown to be accurate. Other times the worst team that has ever played walks into one of the toughest fortressever constructed and conquers despite all odds.
Philadelphia isn't as bad as most people envision them. They've got play makers, scorers, ball winners and on ocassion some defenders too. The theme to begin the season often surrounded them being unlucky until it happened so frequently it began to just be chalked up to a combination of mismanagement, apathy and ineptitude.
The Union's defense, while sometimes not awful, is often what kept them from really taking that step of becoming a playoff team. Ranking 6th in expected goals for but only 14th in expected goals against. But the reality is that it's not that simple. The same could be said with their attack.
The regression of Andrew Wenger from his form last year as one of the best wide men at season's end to… well, whatever it is he is now has been ugly. He might actually be the embodiment of disappointment in relation to his team and personal performance this season.
Sporting Kansas City isn't really all that much different from Philadelphia. Sure, they'll make the playoffs, but that's a given considering what they've accomplished the last few year. A team that has perpetually sat towards the top of our Power Rankings and has somehow been on the cusp of a Western Conference playoff team and something short of competing for the Supporters' Shield.
Sporting Kansas City obviously has aspirations for something more than a middle tier club that has great players and sees the playoffs. They want hardware and they've done a heck of a job trying to put the best foot foward to position themselves for those opportunities through the season.
Much of the talk with their struggles has surrounded the lack of an ability to control the middle of the park with Roger Espinoza out of action and lacking a suitable replacement option. This has been the theme around Sporting Park pretty much this season. As they've had revolving line-ups and been forced to overcome more than just a few set backs.
- MLS Cup: Talking about the Elite Club
There are probably as many as eight clubs that are legitimate contenders for the MLS Cup this coming fall. You have the usual suspects between Seattle and LA. But they've been vulnerable and shown weaknesses that are begging to be exposed.
The reality is that this season is probably bound to be owed to someone outside of the given. New England and Columbus are both very, very good squads that have depth and talent that are going to put on some performances come playoff time. Likewise, as mentioned above, Sporting Kansas City is beloved by our metrics once more for their ability to exploit opportunities and limit their opponents' big chances. FC Dallas is living right in the advanced stage and performance that our metric says they should. The Hoops have big dreams and this just might be a season they finally get there.
That being said, for me there are two clubs that aren't being talked about enough going into the last month of the season.
2) Toronto FC
Yes, I get it. They've been bad. Their defense has been an eye sore at times and Jozy Altidore, someone they had hoped they could hang this season upon, has been all over the map. It's often impossible to figure out which one of him is going to show up each game and what type of quality you're going to get.
Additionally, the Reds feature one of a midfielder often touted as possibly the best ever produced by the United States in Michael Bradley. Still he's somehow left one of Italy's best teams and become somewhat disappointing in this his second season. Bradley is an impact level talent that again has been left wanting in performance.
That being said Giovinco has been everything and twice that. The Atomic Ant has shown the ability to create big plays and when needed be the big play all on his own. The fact that he has an outside chance to break our xG+xA (or total expected goals created) in a single season is crazy and speaks the level of his talent.
Currently Giovinco sits sixth on our all-time single season boards for most xG+xA. Behind a couple Robbie Keane seasons (2012, 2014) , Mike Magee, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Chris Wondolowski's amazing 27 goal season that took him to the top with 26.37 xG+xA contributed to his team in 2012.
Toronto has been winning all year on the back of Giovinco's accomplishment and though rare in soccer we've seen how a single players can turn the scales of a battle and in doing so win a war like this but it's not going to be easy. Can Gio do it for Toronto and lead them to a chance for a Cup?
1) New York Red Bulls
Red Bulls have a quality line-up from head right down to those guys coming off the bench… which would be their implied toes. Their ability to show up in Portland and come out victorious has just as much to do with that bench and roster constructed by Jesse Marsch and Ali Curtis as it does with Portland consuming itself with self destruction right before the playoffs.
Could Bradley Wright-Phillips produce the same numbers without Henry? CHECK.
Would Sascha Kljestan be worth the money paid? CHECK.
Will Jesse Marsch figure out a way to deploy all his key players in a manner that is productive? CHECK.
While the club is maybe a few nickles short of a full dollar (every club is) it's been a marvelous season and it speaks to the quality that the organization has worked to either develop, acquire or keep.
Call me crazy, and a few people have done it, but BWP is the best all around striker in MLS right now. You can point to Keane, Didier Drogba, Obafemi Martins or even Kai Kamara, but I'll take BWP and walk. Which is funny because I think he's going to walk away with hardware from New York and there is a good chance that he might just inspire the club to achieve not just the MLS Cup but the Supporters' Shield as well.
I know that I did not mention Vancouver and while I don't have to explain myself, this has all been rather opinionated and subjective, I do think it's fair to make note of the fact I glossed over an obvious leader in the Supporter Shield race. Yes, they have a stout defensive presence. Yes, they have some tremendous scoring potential.
There just is something in the numbers that has fully lead me to not believe that they're a team that can pull off an MLS Cup. Again, yes, subjective. Their defense is without a doubt the best in the league but their team can come up missing on the attack at times and considering the problems with health and consistent performances, I'm gun shy on saying they can compete.
Don't take this as a “they won't” but I'm just saying I don't feel like they're a team that I would consider elite at this time. Maybe that's not fair. Whatever… you stay up and write this thing until one AM.
Another obvious omissions:
I'm not convinced Bill Hamid can stop enough shots to win an MLS Cup for DC United. They're like the East coast version of Vancouver in my mind… actually that isn't a bad comparison. Not 100% accurate but not bad.
Weekend Game Schedule:
Orlando City SC (-0.14 xGD @ New York Red Bulls ( .045 xGD), 7PM
Chicago Fire ( -0.01 xGD) @ Toronto FC ( 0.17 xGD), 2PM
DC United ( -0.40 xGD) @ Montreal Impact ( 0.02 xGD), 5PM
Portland Timbers FC (0.11 xGD) @ Columbus Crew SC ( xGD), 7:30PM
Philadelphia Union ( 0.05 xGD) @ New England Revolution ( 0.08 xGD), 7:30PM
Colorado Rapids ( -0.04 xGD) @ Houston Dynamo ( -0.03 xGD), 8:30PM
New York City FC ( -0.64 xGD) @ Vancouver Whitecaps ( 0.12 xGD),
Seattle Sounders FC ( 0.05 xGD) @ Sporting KC ( 0.20 xGD)
Real Salt Lake ( -0.41 xGD) @ San Jose Earthquakes ( 0.02 xGD)
Dallas FC ( 0.00 xGD) @ LA Galaxy (0.10 xGD)