What is happening to MLS over the past few weeks? Nobody seems to want to win the Supporters' Shield and everyone seems to be making a bid for the playoffs. It's sheer craziness, I tell you, and probably just what the founders of the league envisioned when they came up with all these parity-creating devices. We'll at least say this, you're keeping our attention.
Red Bulls as frontrunners: This is going to sound absolutely insane to anyone who has followed MLS since its inception, but the New York Red Bulls are on the verge of ending their 17-year trophy drought. Assuming they can win their last two games -- on the road against the Houston Dynamo and at home against the Chicago Fire -- they will win their first legitimate trophy of their existence. It's taken quite a bit of good fortune to get them to this point, but Mike Petke deserves some credit for putting his team in position to benefit from all that.
Turning the page back a couple weeks, the Red Bulls managed to salvage a point in a tie on the road against the Seattle Sounders. That turned out to be huge on several fronts, not the least of which was managing a result despite the absence of Thierry Henry. For one, it kept the Sounders from opening up some real space in the Shield race. Beyond that, it injected some confidence into a team that has become pretty accustomed to falling short when it matters.
To be fair, the Shield is far from won. Of the teams with a realistic hope of claiming it, the Red Bulls have one of the tougher roads. Playing in Houston is never easy for anyone and the Fire are kinda ... on fire right now. So it's probably a little early to start celebrating.
But this Red Bulls team seems a bit different than its predecessors. Sure, they have big names and big contracts, but there's a willingness to grind out results and a lack of falling apart in big moments. Petke deserves to be proud.
Caleb Porter as King of Portland: Whoever is running the city of Portland these days has to be pretty relieved that Caleb Porter is unlikely to throw his hat into the ring anytime soon. After he led the Timbers to a 1-0 win over the Sounders, it's hard to imagine there's a more popular guy in the Rose City than Porter.
The Timbers have shot to the top of the Western Conference, have a very good chance of winning the Supporters' Shield and have already improved on last year's disappointing season by 19 points. More than the results, it's the way they are getting them. While the win over the Sounders may not have been the best example of "beautiful" soccer, it did show that the Timbers are capable of winning even when they aren't creating time and space and pinging the ball all over the field.
While winning at home should be something any elite team expects to do, Porter joined the Timbers acutely aware that there was some ground to be made up with their biggest rival. The Timbers had, of course, beaten the Sounders before but there was never a sense that the teams were on even footing. That has clearly changed. In less than the span of an entire season, the Timbers have totally closed the gap. The Sounders may have more money and, arguably, more talent but the Timbers are undeniably getting more from it right now.
This could well be a very temporary change. But at the very least, Porter has proven that the Timbers can compete. It's no wonder Rose City is in love.
Rumors of Klose coming to MLS: The rumor mill is churning along, with the latest being less a rumor and more a waiting game: Miroslav Klose will decide between offers from MLS and Kaiserslautern in the next couple months. And if he chooses to cross the Atlantic, it could be quite a coup for MLS.
Klose is 36 years old so he's the stereotypical older player coming to MLS at the end of his career for a payday. He is why the league has been called a retirement league.
But damn, is he still good.
The German has scored 31 goals in the last two years for Lazio, getting the job done in both the league and Europe, while also keeping himself in the mix for Germany. Jogi Low has said that if Klose is in form the striker will make the World Cup team. Call him old, just make sure you mention that he can still play.
So who in MLS could use the German? Expect Toronto FC to be among the teams chasing him, but there isn't a team that couldn't use him. So cross your fingers and hope the German chooses to cross the Atlantic next summer.
- Ryan Rosenblatt
Playing in snow: The latest rumored change to the MLS schedule is a rather massive one, as the league is supposedly considering moving to a calendar similar to the rest of the world. The idea is that the season would start some time in August, go through late December, take six-week break or so and then finish off around May. While not exactly in line with Europe, it would be very similar to the Apertura/Clausura used in Latin America. I won't rehash the whole thing, but Jonathan Tannewald had an in-depth breakdown here.
Frankly, I'm just not buying this as being remotely likely. Sure, FIFA would love it. And if it's really part of a grand compromise, as Tannewald suggests, that results in the United States hosting the 2022 World Cup, I suppose it makes some sense. But for MLS, in a vacuum, there's virtually no good reason to do this.
As it is now, MLS plays games when it makes the most sense: When the weather is nice and there's not as much competition for eyeballs. While the so called "winter" schedule would build in a break for the World Cup and more easily accommodate loans and transfers, there's not much tangible benefit to MLS teams.
There are 12 teams that play in locales that could feasibly be affected by snow in December and late February. Even if there's not snow on the ground, the temperatures are likely to be cold enough to keep people away. That's probably the biggest issue.
But there's also the problem that instead of mostly avoiding going head-to-head with the NFL, MLS would suddenly be on a collision course. While that's not as big of a logistical problem as it once was -- only the New England Revolution and Sounders currently share stadiums with NFL teams -- it basically robs MLS of having any time in which they could be the focus of the American sports public. As much as MLS has grown since 1996, there's not a single market in which the teams are considered to be on equal footing with the closest NFL team -- even in Seattle.
It's an interesting idea, but one that I just don't see happening.
Clint Dempsey's blazing star: I don't think anyone really believes that Clint Dempsey is suddenly a broken player, but there is no doubt that the move to MLS has not gone as planned. The Sounders forward suffered an shoulder sprain on Sunday, eventually being forced out of the game without scoring or assisting ... again. Dempsey, who made his name by scoring big goals in big games, has now failed to find the back of the net or even assist on such an occurrence in all of his seven appearances and 471 minutes. He's surely gone through similar rough patches in his career, but this is just so far from what we all expected.
Dempsey's move was supposed to be about leading the Sounders and MLS to new levels of popularity and legitimacy. Instead, his time here has been defined by missed shots and missed games. Whether it was international duty, a hamstring injury or now this should sprain, Dempsey has now been unavailable for all or part of more time than he's been able to play.
While this has been an extremely frustrating development for the Sounders, the even bigger concern is where this leaves Dempsey's standing with the United States national team. Dempsey is still the team's captain and is all but guaranteed a spot in Brazil, but he's going to have find his form if the United States is going to reach the heights that Jurgen Klinsmann envisions.
Hyndman's run in Dallas: At this point, all we're waiting on is the official announcement that FC Dallas has fired Schellas Hyndman. The once-promising start, in which Dallas led the Supporters' Shield race into the summer, has completely collapsed after Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Fire officially eliminated them from the playoff race.
It has to be a tough pill to swallow. This team was playing so well and doing so much right during their 8-2-4 start. But something went horribly, awfully wrong. Dallas has gone 2-9-7 since their torrid start. For perspective, that's the same number of wins as D.C. United, one fewer than Chivas USA and two fewer than Toronto FC (if you're wondering, those are by far the worst three teams in the league).
So, yeah, Hyndman will almost certainly be fired as he's clearly lost this team.
What's too bad is that by all accounts, Hyndman is a really good guy and he's probably a pretty good coach, too. Hyndman had a sparkling record at SMU, going 368-96-38, and has been OK with Dallas, leading them to a 54-46-40 record. But very few coaches can survive collapses as thorough and dramatic as this one.
Promotion/Relegation is a weekly column about the goings on in and around MLS. It's not really about the soccer concept known as promotion-and-relegation. That would be crazy.