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Racing for 50, Falling for 30

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A funny thing is happening during MLS expansion. The product is not getting watered down. It is staying stable at worse, getting better at best. It isn't just the multi-ball Designated Player rule, but some of it has to be with better American collegiate players coming to the league, with players staying rather than leaving, and with better scouting of players who want to use the ladder to climb to a more profitable league. There is a fair amount of talent out there, if there wasn't playing on FIFA dates wouldn't be such a big deal, because if there was not talent, the teams would not be losing players.

But teams are doing something interesting this year in their hunt for the Playoffs. As many as FIVE could finish with 50 or more points. And THREE are likely to finish with 30 or less. This is highly unusual in league history. Half the teams on the extremes in a parity league. It kind of happened in 2005 & 2007, but for the hunt for the Shield is not wide open. The chase for a top non-expansion draft pick is usually one awful team.

Season

50 & Over

30 & Under

2010

5

3

2009

0

2

2008

2

0

2007

4

2

2006

1

0

2005

2

3

2004

0

0

2003

1

1

2002

1

1

Next year, finally, an average team will miss the MLS Cup Playoffs (1.33 points per match won't cut it), as there will be 18 team in the league, and yet the battle on the fringes will be fierce as well. Different roster construction theories will offer different team styles, and none will be right. They will just work.

The regular season title is being contested by 3 teams with no Designated Players (Columbus Crew, Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas), though the Crew definitely have a DP quality guy on the pitch. The other two go the other extreme and will have as many DPs as they are allowed Los Angeles Galaxy and New York Red Bulls are dripping with high end talent, and first round picks (both have sucked recently). With David Beckham returning to the pitch soon (Sept 11th even) the League will get a minor spurt of attention.

What that attention will ignore is that there are 5 quality teams playing good soccer of quite differing styles. Galaxy are a counter-puncher. Real Salt Lake is a down hill possession side that runs. The Crew are steady and patient. FC Dallas has a backline that enters the attack regularly. Red Bull rides two dominant forwards and hopes that Marquez can stop any counter.

Yet, when the Playoffs come one of those will fall in the opening round, if not two. Seattle, Colorado and San Jose are skilled teams with differing style as well. The old markers of 40 points and in, and 50 points and Champion are falling, and hard.

The league is better for it. The stories are better. The soccer is better.