1. Chivas RIP
On the field, Chivas USA lost again this week, to Sporting Kansas City, 4-0 at home. It was the team's fifth consecutive loss, its ninth consecutive defeat in its last 10 games, and the eighth time in that run in which the Goats have failed to score.
The team is bad. We knew this; its players know this. Any member of the squad who can find a better situation is well advised to find it, as demonstrated by the news Eric Avila may be on his way to Santos Laguna in Liga MX.
Of course, Chivas USA doesn't have to be bad. The team had a four-game winning streak before its current tailspin. It has a number of players - Dan Kennedy, Bobby Burling, Marvin Chavez, Oswaldo Minda - who could reasonably expect to start for almost any team in the league. Erick "Cubo" Torres was an All-Star this year.
But it is a club with an uncertain future: currently under the stewardship of MLS, seeking new ownership. The league's long-term plan for the Goats is well known: it intends to sell the franchise, let the new owners rebrand the club, and (hopefully) find a new stadium. The team's support has cratered, beaten down by a succession of bad seasons (this will be the fifth consecutive year Chivas misses the playoffs). Its prior ownership, Chivas de Guadalajara, lost its mind in 2013, tried to turn the team into a horrendously muddled version of its parent club (which famously only signs players qualified to play for the Mexican national team), and finished the year with nothing more than some messy lawsuits to show for its efforts.
It made a lot of sense to start again. What we learned this week is "starting again" might mean more than just kicking off next season with a new name and a fresh sense of purpose. "Starting again" might mean shutting the club down for a year or two, until the new owners are in place and ready to launch a team with a new identity on and off the field.
The news was broken by Sports Illustrated's Brain Straus, in a measured article which carefully lays out the complexities surrounding the league's options regarding the future of Chivas USA. Ultimately, all he is reporting is that the league is considering shuttering its second LA franchise until it sorts out the ownership situation. If you don't believe it, you presumably believe Straus's sources lied to him - which is possible, but it is hard to figure out why a network of disgruntled MLS insiders would conspire to mislead a journalist who is not troubled by complexity, uncertainty or ambiguity. The piece Straus wrote is too balanced, cautious and even-handed to satisfy any perceived agenda that might be at work to promote or discredit the story.
There is also considerable circumstantial evidence to support Straus's modest suggestion that the league is prepared to let Chivas USA fold - albeit temporarily - if that aligns with the interest of a new owner.
First, it's just good negotiating practice. MLS has something to sell: a team in its league. And it has a desired price: $100 million (possible more, according to Straus's sources). Most other details ought to be negotiable.
Second, the importance of the money to the league should not be underestimated: MLS spent a lot time suggesting a stadium was a condition of entry to its club, but when NYCFC showed with $100 million and no place to play, the stadium component of the entry requirement was waived. If there are people willing to pay more than $100 million for the team on the condition that it be put in storage for a year (or even two), we might expect MLS to at least listen to the rationale.
Third, Chivas USA simply isn't behaving like a club that is confident it will exist next year: it hasn't even started season ticket renewals yet.
Admittedly, if you were marketing the Goats, you might decide it better to wait until the team wasn't in the midst of seemingly-without-end winless streak before you went asking fans for more money. The club's lack of urgency in retaining the support of the few fans it has left might simply be good manners.
But it's hard to see how a team effects a complete rebrand from a standing start in just six months (as of now; realistically, less than six months).
The league has not committed to any course of action, and one hopes - for the sake of the too-long-suffering fans of the team - the threatened closure never happens. But one can understand why the league might prefer to cut its losses and kill the club more readily than one can understand why anyone would panic-buy the franchise at a premium with less than half a year to reboot the program.
For much of this season, the team has been referred to as Chivas TBD. Now it would seem we can start to think about Chivas RIP.
2. Orlando City has about one third of its squad picked out for 2015
The USL-Pro regular season champ - and future MLS Eastern Conference opponent for RBNY - got bounced out of their league's playoffs in the first round by
Philadelphia Union's reserve team Harrisburg City Islanders this weekend. The team wasted little time in getting ready for its MLS debut: releasing almost its entire squad.
For 2015, Orlando City currently has seven players signed up: superstar Brazilian Kaka; Salvadoran international, Darwin Ceren; Trinidad and Tobago international and USL-Pro's new single-season scoring record holder, Kevin Molino; Estrela and Rafael Ramos, both teenage defensive prospects from Benfica's youth system; Tommy Redding and Tyler Turner, also teenage defenders and US national teamers at the U17 and U18 levels.
The club is also negotiating with Harrison Heath (another teenager and coach Adrian Heath's son), Adama Mbengue (21 this year), and Luke Boden (at 25, the second-oldest player currently in the frame for Orlando's MLS roster).
So expect the team to go shopping for some veterans when it starts filling out the rest of the squad.
3. Toronto FC's problems are off the field, and might be about to get worse
TFC got a draw this week. A late equalizer in Chicago brought the Reds their first point since the last time they played the Fire, and the first time since General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko summoned local media for an impromptu press conference in which he urged his team to "take it up a notch".
The players' response to their GM has been to lose three straight without scoring a goal - until this week. And TFC might have had a win: Gilberto had the ball in the net for a late winner, but the goal was disallowed for the not-entirely-crazy fact that the forward had his hands all over defender Bakary Soumare, and looked like he may have dragged the big man down.
Still, the noise about the incident out of Toronto suggests the team is simply plenty relieved to have something to talk about other than the madness that consumed its front office at the end of August, and precipitated the current decline.
Except, of course, it hasn't been much of a decline. TFC was not in great trouble when Bezbatchenko called his press conference: the team was third in the East, had just won two out of four consecutive games on the road and suffered a slightly disappointing draw on its return home.
After the team lost the game its GM was so concerned about, it slipped to fourth in the Eastern Conference standings. This was sufficient to remove Ryan Nelsen from his position as head coach.
Since, the team has one point from three games under new management, and it still hasn't lost control of its playoff destiny: TFC is currently seventh in the East, but just three points behind Philly and Columbus with a game in hand on both teams. And Toronto's next match is at home against Chivas USA - so pencil in the Reds to keep pace with the playoff hunt for at least another week.
Unfortunately, off the field, the hits keep coming. The Globe and Mail published an article on Sunday, Sept 14, that was brimming with hot gossip: from Tim Leiweke's pessimistic take on the ship he is jumping off ("We've never been right here. We've only been wrong."), to the news that the team's roster is being picked over by clubs who presumably have seen the blood in the water (Jermain Defoe, Gilberto and Luke Moore have all, allegedly, been the subject of transfer offers from teams outside MLS).
The biggest - and most vaguely sourced - rumor in the article, however, was the suggestion Bob Bradley might be brought in to combine the role of GM and head coach (much like Bruce Arena does for LA Galaxy) and keep his son happy, since Michael Bradley could be the only part of TFC's "Bloody Big Deal" still standing by the time the 2015 season kicks off.
The truth of all of the claims in the article is less important than the fact of their publication. It indicates that there is still plenty of mud to sling between the factions that couldn't contain their mutual hostility sufficiently to just let the players play their way through what had been shaping up to be the most successful regular season in TFC's history.
And since that mud started being thrown, the team hasn't won a game.
That will probably change when Chivas comes to town, but it won't last if the off-field problems don't get fixed. Indeed, next week's meeting with the Goats will be an interesting moment in Toronto's season, since it will bring the club face to face with exactly what can happen to a team if off-field problems start to affect the players on the pitch.
4. Record-chasers hit a speed-bump
Week 27 could have been a big week for a couple of players chasing big landmarks in MLS: both Bradley Wright-Phillips and Landon Donovan had two games scheduled.
But Donovan picked up a yellow card against Montreal in LA's first game of the week, which caused him to miss out on the trip to San Jose at the weekend. He still picked up career assist number 132 in Canada, and is still very much in the hunt for Steve Ralston's all-time league record (135).
BWP's chances of catching or breaking the league's single-season scoring record took a significant hit, however, after he limped out of RBNY's game against D.C. United at half-time. The forward was still being kept off the field when the weekend's game against Philadelphia rolled around. BWP has only six games left in the regular season to score six or seven goals and get himself into MLS's record books.
5. It's time to find out if the Revs are for real...again
New England's season has turned around once more: a fifth consecutive win has dragged the team clear of the Eastern Conference playoff pile-up. The Revs are in third in the East, and could start to threaten Sporting Kansas City's grip on second if the run keeps going.
And the Revs will be fully deserving of one of the top seeds in the East if they can keep the run going, since four of their remaining six games are on the road - and the first two will be against prospective playoff rivals, Columbus (who could be a play-in game opponent if the Revs drop back down the table) and KC (probable playoff opponent if the two clubs spend the rest of the season squabbling over second and third in the Conference).
The current five-game streak has been abetted by a schedule that delivered four matches at home and a fifth in Toronto at exactly the time TFC started to unravel its season. The next five games will provide a stronger sense of whether the Revs are contenders or pretenders.