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Catching up with the Playoff Challengers in the East

Why can’t we be in the West?

MLS: Montreal Impact at Philadelphia Union Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

As strange as it sounds, the Atlanta Braves used to be in the National League West along with the LA Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. In addition to being an assault on geography, it created some interesting moments as the Braves emerged as a baseball powerhouse. Indeed, the 1993 NL West playoff race may have witnessed the best baseball team to have never reached the post-season. That year the Braves beat out the Giants, who won 103 games that year, for the division title by winning 104 games.

The Major League Soccer Eastern Conference may have a similar phenomenon this year. While the team missing out on the playoffs won’t be one of the most dominant in the league, an argument can be made for eight or nine teams in the conference being deserving of a playoff spot. As of now, only one team has less than 29 points and four teams are within six points of the redline.

Atlanta was inert this weekend and next but the teams in the playoff hunt were alive and kicking. This weekend answered a number of questions like: Did playing a holding midfielder in an attacking role resolve Orlando City’s problems? Is Chicago going to fall apart on the road again? Will the New York Red Bulls keep beating bad teams, thus fooling people into thinking they are getting ready for a late season surge? That and more was answered this weekend.

New York Red Bulls

4th in the East,12-2-9; 38 points
Weekend Result: 3-1 vs Orlando City

Since losing 2-0 to NYCFC at the end of June, the Red Bulls have won five and lost just one in their last six games. This seems impressive but the five teams they beat include San Jose, who had just fired their coach, the Montreal Impact, playing without their best player, and Minnesota United, who field a glorified NASL squad.

The Red Bulls were at it again this weekend taking on an Orlando City team that seems determined to do everything it can to miss the playoffs. New York punished some Orlando mistakes and had a bonafide goal of the week contender when Sean Davis looped a shot past Joe Bendik to put the game out of reach.

While New York has thrived by mopping the floor with the worst teams in MLS, the one loss they have in their last six is to the NYCFC David Villas. It is hard to argue with their results, but the Red Bulls still seem like a team that is overachieving a bit by beating bad squads while Bradley Wright-Phillips rides a hot streak rather than a team looking to contend with the best in the league. With the Red Bulls taking on sides that seem headed to the playoffs in the next four games their upcoming matches will tell if they have really turned the corner this year or have just gotten some impressive results against awful clubs.

Columbus Crew

5th in the East, 11-2-12; 35 points
Weekend Result: 3-1 vs the Chicago Fire

The Crew have not struggled at scoring goals this year, it is their defense that has had problems being up to the task of putting games away. That certainly wasn’t the case this weekend as the Black and Gold put away the Chicago Fire in convincing fashion 3-1 at home. Next week the Crew go on the road to Orlando although they do have three straight at home after that.

That said, the schedule does work against the Crew as they are being chased by teams in the East with as many as three games in hand on them. While their home matches may help them solidify a playoff spot, they will include games against FC Dallas and Sporting KC. If Columbus is going to make the playoffs, these games will be critical and a misstep could see them on the outside looking in.

Montreal Impact

7th in the East, 8-6-8; 30 points
Weekend Result: 3-0 vs the Philadelphia Union

Montreal is another team in the tricky “are they good or are they bad” area of the table. Their recent results have been underwhelming but they have Nacho Piatti back and brought in some defensive help in the transfer window. In order to make the playoffs they’ll have to essentially do the opposite of what they did last year and run toward rather than away from the post-season.

Beating a team like Philly on the road helps their playoff hopes immensely. The Impact have played only 22 matches, while the two teams trailing them in the table have played 24, and their next four matches are at home. However, like the Crew, the home slate of games is not an easy one. Montreal will have to hope that the Chicago Fire continue to struggle on the road before taking on a bad Real Salt Lake squad with Toronto and then the Fire yet again rounding out the home stretch.

Orlando City Soccer Club

8th in the East, 8-6-10; 24 points
Weekend Result: the aforementioned 3-1 loss to the NYRB

This was another in a long line of disappointing results for OCSC. The team has just one win, earning just six points, since the end of May. Losing this game may not put them out of the playoff picture, but bad results in the next two matches could. The controversial Kaka red card and suspension, if it stands, will also deny the team its best creative outlet. On the other hand, it could also be the kind of thing that binds the team together with an us-against-them mindset.

In the next six games, Orlando takes on Columbus and Vancouver at home before going on the road for four straight. At this point they cannot afford to drop points to teams in the conference and losing to Columbus this weekend would put them eight points behind the Crew in the table and five behind an Atlanta team that will have three games in hand on them. Worse still, nothing seems to be working for Orlando. They’re letting in late goals defensively, the injury bug bit with Dom Dwyer and Jonathan Specter missing last weekend’s game, and worst of all their coach seems to be forcing a style of play of on the team that they just don’t look like they have the personnel for.

Yoshi Yotun and Dillon Powers should be the kind of players that enable the type of ball movement that Jason Kreis needs to make his system work, but if that is going to happen it needs to be fast or City will miss the playoffs for a third straight year.

Philadelphia Union

9th in the East, 8-5-11; 29 points
Weekend Result: The aforementioned 3-0 loss to Montreal

What is this team? After beating FC Dallas last weekend 3-1 Philly looked like they may just buck the conventional wisdom that they don’t have the players to get to the post-season. That was before getting absolutely ruined by the Montreal Impact and this tweet essentially showed why they won’t make the playoffs.

They’re done, the Union have four of their next five on the road and unless Alejandro Bedoya gets a tattoo of Juan Ramon Riquelme that comes to life and joins the team they aren’t making the playoffs.

New England Revolution

10th in the East, 8-5-10; 29 points
Weekend Result: 1-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps

Yeah, the East is deep with decent teams this year, New England is second from last in the conference and it isn’t absurd to think they could make the playoffs. The Revs got a needed home win against a young and talented Whitecaps team but it doesn’t seem like this is going to be the start of surge into the post-season for them. In their remaining 11 games they play NYCFC and Atlanta United twice and have tough matchups against Montreal, Toronto, and SKC thrown in.

New England doesn’t seem like a team that is going to beat opponents that are better than them. Even with the win this weekend, the Revs are missing players who can win the ball in the midfield and they lack the players, and possibly the managerial will, to change tactics to try and absorb pressure and then break on the counter. New England still has players that can put the ball in the net but seems too off balanced to translate that offensive power into wins or a playoff birth.

In sum...

The playoff race in the East for the 3-6 spots seems to be shaping up with a hot but perhaps overachieving Red Bulls team, a surprising but schedule hindered Columbus Crew side, and an inert, for now, Atlanta United team looking to fend off a few possible challengers. Montreal seems up to the task while Orlando City needs to fit its new pieces together as quickly as possible. Philly looks destined to fade down the stretch while New England could make some noise but ultimately won’t do enough to overcome its flaws. Luckily for Atlanta United, the team controls its destiny with games against all of these teams except for Columbus to finish out the season.