Things we learned from MLS Week 16

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

MLS is back, and so is the weekly quest to figure out what exactly is going on in this league

1. Everything is coming up Sounders

It is said good teams make their own luck. Perhaps.

If you remember back to before the break, Seattle was a very good team: it had lost just one of its last 11 games, including signing off for the World Cup hiatus with a 3-2 win over the Fire in Chicago, despite playing the entire second half with ten men.

That misfortune was owed to Obafemi Martins apparently getting bored of single-handedly beating Chicago, and getting himself sent off for extraordinary petulance.

So the Sounders went to DC this week without Martins, and without Clint Dempsey or DeAndre Yedlin - still occupied with USMNT in Brazil - and with five men listed on the injury report. The cupboard is a little bare in Seattle.

DC hadn't lost at home since the opening day of the season, and set about the depleted Sounders with predictable enthusiasm. But apparently Fabian Espindola - suspended and injured at the moment - is the only DC player who can shoot straight. Chad Barrett did what he's good at (got on the end of a cross) and one goal was all that was required for Seattle to record its ninth win out of its last 11 matches.

Despite DC's dominance, it's hard to describe the Sounders' latest win as lucky: they were just better at getting shots on target than their opponents. Good teams are, after all, first and foremost good, not lucky.

2. LA can win on the road

LA Galaxy recorded its first road win since last August (wins against roommate Chivas USA don't count), beating San Jose Earthquakes 1-0 in Stanford (so it was sort of an away game for the 'Quakes too...).

This is encouraging for the Galaxy, who had been tripped up repeatedly this season by a recurring mediocrity on the road. The unfamiliar achievement of three points won outside LA sets the team up nicely for its upcoming run of three games at home.

LA is unbeaten in its last five matches, has won three of those, and its next three opponents are are struggling: Portland has one win in its last four; RSL hasn't won in five straight; and New England just lost its third game in a row.

If the Galaxy can win all three of those upcoming matches, it will have 29 points from its first 16 games of the year: just six points behind where Seattle is now (35 points from 16). We may yet have a challenger to the Sounders' seemingly unstoppable run at the Supporters' Shield.

3. Sporting Kansas City has slumped to the top of the Eastern Conference

Few teams had as hard a time with the World Cup break as KC. First, the club lost key players - Matt Besler and Graham Zusi - to the tournament in Brazil. Then it got hit by an injury crisis so comically awful the team played one match with a five man back line that included just one true center back: 17 year-old- Erik Palmer-Brown (and he only turned 17 in April).

KC didn't help itself by losing its last game with its USMNT stars, and that loss kicked off a five game slump in which just two points were taken from a possible 15.

That streak was snapped on the last game before the hiatus, and this week KC nicked a 1-0 win in Portland. Two consecutive wins paired with New England's abrupt collapse in form and DC's loss to Seattle now sees the once-dreadful Sporting on top of the Eastern Conference.

Even if USMNT wins the whole thing in Brazil, the absent players will be back in another couple of weeks. KC's long World Cup nightmare appears to be over, and it has woken to find itself right where it wants to be: in the thick of the race for the Eastern Conference title.

4. Houston is on the edge

This week's 3-0 loss to Montreal marked the Dynamo's fifth consecutive loss. Such form is generally symptomatic of being a terrible team, but Houston still has 17 games to turn things around.

This is a club that has missed the playoffs just once in eight seasons, but this year could well make the record twice in nine.

This week's win was Houston's tenth loss of the season. Since the league went to a 34-game schedule, no team has made the playoffs with more than 13 losses. There is a first time for everything, but it's difficult to get close to 50 points from the year if you've not managed to get any from more than a third of your schedule.

The popular perception of the Dynamo is it is a playoff-specialist: it has been to four MLS Cups and seven Conference finals in eight years, but only once been the regular-season winner of its Conference in that span. The typical Houston season is a coast through most of the year, followed by an acceleration in to form in September and October.

That acceleration needs to happen a little earlier this year: the Dynamo cannot afford to lose many more games.

5. Every team in the East is terrible

MLS is a league that engineers parity, so it is hardly surprising that most seasons are up-and-down for pretty much every team. It is hard for any squad to accumulate the playing resources to be truly consistent over 34 games. So a team will have some good spells and bad spells, and the ones which tend to have more good times than bad are the ones that make the playoffs.

One marker is the ability to kick away from a losing streak. Back-to-back-to-back losses - three in a row - is generally a troubling sign: it suggests a team in something of a spiral, not just unfortunate but actively in the habit of losing.

RBNY, for example, hasn't had a three-game losing streak in the MLS regular season since the godawful 2009 season (when it happened with distressing regularity) - until this year.

But this year may be different, at least in the Eastern Conference. In the West, to date, just two teams have stumbled to three-game losing streaks: Chivas USA and FC Dallas.

But in the East, seven of the 10 sides have had an extended run of being dreadful. Montreal started the season with three losses. Houston opened with two wins before sliding to three consecutive defeats, and now...well, you probably read about what's happening to the Dynamo in the last point.

Toronto lost games 6, 7 and 8 of its season; Philly lost games 9, 10 and 11; RBNY lost games 11, 12 and 13. Columbus lost three games in a week at the beginning of May. New England just lost its third game in a row this week.

Only Chicago, DC and KC have thus far avoided a losing streak - and Chicago didn't actually win a game until its ninth match of the season, DC opened the year with back-to-back losses, and KC just snapped a run of five games without a win.

This may be an irregular year in the East, where parity is such that no team is ever able to break away from the pack and the playoff race is more open than ever before. At the moment, there isn't a team in the Conference that can be relied on to be good for long enough to really break free of the rest.

The top team in the West (Seattle) is 21 points ahead of the bottom team, Chivas USA. Even if the Goats win their game in hand, they'll still be 18 points behind the Sounders, and they are already eight points outside the playoffs. Separation is occurring in the West.

In the East, the Fire is propping up the table, and is 11 points behind Conference-leading KC - but with two games in hand. Were Chicago to win those, it would have a better points total than RBNY after 16 games.

Even the worst team in the East, Montreal, would be just two points behind RBNY (currently the mid-table marker in the Conference) if it won its game in hand.

Every team in the Eastern Conference is or has been awful at some stage this season, and it's not even at its official halfway mark. This could make sorting out contenders from pretenders difficult all the way to the playoffs.

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