After only three weeks of the season gone, some patterns have already emerged suggesting who the big hitters will be in the Eastern Conference.
Even now Impact fans can see which clubs are likely to be main rivals for playoff spots. New York City, Toronto and Atlanta United, despite a horrible opening day, look the most powerful sides in the division, and while finishing above at least one of this trio is likely to prove enough to enter post-season play, it’s not contests against these three that will be most crucial.
I see Montreal in the next batch of clubs, perhaps at the moment only just, but with reinforcements on their way and a coach who will compare with the very best MLS has to offer, I expect Montreal to be punching their weight against the likes of Columbus, NYRB, Chicago and Philadelphia.
That makes it 8 teams from the East in my book, with a highly realistic chance of making the post-season. Montreal must take more points than they lose off this middle group. It’s those clubs at this level, which provide the real threat to progress. Matches between clubs in this bunch of five will be key.
The top three will make it. No doubt. The dogfight is between the rest. And although I don’t see Orlando, NE Revs or DC United, as play-off teams, they of course have the ability to take points, especially in this league, at home. So, danger lurks there too!
There’s no easy games, of course, and there’s a tangible benefit for finishing in the top four, which guarantees at worst a home single-game match-up in Round One of the Play-offs.
Can Montreal make it?
It may come down to the wire. But, yes! I see only one team from the middle group securing home advantage in Round One of the playoffs. If my first three selections are correct, then there should be a momentous battle for that fourth spot, indeed there will be for spots 5 and 6 also.
Of those I consider Montreal’s main rivals, in the middle group, I see potential for Columbus, a side enjoying a good start to the season, faltering. This often happens in any league when there are off-field problems at a club, and Crew don’t have their sorrows to seek right now! No club will want to profit from any misfortune that comes their way, but it’s nevertheless a situation worth keeping an eye on.
The biggest challenge for that fourth spot will come from NYRB. Going well in CONCACAF Champions League, they crushed Portland 4-0 on opening day, and might be excused their 0-1 reversal at Real Salt Lake through Albert Rusnak’s 4th min pk, only days after disposing of the Mexicans from Tijuana.
In Jesse March they also have a coach that’s been over the course, reaching the playoffs in each of his three seasons incumbent at Red Bull Arena and twice topping the East. But they will still need record top-scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips to continue rattling in the goals. At 33, is he still up to the job?
Clashes with Chicago will be key also. With the anchor of Bastien Schweinsteiger – a not so popular visitor to Stade Saputo last season – and Aleksander Katai in midfield, and Nemanja Nikolic up front, this looks like a team full of goals. Four scored in their first couple of games tends to underline where the team’s strength is, but 0 points from those same two matches points to weakness elsewhere.
That leaves Philadelphia. Jim Curtin has added David Accam from Chicago for this season, easing the goal-scoring burden on CJ Sapong. It’s been 2011 since they’ve managed to extend their season. Four points from their opening two contests will give them confidence, however they’ve yet to go travelling.
Montreal’s best hope is to get into those positions 4 to 6. Fourth is potentially on the cards, although I’d be more inclined to see them finish in one of the last two playoff spots, meaning an away match at either the team that finishes 3rd or 4th, to get to the Conference semi-finals.
Once Remi Garde has his developing team settled, I expect Chicago, Columbus and Phillie to be bettered. The battle will be with NYRB for that fourth spot. Provided Impact can collect enough points to keep them in touch throughout the early season rounds, then there’s no reason why they should readying the golf clubs before October’s out!
Interested to hear the early season thoughts of readers . . . . . I’m going to stick my optimistic neck out and go for 5th, trusting some things will fall into place nicely. Anything better, a huge bonus!
Where do you think the Impact will finish in the Eastern Conference?
This poll is closed
Out of Play-offs