1. Sporting Kansas City is the team to beat in MLS
Another week, another win for Sporting KC, extending its unbeaten streak to seven games. This is the hottest team in MLS right now, not just because it has lost the fewest matches (two; no other team in the league has lost fewer than four, including Montreal - which has only played 10 games so far this season). KC's recent record is arguably the league's most impressive because it has been earned against some of the best or best-performing teams in MLS.
The current streak started with a not-so-great-but-at-least entertaining 4-4 draw in Houston. At that point, KC had 10 points from eight games and seemed to be heading for a difficult season. Then it ended Chicago Fire's three-game winning streak with a 1-0 win in Kansas City. That was followed by a road point against current Supporters' Shield leader D.C. United. Next, a 4-2 win over New England, stopping the Revolution's unbeaten streak at nine games. There followed a 0-0 draw in Seattle, a 4-0 trouncing of FC Dallas in KC, and this week's 1-0 home win over the Sounders.
Sporting has conceded no goals in its last three games, and secured its first and second wins of the season over in-Conference opposition against two of the stronger teams in the West. Once A Metro isn't in to Power Rankings, but if we were, we wouldn't have KC second after Week 14 (looking at you, MLS).
2. New York City FC won just in the nick of time
NYC FC's win in Philadelphia deserves credit. First, it was against a hot team that had won three of its last four games. Second, it was a comeback victory after going a goal down in the first minute of the second half. Third, it was on the road. Fourth, it stopped an 11-game winless streak that was starting to look like a tailspin.
NYC FC is still dead last in the Eastern Conference and the Shield race, but there is no reason to panic: it is only five points outside the playoff positions, and most teams in the East are slumping at the moment. Chicago and Columbus each have just one win in their last seven games; DC has won two of its last six; New England is winless since May 2; RBNY has lost three straight; Orlando is unbeaten in four but has only won two of its last eight; Philly, recent form notwithstanding, has lost six of its last nine.
The East is in bad shape. Any team could go on a mid-season run and assume a commanding position in the Conference. NYC FC's problem is the two teams that look most likely to do so are Montreal Impact and Toronto FC: missing from the list above because they are flying right now. L'Impact won twice in Week 14 and now has 12 points from its last five games; TFC has won three in a row. And the form of the East's Canadian contingent is a problem for NYC FC because it plays Montreal and Toronto in four of its next five league games.
Any win will do when you haven't tasted victory in three months (NYC FC's last dose of three points was March 8), but a win over a team in good form was essential preparation for the task ahead. If it isn't going to be last in the standings heading into August, NYC FC will need to keep beating some of the hotter teams in the East for a few weeks yet.
3. Colorado Rapids might be capable of challenging Chicago Fire's single-season record for ties
What is perhaps a surprise is that Colorado is keeping pace with Chicago's epic 18-tie season of just a year ago. When the Fire broke the league's single-season record for draws, it seemed one of those achievements likely to go unchallenged for a while: a team only plays 34 matches in a MLS season, how often is one going to tie more than half of its games?
Well, here we are: almost halfway through the very next season and with Colorado almost halfway toward Chicago's daunting draws record.
Of course, this time last year was when the Fire really showed its class: from match 15 to match 21 in 2014, Chicago drew five out of seven. Colorado has done well to sustain its record-equaling pace this far into the season, but it will need to find an extra gear if it is to keep its unlikely challenge on track.
4. Pencil in 46 points for the East and 48 points for the West as the bar for playoff qualification (yes, it will be wrong)
Is it too early to talk about points requirements to make the playoffs? Yes: most teams in the league still have 20 or more games to play. There are a great many points still available.
But it does no harm to speculate. This column likes to take the view that 1.5 points per game is "par" form for a MLS club: win one, lose one seems about right to be average in a league where teams are generally quite good at home and quite poor on the road. So to set the bar for playoff qualification from this distance, we use the rough measure of looking at the current points total of the sixth-placed team in each Conference and adding to it the sum of 1.5 points per game for the rest of the season.
Why 1.5 points per game? Well, that would deliver a total of 51 points at the end of a full season, which is good enough to make the playoffs most (but not all) years since MLS moved to calling 34 games a regular season. So this column assumes every club is effectively chasing 51 points to make the playoffs until events say different.
After Week 14, Columbus Crew is sixth in the Eastern Conference with 16 points from 14 games. In the unlikely event the Crew holds to an even 1.5 points per game for the rest of the season, it will finish with 46 points. In the Western Conference, the sixth-placed team is LA Galaxy: sitting on 21 points from 16 games. If LA runs at 1.5 points per game for its remaining 18 matches, it will finish the season with 48 points.
So pencil in 46 points to make the playoffs in the East and 48 points for the West.
The average points total of the sixth-placed teams in each Conference since MLS adopted a 34-game schedule in 2011 is 46.5 for the East and 45.25 for the West. But those averages mask some fairly dramatic swings. The high-water mark for sixth in the East is 52 points, achieved by Columbus in 2012; the low is 42 points, which was Philly's total last year. In the West, the high is 51 points, accumulated by San Jose in 2013; the low is FC Dallas's 39 points in 2012.
After 14 games in 2012, Columbus (destined for 52 points) had 19 points - it finished three points better off than a 1.5 ppg average over 20 games would suggest. FCD (who would close the season on 39 points) had 13 points, and therefore finished four points worse off than the "par" forecast would suggest. The Quakes had 15 points after 14 games in 2013, but averaged 1.8 ppg to finish the year with 51 points. Philly had 11 points at this stage of their season in 2014, and did manage close to 1.5 ppg from that point forward: 42 points was achieved by averaging 1.55 ppg for the last 20 games of the year. (Of course, those are the teams that finished sixth, not the teams that were sixth after 14 games - but this is back-of-an-envelope stuff we're doing because the season isn't even half over yet.)
Clearly, it is foolhardy to try to project from this distance - and OaM is happy to be foolhardy so you don't have to. We'll check in on how the 46/48 projection is holding up later in the season.
5. The 300 club ain't what it used to be
This was always going to be the season that the landmark of 300 MLS regular season appearances in a career lost its luster. We've already seen Bobby Boswell, Jon Busch, and Nat Borchers join the club this year: swelling its ranks from 26 players at the start of 2015 to 29 players now.
Edson Buddle played in his 299th career MLS regular season game in Week 14. He will join the 300 club shortly. Justin Mapp will get to 300 as soon as he returns from injury (he's on 299 career appearances also). Chad Marshall (295 games played in MLS regular seasons to date), Drew Moor (288), Jeff Larentowicz (285), and Chris Wingert (283) can also reasonably expect to make the 300 mark by the end of this season, if form and fitness stays with them.
If all those guys make it this year, that will be nine of a 38-strong club inducted in 2015: more than 20%.
It's still an achievement to get to 300 games in the league: Mike Magee leads another six or seven players who might get there by the end of next season, if they can defy the effects of age and injury. There won't be 50 players in the club until 2017, maybe 2018.
But it's no longer an elite achievement. There should be multiple inductees every season for years to come. The new elite mark for appearances is 350 regular season games. Six players have got there so far in the history of the league: Brad Davis (351) being the most recent. He should be joined by Davy Arnaud (342) later this season. After that, much will rest on what the next season-and-a-half holds for the likes of Brian Carroll, Jack Jewsbury, Boswell, Borchers, and some of the other newer inductees to the 300 club.
We'll continue to applaud those who hit 300 regular season appearances, but save the real enthusiasm for the 350 club. (And ultimately, the 400 club.)