Photo by ISIphotos.com
By TRAVIS CLARK
The cooler temperatures of September hit on Tuesday, and with it marks the home stretch of the regular season in MLS. The last two months of the season will be worth keeping an eye on, with 11 teams fighting for the eight playoffs spots.
Further increasing competition, substantial leads have disappeared for Columbus and Houston, as both Chicago and Los Angeles find themselves right on the heels of the conference leaders. With three three wins in a row, New England has thrown itself back in the mix.
Over in the West, six of the eight teams have more than 33 points. Given the playoff format this year (top two teams in each conference qualify, then the next four based on point total), it's going to be a tense and heated battle that should last to the end of the day.
Head-to-head matches in the month of September will be even bigger. Starting this weekend, Colorado takes on Toronto in the first of back-to-back matches that could leave the loser in a big hole. Seattle has a big test on September 12 in D.C., while Columbus and Chicago meet on September 20.
A point to consider is the number of games each club has played. New England still has nine games left, having played four less than Houston and two less than Columbus. With a healthy roster, the Revolution are in good shape.
Since not all teams have played the same number of matches, the best way to calculate where teams stand now is to figure out what each team's points-per-game average is. This was the average used by MLS in 2001 to determine playoff positioning after the 9/11 terrorist attacks caused the cancellation of the remainder of the regular season
How does the playoff race look once we calculate points per game? Here's a rundown:
Columbus………..1.69 points per match (ppm); 39 points from 23 matches
Chicago………….1.58 ppm; 38 points from 24 matches
Houston………….1.6 ppm; 40 points from 25 matches
Los Angeles………1.58 ppm; 38 points from 24 matches
Wild Card Playoff Slots
New England…….1.57 ppm; 33 from 21 matches
Colorado………..1.5 ppm; 33 pts from 22 matches
Chivas USA……..1.5 ppm; 33 pts from 22 matches
Seattle………….1.41 ppm; 34 pts from 24 matches
D.C. United……..1.39 ppm; 32 points from 23 matches
Real Salt Lake…..1.37 ppm; 33 points from 24 matches
Toronto…………1.34 ppm; 31 points from 23 matches
Current First-Round Playoff Pairings
Columbus Crew vs. Seattle Sounders
Houston Dynamo vs. Chivas USA
Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution
Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Colorado Rapids
Yes, that is Seattle holding down the final playoff spot while New England, which has played three fewer games than the Sounders, settles in at No. 5. D.C. United and Real Salt Lake are both within striking distance of Seattle, Colorado and Chivas USA for the final playoff spots, while Toronto FC needs to start winning some games to be a serious threat. For those wondering, Colorado is head of Chivas USA on goal differential.
Which teams do you see making late moves in the standings? Which clubs do you see fading?
Share your thoughts below.