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When East meets West
by Ridge Mahoney, April 28th, 2008 1PM

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TAGS:  mls

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By beating San Jose 2-0 at the Meadowlands Sunday, New York further tightened a logjam atop the Eastern Conference standings and tilted more sharply the balance of power toward the Right Coast.

The victory upped New York's record to 2-1-1, giving every Eastern team other than D.C. United (2-3-0) a record better than .500.

Four Eastern teams already have at least 10 points, with Columbus (4-1-0, 12 points) leading the pack and Chicago (3-1-1, 10 points), New England (3-2-1) and Kansas City (3-2-1) in a three-way tie, with Toronto (3-2-0, 9 points) a further point back.

Out west, only conference leader FC Dallas is above sea level, and at 2-1-2 and eight points would be a sixth-place team in the East. It made the biggest addition among Western teams during the offseason by signing Mexican defender Duilio Davino, and is one of only three Western teams to beat an Eastern foe, a 2-0 defeat of Red Bull New York on April 12.

Eastern teams made more moves and so far are showing, for the most part, positive results.

Exactly one-sixth of the season (35 of 210 games) has been played, so it's early days for drawing conclusions about relative strength of the conferences. Yet already the East has taken a huge lead in games against Western teams, thanks in great part to players added late last season and during the offseason.

This might not seem surprising, given that Eastern teams filled five of the eight playoff slots in 2007. Yet in head-to-head, inter-conference play, the East held just a narrow edge: 30 wins, 28 losses, 26 ties in 84 games.

Only the Revs (7-2-3) and D.C. (6-3-3) truly beat up on Western teams. Playoff qualifiers Chicago (3-4-5) and Kansas City (3-5-4) were sub-.500 against the West. However, every Western team except Chivas USA (8-2-4) played better than .500 vs. the East. (Western teams played 14 interconference games compared to 12 for Eastern teams because of imbalance in a 13-team league.)

So far this season the East is bullying the other division. In 16 interconference games, Eastern teams have won 11, lost three, and tied two. Eastern teams have played 10 of those 16 games at home, which accounts for some of the discrepancy. Yet given the closeness of interconference results last year, in 2008 the early returns are certainly pro-East.

In four head-to-head showdowns last weekend, Eastern teams -- playing at home in each case -- swept all four. No Western team got so much as a tie. Last Thursday, the Revs beat FC Dallas, 1-0, at Pizza Hut Park, marking the third away win posted by an Eastern team in a Western city this season. That result, given the Revs were missing five starters, and that of the Crew -- which didn't reach the postseason last year -- beating defending champion Houston, 1-0, may typify a shift toward the East, whose teams look to have improved themselves more than those in the West.

Crew midfielders Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Adam Moffat controlled the midfield and seldom allowed Dwayne De Rosario much space. While Crew coach Sigi Schmid has added Moffat and left back Gino Padula to his starting lineup, Coach Dominic Kinnear is still looking for attacking punch to replace Joseph Ngwenya and Nate Jaqua.

Toronto FC knocked off Los Angeles, 3-2, at HDC April 13, and looked tough again while beating Eastern foe Kansas City, 2-0, Saturday. Laurent Robert and Amado Guevara have helped transform last year's doormat into a legitimate competitor, and despite losing the Wizards look stronger too with Ivan Trujillo and Claudio Lopez on board.

The Fire is 2-0 against the West. It beat expansion San Jose, 1-0, "away" (in Oakland) April 12, and topped another Western team, Colorado, Saturday with a pair of goals by John Thorrington, who rejoined the team last September after being waived six months earlier. He joins Polish forward Tomasz Frankowski among four players who have each scored two goals.

An expansion team is expected to struggle, especially on the road, yet the Quakes faced a Red Bull team missing Juan Pablo Angel and Dane Richards Sunday and were outshot, 19-5. Twice Nick Garcia cleared Red Bull shots off the goal line and San Jose managed just two shots on target. Red Bull didn't add any big names, yet newcomers Luke Sassano, Oscar Etcheverry and Danleigh Borman have contributed, and 2007 arrival Kevin Goldthwaite has tightened the back line.

The only Western team to beat an Eastern team on the road, Colorado, knocked off the Revs, 1-0, at Gillette Stadium. That game came just three days after New England had won, 3-1, in Kansas City. The Rapids' acquisitions Christian Gomez (one goal, one assist in five games) and Tom McManus (one goal) have been helpful but not dramatic.

Still to be played are 82 of 98 interconference games, which make up nearly one-half (14 of 30, or 46.7 percent) of each team's schedule. Rather than play every conference foe three times (18 games) and each team in the other conference twice (14 games) for a 32-game schedule, the league stayed at 30 games by designating a third game against each of four opponents (12 games) and mandating two games against each of the other nine teams (18 games), regardless of conference affiliation.

If the conference imbalance continues, MLS officials will be lambasted for increasing the number of automatic qualifiers per conference from two in 2007 to three this season. Yet either way, the league has inched closer to a balanced schedule with the difference between interconference and intraconference games reduced to two. And the league can't be blamed if Western teams can't keep up with their rivals back East.



0 comments
  1. Manuel Trejo-von Angst
    commented on: April 28, 2008 at 4:55 p.m.
    there is no need to wait to lambaste the league office, changing the format to 3 per conference was the dumbest thing they could have done. It was an obvious move to try to give LA a better chance of reaching the playoffs and it only managed to water down the regular season a bit again. Garber should be ashamed of himself. Last year's playoff race was probably the best there has ever been and they go ahead and make it a bit softer again. A travesty. IMO it should only be the top 1 from each conference and the rest are determined by table order if they are going to keep the conference system and playoffs.


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