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Things we learned from MLS Week 19

Seattle took this week off, which let the rest of the league at least pretend the Shield race isn't over yet.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

1. Look at the East for a challenge to Seattle's Shield ambitions

The Sounders had week 19 off and are still seven points clear in the Western Conference and three points ahead in the Supporters' Shield race with two games in hand over second-placed Sporting Kansas City.

But KC has got that close to Seattle because it has now won three straight, and D.C. United also won its third straight game this week, and is just four points behind the Sounders (having played one more match than the league leaders).

Neither KC or DC have to play Seattle again this season, and they have one advantage in the Shield race: they both play in the Eastern Conference.

Most of the teams in the East are terrible (further discussion of that matter below), which makes the task of reeling in the Sounders a little easier for Sporting and United that it is for LA Galaxy, currently the most likely challenger from the West.

2. Toronto FC is either doing pretty well for a bad team, or pretty badly for a good one

After this week's 2-2 draw in Houston, which saw Toronto rally to equalize twice, TFC has now lost just one of its last 10 games and bounced back from conceding the first goal to draw or win in its last three. This makes Toronto the hardest team to beat in MLS at the moment - even Seattle has dropped two games in its last 10.

But TFC also doesn't win as much as one might expect from a team so stubbornly disinclined to lose. It has as many points from its last seven games as the New York Red Bulls, who are busy talking themselves into a crisis. And Toronto is only three points better off in its last 10 matches than Chicago - the eighth-placed team in the East.

So its hard to tell whether TFC is a good team slowly finding form, or a bad team fortunate to be in a Conference with some of the league's worst.

We should have more clarity by the end of July: Toronto's next two games are against KC and DC.

3. LA Galaxy isn't done yet

The Galaxy's eight-game unbeaten run ended against Kansas City this week. LA's weakness has long been its road form: its only away win of the year to date was against San Jose, the worst team in the West (no, wins over Chivas USA do no count).

But the loss to Kansas was close, and could - probably should - have ended differently, since Andy Gruenebaum's challenge on Robbie Keane was the sort that typically results in goalkeepers being sent off. But the referee saw a fair tackle in Gruenebaum's rather simplistic tactic of missing the ball and standing his ground to stop the man, and KC didn't waste the good fortune.

Despite the points dropped, the Galaxy still has a game in hand over Seattle and a fighting chance in the Shield race.

If the game is won, LA will be within eight points of the Sounders, and aware of the fact they finish up their season with back-to-back games against Seattle. So the target is to get to within five or six points of the Sounders by the time those last two matches need to be played.

And LA's next game is on the road in Seattle. Beat the Sounders on their ground and the Galaxy is a contender - especially when it will still have a game in hand.

4. Start thinking about 45 points as the cutoff to make the playoffs in the East

The 50 point threshold for playoff qualification is a placeholder until the league standings reveal a more accurate target. To reach 50 points, a team needs to average 1.47 points per game over 34 matches - ever so slightly below a win-one-lose-one rate of accumulation.

Over in the West, there are six teams above or close to 1.47 ppg, with Portland and Chivas jostling to get into the frame.

But in the East, only three teams are above 1.47 ppg, and the rest are quite some distance away.

To get to 50 points for 2014, RBNY would need to average 1.85 ppg for the rest of the season. New England needs a 1.8 ppg average; Philadelphia requires 2.08 ppg; Columbus needs 1.93 ppg; Chicago is looking at 1.88 ppg; Houston and Montreal each need more than 2.2 ppg.

Across the board, these teams are essentially looking to hit Seattle-type form (2.11 ppg after 18 games) at best and KC-form at worst (1.75 ppg after 20 matches).

This seems unlikely. Of course, it is possible for any of them to go on a run. It is also possible for the atoms in your body to spontaneously rearrange themselves into something else. Or so I've been told.

We're more than halfway through the season and we can see these are all teams whose flaws appear to prevent them from achieving significant consistency. Of the bottom seven teams in the East, only one has a positive goal difference (RBNY: +1) and each has lost more games than it has won.

Nothing is impossible, but even one of these seven breaking loose and getting to 50 points seems improbable. For two of them to do it requires the sort of imagination better applied to more interesting tasks than playoff qualification scenarios.

So perhaps it is time to drop the presumptive playoff threshold in the East.

As things stand, 45 points is a reachable target for most of the seven. At the outside, Montreal would need 1.94 ppg (i.e. still not likely); the team with the least work to do to get there is New England, merely chasing 1.47 ppg. The rest are somewhere in between.

So the bar in the East is dropped for the moment: 45 points (ish) is the new target, until sufficient number of teams gets close enough or too far away to warrant a recalculation.

Note: KC, DC and Toronto can all be considered well set for 50 points or more out of the season, at the moment. So 45 points is looking like the target for a 4th or 5th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

5. New England can snap out of its funk now

This week's 2-0 loss to FC Dallas pushed the Revolution's losing streak to seven games. That is disastrous form, but the Revs are still alive in the Eastern Conference: above the line in the playoff race (just), and with games in hand on their closest rivals (Philly and Columbus).

If not for the lopsided manner in New England has won and lost its points this year (five straight victories preceded the current run of defeats), we'd probably think of the Revs as an average side with a better-than-average chance of making the playoffs.

Because losing to Dallas at least brought an end to a particularly difficult stretch of the team's schedule - three of New England's last four matches have been road trips to teams in the West. Now there is a very good opportunity for the Revs to start picking up points in bunches again.

The schedule ahead provides seven of their next nine games at home, and three of the next four will be against Western Conference visitors (Colorado, Portland and Chivas USA). Even the away games shouldn't prove too taxing - short hops to New York and Toronto.

Home form tends to decide the fate of MLS teams, and New England still has more than half of its 2014 home games to play. The weeks ahead are the true test of whether the Revs will make the playoffs.