At this point in the season a push for the playoff article is called for; only problem is attempting to determine the fate of 16 clubs in the final five weeks is an exercise in futility. l would probably be just as accurate in selecting the NFL playoff teams in week four, as picking the ten MLS teams making the playoffs with five weeks to go.
Rather than contenders dropping out, those left for dead are finding themselves a sliver of hope. Some squads are finding their form with the return of the wounded and others are holding their stars together with duct tape and maple sap. No one can afford to sit their starters or core subs for any extended period of time. How well key players perform while carrying knocks will determine their final fate.
So rather than predict the playoff picture, I picked the players most crucial to their club’s success. This week is a look at the Eastern Conference, next week the Western.
Jamison Olave – CB New York Red Bulls: Not the name that comes to mind with casual observers, but every supporter knows the team will only go as far as his 32-year old knees will carry them. He is a ball winner, enforcer, and has four set piece goals this season. He resembles more Ronnie Lott than John Terry. The team is winless in the four games he missed (W-D-L/0-1-3), and allowed three goals on two of those occasions. While Tim Cahill can replace Thierry Henry up top, and Eric Alexander can cover Cahill in the middle, no one has effectively handle the centerback spot next to Markus Holgersson. This will be an issue going forward since Olave has missed every game on turf except the match at Portland.
Claudio Bieler – FW Sporting Kansas City: SKC is likely in, only they are not the same team that shined from May to July. Kei Kamara is gone. Rookie Soony Saad picked up some of the production, yet lacks experience. Bieler needs to be the target man, especially with limited talent in the midfield. The team is not the same threat on set piece, so his ability is score in open play and link with Zusi is essential.
Hassoun Camara – FB Montreal Impact: There’s a lot on the Frenchman’s plate. Camara covers the right flank when Justin Mapp goes forward. With John Brovsky on the opposite side, he protects the aging sweeper-centerback triangle. Montreal is likely out of the hunt for the top spot but are 6 point clear of missing the playoffs. They’ll need points, not necessarily wins, to hold on. Scoring is not the Impact’s issue, it’s not conceding late goals.
Will Bruin – FW Houston Dynamos: Giles Barnes is the Dynamos best player, but Bruin is the difference between making or missing the playoffs. Bruin has not been the most consist player (7 goals in 27 games w/ 2 doubles). The most telling statistic is Houston are 6-1-0 in games he has a goal or an assist. If Houston sneaks in late (as usual), Bruin’s 3 goals from the 2012 playoffs might be enough to keep him in the 18, regardless of inconsistencies and poor form.
Kelyn Rowe – MF New England Revolution: The Revs got the defensive thing down but struggled scoring before Agudelo’s arrival in May (.6 GPA). He’s netted 6 goals in 9 games, the problem is he’s only played 9 out of 18 games. That is where Rowe comes in, since mid-August the 21-year-old midfielder has 5 goals and an assist in 7 games. While Diego Fagundez leads the team with 11 goals, he’s streaky. Fagundez has streaks of scoring in four straight games and another another 4 in 5 games, but has he also has a goalless stretch of 6 starts. NE’s success will depend on not relying solely on goals from the strikers.
Mike Magee – FW/MF Chicago Fire: This is the obvious one. The leading MVP candidate that turned the Fire’s season around on his arrival. Magee has 10 goals in 17 games with the Fire, and the team is averaging 1.72 points per games plus is 4 games over .500. Bakary Soumare is the key component to the back four but with the red card against Columbus around the ’30 mark, he is missing(ed) a crucial 150 minutes. Magee will be relied upon as the club struggles on and off the field for consistency.
A Number 10 – Philadelphia Union: I am giving Brotherly Game Blog credit for this one. Jack McInerney and Conor Casey can’t create on their own. Casey is a grinder and Jack Mac hasn’t scored since June 1st. Sébastien Le Toux has got a few starts up top, but his natural position is left wing. The team has ten clean sheets, but have only scored four goals since July 20th which includes two against DC. Philly is included because they are technically in the hunt… technically.
Federico Higuain –MF/ FW Columbus Crew: Another no brainer. In Higuain’s previous five starts, the Crew have four wins. The Argentine DP has a goal or assist in each victory. The greatest determinate for success against the Crew is how well you take him out of the game (see at Real Salt Lake). New interim coach Brian Bliss needs to figure out how to get road points, the easiest way to do that is to get Higuain in space and allow him to work his magic touch.
This week’s throw ins:
Not sure if I am more annoyed about DC United fans insisting they are the American Wigan, or missing history with Real winning the triple. After the back-to-back losses Real has little hope for the Supporter Shield. It will be good to see Real back in the CONCACAF Champions League next season. Maybe Jason Kreis will stay put one more season before the magnetic pull on NYCFC drags him East. Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman will have a career triple (Supporter Shield, US Open, MLS Cup)… If you haven’t noticed yet I’m picking Real.
MLS and ESPN are going to be disappointed with their Sunday Night RBNY@Seattle ratings. Not because Henry is likely staying home; similarly to Clint not playing last week at the Galaxy. It’s because the game is going head-to-head with the Breaking Bad finale, bitch. Sorry guys, I’m recording the game and watching Breaking Bad. I’m surely not the only one, bitch.
After a run of quality Friday night match ups, we get the Union @ SKC. I wouldn’t be surprised if Philadelphia is among the bottom of the MLS market ratings. Not only are the Union awful at attack, they suck the joy out of watching their opponent. I call their style anti-MLS, any casual sports fan that pops in is lost for the next decade.
About the author:
Jay’s first memory of professional soccer was watching a flaming haired pirate in a blue shirt with white stars menace a golden shirt lion on the field of roses. Since then, he has followed the game from the cradle of US soccer, Northern Jersey. Tracking the progress of the sport in the states through the international team and Major League Soccer he has become a student of tactical football, the business of sports and the cultural impact of the game. Jay enjoys the view from the ivory tower but is not afraid to be in arm’s length of the ultras in the South Ward. You can follow Jay on Twitter@rescindedred.