The season is over and, after a wild weekend, we have our playoff teams. The first round of playoffs looks like this:
LA Galaxy vs Chivas USA
Houston Dynamo vs Seattle Sounders
Columbus Crew vs Real Salt Lake
New England Revolution vs Chicago Fire
Before we start previewing this first round of the playoffs, let’s spend a moment looking back at how we got here:
For the last month, the MLS essentially had a single table, and it was great! With six team finishing within three points of each other, all hovering around that playoff line, east and west had little meaning. Everybody’s results affected everybody else, and the variety of scenarios defied calculation. Considering the MLS is planning a balanced schedule next year, conferences will have no meaning at all. The MLS should recognize this reality and just publish a single table.
It seems like nobody from the east wanted to go to the playoffs. For New England to qualify, they needed a triple bank shot, and they got it. Dallas lost to Seattle who had already qualified. Toronto got blown out by the lowly Red Bulls. DC drew Kansas City. And finally New England beat the Crew. As hard as New England seemingly tried to avoid the playoffs over the past two months (nine points out of a possible 27 since September 1), they did just enough to get into the post season. The MLS came within a hair of having six teams from the west and two from the east in the playoffs.
Special kudos to the Galaxy. Last year they shared the worst record in the west with San Jose. They let in an atrocious 62 goals in 30 games. From the second half of the season on, they had the stink of death about them. Bruce Arena completely resurrected the team in 2009, played a brand new back five for most of the season, cut their GA number in half, got Beckham and Donovan to play well with each other, and led a team that was consistent from wire to wire. The Galaxy lost only six games the entire season – a league low. In the process, Arena proved to be as good a soccer coach and talent picker as exists in the American game.
More special kudos to the Seattle Sounders. Before their first kick of the season, the Sounders were a resounding success. From the moment they stepped on the field, they were embraced by their city as passionately as any team in the MLS. But few expected them to be any good. Kasey Keller and Freddie Ljungberg were assumed to be on the “thanks for the memories” tour, and the rest of the team was not exactly going to fire anyone’s imagination. However, Fredy Montero proved to be the find of the season for the MLS, and Coach Sigi Schmid fashioned a cohesive team that constantly did enough to get results. To make the playoffs in their debut season is a terrific achievement, and Houston is probably looking forward to their visit to Qwest Field as much as they would a trip to tour Chernobyl.
Additional kudos for Jason Kreis. The world is full of great players who made lousy managers. Ted Williams, Magic Johnson and Tony Adams were all intense players who were constantly frustrated that they could not teach what came so naturally to them as players. None of them had more than token careers managing a team. Jason Kreis has his place booked in the MLS Hall of Fame. His 91 goals and 65 assists make him a legend. Yet, he has seamlessly taken off his uniform, put on a suit and tie, and has guided an underwhelming Real Salt Lake team to its second straight post season.
Playoff previews will come later this week.