Not to say every season isn't going to be tough, but if these first two weeks' games are anything to go by, the dominance of the Western Conference over the last couple seasons (2010-2011) is going to reach new heights for this season, and that puts the Portland Timbers in quite the predicament as this year's play off will not allow for any cross-conference joining as with previous years:
Ten teams, the top five in points from each conference at the end of the regular season, qualify for the 2012 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Where as last year the Timbers has the chance to sneak in on the easier Eastern Conference side, this year it's top five in the west or nothing.
But first, let's take a look at how the standings look after the first two weeks because it's actually quite the site to behold:
|1||Sporting Kansas City||6||2||2||0||0||4||0||4||1-0-0||1-0-0||W-W|
|9||New York Red Bulls||0||2||0||2||0||1||4||-3||0-0-0||0-2-0||L-L|
|10||New England Revolution||0||2||0||2||0||0||4||-4||0-0-0||0-2-0||L-L|
|1||Real Salt Lake||6||2||2||0||0||5||1||4||1-0-0||1-0-0||W-W|
|3||Vancouver Whitecaps FC||6||2||2||0||0||3||0||3||1-0-0||1-0-0||W-W|
|6||Seattle Sounders FC||3||1||1||0||0||3||1||2||1-0-0||0-0-0||W|
|8||San Jose Earthquakes||3||2||1||1||0||1||1||0||1-1-0||0-0-0||W-L|
Eastern Conference teams have a grand total 14 points to their names. Ten teams, 14 points. The top three teams in the west have a total of 18 points. The only team not to have won at least a single game is Chivas USA. In fact, across all competitions between West-East teams the Western Conference side has prevailed 9 our of 11 times with only the Houston Dynamo having won against Chivas USA and the San Jose Earthquakes, both times away from home.
While that's arguably a great start for Houston, both of those teams were marked early on as being two of the weaker Western Conference teams. Not to take anything away from them because 3 points is still a great 3 points.
So why bring this up? Because it's important to know that the Timbers, despite adding some quality depth, is going to need to really pull it together to make it to the play offs this year. A draw away from home against FC Dallas is great, but it's not going to get them into the Western Conference play offs.
It's also worth noting that in order for the Timbers to make it this year one of these five teams will have to sit out:
- Los Angeles Galaxy - 2011 MLS Cup and Supporters Shield Winners, 2010 Supporters Shiled Winners, 2009 MLS Cup runner-up
- Real Salt Lake - 2009 MLS Cup Winners, 2010 CCL runner-up
- Colorado Rapids - 2010 MLS Cup Winners
- FC Dallas - 2010 MLS Cup runner-up
- Seattle Sounders - US Open Cup winners 2009-2011
Each has had an impressive run over the last few years and each are expected to do well this year. For many pundits and fans, for any of these teams to be out of the play offs is fairly inconceivable at the moment, even despite LA's recent run of bad form.
My entire reason for writing this article is to bring some, myself included, back into reality. We've gone on record as saying that the Timbers will make the play offs this year and I think they CAN do it, absolutely, but looking at the competition so far shows me that, if nothing else, there absolutely won't be any favors given to the Timbers this year. It's going to be a long, gritty battle for those precious play off spots.
And come September-October my money is on the Western Conference being a hotly contested battle at every turn for those three precious points.
What do you think of the Western Conference so far? Has it reigned in some of your ambitions for the season? Enhanced them?
Side note: I am, in no way, wishing the Timbers were in the Eastern Conference due to their relative ease at the moment. On the contrary, I believe that the Timbers will row stronger because they're in the Western Conference. While this season's play offs aren't a lock yet, I have no doubt it'll eventually lead to a better team overall.