The Daily Wave: Playoffs? Playoffs!

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Spor

Playoff history, current thoughts on this year's team, and what I would like to see on a run for the Cup.

"Where are you going, where have you been?" - Joyce Carol Oates

While the Rapids have not guaranteed themselves a playoff spot as of this writing, the fact that San Jose would have to beat FC Dallas by 13 goals would suggest that Rapids will still be playing after this weekend's match against Vancouver. Ask most Rapids fans in March if we felt a playoff berth was viable, I'd suggest most fans would have said we were a year away. My feeling was there were a lot of new pieces and parts that needed time together on the pitch to make a run. Therefore, a part of me says then - getting to the playoffs, a year ahead of schedule, is playing with house money. No pressure. However, with the unpredictably that is MLS maybe I should be more selfish and say I want more. Why not win now?

First some perspective. This is MLS's 18th season and this will mark the Rapids 12th appearance in the playoffs. They have an overall record of 9-10 in advancing to the next round. MLS playoff seeding has been a witch's brew of ever changing ingredients over the years. Remember when we were the Eastern Conference representative when we won the Cup in 2010 although we played in the Western Conference? Therefore, to try and provide some consistency, I simply took regular season point totals and used these to rank each team for comparison purposes rather than team's actual seeds. The table below shows the Rapids appearances.

Year

Seed

Points

GP

W

L

Draw

GF

GA

GD

WC

Semi

Finals

Cup Winner

1997

7

38

32

12

18

50

59

-9

X

X

1998

5

44

32

16

16

62

69

-7

1999

5

48

32

20

12

38

39

-1

2000

8

43

32

13

15

4

43

59

-16

2002

4

43

28

13

11

4

43

48

-5

X

2003

6

40

30

11

12

7

40

45

-5

2004

5

41

30

10

9

11

29

32

-3

2005

7

45

32

13

13

6

40

37

3

X

2006

7

41

32

11

13

8

36

49

-13

X

2010

7

46

30

12

8

10

44

32

12

X

X

X

2011

7

49

34

12

9

13

46

42

4

X

A fairly mix bag of results. Lower seeding has worked in our favor, getting us to the Semifinals five times, before falling to eventual MLS Cup champs - LA in 2002, LA in 2005, and Houston in 2006. I should point out that in the early years, with fewer teams in the league, a lot of teams made the playoffs regardless of any real talent. As recently as 2004, there were only 10 teams in the league and eight of them made the playoffs. Since 2005, with more teams entering the league, more meaningful playoff seeding's were formed.

So what are the Rapids chances now that they are in? Regardless of their final seed, their odds are significantly better in the modern era playoff format. Based on league, I've broken MLS into two groups; the 1996 - 2004 version and the 2005 - current season version (see table below).

WC

Semi

Final

Cup

Seasons

W

L

W

L

W

L

W

L

'96 - '04

27

9

13

5

4

5

'05 - '12

2

2

16

16

8

8

4

4

Through 2004 mostly the high seed teams won. The average seed to win the Cup was a 2 (with four of the nine Cups going to the high point total winner during the season). However, since 2005, a transition to a more free for all Cup playoff has started. Only two of eight teams winning the Cup were seeded first with the average winner being 5th in the whole league (in point totals). Therefore just qualifying for the playoffs gives you a chance to hoist the Cup. In fact, the average Cup winner from 2005 - 2012 has had a season composite average total with the following line:

Points

Pts/Game

W

L

D

GF

GA

GD

'05 - ‘12

Cup Average

51

1.61

14

9

8

47

36

11

‘13

Rapids

51

1.55

14

10

9

45

35

10

In simple terms, the Rapids as played through 33 games, is a composite Cup champion! Too bad matches have to be won on the pitch and not just calculated. I would make the leap that MLS has reached a competitive balance with parity allowing almost any team making the playoffs to reach and win the Cup. Consider the Western Conference with only 5 points separating the 1st and 5th seeds. So what is that X-factor that might make the difference for the Rapids to move on?

Some random thoughts -

  • Wild Card? One game winner take all. I would prefer this to be at home where the Rapids are 10-3-4 with a +14 goal differential. Traveling to Portland, Seattle, LA, or Salt Lake and trying to win one game? No thanks.
  • Opponent? Rapids season totals - Portland (0-2-1, -4 differential), Seattle (1-1-1, +4 differential), Galaxy (2-1-0, +2 differential), and RSL (1-0-2, +1 differential). A 4-4-4 record with a+3 differential against the top teams (although take those 5 goals away from the Seattle game and we are basically even). Kind of a murderer's row of teams to have to battle. My best case realistic scenario for this weekend would be for Rapids to win and LA and Seattle tie (with RSL and Portland each battling Chivas, I'm going out on a limb and saying they will each collect their 3 points and Portland will stay atop the table). This would move Rapids into the 3rd seed and allow Seattle and LA to battle it out. Of course this would most likely have us facing RSL in the semi-finals. An emotional battle for sure. With that said, the most likely real world scenario is LA will win out, Rapids will win, and we get to face Seattle at home for a winner take all series. I like our chances at home against Seattle.
  • Who is Hot? Great insight by the Rapids announcer Richard Fleming shows that the hottest team over the last 17 games has been the Rapids with only the Red Bulls matching our prowess. Do hot teams win out? For the last four Cup winners, 2012 LA finished their last ten games at a 6-1-3 clip, 2011 LA at 7-2-1, 2010 Rapids at 5-2-3, and 2009 RSL at 4-4-2. Rapids are currently 5-3-1 in their last nine before Vancouver this weekend.

All in all I like the Rapids chances. How the final seeding plays out will certainly dictate our odds. It starts in Vancouver. Closing out the year with 54 points would be a great accomplishment. A win most likely will give us a home playoff game followed by another in the semifinals. I like the Rapids chances with this scenario. We have been quietly, sneaky good. Of the 5 teams left in the West, I think a couple of wins would quiet the love for the teams out on the Coast. The love fest given the Pacific Northwest seems as if soccer was born there. Wouldn't it be a great MLS Cup if Sporting KC and the Rapids met up?

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