Photo by SounderBruce / Flickr
After a regular season unlike any other, 18 of Major League Soccer’s 26 teams have qualified for the playoffs and will vie for MLS Cup. Ten of the postseason participants come from the 14-team Eastern Conference, including four of the five most successful teams in the regular season from a points per game perspective.
The other eight hail from the Western Conference, led by No. 1 seed Sporting Kansas City and the reigning MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders. Here are the reason for optimism, reason for concern, x-factor and bottom line for each Western Conference playoff team.
8) San Jose Earthquakes (8-9-6, 1.30 PPG)
Reason for optimism: The defense isn’t a complete mess anymore
The 51 goals the Earthquakes allowed this season are the highest total in the league by five. Teams scored at least four on San Jose seven times including the knockout rounds of the MLS is Back tournament. Unsurprisingly, the Earthquakes lost all seven of those games. However, it’s happened just once since Sept. 23, and that was the regular season finale against Seattle. In a nine-game stretch from Sept. 27 to Nov. 4, they conceded multiple goals just twice. That’s enough of a sample size to believe the problem might actually be fixed.
Reason for concern: Inherent risk
Matías Almeyda’s uncompromising and uber-aggressive tactical philosophy leaves San Jose susceptible to lopsided scorelines like the 7-1, 6-1 and 5-0 defeats his team suffered in the span of two weeks during the course of this season. Almeyda is not going to take a pragmatic approach and attempt to squeak out a 1-0 win. For better or worse (and it’s often been worse), the Earthquakes are going to do things their way.
X-factor: Chris Wondolowski
MLS’ all-time leading scorer is approaching his 38th birthday and still scoring more goals than anyone else on this Earthquakes team. The man just knows how to put the ball in the net. He logged 13 starts this season, his fewest since 2010, but appeared in 22 games. Though the former league MVP is no longer playing 90 minutes game in and game out, he has not lost his touch in front of goal. If this does end up being his final season, the league will be saying goodbye to a legend who’s never gotten the recognition he deserves.
There is no doubt they will be entertaining. It is a testament to Almeyda that he didn’t lose his players during that horrifying stretch in September. Still, it’s unreasonable to expect anything more than an early exit.
On page 2: LAFC