By TRAVIS CLARK
With July making way for August, the pressure really begins to turn up for clubs in search of a playoff berth. The international transfer window has seen a number of moves, as front offices bolster rosters in an effort to fortify squads and gear up for a playoff run.
Teams out in the East are struggling in particular — Philadelphia, New England and D.C. all have 15 points or less, with United looking unable to find any consistency on the field. The once proud club has been shutout 12 of 18 games, and will need a miracle run to be able to sniff the playoffs. Up north, a young Union side seems to be one or two players away from breaking through, though with a friendly second-half schedule could be one side that surprises.
New England's struggles stem from injuries and a lack of a prolific goal scorer. Marko Perovic has carried the team's offense of late, and if at least one of the two new signings Ilija Stolica and Brazilian Roberto Linck works out, the Revolution are capable of putting a run together with Steve Nicol at the helm.
Eastern Conference counterpart Kansas City, after a dreadful run of eight games without a win. Things have improved of late, posting a 2-0-1 mark in league play recently, not to mention a win over Manchester United in a friendly. Rookie Teal Bunbury's play is going to be crucial — if Bunbury can continue to develop well and team up with forward Kei Kamara to drive the offense, the Wizards might manage to sneak into the playoffs. Jimmy Nielsen has to be one of the best acquisitions of the offseason, saving points out in Kansas City time and time again.
The Chicago Fire have made two big moves over the past two weeks — adding Freddie Ljungberg and Nery Castillo to what was a slumping attack. And while those two should mix well with Brian McBride and Collins John, the defense needs to improve. Along with that, the move to bring in Andrew Dykstra instead of Jon Busch looks questionable at best. Sean Johnson's debut and performance Sunday night in Los Angeles certainly means he'll get a second look in net.
Out in the West, the struggles of the Houston Dynamo isn't a huge surprise. Dominic Kinnear has consistently proven that he is one of the best coaches in MLS, but has struggled to adjust to the losses of Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark. Add to that key players like Brian Ching and Geoff Cameron missing time with injuries, and it's no wonder that they are mired in seventh place. Houston is still within striking range, and with Cameron's return on the horizon, the Dyanmo can't be counted out.
The other team in Los Angeles, Chivas USA will hope that Saturday's win over Columbus can instigate a second half turnaround. Martin Vasquez faces an uphill battle to guide the Rojiblancos to the playoffs. Justin Braun has been one of the few bright spots, and the young striker could be in line for a U.S. cap this year. Outside of that, it's been hit or miss. Chivas chances hinge on two young midfielders — Blair Gavin and Ben Zemanski, the return of Paulo Nagamura, and new addition Giancarlo Maldonado.
Of the MLS stragglers, the remaining schedule for Chicago, New England and Philadelphia hands those sides an opportunity to make up some ground. If Philadelphia can develop a winning formula in the cozy new confines of PPL Park in particular, Peter Nowak has the experience to guide his team to the postseason.
What team do you think bounces back and makes the playoffs? Can Philadelphia, New England or Chivas turn things around?
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