Things we learned in MLS Week 14

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Including, among other things, why the next few Rapids' practice sessions should be fun to watch and the airing of a grievance on behalf of Mike Petke.

1. Colorado Rapids' practice sessions are probably a lot of fun

Back on May 1st, Deshorn Brown tried to back-heel volley a cross past LA 'keeper Jaime Penedo. It was an inventive effort, that just missed its intended target.

On June 1st, Kamani Hill found the net with a very similar sort of shot. And this week, Deshorn Brown scored with a scooped shot from a similar angle to the one he missed in May.

Unexpected angles are one of the most reliable ways to fox a goalkeeper. Taken individually, each of these efforts is simply the necessary innovation of the moment. But as a set, this looks like a rehearsed move.

The Rapids are starting to resemble trick-shot specialists. And now that this particular trick is played out, they have the World Cup break to work out some new surprises. If I lived in Colorado, I'd be making time to watch the Rapids train.

2. Philadelphia Union is on the cusp of dropping out of the playoff race, or why John Hackworth had to go

"Had to go" is probably overstated. This is MLS. There is always next year, and a smart organisation does well to use the rules of the league to its advantage. Suffer through the growing pains of a system, or let a coach use the combination of high draft picks and other benefits of being a terrible team in a parity-driven league (all I'm saying is it's weird that so many misfit players of ability seemed to be channeled to Chivas USA in recent years) to the advantage of the season to come.

D.C. United, abetted by winning US Open Cup, have bounced back pretty well from last year's abomination - and Ben Olsen survived that experience. There were times when it seemed Jay Heaps had to be fired for the Revs to be good again, but it turns out that's (probably) not the case. Portland's awful start to the year did not appear to distract the Timbers' ownership from its commitment to the Caleb Porter project. Owners can afford to be patient, even if fans may not appreciate the string of miserable weekend that entails.

Certainly, Philly appears to have decided its not worth waiting out this year for the next: Hackworth is the first MLS head coach to lose his job since the season began.

If the par score every team should be aiming for initially is 50 points (and it is: it gets you into the playoffs more often than not), then the Union is closest to dropping out of the race this year. Yes, Philly has more points than three teams, and a better points per game average than two others. Yes, the Union is just three points below the playoff line in the Eastern Conference right now.

Things can still turn around. But consider the required ppg to get to 50 points.

Montreal only has 10 points from 12 games, so 40 points from the next 22 are needed, or 1.82 ppg. Chicago needs to average 1.8 ppg from its remaining 20 matches to get to 50 points. Chivas USA needs to accumulate at a rate of 1.95 ppg over 20 games - but the Goats seem to have checked out of this season already (see last week's edition of this column).

Philly needs 1.94 ppg from its remaining 18 games, and that is basically asking for Shield-winning form (1.94 ppg over 34 games is basically 66 points, which will win the Supporters' Shield most years) over half a season. It can be done - Chicago almost pulled off something comparable last year - but it's unlikely.

So the Union joins Chivas as the two teams already needing something improbable to pull themselves back into playoff contention. And if Philly's ownership had no long-term plan for Hackworth's management of the team beyond making the playoffs in 2014, then it was clearly time to let someone else have a go, and use the second half of the season to start the new project.


3. Go ahead and pencil Seattle into the playoffs

What's that? You already did? Yeah, it doesn't take any great insight into MLS to suggest the team that is leading the league by seven points after 15 games is probably, at the very least, going to be in the playoff mix come the end of the year.

Putting it in terms of required ppg: if Seattle tanks dramatically and takes just 15 points from its next 16 games (i.e. matches Philly's current form), the Sounders will still be three points shy of 50 with three games to play. There will be a lot of angst in Seattle if things suddenly get that bad and stay that way for that long, but the team will still be in playoff contention.

Of course, right now, they are hoping for a little more than the bare minimum out of this season.

4. It is time to fear Toronto FC

TFC is sitting in fourth place in the East at the moment. But this week's win over San Jose was the team's third in the four games since Michael Bradley and Julio Cesar (who may not be returning ever) took off for the World Cup.

Toronto has played the fewest games in the Eastern Conference, and has the best points per game average in that half of the league.

And it has achieved this while having to work through as many injury, form, and call-up issues as most of the clubs in MLS (so neither exceptionally many or exceptionally few).

The team has a brutal July schedule: eight league games between 6/27 and 7/30. Its depth will be sorely tested over that period. But Ryan Nelsen and his deep-pocketed backers must surely be pleased with the team's position at the World Cup break. As pleased as the rest of the East ought to be wary.

5. Mike Petke gets no respect

This is a New York Red Bulls blog, so pardon me if I have a little rant.

Last year, Mike Petke got handed RBNY to coach on the opening day of preseason training camp for no better reason than the club couldn't find anyone else to do the job.

There was no plan. There was no system. At least, the front office has never convincingly explained what motivating factor other than pragmatism (better to have a coach than no coach) was at work.

And last year, from a standing start, Mike Petke won the league at his first attempt (hush now, I'm ranting). For this achievement, he was deemed to be the second best coach in MLS. Because Caleb Porter, for whom the Timbers gutted their entire organization six months in advance, managed to get his team to the third-best points total in the league, without ever beating Real Salt Lake.

Fine.

This week, Mike Petke took his sputtering team - winless in four games - to New England, where RBNY hadn't won in more than a decade. He was missing most of his first team: Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, Jamison Olave, Dax McCarty, Roy Miller. The Revs were top of the East, at full strength, and unbeaten at home in 2014.

And RBNY won. Sure, it was as unconvincing a 2-0 victory as you will find - but it was a win that was Petke's 2013 season in microcosm: implausible achievement fashioned out of highly unpromising circumstances.

But who did MLS deem Coach of the Week? Caleb Porter. Because he took his stop-start Timbers to Salt Lake and finally managed to bring back a win - against a team missing all its biggest names and out of ideas for how to compensate for their absence.

You have a homegrown, self-taught, against-the-odds success story on your doorstep, MLS. But you keep looking past him to the college grad with a flair for PowerPoint.

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