There are those who look at Toronto FC’s 0-6 start to the regular season and think “oh boy, I am glad we don’t play in the Western Conference, or the season would already be over.”
The thinking is that, with the West being so much stronger than the East — with the likes of Real Salt Lake, the Seattle Sounders, a Los Angeles Galaxy side that’s got to get better and surprising San Jose — that it would be easier for TFC or Montreal to recover from poor starts to the season and pip am Eastern playoff spot than it would be for a much-improved Vancouver side to hang with the Western juggernauts.
And, through the first two weeks of the season, that thinking would have been right on. In head-to-head matches between teams from the East and West, the Western Conference teams won 10 of the first 12. It was proof that all of MLS’ power lay west of Houston. It was an apples-to-apples comparison and the Western teams were kicking butt.
But since then, from Week Three onward, we’ve seen the Eastern teams start to surge back. And it’s not just Sporting Kansas City, who are off to a 7-1-0 start and most Montreal and Toronto fans would admit already can’t be caught.
Since March 24, Eastern teams are 10-7-5 in head-to-head games against Western clubs. And, as much as you can argue that Sporting Kansas City gives the East a boost, you can also argue that Toronto FC and Montreal, neither of which has mustered a point against Western teams, drags the record down. In fact, the drag the TFC and the Impact place on the East outweighs the boost it gets from SKC.
Right now, the West has a 17-12-5 record in head-to-head matches against the East. Considering that, on April 23, the record was 10-2-0, we have seen a marked push from the Eastern teams, with no help from the Canadian MLS teams in that conference.
Yes, because of the new unbalanced schedule, Toronto FC and Montreal will have plenty of head-to-head games against the likes of New England and Chicago and Philadelphia and New York and Columbus, and if the Canadian teams get their acts together, you could have a spike up the standings for either club. But, in terms of those Eastern rivals dropping points to Western clubs not named Chivas, it’s not happening all of the time.
In fact, take Montreal and Toronto away from the equation — and their collective 0-6-0 record against the West, and the East actually has a winning record (12-11-5) in interconference matches.
What does that tell you? That the East is better than originally advertised, and that TFC’s hole is actually much deeper than simply being out of fifth place by eight points. (Montreal, better off at three out) If the East is holding its own against the likes of Seattle and Real Salt Lake, TFC’s learning curve is much steeper than most fans would have thought it would need to be back in March. And March already seems like such a long time ago, doesn’t it?
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