The first thing that any follower of the MLS expects once we start drawing close to the playoffs is that certain teams should be close to the top of their conference table. Perennial playoffs entrants D.C. United, Seattle Sounders, and Chicago Fire would typically think that they are guaranteed entry into the MLS postseason. However, as the 2013 season enters into the second half, they find themselves in less than enviable positions. In fact, the entire standings set-up is strewn with surprises and unexpected teams in unexpected places.
Defending champ L.A. Galaxy also finds the season with a bit of an uphill battle. The Galaxy currently sits in fifth place in the Western Conference and they seem to be having a hard time scoring after the departure of David Beckham and Mike Magee. Although they have played fewer games because of their CONCACAAF CL schedule, they still would prefer to enter into the playoffs with a higher seeding and hope to avoid the wild-card playoff game. Constant contenders for the title, Houston Dynamo, also find themselves in fifth position. The two biggest teams in the MLS playoff scene for the past two seasons…is there something in the water?
The biggest surprises of the season can be found at the top of the Eastern Conference standings and on top of the Western Conference standings.
On top of the Eastern Conference sits a team in their inaugural season: the Montreal Impact. With an impressive defensive record and one of the better scoring stats in the Eastern Conference, they are in prime position to gain entry to the playoffs in their first season. The key seems to be that the Impact keeps an astounding home record. In fact, they have the best home record for any team in the entire MLS (6-0-1). If the Impact retains the top spot (they have a four point lead with THREE games in hand) then they will certainly lay down an impressive precedent and their fellow Canadian team (Toronto FC) will come under serious fire.
Underneath the Impact sits the Philadelphia Union. A team that missed out on the playoffs completely in their last campaign and a team that has never made the playoffs in their short MLS history, the Union have a fervent fan-base that will welcome their entry into the playoffs. The rest of the Eastern Conference reads with expected teams with entry into the playoffs (NY Red Bulls, Sporting Kansas City, and Houston Dynamo). The true shock of the East is that the Chicago Fire and D.C. United are so far behind that a playoff-bound turnaround seems extremely unlikely.
The MLS has been given extreme derision for how unlike the European powerhouse leagues it is. However, with the extreme way that teams can change from year to year, this might actually be one of the MLS’s biggest entertainment factors. Even if the LA Galaxy snags a third title in a row, the league will have changed significantly from 2012 to 2013. Although a relegation system would make things interesting, and allowing teams to spend at their very whim with no salary cap might be fun, the MLS is definitely making a name for itself. Whether it is a good one or not…that remains to be seen…