Last week Ryan and I shared our competing analyses projecting what the MLS table is likely to look at by the end of the season. While there were some differences between our approaches, one trend seemed to be present in both models. Two groups are emerging in the Western Conference this year: a group of five teams that look set to take the playoff spots, and a group of four teams that might be out of the running long before the season ends.
That's as opposed to the Eastern Conference, where three teams look like locks on the playoffs, while as many as five teams compete for the remaining two spots, including the expansion Montreal Impact.
Obviously, it's a little early in the season to count out all of the bottom four Western teams, just as it is unwise to ignore the weaknesses present in Colorado, Vancouver and Seattle. But given the strength of the top teams in the conference, it will take some profound reversals of fortune to break the current trends.
For Portland, Dallas, Chivas and Los Angeles, the time for saving the season may be running out.
Our weekly update on the Western Conference follows the jump.
Last week: 3-0 win at Chivas
RSL came back from their embarrassing defeat to the Minnesota Stars in US Open Cup competition and reestablished themselves as the top team in the MLS West with a 3-0 win over Chivas.
Up next RSL face the LA Galaxy on Wednesday and the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday, the latter of the two being the bigger one. San Jose won their first meeting, at Buck Shaw Stadium, 3-1 in a game that featured ejections of two RSL players. Salt Lake will hope the referees are more discerning this weekend at Rio Tinto.
Week 14 projection: 3-0 win vs Los Angeles; 2-1 loss vs San Jose
San Jose Earthquakes
Last week: bye
The Quakes delayed their post-international-break restart by three days. They take on the Rapids tomorrow in Commerce City before traveling to Sandy to take on the aforementioned conference leaders.
Week 14 projection: 3-2 win at Colorado; 2-1 win at Salt Lake
Last week: 1-0 win vs Colorado
Wait, what? Vancouver is in 3rd place? The Whitecaps continued their implausible 2012 campaign with a gorgeous long ball from Davide Chiumiento that needed all the quality and fortune in the universe to connect with Sebastien Le Toux's foot.
Coming up for Vancouver is an interesting match against a recently humbled New York side (3-1 loss in Chicago on Sunday) at BC Place, followed by a trip down to LA to take on the Galaxy.
Week 14 projection: 2-1 loss vs New York; 2-1 win at Los Angeles
Last week: 4-1 loss at Montreal
Seattle lost its first road game of the season on Saturday, but they made it look routine. Granted, MLS stadium openers have been nearly automatic wins for the home teams (Vancouver excepted, of course), but Montreal looked like the better team for nearly the whole game. Much of that was due to the absence of Osvaldo Alonso in the center of the pitch, which allowed Collen Warner and Patrice Bernier (who finished with an assist-hat-trick -- if that's a thing) almost free rein to create.
Seattle will play Kansas City at home tomorrow night. SKC, notoriously short on depth, got a big boost from the long break and will look to carry on the momentum they built in Toronto, such that it is. Seattle will then, of course, take on Portland at Jeld Wen Field. We'll have much more about that in the coming days.
Week 14 projection: 2-1 loss vs Kansas City; ?-? at Portland (not quite ready to project that one)
Last week: 1-0 loss at Vancouver
The lack of depth on Colorado's back line hurt them on Saturday as they still struggle to get things done offensively without their starting strikers in the lineup. The good news is that the missing pieces could all be back this week, with Omar Cummings and Marvell Wynne finally on the mend.
If it happens, Colorado fans will, for the first time this season, finally get to see the 4-3-3 setup Oscar Pareja has promised, with Cummings, Conor Casey and Martin Rivero all contributing up front and Tony Cascio returning to the wing where he was so effective earlier in the season. It couldn't come at a better time, with a big home game coming up against San Jose.
Week 14 projection: 3-2 loss vs San Jose
Last week: 3-0 loss vs Salt Lake
Chivas used to be known for its stingy defense, before they traded away David Junior Lopes and Heath Pearce (while adding Danny Califf). More recently they had shut down the likes of New York, San Jose and Seattle, but the team's ineptitude against RSL last weekend has to be a concern, as should their offensive problems, which continue in spite of the return of Juan Pablo Angel and the addition of Juan Agudelo. Perhaps they simply need time to build chemistry, but time is beginning to run short.
They host the surging Montreal Impact on Wednesday, followed by a trip to Dallas.
Week 14 projection: 1-0 loss vs Montreal; 2-1 loss at Dallas
Last week: 1-0 win vs Portland
Tied on ppm with Portland, the Galaxy took advantage of the Timbers' continued offensive anemia and squeezed a rare win out of their typical lousy performance. In spite of the excitement of mlssoccer.com's editors about the return of the Galaxy, there is no reason to expect them to win against Salt Lake or Vancouver this week. Then again, the Timbers have had an unusual tendency to send their opponents on season-altering winning streaks.
Week 14 projection: 3-0 loss at Salt Lake; 2-1 loss vs Vancouver
Last week: 2-1 loss at Houston
Another game, another loss, another red card/suspension for Dallas. On the bright side, that they received just one suspension this time around should be seen as a sign of growth.
Seriously, though, Jackson played an outstanding game and is a cause for some optimism among Dallas fans that all hope is not lost for 2012. Unfortunately, there are still too many dicks on Dallas' dance floor, and until they sort out their attitude problems they will continue to have trouble getting three points.
Week 14 projection: 2-1 win vs Chivas