Lately, I’ve poked around the question of where I think both the Columbus Crew and Colorado Rapids are with regard to building their rosters for the 2008 season (hint: check the links). Both efforts tend to vagueness, but they’re a starting point for discussion at least. This current post starts the project of pulling together something more concrete – namely, where each team fits within their respective conferences.
To begin, I’m assuming Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Competition Committee hasn’t again changed the….dammit. They did. MLS has, again, changed qualification for the post-season (from the rules of competition posted on the official site):
“The top three teams in each conference qualify and are seeded 1, 2 & 3 in their respective four-team playoff conference brackets.”
“The two MLS teams with the next most points, regardless of conference, receive “wildcard” berths.”
Under last year’s rules – that is, the top two teams from each conference qualifying for the post-season, with the remaining four spots being wild cards – the way any given team stacked up against its intra-conference rivals definitely mattered. Obviously, three qualifying teams makes intra-conference comparisons even more relevant. And that’s what this post will begin examining – i.e. how the Crew and Rapids stack up against conference rivals – i.e. the teams they’ll play more often and who will thus mean the most in determining their separate, yet cosmically-bound post-season fates (are multiple “i.e.’s” allowed?).
That said, it bears noting that several teams are still tinkering – Columbus among them, judging by some unfamiliar names in the line-up that lost today to Everton’s reserves. Also, current results matter and they don’t; by that I mean, some results impress me – for example, it’s not so much that FC Dallas beat Atletico Paranaense’s B-team, as my impression that they did it well – while I’m not sure what to make of others. But these are just caveats, excuses perhaps for when what I write below gets proved very, very wrong by later events.
But, within that frame, where do I peg Columbus and Colorado relative to their rivals in the Eastern and Western Conferences, respectively? And what does that mean for their post-season fortunes?
Columbus and the East
Writing as someone slowly, almost imperceptibly, falling for the Crew (perhaps as one sympathizes with a bunny just hit by an SUV) I have to say I find the Kansas City Wizard’s signing of Claudio Lopez pretty depressing. It’s not like the Crew didn’t try to bring in players: Lars Ricken, Roman Friedli, and, most significantly, Maciej Zurawski. They all came, played a few, and left without signing. That could be for the best, of course – maybe they were all paunchy cocaine fiends, I don’t know such things (and doubt them, for the record) – but one has to wonder about Columbus’ shitty luck with landing players. So, thank god for Guillermo Barros Schelotto, people.
I raise that issue mainly by way of context: the Crew may yet add something to their roster, but it’s hard to avoid the impression that they won’t and that the rest of the East is leaving them behind. To name names, and without placing them in specific order, I’d rank DC United, the New England Revolution, and Red Bull New York as stronger teams, judgments I’ll elaborate on another day. News of Lopez’ signing inclines me to put KC over them as well; hell, assuming Mo Johnston isn’t being cute about signings being in the works, the Crew could find themselves slipping under Toronto FC (TFC) before its all over. There’s also Chicago, but I can’t place them yet. That said, I would take a bet on the Crew finishing over the Fire in the same spirit as I buy lottery tickets – e.g. as money already spent.
Based on that, then, I’m writing off the Crew’s chances at a top three spot right off the bat. In a generous mood, I’d say they’re fighting for that kinda, sorta #4 spot with KC, TFC, and Chicago. And, near as I can tell, they’re doing it with proverbial weights tied around their ankles. But that wild-card spot just drags the Western Conference into the picture – they can pick up that spot, after all – which makes for a nice segue to….
Colorado and the West
If there’s a silver lining for Columbus to speak of, it surely has the San Jose Earthquakes, the Los Angeles Galaxy, Real Salt Lake, and, yes, the Colorado Rapids stitched into it. Put another way, I’m not sold on LA’s remake, San Jose’s first-year set-up looks small, Real Salt Lake (RSL) is Real Salt Lake, and Colorado…well, let’s look at that.
To begin, re-upped as the are with Christian Gomez, Raphael Gomes, and a couple defenders, I can’t see the Rapids topping Chivas USA, the Houston Dynamo, or FC Dallas (who I’m ranking stupidly high as always). In other words, I think a top three bid is out of the Rapids’ reach as well. So the question becomes where they stack up against the other three teams. With regard to LA, I found an argument laid out by Nutmegged’s Martek compelling: that they’ll score and surrender a lot of goals. But here’s the caveat: I think both the Rapids and RSL will have strong defenses this year and, no less relevant, San Jose seems to be building from the back. In other words, if LA’s back fails to hold, they could be the highest-priced laughing-stock in league history. Let’s just say I’d be leery of shoot-outs if I was LA. That said, I wouldn’t so much write off LA as I’d peg them as the biggest wild-card in a three-horse race for the West’s #4 spot. If there is a team I’d leave out, it’s San Jose.
Given the above, I’m seeing the Rapids, RSL, and LA as a wild-card for the West’s #4 spot. Tempted as I am to speculate that the East’s teams will bloody each other badly enough to put the East’s #4 spot in play, I’m getting the impression that the West is shaping up ugly as well.
And that, folks, is what passes as good news for the Crew. Bottom line, I see the Rapids in with a fair shout – a fairer shout, by the way, than Columbus. More to the point, it’s possible Columbus would have to crawl over Colorado to make the post-season. And I’m pretty doubtful they’re up for that.
All for now.