Eastern Conference; play off race.
Following on from the Western Conference I’d like to take a similar look at the Eastern conference and the challenges that lie in front for the teams in these remaining make or break games.
The top 3 in the East look to be taken care of, it’s how they finish that dictates the seeding, home advantage and vital momentum going into their playoff games. DC and Toronto are out of any equation and given the news at Toronto last week, regarding Kevin Payne and the insistence in DC to use the younger players, they are both starting preparations for next season.
My top 5 looks like this.
In pole position are NY. The Red Bulls made many off season changes both on and off the field. Mike Petke and Robin Fraser took over the team and Andy Roxburgh came in as Technical Director.
There were plenty of trades for the team as well. Arriving were Jamison Olave, Fabian Espindola, Eric Alexander, Johnny Steele and my old pal Kosuke Kimura to name but a few. The team’s away form up until Sunday night has been less than convincing though and there has also been the well-publicised bust up between Petke and Thierry Henry.
These may provide reasons to discard them as Conference Champions, however this squad is extremely talented and the options they possess up front and the creative addition of Bradley Wright-Phillips and Lloyd Sam contains goals. Their home form has been terrific and with four league games left at home and only two away the run-in looks very inviting for NYRB.
In second place, I see Montreal. This team with new head coach Schallibaum started like a train, early victories in the league and the capture of the Canadian Cup, has given everyone belief and a healthy buffer. Added fixtures through CONCACAF will make fatigue and squad rotation key areas to monitor but their 2 games in hand on Kansas will prove decisive for the 2nd spot.
I am predicting that Kansas will finish 3rd and that will be a major blow for the Eastern Conference (regular season) Champs for the last 2 seasons, especially as this team is arguably their strongest. The ever reliable back four of last year has been a little leaky this year and though they have good options in attacking positions the experience and power of Kai Kamara, newly arrived in Middlesbrough, will be missed.
4th and 5th places are harder to call. None of the remaining contenders are in particularly good form and these home stretch games are about dealing with pressure and taking advantage of home games.
For me Houston have the credentials to snatch 4th. Dominic Kinnear will be studying the schedule and prioritising particular games. Many of this squad have been in this pressure cooker environment before, however the big personalities in the locker room, Brad Davis, Ricardo Clark and Brian Ching will have to drag every last drop out of the rest of the group.
Chicago steal into 5th and the chance to progress against Houston in the play-in game. Frank Klopas I believe made some of the best signings in MLS this last off season. Of course I am biased because the men played for me in Colorado, but the additions of Jeff Larentowicz and Wells Thompson gave the group some grit and determination.
Joel Lindpere and Dilly Duka add some craft and the mid-season signings of Bakary Soumare and Mike Magee should have lifted everyone, but for some reason this well balanced group have stuttered and spluttered. This is their last chance to capitalise and they need to make it count.
New England who have had a good season and upsurge under Jay Heaps will lack the nerve and reliability to make the post season in my opinion and Columbus Crew have too much ground to make up for a side who haven’t won away from home this year.
One thing is for sure the run for the playoffs will provide some great excitement and entertainment as all the teams involved are so evenly matched.
Good luck to all and let the sleepless nights begin!