MLS playoff hopefuls after the first fortnight of the season

I will admit it. I was completely wrong about the start to the MLS season. I truly believed that MLS and its players would be unable to find a level ground for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Turns out, the two sides were able to come up with a new agreement, which meant that the season would start on schedule. Good thing they did too because the last two weeks have been truly exciting. The parity in the MLS is incredible as well, with only one team having won each of its first games. With two weeks down, it’s time to take a look at who the playoff teams at the end of this year will be.

Eastern Conference:

Number 6: New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls were a goal away from pushing into the MLS Final. However, without Tierry Henry, it is unlikely New York will be as high up in the standings. With two different Designated Player positions yet to be filled, the Red Bulls will be candidates to land a game changing player to make a big push for the playoffs. It worked for New England last year with Jermaine Jones.

Number 5: New York City FC
Another New York team clocks in at five. NYCFC actually sits atop the Eastern Conference at the moment, but that likely won’t last. David Villa proved last week that he can be a force and Ned Grabavoy looked strong in the midfield. Bringing in Frank Lampard midway through the season will provide a nice boost NYC will need to stay afloat for the postseason hunt.

Number 4: New England Revolution
The defending Eastern Conference champions look a bit rattled right now. Through two games, they have failed to register a point, outscored five goals to nil. However, the losses came against Seattle and NYC, both of whom will be in the postseason. New England needs to make some changes, but with time to right the ship, they should be fine.

Number 3: Orlando City SC
Sitting just behind New York City currently is the other fresh face to the MLS. With four point in their first two matches and a group of talented, promising players, Orlando has the assets needed to finish in the top three in the East. Ricardo Kaká is their leader and when he plays well, this is a tough club to beat. Defense will carry this club as far as they go.

Number 2: DC United
DC will once again find themselves near the top of the East. Bill Hamid is tough to beat in between the posts and more often than not, DC can find the offense needed to get a win. United allowed the fewest goals last tied with LA. Once again, DC will find a way to win low scoring games on their way to a top playoff seed.

Number 1: Columbus Crew
With Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain and Ethan Findlay running the show in Ohio, the Crew will be a tough outfit to beat. Those three have Columbus in a good spot already to begin the season sitting third after just two matches. If the Crew’s defensive performance steps up even marginally this year compared to last, this team will finish atop the Eastern Conference.

Western Conference:

Number 6: Houston Dynamo
Landing Cubo Torres in the offseason was a great move for the Dynamo. For a team that struggled to score and really got beat badly on a regular basis, getting a top goal scorer was a top priority. Their victory over Columbus shows that this team is ready to turn the corner and become a threat in the postseason.

Number 5: Sporting KC
Despite sitting last right now in the West, I think Kansas City will find a way into the postseason. It will be close but with Matt Besler, Benny Feilhaber, Graham Zusi and Dom Dwyer running the show, this team has enough talent to reach the playoffs. Predicated on defense, this will be a tough team to out over the course of the season. Their loss this year came at Dallas, which is more than acceptable given how good Dallas is.

Number 4: Real Salt Lake
Salt Lake returns to the playoffs in 2015. Here is yet another team that wins with its defense, allowing the third fewest goals in MLS just a season ago. Kyle Beckerman anchor this group and with Nick Rimando in between the posts, this team is tough to score on. If the collection of strikers for RSL can muster up some more goals this year, they could finish even higher.

Number 3: FC Dallas
Currently sitting as the king of the hill in the West and this no fluke. The two wins come against San Jose and Sporting KC, which gives them some credibility. Dallas won’t remain on top come seasons end with the two powers who control the West playing as well as they do but they will be a title contender come the fall.

Number 2: Los Angeles Galaxy
This is where LA finished its 2014 campaign and then went on to win the MLS Cup. I think they won’t mind a repeat. With Landon Donovan gone and Steven Gerrard not set to join the club until almost July, look for the Galaxy to slip a little bit from their 2014 form. This team though still outscored opponents by 32 goals last season. I don’t think they will be that dominate this year but they will make another playoff appearance as a top seed.

Number 1: Seattle Sounders FC
Once again, Seattle will finish on top in the West. After winning the Supporters Shield last year and qualifying for the playoffs every year in its existence, Seattle desperately wants a title. Making the postseason is no longer enough. The Sounders will certainly get their once again, but it remains to be seen if they can actually make the jump into the MLS Final, something this squad has still yet to do.

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Top five most successful sports cities

As a continuation from yesterday’s piece, I thought it might be interesting to reflect back on the last 15 years of sports champions. More specifically, I am ranking the top ten sports cities in the US since 2000. This includes the five largest sports leagues in America, NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS. The rankings will mainly rely on championships won by a single city but I will also take into account appearances in the finals as well. Let’s see if your city cracked the top five.

#5 Chicago: 3 total titles in 6 total appearances
Chicago actually has fewer titles than San Antonio but gets the nod for the extra finals appearance and diversity across more than one sport. Chicago is home to the two-time finalist Fire of the MLS in 2000 and 2003. The Bears also claim the Windy City as home. Even though this NFL team hasn’t won a Super Bowl since 1985, they did make it to 2007 Super Bowl. Despite the Cubs century long struggle to win the World Series, the White Sox claimed a title in 2005. The other two titles came from the NHL side. The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010 and 2013. Chicago has seen championship berths from the spread out across these 15 years. The Bulls, despite all the success in the 90s, have not made it to the finals since the turn of the century.

#4 Miami: 4 total titles in 6 total appearances
Florida’s major city clocks in at number four largely due to the success of the Miami Heat during this decade. The Heat made it to a NBA-record four straight NBA Finals, winning the middle two. The Heat also locked up a championship back in 2006 as well over the Dallas Mavericks. So yes, most of the credit goes to the NBA team but the baseball team based in Miami has a World Series title as well. The Marlins, who back then were only the Florida Marlins but still played in the city, won the 2003 World Series over the New York Yankees. The titles from two different sports gives Miami a boost. Now if only the Dolphins could help the city out. Soccer could be springing up as well soon as David Beckham seeks to set up a MLS expansion team. For now though, Miami is nowhere close to jumping over the top three cities on the list.

#3 Tri-State: 6 total titles in 15 total appearances
This seems like it is cheating a little bit but it is hard to differentiate New York and New Jersey. Despite being called the New York Giants, Jets and Red Bulls, all of these teams play in New Jersey, along with the Devils. Either way, The Giants locked up two Super Bowl titles in 2008 and 2012. The Red Bulls made a Cup run in 2008, falling short to Columbus. The Yankees won two World Series titles in 2000 and 2009, the 2000 one over the cross-town rival Mets. The Yanks also made the 2001 and 2003 Series. On the ice, the Devils have two Stanley Cups from runs in 2000 and 2003 to go along with losses in the 2001 and 2012 final. Even the Nets, who back then played in Jersey, made consecutive title appearances in 2002 and 2003. Worth noting, New Jersey based teams have accounted for 4 titles in 9 appearances while New York teams only have 2 championships in 6 showings. Looks like Jersey is holding up their end of the deal…

#2 Boston: 9 total titles in 18 total appearances
You know a city is dominant when they have more finals appearances than there are years in our criteria. Boston’s 18 championship runs is one less than the number one team on this list. The cities 9 titles are incredible though. The largest contributor has been the Patriots, with Super Bowl victories in 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2015 and losses in 2008 and 2012. The Red Sox have held up their end of the bargain as well, delivering 3 World Series titles in 2004, 2007 and 2013. The Celtics and Bruins even locked up a title each in 2008 and 2011 respectively. The little known fact is that Revolution actually have contributed the second most title appearances, with five. The issue is that they have come up short every time in the MLS Final. Still Boston’s titles are very impressive. They just couldn’t edge out number one.

#1 Los Angeles: 14 total titles in 19 total appearances
Wow. 14 titles in 15 years. It’s no wonder stars love going to Los Angeles. With teams in every one of the sports being considered but football, LA probably solid chances of succeeding but still 13 championships in 15 years in unprecedented. The LA Galaxy have brought home 5 MLS Cups in 7 attempts in 2002, 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2014. The Lakers have the same numbers with their titles coming in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010. The Kings have been stellar of late, nabbing two Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014. The Anaheim Ducks grabbed a trophy on the ice in 2007. The Anaheim Angeles added a World Series title in 2002 as well. When one city has three different teams winning titles in a single year (2002), there is really no discussion. This city has truly become Titletown since the year of 2000.

Disagree with the list, tell me who you think should have been included and who should have missed the cut.

MLS Cup Clash

First time really talking about the MLS here. I did a lot of stuff about the World Cup back in June but now it’s time to look at some American-based soccer. Specifically, it’s time to give the MLS final a second look. This Sunday will wrap up the 2014 MLS campaign as the New England Revolution battle the Los Angeles Galaxy. This is the fifth time that the Revs will be in the MLS final but this squad is 0-4 in the big game. The Galaxy on the other hand have four championships already heading into the match, this being their ninth appearance in the league final.

There are dozens of storylines leading up to the game. This will be Los Angeles attacker and US international legend Landon Donovan’s final game ever. It would be incredible for him to end off his professional career with a fifth title, which would give the Galaxy the most in MLS history. Donovan led the league this year as the best setup man with 19 assists. His teammate, LA’s captain Robbie Keane, finished third on that same list and ranked third in goals this season. Keane’s all around excellence earned him MLS MVP. These two will be leading the charge on Sunday for LA.

On the Revolution side, José Gonçalves captains his team in just his second year with the team. He will lead the defense while Revs’ superstar Lee Nguyen handles the offensive end. The central midfielder only accounted for nine goals over the past two years before exploding for 18 this season, the fourth best mark in the league behind Keane. The Revolution has its own US international as well in Jermaine Jones. The midfielder was acquired during the midseason transfer window will bring some physical play to the midfield this weekend. These three will be counted on heavily if they want to avoid a repeat of the 5-1 loss New England was dealt when these teams met in July.

This Sunday should be a very different affair then the previous matchup. LA comes into the game having struggled away from home. Luckily for them, the finals are held at their home stadium because their last road win came all the way back in late August against Chivas USA. New England on the other hand, is riding a hot streak into the game, as the club has not dropped a game since mid-September.  Jones is also stateside this time while he was still playing in Europe at the time of their first match up.

Sunday will be highly competitive and contested until the whistle is blown to end the match. I think LA will strike first and hold the lead until late in the second half when Nguyen hammers home an equalizer. Nguyen did have the most game-winning goals this year with nine and was tied for second in road goals with nine as well. In the end though, I think LA will walk away with its fifth title as Keane sets up Donovan one last time for the winner in overtime. After all, Donovan does have the most game-winners in MLS history. The home crowd will just be too much for New England as it comes away empty handed once again. Let me know what you think is going to happen or if I missed anything that will be crucial to this game.