Some things in MLS are expected: the LA Galaxy round up into form in late summer, some other team goes on a surge in their last 10 games and Houston and Chicago remain largely irrelevant.
Here`s a look at how each MLS team is poised to enter the home stretch ... They are listed here in the order I expect them to finish in. Let`s start in the East.
- RBNY ... with BWP and KIjestan now entrenched as a top partnership in MLS, the Red Bulls will finish first in the East and make a serious run at the Cup in the fall. Additions like Damani and Royer will help as will Veron showing some form.
- TFC ... yes I know, it`s hard to see for Montreal fans ... but the Reds will finish ahead ... Giovinco continues to prove he`s an Alien from the planet Atomicus Formicaedus ... And, if Altidore stays healthy, Toronto`s run in the playoffs could last more than a game.
- IMFC ... here we go ... if the stars align ...that means if Piatti, Drogba and Ciman lead the way and the play in midfield stays solid with Bernardello and Donadel ...there`s a real chance the Impact will be dark horse favourites to win the MLS Cup ...provided defensive woes are corrected.
- NYCFC ... Villa, Lampard and Pirlo ... how much have they got in the tank? Can they keep their run going? How will Harrison fare later int he season and how in the name of all that is Holy in the Game will they fix their defense? All those questions lead me to believe that the Bronx Cityzens will drop in the standings and be ousted early in the playoffs.
- Philadelphia ... the only reason the Union is not higher is that I believe other teams will make strong runs in the final weeks ... They too are well poised but they might miss the clutch game that Sebastien LeToux brought them in the past.
- Orlando ... with Kaka and Cyle Larin leading the way ... under the helm of Jason Kreis ... the Lions will beat out DC United and Columbus for the final playoffs spot. How far they travel in the post-season will depend on how much work Kreis can do with his defensive corps.
Missing out on the playoffs will be: DC United, Columbus, the Revolution and Chicago ... Don`t be surprised to see coaching changes in all those cities ...with the possible exception of the Crew.
The Western Conference is very strong again this year and it`s a good bet the MLS Cup winner will emerge from it. Here`s how I think they will stand when the season ends:
- Colorado ... they have everything ... but it starts with a solid defense shielding an excellent goalie (Tim Howard) which will make breaking them down in the post-season a real challenge. And they can have punch with Doyle, Gashi and Jones. If you add the experience of LeToux and Pappa and the energetic play of Azira in midfield ... they look like champions.
- FC Dallas ... it all depends on which Dallas team shows up in the playoffs. The quick passing, enterprising attack-minded young squad ? or the inexperienced, hesitant and error-prone young squad? I think they will be fine and will end up in the Conference final.
- LA Galaxy ... how can you discount a team with such fire power and stars? Don`t forget a solid central defense with Steres and Van Damme and you have the potential of Gerrard, Dos Santos, Zardes and Keane running wild in the opposing team`s area. Another MLS Cup is a distinct possibility for Bruce Arena`s group.
- Sporting KC ...not the best season for Peter Vermes` team ... but he has a knack for having his squad round into form at the right moment. Dom Dwyer and Benny Feilhaber will play a crucial role as will Roger Espinoza, should SKC go far.
- RSL ... the perennial playoff team in the West ... will do it again this year ... with a strong mix of youth and experience ...with the greatest GK in MLS history ( Nick Rimando ) backstopping them, the Utah team will enter the post-season in good shape ... they could even surprise many people and make a long run into December.
- Seattle ... Lodeiro, Lodeiro, Lodeiro ... he`ll do just enough partnering up with Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris to get the Sounders into a playoff spot ... But, it`s likely to be a consolation prize as they might only be there for a single game ...
The race to finish sixth in the West will be won by the Sounders, leaving Portland, San Jose and Vancouver looking in from the outside. The injuries to the Timbers back line will prove too much while Vancouver`s defensive woes will be their undoing ... Houston are doormats ... again.
Who do you think will make the playoffs? And which team will be the surprise in the post-season?