Know your Major League Soccer -- Five things we learned from Week 24:
Several sides just couldn't rise to the occasion in Round 24. We're looking at you, Chicago. And New England.
And Toronto -- Lordy, Lordy, what do you have to say for yourself after that one?
Seattle couldn't make any hay at home, but at least the Sounders are among the lucky eight that would be in if the playoffs were today. Plus,
Chicago, New England and Toronto all had chances to put some pressure on the "in" crowd, to close the gap, and were all nicely set up against teams below them in the standings.
But after a weekend where the pursuers just couldn't make up ground, we're getting closer to a finish that could fall flat. As it is, there are five teams sitting comfortably and three others keeping a relatively safe distance on the peloton. If this keeps up, the dash to the finish won't be worth watching outside of the quest for the Supporters Shield and a slight interest in positioning.
There was talk of urgency around Chicago as
That was the Fire's second swing and miss of the week. Chicago had a chance to make up serious ground with a two-fer, a midweek home date against weary Toronto (drawing 0-0) before the visit to Philly. Chicago is 2-2-3 since Aug. 1, going down a little too gently in this fight.
New England's offense was similarly staid in a visit to Chivas USA. Revs coach
Seattle clearly missed
And what can you say about Toronto, other than just to shake your head? Actually here's what ...
Toronto started slowly under new coach
But Preki's side is 1-5-2 in all competitions lately, trending back downward while simply not getting enough from designed players
You'd have thought Preki, a perennially coiled presence anyway, would have been utterly apoplectic. Rather, he calmly lamented the wretched performance, blaming it on a schedule packed with travel and matches. He said his players tried hard but were simply too tuckered to make the magic happen.
So TFC may soon establish some dubious marks in its fourth year. No team in MLS has ever needed more than four seasons to reach the playoffs. Real Salt Lake got there on its fourth go-round. (Remember, 10 teams started at the same time back in 1996.)
Plus, only one club has previously missed the playoffs four years running, the San Jose Earthquakes from 1997-2000. Yes, missing out for four consecutive years was a bigger sin back in the day because of the insufferably forgiving playoff structure. (The tougher playoff structure of today remains fairly lenient, but it can now be marked as "tolerably forgiving," at least.) But even so, a franchise doesn't want to hang its hat on this kind of dubious record.
Preki's men can still make it but they'll need to seriously mash the pedal -- and hope that Seattle, San Jose or Colorado stumbles along the way. Otherwise, if everyone just holds serve, the playoff field may already be set. And Toronto isn't part of it. Again.
Simply put, if referees aren't going to have the courage to call the fouls they see, especially inside the 18, we can all expect more low-scoring matches.
Just ask Preki, who watched two handballs go uncalled at Chicago. One was debatable, at least. But what referee
That proved just the early appetizer. New York rookie defender
In San Jose, a clumsy challenge from Dallas defender
MLS and U.S. Soccer simply must encourage referees to call the fouls they see. It's no more complicated than that.
Part II of "penalty kick problems" had nothing to do with the men in the middle. The last two penalty kicks taken in MLS have been saved. Interestingly, both were struck by members of the U.S. World Cup team.
Braun hit for a ninth time Friday night and has scored or assisted on almost half his team's goals (12 of 25).
Meanwhile, what else can you say about Le Toux's fantastic campaign? He hit for No. 11 in the Union's 1-0 win over Chicago. (You may not see it on the highlights, but he started the goal-scoring sequence with a great, early ball out of the back and across the field -- and then hustled into position for the quality, clever finish.)
Le Toux's scoring and playmaking are no accident. His work rate is nothing short of inspirational. He was a one-man force Saturday in Chester.
Le Toux has already secured a 10-10 season (at least 10 goals and 10 assists). Those aren't exactly rare in MLS, but they don't grow on cherry trees, either. There have been seven in MLS over the last five seasons.
Thing is, the 10-10 club is full of former and present MLS A-listers, names like
But Le Toux is a guy who is toiling for an expansion side and is not even a striker. He has spent much of the season in midfield. And don't forget he was left unprotected 10 months ago by Seattle. It's a fantastic story -- it's just too bad that it's unlikely to be heard in the playoffs.
It's a players' game. We hear that all the time. But it's up to the coaches to pick 'em. And to make 'em better. So here are the top 10 MLS coaches of 2010, based solely on how they've performed this year.