Friday, September 27, 2013

Pelotas' pondering: The most competitive league in the world?

All we are saying is give MLS a chance

OK, we get it. You're a football fan but want nothing to do with MLS. But if there was a time to take a peek at it, it'd be now.

There's only a handful of matches remaining before the playoffs but every match feels like a final (OK, maybe that's stretching a bit but still). The intensity is getting more noticeable and the American game overall, known for being scrappy, gritty and physical, will shift into another gear as the season winds down.

It's comfortable to know that there is no viable, specific candidate to lift the league cup at the end of MLS's 18th season. Whether you support America's top-flight league or not, you can appreciate the parity and, for the most part, an even competition.

To prove that, just look at the table. The Eastern and Western conferences, both of which are respectively led by the New York Red Bulls and Seattle Sounders at the moment before their massive clash on Sunday, have 16 sides essentially fighting for 10 playoff spots (three teams are out of the running). To put it more in perspective,  Colorado Rapids hold the final spot in the West but are only ahead of the Vancouver Whitecaps and San Jose Earthquakes by four points and FC Dallas by five. In the East, the New England Revolution are clinging to the last playoff ticket but barely; Chicago Fire and Philadelphia Union are within a point while Columbus Crew are behind by two.

 There are attractive matches on tap for this latest round of weekend matches and in stadiums that will surely be at capacity and, best of all, loud. The tight table will make said matches even more competitive with about five or six matches left.

Besides the Red Bulls-Sounders game that will be nationally televised, other matches on tap include Portland Timbers-Los Angeles Galaxy in yet another sold-out match in Portland; Sporting Kansas City also will have a packed stadium for their tilt tonight against Philadelphia Union; and FC Dallas will host Columbus in a battle of two desperate sides looking for maximum points to continue their seasons.

Sure, many of the league's imports are new to the American way of playoff competition but once acknowledged, studied and experienced, those same players react positively to the structure, as Argentine legend Guillermo Barros Schelotto did to a publication in his home country years ago. Of course, this followed his MLS Cup win with Columbus Crew!

Now, as the 2013 campaign nears its climax, the league is healthier than ever, evidenced by many of the teams playing in their own intimate stadiums with a growing fanbase in each city with teams making smart decisions on their personnel on the pitch. Dare we say, it's fast becoming one of the more competitive leagues on the planet. We have an idea who will take the title in England, Germany, Spain and Italy. With several weeks left in the MLS tournament, we're at a loss at who can be considered favorites to take home MLS Cup. Enjoy the ride!

-Tio Pelotas