Join Now | 
HomeAboutContact UsPrivacy & SecurityAdvertise
Soccer America DailySoccer World DailySpecial EditionAround The NetSoccer Business InsiderCollege Soccer ReporterYouth Soccer ReporterSoccer on TVSoccer America ClassifiedsGame Report
Paul Gardner: SoccerTalkSoccer America ConfidentialYouth Soccer InsiderWorld Cup Watch
RSS FeedsArchivesManage SubscriptionsSubscribe
Order Current IssueSubscribeManage My SubscriptionRenew My SubscriptionGift Subscription
My AccountJoin Now
Tournament CalendarCamps & AcademiesSoccer GlossaryClassifieds
MLS conference duels crank up the intensity
by Ridge Mahoney, June 22nd, 2012 2:55AM

TAGS:  mls


The glamor game for MLS this week is a Cascadia Cup clasico, Portland vs. Seattle at Jeld-Wen Field, yet for all the history and histrionics connected to this match, and the national telecast to be aired on ESPN2, it’s much more about the points. As it should be.

It’s taken MLS a long time, its entire existence really, to approach the point where regular-season games carry significant weight. This won’t necessarily generate great soccer; if anything, players scrap and claw more than they flick and pirouette when squeezed by pressure. But what it should produce is riveting theater in a seething setting that captivates the audience. Fierce play and roaring fans are the sizzle that sells the steak.

Some of this is simple math; not so long ago, the league shrunk down to 10 teams vying for eight playoff spots. This season, nine teams miss the playoffs. Much of it has to do with stadiums of smaller dimensions yet greater proximity for a fan base growing more rabid each season. And increasing the number of intraconference games while narrowing the playoff spots to five per conference has intensified their importance.

The Sounders are floundering, the Timbers are teetering, and with Los Angeles back on the beam, Vancouver puffing out its chest and the cardiac Quakes rumbling along, the Western Conference playoff race is bunching up as the midpoint of the season approaches.

So while the Sounders-Timbers rivalry, rife with animosity, spans several leagues and a few decades, there shouldn’t be any shortage of fierceness when the Quakes travel to Salt Lake City after stunning its Rocky Mountain Cup rival Colorado Wednesday with two late goals, or as the Galaxy hosts the Whitecaps, or when struggling FC Dallas tries to break a 10-game winless streak at home against Chivas USA.

RSL lost at San Jose, 3-1, in April. After going down to nine men yet forging into stoppage time tied, 1-1, the Quakes struck twice. RSL welcomes the Quakes after blowing a 2-0 lead at home in a soul-crushing 3-2 loss to the Galaxy, which toppled the Timbers last weekend, 1-0, to win back-to-back games for the first time in nearly two months.

There’ll be plenty of drama in the Eastern Conference games, too. Toronto FC, which dismissed head coach Aron Winter two weeks ago, hosts New England, which is rebuilding under former Rev Jay Heaps. Both teams tied on the road in midweek; TFC blew a two-goal lead in Houston, New England rallied to get a point in Vancouver. TFC head coach Paul Mariner used to coach Heaps. Those are subplots, though, because both teams need points, as neither is in the top five.

The other team to jettison its coach, Philadelphia, hosts Sporting Kansas City, still in the process of regaining its mojo after it tore through the first seven games of the season by winning all of them. Midwest neighbors Chicago and Columbus get it on at Toyota Park, and those good buddies United and New York tangle at RFK.

Many teams are in the phase of the schedule in which they play their second games of the season against each other, knowing that in some cases a third game looms as well. Whether or not familiarity breeds contempt -- and many Sounders and Timbers would say you can be damn sure it does -- a glance at the standings reveals how vital points are likely to be this season.

In both conferences, a cluster of teams has separated themselves from the rest. In the East, D.C. United (30 points), Sporting KC (29), and New York (27) have opened up a gap back to fourth-place Chicago (21). RSL (32 points) leads a quartet including San Jose (30), Vancouver (26) and Seattle (25) that is also separated by six points from the next team, Colorado (19).

In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Timbers coach John Spencer talked passionately about rivalry games, and also refused to talk about Cal FC’s memorable U.S. Open Cup defeat of his team in late May. A few cyber-blurbs chastised his testiness; I completely agreed with him. The Timbers are slipping out of the picture, and Seattle is a formidable obstacle regardless of geography or jealousy.

Before the FIFA break, Portland, though laboring, was in seventh place ahead of the staggering Galaxy; now LA has taken that seventh-place spot, and the Timbers are tied for last with FC Dallas. While all three teams are close to Colorado, and there’s one half of season to be played, they are already pondering the possibility the best they can hope for is a wild-card spot by finishing fifth -- and just to achieve that they need to win.

The weekend action ends on Sunday with Portland-Seattle, two newbies to MLS whose entwined legacies date back nearly 40 years, followed by D.C. United-New York, who’ve been kicking the snot out of each other since Day 1 of MLS.

Caliber of play and stakes will lag far behind the Euro 2012 quarterfinal between England and Italy earlier that day, but for a league regularly criticized for too many meaningless games, these matter.

  1. John Foust
    commented on: June 22, 2012 at 9:07 a.m.
    Love your closing comment on the DCU-NY game!
  1. Glenn Auve
    commented on: June 22, 2012 at 10:12 a.m.
    Does no one proof-read these things? NE did not play Vancouver midweek. That was NY. And DC-NY is at Red Bell, not RFK.
  1. Glenn Auve
    commented on: June 22, 2012 at noon
    gahh! Red Bull, not Red Bell. I guess no one does proofread, including me!
  1. Demon Juice
    commented on: June 22, 2012 at 1:03 p.m.
    And the Portland-Seattle game is on ESPN, not ESPN2... but beside those unimportant details... LOL

Sign in to leave a comment. Don't have an account? Join Now



Recent Soccer America Confidential
Fire go outside the box to hire Paunovic    
One season with the Philadelphia Union is the full extend of Veljko Paunovic's MLS experience, yet ...
It's time to give pro/rel a rest    
In retirement, Landon Donovan, it seems, has too much time on his hands. If you follow ...
Breaking down Sunday's Timbers-FC Dallas MLS playoff game    
FC Dallas and Portland,MLS rivals for just five seasons, form one of the league's more intriguing ...
Breaking down Sunday's Crew-Red Bulls MLS playoff game    
Both legs of the Eastern Conference finals between Columbus and New York are sold out, which ...
Replacing Klinsmann is the lower-risk option: Time for a fresh start    
First of all, throw out of any equation to rate Jurgen Klinsmann's job performance the USA's ...
Andres Cantor on Hispanic support for the USA, MLS, women's game and his toughest assignment    
Andres Cantor has inked a multi-year contract extension with Telemundo, which sets him up to do ...
Round one points out higher price of semifinal results in Concacaf World Cup qualifying     
Honduras and Panama suffered costly defeats as the semifinal round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying got ...
Stuart Holden on the national team, soccer camps, retirement and, yes, Jonny Evans    
Stuart Holden is at the crossroads in his soccer career. He represented the USA at the ...
Chicharito's good start in Germany bodes badly for USA    
American fans concerned about their team and its rivalry with Mexico have another reason to worry: ...
MLS's big spenders and misers, who came out better?    
So who had money on the two faces of the MLS playoffs, coming out of the ...
>> Soccer America Confidential Archives