Sure, it's a tad late in the season to start a new feature. But we here at SB Nation are rule breakers! Here's the first installment of "Promotion/Relegation" where we share our thoughts on the week that was.
The Sounders' Supporters' Shield chances: For all the success they've had over their first four MLS seasons, the Seattle Sounders have never won any MLS silverware. Opposing fans are quite fond of pointing out this little factoid, it turns out. After their dare-I-say dominant 2-0 victory over Real Salt Lake, the Sounders are now in the driver's seat for the top record in the regular season.
Of course, the Shield winner is not the recognized champion of MLS, so this will ring a bit hallow if the Sounders don't go on to win the MLS Cup (does anyone care that the San Jose Earthquakes won last year?). That said, it's worth pointing out that the Sounders have climbed their way up from eighth place in the Western Conference to reach this lofty perch. At one point, they were 15 points behind the Shield leaders, a gap so big that it had never before been closed in MLS history.
The South: Much has been made over the lack of MLS teams playing south of Washington DC. Assuming the rumors are true, that's going to end in a big way within a few years. Not only is Orlando on the fast track, but Miami and Atlanta are also gaining traction. While MLS's last foray into Florida was a spectacular failure, there's at least some reason to think this could be more successful.
For one, the demographics of the South have become much more soccer friendly since the bad-old days of 2001 (when the league decided to fold the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny). Miami is now apparently home to more English-speaking soccer watchers than any other city without MLS. So that's something.
The fly in the ointment, if you choose to look at it that way, is both Miami and Atlanta appear to be heading toward the possibility of playing in NFL stadiums that are repurposed for soccer. Done right, there's reason to believe this can work. The Vancouver Whitecaps and Seattle Sounders are proof of this. But it's also a bit of a call back to the league's darker times, when most of the teams were playing in cavernous stadiums with no atmosphere. Let's hope there's at least some serious planning before we go down this road again.
Mike Magee's MVP candidacy: The biggest knock against Mike Magee's status as MVP front-runner has been that his team was outside of playoff position. Following the Chicago Fire's win over the New England Revolution -- in which Magee got his 16th goal of the year -- they've finally crossed the red line.
If they can stay there, that may be the final piece of the puzzle mainly because the Fire have been so much better with Magee than they have been without him. The Fire are now 9-4-3 with Magee, as opposed to 2-7-3 before he was acquired in a trade that only cost them Robbie Rogers' MLS rights. In those 16 appearances, Magee has 10 goals.
Galaxy's Supporters' Shield hopes: Obviously a lot can still happen, but blowing a pair of leads against D.C. United -- even if it was on the road -- is not helping their case. If the Galaxy had simply taken care of business by beating the league's worst team, they'd have a chance to move into a tie with the Sounders by winning on Saturday. To win, all they needed to do was keep United from scoring two goals, something they had only accomplished two other times this year (just think about that for a second). Instead, they are all the way down in seventh and face the very real prospect of missing the playoffs (they won't but stranger things have happened).
By the way, look at some of the teams United has managed to get results against this year: Tying the Galaxy, Colorado Rapids, New England Revolution, New York Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City and beating the Montreal Impact and Real Salt Lake. For a team that has managed only nine positive results all year, there's an inordinate number of them that will have implications in the Supporters' Shield and playoffs.
The Timbers' playoff aspirations: Look, if you want me to put money on it, I'm still going to pick the Timbers to make the playoffs. But there's real reason to doubt that it's a given after they settled for a tie against Chivas USA. That left the Timbers with 43 points, still three clear of FC Dallas, but the cushion they once enjoyed is all but gone.
This is a pretty shocking position considering back on July 17, it seemed as if they had firmed up their status as Supporters' Shield contenders when they beat the Galaxy 2-1 at home. At that point, the Timbers had a 8-2-9 record, were playing high-tempo offense and shutting teams down on defense. But they've gone just 2-3-4 since and have just two shutouts, after recording eight in their first 19 matches.
You could be excused for forgetting about him. It has been more than three months since he found the back of the net. Back then, McInerney was among the league leaders with 10 goals through his first 14 games and people were wondering if he wouldn't make a run at the MLS goal-scoring record.
He's played 12 games since then -- after missing three in order to sit on the bench with the United States' Gold Cup team -- and failed to score in every one. This week, he came off the bench. It was the second time in four games that he's failed to start. It has been six games since he was deemed worthy of playing all 90 minutes. I have zero insight into what is plaguing him, but he's clearly hit some kind of wall.
I'm sure this is where you're expecting me to say that he just got too much hype too early. While that may be true, the problem is not that he received the hype, it's that he was probably never entirely deserving of it. Great players welcome the hype and it propels them. There's obviously time for him to turn it around, but we should probably let him complete a full season of solid play before we count on him for anything.