MLS 2008 Eastern Conference Preview: Contenders, Dark Horses, Filler, and C.H.U.D.s

(It looks like I got a little ahead of myself down below…if only by implication. Expect the Western Conference Preview tomorrow and pre-season power rankings Friday. Which is how god intended it.)

Between the super-abundance of variables – some directly inter-related, some not – and the parade of blind-spots steadily unspooling behind me, any attempt on my part to provide a detailed and precise run-down of what will happen to each of Major League Soccer’s (MLS) 14 teams between now and MLS Cup 2008 seems either silly, pompous, or slated for failure – or all the above. Given that, I’ll keep things loose. Rather than exactly predicting who will finish where in the standings, this preview, and the one to follow, stops short of ranking teams in the order they will finish, but instead places them into four broad categories. To make things still more vague, I list more than eight “playoff-capable” teams – and I’ll get to the name for that below – an obvious issue with only eight playoff slots available.

This is intentional…I meant “loose” in the first sentence literally…judge me as you will. But, before charging me with cowardice, consider instead that these are the fruits of parity.

To introduce the categories, each team will be tagged with a label: Contender, Dark Horse, Filler, or C.H.U.D. The first two are pretty obvious – e.g. “Contender” attaches to a team with a clear shot at the title, while “Dark Horse” flags a team with the talent and depth to steal the title, but only provided good form and luck through ‘08. For “Filler” teams, the playoffs are within reach, but the title…well, it ain’t gonna happen. Finally, “C.H.U.D.s” – aka, “Cannabalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers”: these are the teams that will suffer in the confines of MLS’s cellars, only coming out for rare feasts on the flesh of the living.

As for resources, what comes below relies on only a few: WVHooligan’s most current list of off-season player movement and Climbing the Ladder’s best guess at starting elevens for the Eastern and Western Conferences.

Finally, if this seems a little weenie, don’t worry: I’ll make an ass of myself tomorrow when I post pre-season power rankings. Odds are I’ll do the same here in any case. Time to get on with the game…for clarity’s sake, teams are listed from Contender to C.H.U.D. Continue reading

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Crew v. Rapids: The Intra-Conference Situation (And When Did They Change the Playoff Set-up?)

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? Continue reading