Remember in mid-March, two weeks into the Major League Soccer season, when Western Conference teams held a 9-2 head-to-head record against their Eastern rivals in inter-conference clashes?
Remember when MLS writers, eager to feed the insatiable news beast’s appetite for page views, churned out a deluge of articles mocking the East’s quality because six of its 10 teams were yet to earn a point and third-placed Chicago Fire held fewer points than eight of the nine Western Conference teams?
“West teams top to bottom are wiping the floor with the East teams and it will continue all year home and away,” commented Cal from Seattle on a New York Times Soccer Blog article contributed by The Soccer Observer from March 24 that attributed the East’s slow start to its teams enduring the early travel burden.
Houston Dynamo’s trip to Colorado Rapids Saturday is the last of 90 inter-conference games during the MLS regular season. There is guaranteed to be one further battle between the two conference winners in MLS Cup Final on Dec. 1. The Eastern Conference is assured of the stronger overall head-to-head record irrespective of those results. Its teams hold a 35-31 edge to date with 23 games ending tied.
North America’s vastness alone makes going on the road an arduous task for MLS players. Home teams can obtain geographical advantages from training and playing in the oppressive summer heat of Texas or in the high altitude of the Rocky Mountains. Others benefit from the fanatical backing of their supporters’ groups, or from playing on artificial surfaces.
Eastern Conference regular-season winners Sporting Kansas City won all four of its home games against teams from the West (F.C. Dallas, Los Angeles Galaxy, Real Salt Lake and Supporters’ Shield winners San Jose Earthquakes). Houston remains unbeaten at BBVA Compass Stadium since its May opening, including four games against Western opposition that yielded three wins and a tie.
D.C. United and Montreal Impact matched the Dynamo’s home record, though Jesse Marsch’s expansion side from Canada lost on each of its five trips across the continent (to Vancouver Whitecaps, Salt Lake, Dallas, Colorado and Chivas USA).
Only three Eastern Conference sides had ever won regular-season games at Salt Lake’s Rio Tinto Stadium before this season. Jason Kreis’ team kept up its formidable record with five wins from five games against New York Red Bulls, Montreal, Toronto F.C., New England Revolution and D.C. United. It was a different story on the road where Real picked up just two points from five Eastern trips.
Colorado has clocked up three wins and a tie at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park ahead of Houston’s visit. Oscar Pareja’s struggling team weren’t so convincing away from Denver’s rarified air, losing four of five games in the East with a sole victory coming at Philadelphia Union on the league’s second weekend.
Dallas and Portland Timbers, two teams finishing outside of the play-off spots, both picked up 11 points from 15 at home to Eastern teams. The Texans, like Montreal, didn’t pick up a single point from five road games.
Let’s hope that next March, no matter how results go in the season’s opening weeks, we find a little more perspective in our sports pages.
Note — The league tables used have been sorted by alphabetical order when points are equal. Goal difference has not been calculated.