2018 MLS Wooden Spoon: A close and ignominious ‘title’ race

Embed from Getty Images
VANCOUVER, BC - SEPTEMBER 01: Shea Salinas (6) of the San Jose Earthquakes (foreground) and his teammates react after their loss against the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place on September 1, 2018 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Christopher Morris - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

Editorial (October 2, 2018) – For the first time in MLS history, a team will finish 23rd in the Supporter’s Shield standings. The San Jose Earthquakes, Colorado Rapids, and Orlando City SC are all in the running for the Anthony Precourt Memorial MLS Wooden Spoon Award. They’ve all had terrible seasons and somebody has to finish last.

2018 MLS Wooden Spoon: A close and ignominious race for not last

The Quakes are the most likely recipients of this shiny turd that is the last place trophy. They’ve been bottom of the league for most of the season and have a lot of catching up to do by their track record if they’re going to catch either team still within reach.

How they got here:

All three of these teams suffered from a combination of poor roster construction and not performing at a level greater than or equal to the sum of its parts. San Jose and Orlando have dismissed coaches (Mikael Stahre and Jason Kreis respectively) and serious questions are being asked of Rapids Manager Anthony Hudson. All three coaches started the year in their first full MLS season with their respective clubs.

They’ve all had fingers pointed up the corporate pyramid as well. Quakes fans are doubting Jesse Fioranelli’s credentials, who’s spent money on players who haven’t panned out and hand-picking a coach who failed spectacularly. There’s been infighting within the locker room, with one blow up leading to Fatai Alashe getting traded. The officials haven’t helped.

And all this is going down while club legend Chris Wondolowski marches towards the all-time MLS regular season goal record in a race against Father Time. The Quakes season is basically Wondo dribbling on goal in the middle of a Mad Max car chase.

The Rapids started the season with so much promise. A bunch of new international players, TAM attackers galore, and a new identity. It became obvious quickly that several players and Hudson weren’t ready to adjust to MLS. Relationships soured with the two expensive forwards, there were a bunch of injuries, and his 3-5-2 system never quite clicked. A mid-season trade for Kellyn Acosta and a switch to the 4-4-2 diamond brought some life.

Then this happened. The offense quickly dried up as the club parted ways with their two highest scorers, AignerGate came to a bitter end, and the abhorrent defense eventually wilted under the realization that the season was lost. Two underproducing DPs under contract till 2020 and limited TAM funds have fans wondering if 2019 is just going to be just a flight delay or if the Rapids Way is the MLS equivalent of Spirit Airlines.

The Lions spent big this off-season in the attack, but streakiness has been their downfall. After winning six games in a row, they’ve taken points in just four games since May 6th. Jonathan Spector’s injury doomed their defense and the agglomeration of midfield talent never clicked. The offensive plan at this point is to Route One the ball to Dom Dwyer, who seems like the diligent high school student abandoned by his friends the night before a group project is due.

Justin Meram said ‘Bye Felicia,’ Kreis was sacked after a losing streak with no tactical identity, and now USL Champion James O’Connor is left with his arms stretched out, wondering what he’s gotten himself into as he counts down the days left in the season before the club can again spend winter blowing up their roster.

A relative Murder’s Row of a schedule:

Below is the remaining schedule for each team. All three will be in action on Decision Day (October 28th).

Colorado: vs. Los Angeles FC, at Minnesota, at San Jose, vs. Dallas

Orlando: at Dallas, at New England, vs. Seattle, vs. Columbus, at New York Red Bulls

San Jose: vs. New York Red Bulls, vs. Colorado, at Seattle

These 12 remaining opponents include just four non-playoff teams collectively. And that includes Colorado and San Jose getting to play each other. This schedule includes tough road games and home matches against some of the better road teams in MLS.

There’s a strong argument that none of these teams get more than two results the rest of the way, again, including the fact that someone has to not lose the San Jose-Colorado game on October 21st. It’s not implausible to see all losses in the other 11 matches.

So who are we all going to Nelson Muntz at?

At this point, the trophy is San Jose’s to lose. At most, they can finish with 29 points on the season. That makes the Magic Number for Orlando just four points and five for Colorado. Both have more games left than San Jose.

The Decision Day matches might present opportunities. FC Dallas and the Red Bulls have already qualified for the playoffs and Seattle Sounders FC is coming in hot. The race for the Shield is down to New York or Atlanta United FC. If the Shield has already been clinched at that point, New York could start a reserve team. Dallas and Seattle likely will still be fighting for playoff seeding at that point, with Dallas wanting a bye and Seattle wanting a home wildcard game.

If the opponent already knows their fate, they could start their bench, providing a trap game opportunity for one of these bottom feeders to steal a result.

Last Word:

That October 21st game could decide everything. For me, Orlando’s probably safe. The Quakes aren’t taking more than six points from their final three games. The Lions can find a point somewhere and would own the first tiebreaker (wins) in this scenario.

If the Quakes can beat Colorado at Avaya Stadium, I think they find it in themselves to get a result on Decision Day in Seattle. At best, the Rapids are looking at a result of some kind in San Jose and a draw against Dallas. Their match at San Jose is essentially an MLS Wooden Spoon playoff game.

May the least bad team not lose.

Embed from Getty Images

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.