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MLS Playoffs: McCarthy's Musings: Ranking the MLS Cup Contenders

By Kyle McCarthy

Before we delve into the playoff power rankings, there were two personnel moves by non-playoff teams on Tuesday that deserve a passing mention.

- Toronto FC confirmed that interim coach Chris Cummins will not return next season. Both sides had hinted over the past few days that this would be the case, so this didn't provide much of a shock. TFC director of soccer Mo Johnston said in the press conference that he wanted someone with MLS experience to take over as coach. With Johnston on board for next season, the primary question ahead of the coaching search: will TFC find an experienced coach who wants to step into that personnel mess?

- Speaking of messes, FC Dallas confirmed that general manager Michael Hitchcock won't return next season. FCD had stripped Hitchcock of just about every duty he had over the course of this season, so this move isn't exactly a surprise either. The Hoops are expected to name a technical director to replace Hitchcock. One would expect that new man would have to enjoy some chemistry with current head coach Schellas Hyndman in order to earn the new gig.

With those moves out of the way, let's take a closer look at the eight teams prior to the start of the MLS Cup chase.

8. Real Salt Lake

The formula for RSL is simple: win big at home in the first leg, hold on for dear life on the road in the second. The problem with that scenario is that Columbus isn't likely to let the Claret-and-Cobalt rack up the type of cushion it will need to advance in the second leg at Crew Stadium. So is there another viable avenue through? With Robbie Findley and Andy Williams in vibrant form, there's always a chance to spring an upset, but it isn't significant enough to merit a higher spot here.

7. New England

Goals are going to be the big issue for the Revolution heading into the postseason. New England hasn't scored a goal from the run of play since a 2-1 win over Seattle on Sept. 26. Can the Revs advance knowing they aren't likely to score more than once in a game? If the regular season meetings with Chicago (two draws) and the recent defensive form (zero or one goals conceded in the past eight matches) provide two reliable indicators, a berth in the Eastern Conference final isn't out of the realm of possibility despite the paucity of goals.

6. Chicago

This Fire team doesn't really have the feel of a championship contender, does it? Too many questions, too few consistent performers right now. The injuries, particularly at the back, have taken their toll.  That may not matter in the first round because Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Brian McBride and Chris Rolfe should accrue the two or three goals it will take to oust the Revs, but the road doesn't look like it will go much farther.

5. Chivas USA

The Red-and-White hasn't quite found its measure in the postseason with three straight Western Conference semifinal defeats. Will this year be any different? They'll have to ride Sacha Kljestan and hope he injects some creativity into the proceedings. Kljestan's form has improved considerably during the second half of the season, but will his ingenuity produce enough end product to drown out the questions up front and at center back?

4. Houston


Will the 3-2 win at Chivas USA on Sunday serve as the spark the Dynamo needs heading into the postseason? Tomorrow's trip to Seattle – for an in-depth look, check out Zac Lee Rigg's preview – could either see the Dynamo carry the momentum of a big win or hit a fatigue-induced wall. The talent is certainly there, but are the legs? I pegged the Dynamo to win it all in the preseason, but the way this season unfolded looks awfully similar to last year, doesn't it?  

3. Columbus


The big worry here surrounds Chad Marshall, who hasn't played since sustaining a left knee sprain on Sept. 13. While the Crew has muddled through without the likely Defender of the Year, they'll need him fixed firmly in central defense to mount a title defense and there isn't much time for him to find form and fitness. The cruise control to end the season – one win and one goal in the final four games – isn't inspiring, either. That being said, the Crew are still the champs until someone knocks them off. With the way the East looks, that might not happen until MLS Cup in Seattle, if at all.

2. Seattle


Could Sounders FC do what the Chicago Fire did in 1998? Absolutely. Seattle enters the postseason in fine form with three consecutive wins and boasts two top-class match-winners in Freddie Ljungberg and Fredy Montero. Add in perhaps the best coach in the league in Sigi Schmid and Sounders FC has everything it needs to mount a serious title run. The biggest question: will the pressure of reaching a final on home turf make the task too difficult?

1. Los Angeles

Bruce Arena has built the Galaxy for the playoffs. Strong defense, cohesive shape and sharp counterattacks typify how Los Angeles has found success this season and all three qualities transfer well to the second season. Plus, Arena can count on the rejuvenated David Beckham and the determined Landon Donovan in a pinch. Hard-to-beat teams often carry the day in the postseason and the Galaxy will be a very tough out considering the pieces in place. At the very least, Los Angeles wears the favorite tag heading into the postseason party.

Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at kyle.mccarthy@goal.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

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