MLS teams must shake things up for playoff push
Close your eyes and imagine for a moment, that you are the owner or president of a Major League Soccer team. Despite being five points from the last playoff spot, the team is in last place in its conference. Your team is the only team not to win a road game during the regular season. You have a chance to make the playoffs with a strong push. The talent is there, but the tactics and use of the players is not. What do you do?
Now, what if your team hired a “club legend” to be coach. This former player had no prior coaching experience. The team has scored the fewest amount of goals in 2015, look lost on the field and the team’s highest goal scorer happens to be a designated player that has only scored four times. What do you do?
Open your eyes, because these examples come from the 2015 MLS season. The former is the Chicago Fire while the latter is the Colorado Rapids. Two teams that have been awful this season and neither club seem to want to improve.
No MLS head coach has been fired since the season started. How this has happened is mind-boggling due to the fact that several teams have been abysmal. With no sackings taking place, it begs the questions, do the suits running MLS teams know what good soccer looks like? Or do they care if they make the playoffs? It seems the suits are happy if their team backs its way into the playoff. Unfortunately, backing your way into the playoffs is something that happens in MLS.
With 12 teams making the postseason in MLS, it’s not that difficult for teams to qualify. And as numerous teams have shown over the years, all you have to do is make the playoffs and something special may happen. In the Eastern Conference, 34 points may be enough to make the playoffs. That’s one point per game. The west is better, though slightly, and it should take 40 to 45 points for the last playoff spot. Something Colorado Rapids will not achieve as the team sit 11 points behind sixth place Seattle.
The MLS Playoffs, unfortunately, reward mediocrity by allowing teams into the postseason that don’t deserve to be there. The MLS Cup and the Supporters’ Shield are both devalued when teams that barely make the playoffs have a chance at winning the most prestigious prize in the league.
Frank Yallop’s Fire has been bad, there’s no arguing. Long a team built on defense, Chicago has been poor in recent years with 2014 being its worst in team history. Yallop has three Designated Players in David Accam, Shaun Maloney and Kennedy Igboananike. Maloney has been injured much of the season and continues to be linked with a move to English Championship side Hull City. Meanwhile, Accam and Igboananike have combined for 10 goals. But Yallop has failed to find a way to get his DPs firing consistently. Tactically, the Fire favor attacking down the flanks and crossing into the box, which statistically (according to Soccernomics) is a low percentage way to score.
Colorado isn’t any different and every time Pablo Mastroeni earns a victory he’s praised as the next former player excelling as a MLS coach. Like the Fire, Colorado prefer long ball tactics. Poor finishing has been one of the Rapids’ downfalls in 2015, which points to their league low in goals scored.
Colorado can say the club is building for the future, but this season will be its second without making the playoffs. Chicago on the other hand, can’t be given the benefit of the doubt. If the club is building, it looks poorly built, though the Fire’s attack has been assembled better than the rest of the team.
If the Fire do not make the MLS Playoffs in 2015, that will mark the fifth time in six seasons the club hasn’t qualified. The 2012 season was the last time the Fire graced the postseason, losing in the knockout round to Houston Dynamo.
Bottom of the west, the Rapids can afford to wait until the offseason, though it is unlikely the team will make a change. The Fire, who has an outside shot at the playoffs, the time is right now. A shake up in training, tactics and personnel could push them in closing months of the season. This won’t happen and if it does, won’t happen in time.
Follow Drew Farmer on Twitter @Calciofarmer. Drew Farmer is a Manchester, England-based journalist/blogger that writes for World Soccer Talk. Drew has contributed to Radio Yorkshire MLS Monday, Forza Italian Football, Soccer Travels, MLSGB and Soccerly. Originally from southwest Missouri, Drew covers Italy’s Serie A, English Premier League and the USA’s Major League Soccer.