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Around MLS: Rumble

The standings are so close that it's hard to tell which teams are actually good, and which teams are mediocre.

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Since Tuesday is a bit late to post score recaps, let's do something else. Let's talk about the league and western conference table.

This has been a ridiculous season. So many teams are within striking distance of the other that it's almost unbelievable. Mr. Fenn has a nice tweet that sums it all up:

His feed from yesterday is full of interesting notes about how tightly packed the league is. If that doesn't scream parity, I don't know what will. Whether or not this level of "equality" is good for the league is up for debate. You could make the case that it's exciting, and to those who are interested primarily in table position it's true. Who doesn't love watching teams that still have something to fight for?

But what about true quality? How do you pick who the best team is amidst this mess? The Supporter's Shield is imbalanced, and because of that it's not entirely reliable. It gives a good measure, as best as our current points system can manage, but it's still not ideal. Even then, the common definition of a great team is that its run of success (but not necessarily trophies) must last at least a few years. What then of San Jose? That's about as wildly inconsistent a team year to year as you'll find. They won the SS last year, while this year it seems an impossible task for them to make the playoffs.

"True quality" is relative and subjective. Some fans may value possession and defense, others may think the best team is the one that takes the most chances and gives up goals in search of more goals, and yet still there are those the prefer the tried and true over innovation. Some fans may think that strong corporate backing is a sign of a great team, while others prefer a grassroots approach. The standings aren't helping this discussion at all.

Why even discuss it? Well, sports fans love pecking orders. They like knowing which team is better than this other team, assuming they play to their average. We like knowing which team to hate, which team to love, which teams are the worst, and which teams don't deserve their fate. In the current race for playoff spots and the SS it's a daunting task for anyone to say with certainty which team is the best (though a few candidates passionately make their case for who is the worst).

For a while it looked as if Montreal was the undisputed leader of the pack. Then it was Portland. Then it was SKC. After them it was RSL. Every week a new column shows up on other websites proclaiming that Team X is the best team ever, based off of two months' success. Their run of wins and points is part of it, but part of it is also that teams like PDX, RSL or SKC play a style that attracts pundits.

"Well, they don't win all the time, but they play the game the right way".

Looking at the table, it's pretty crazy to see Colorado ranked above Seattle (the Sounders are ahead on PPG though). Is Colorado a better team than Seattle, or are they better right now? Even the PPG doesn't quite tell the whole story. Teams might have more PPG because they played a brutal stretch of a bazillion games in the CCL, MLS and USOC, while another team with a better PPG might have benefited from a very easy schedule due to failure in the USOC or because they didn't get in the CCL.

I ask you: Which is the best team in MLS? Not the best run organization (RSL, SEA, SKC and a few others make that case handily), but the best team.

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