There’s about a month to go in the MLS season, which will wrap up at the end of October. That means playoff races are reaching their apex, as the field is set for the November tournament that is the best of what the league has to offer.
MLS doesn’t have promotion and relegation – and no, it’s almost certainly not happening in your lifetime – the playoffs function as the alternative drama to the race against the drop.
Some would say it’s better drama. David Villa marveled at the playoff system, saying at the MLS NEXT launch in New York City last week, “The format is very competitive, and it’s a format the European leagues should look at. The race for the playoffs and then to play in the playoffs to determine the champions – for me, playing my whole life in Europe, I haven’t had a league like this. It makes it very competitive and interesting from the beginning to the end.”
Villa went on to talk about how the seventh place team in Europe is out of contention after 25 games, where in MLS that team still has every shot at the championship.
Look at it this way – instead of things being interesting from the final day for teams 1-5 and teams 15-20, in MLS things are interesting until the end for teams 1-14.
The playoffs are thoroughly enthralling. So is the stretch run. Here’s a primer on who’s in, who’s out, and who’s close to playing in November.
Seattle Sounders – In those comments last week, Villa also tabbed Seattle as being “a cut above” the rest of the league.
It’s true. With LA, the Sounders are simply playing a different game than everyone else. Seattle has a chance to become one of the few teams in MLS history to win 20 games and average 2.00 points per game. They already won the US Open Cup in Philadelphia last Tuesday, and this all coming after a historic collapse last season that saw club on the brink of destruction.
The Sounders have always been reliably competitive – they’ve made the playoffs every year they’ve been in the league – but they’ve never been the juggernaut they are now.
It starts with Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, who are almost indefensible on their best days, up top. Reclamation projects like Gonzalo Pineda, Chad Marshall, Marco Pappa, and Stefan Frei have also been huge this year. Role players have contributed, stars have lived up to their billing. There appears to be a totally healthy atmosphere as well for the first time in years in Seattle.