View From The Shires: MLS End of Regular Season Headliners

Wins for the Houston Dynamo and the New England Revolution on the final day of the season saw both sides clinch postseason berths, as Major League Soccer’s previously muddied playoff picture was finally set in stone.

Houston will now face the Montreal Impact on Thursday in the Eastern Conference’s knockout round (a single game between the no. 4 and no. 5 seeds in each conference), with the winner going on to face conference champions the New York Red Bulls in the two-legged semi-finals. New England meanwhile, as the no. 3 seed, take on Sporting Kansas City in the other semi-final, as both the Chicago Fire and the Philadelphia Union narrowly missed out on playoff spots by failing to win in their final games against New York and KC, respectively.

In the West, a draw between the LA Galaxy and Seattle means the Sounders have to settle for a place in the knockout round against the Colorado Rapids, whose playoff place was already sealed before this past weekend’s 3-0 defeat to the Vancouver Whitecaps. The winner of that game will face no. 1 seed the Portland Timbers in the semi-finals, while the other tie sees Real Salt Lake and the Galaxy go head-to-head for a place in the conference finals.

For a nice, aesthetically-pleasing breakdown of how the playoffs shape up, here’s a bracket provided by mlssoccer.com

The schedule ahead also plays out like so:

Conference knockout matches (4th seed vs. 5th seed), Wednesday and Thursday

Conference Semi-finals, Leg 1: Nov. 2-3 (Sat.-Sun.)

Conference Semi-finals, Leg 2: Nov. 6-7 (Wed.-Thurs.)

Conference Finals, Leg 1: Nov. 9-10 (Sat.-Sun.)

Conference Finals, Leg 2: Nov. 23-24 (Sat.-Sun.)

MLS Cup: Dec. 7 (Sat.)

Curse of Caricola Lifted

Back in 1996, MLS’ inaugural season, the New York Red Bulls (then the New York/New Jersey Metrostars) lost their first game in franchise history to the New England Revolution due to a last-minute own goal by Italian defender Nicola Caricola. What duly followed was 16 years of heartache and near-misses, as one of the league’s marquee teams failed to earn a single piece of silverware to adorn their barren trophy cabinet. Thus was born the so-called ‘Curse of Caricola’ and for season after season it played on the minds of supporters. That was until this weekend, when it was finally lifted, with the Red Bulls’ 5-2 win over the Chicago Fire seeing them take home the Supporters’ Shield, as the side with the best regular season record. Of course, it’s not ‘the big one’, but for a side who, until now, remained the only original MLS franchise yet to win one of the two major titles, despite employing some of the biggest names to have ever graced the league in the past, it’s certainly a start.

What is wholly fitting too is that the man to lead them there would be none other than Mike Petke – a former player and hometown favourite, who is about the closest thing the team have to a ‘face of the franchise’ and who already had first-hand experience with ‘the curse’. The sweater vest-wearing, former All-star centre back-turned head coach was an outside bet for the job this offseason, following the sacking of Hans Backe, but, after seeing him work with the players on a caretaker basis, the front office took a leap of faith and has justly been rewarded. The real test starts now but it would be unbelievably poetic if it were Petke who finally brought the Red Bulls that elusive first MLS Cup.

If you want to know more about ‘the curse’ too, NBC Sports’ ‘MLS Insider’ ran a great piece on it this past Friday, which you can watch here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFTjjLQs65o

MVP Debate Remains Cloudy

While MLS’ playoff picture may now be sorted, on the rewards-front, the MVP race remains somewhat of a mystery. Chicago Fire’s failure to make the postseason would seemingly rule out Mike Magee in the eyes of the voters, yet one can’t help feel that would be a huge injustice, considering the impact has had since his May trade from the LA Galaxy – transforming the side’s fortunes. 21 goals (15 for the Fire, 6 for the Galaxy) certainly speak for themselves, while, after all, Dwayne De Rosario did win the MVP award in 2011 despite DC United missing the cut. Magee’s teams are also had a record of 17-10-7 with him in the side, while they went 12-14-8 in his absence. That’s some impressive MVP ammo but it may not ultimately be enough when considering the other contenders in the running.

The other frontrunners for the award are big-name strikers Marco Di Vaio and Robbie Keane. Di Vaio’s 20 goals were crucial to the Montreal Impact making the playoffs, despite their late-season loss of form, while Keane has been the focal point of an LA Galaxy side which is on the hunt for its third MLS Cup in a row, taking on the captaincy in Landon Donovan’s absence at the start of the year, while adding 16 goals and 11 assists. Vancouver Whitecaps forward Camilo likely deserves a nod too, after his chart-topping 22 goals, but has surprisingly received little fanfare and the fact his side also missed the playoffs likely puts him in a similar position to Magee.

Elsewhere, Tim Cahill’s fantastic form towards the end of the season, which propelled the Red Bulls towards the Supporters’ Shield, has undoubtedly thrust his name into the mix, though the indifferent spell which went beforehand will probably count against his chances.

For Western Conference champions the Portland Timbers, captain Will Johnson was arguably the league’s midseason MVP but the Canadian has been overtaken in the second half by teammate Diego Valeri, whose playmaking skill have been one of the key factors towards the team’s remarkable transformation from last season. It’s rare however that a genuine midfielder wins the award so the likes of Magee, Keane and Di Vaio still clearly possess the advantage.

Camilo Wins Golden Boot

Camilo may not ultimately win the MVP award but at least he has the Golden Boot as a consolation prize. A hat-trick in the Vancouver Whitecaps final game, a 3-0 win over the Colorado Rapids, saw the striker reach 22 goals for the year, overtaking Marco Di Vaio and Mike Magee for the award and capping what has, despite the failure to make the playoffs, been a fantastic third season in MLS for the Brazilian. Remarkably, 2013 is also the first year since 1996 that more than two players have scored 20+ regular season goals, with Roy Lassiter, Raul Diaz Arce and Eduardo Hurtado scoring 27, 23 and 21, respectively, in MLS’ inaugural season.

DC United Historically Bad

DC United may have won the US Open Cup this season but that shouldn’t disguise what has been a historically awful MLS campaign for Ben Olsen’s side. The club set all-time league records for fewest wins (just 3) and worst goal difference (-37), while they in fact only managed to score as many goals as golden boot-winner Camilo all season (22). It’s pretty remarkable considering how impressive DC looked in 2012 and the expectations going into this season, yet the front office does still seem to have faith in club legend Olsen turning things around next year. With a lot of young and promising pieces, including a wave of homegrown players coming through the academy, that task may not be as daunting as it appears, but DC will certainly need to add a few establish signings this offseason if they wish to be competitive in 2014.

Mark Watson Earns San Jose Gig

After Frank Yallop was somewhat surprisingly let go midway through the season, reports out of San Jose, following their 2-1 over FC Dallas on Saturday, are that the Earthquakes are set to offer interim head coach Mark Watson the position on a fulltime basis. Taking over from Yallop on June 7, when the team were in eighth place and largely thought to be out of the playoff race, former assistant Watson guided San Jose on a 11-5-3 run to finish the season (going unbeaten in their final seven matches), as the they just narrowly missed out on fifth place in the West. The ex-Canadian international has undoubtedly earned his shot at the job, which means one less likely destination for this offseason’s red-hot candidate Tab Ramos – whose name has consistently come up in recent head coaching rumours, alongside Jesse Marsch, Gregg Berhalter, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Richie Williams and even Bob Bradley, just to name a few.

Whitecaps Part Ways with Martin Rennie

The rumours had been doing the rounds for the past couple of weeks but on Tuesday afternoon it was finally confirmed that the Vancouver Whitecaps Scottish head coach Martin Rennie had been shown the door, following the team’s failure to make the playoffs.

The lack of a postseason berth (Vancouver finished two spots out in the West this year) was the obvious clincher, though the Whitecaps’ overall record in fact improved in Rennie’s second season in charge, leading to an overwhelming sentiment that this may have been a rather knee-jerk decision by the front office. Whatever the case, the organisation simply decided that not enough progress had been made over the past couple of season and some are reporting that a deal has already been struck with former San Jose Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop – a Vancouver-native.


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