I thought about doing my normal 'What we learned' piece following the loss to Sporting Kansas City, like I usually do on Mondays but when I got going today I felt like going in a different direction. Honestly, I don't have a ton to say about the 3-1 loss on Friday night for FC Dallas in KC. Oscar Pareja tried a couple things that just flat out didn't work. It is as simple as that.
Instead I felt like looking at the team as a whole with a look at the remaining games to really get a sense of where we are right now with things.
18 points left on the table
The more I look at the Supporter's Shield standings right now, the more I see it being New York's to lose. The East as we know isn't deep enough at the moment and New York has been quietly pulling away from the pack in that conference for a little while now.
The West continues to be a dog fight and will only continue to be that way with the likes of Seattle coming back into the mix and Sporting KC finding their sea legs (I don't think they're going to have the same end of season slump that some were talking about). For me, I wonder if Portland can hold onto that final spot or if Salt Lake or San Jose and squeeze into it.
On the FCD side of things it really does come down to getting home field advantage. If that means locking up the Supporter's Shield in the process, great. If it just means getting one of the top two seeds, that may be even better. FCD has six remaining games with an even split between road and home games. For those math folks out there, that is 18 points left to grab. Seeing how the schedule has been rated as the toughest remaining set of games of any MLS teams, grabbing nine points in those three home games are an absolute must.
I don't want to see FCD stumble into the playoffs like they did a year ago either. That season finale against Portland nearly set the tone for the playoffs to be a quick exit and had it not been for a late penalty kick against Vancouver, it may have been one.
Find that lineup
Pareja has been doing a lot of lineup tinkering over the last few weeks. It comes with the territory of a long season. International call ups, injuries, injuries that cannot be explained (see Mauro Diaz) have led to some interesting lineup selections that have worked in some cases and in other cases like last Friday, not at all. In no way should a player like Fabian Castillo come off the bench in a pivotal road game. A win on Friday would have started the process of putting some distance between FCD and some of the lower seeds in the West, instead it just closed the gap a little bit.
The lineup needs to get some form of consistency going into the final set of games. Pareja needs to not only find his most manageable formation but the back four need to be set along with who will be up top in the striker role(s). Will we see Moises Hernandez finally break back into the lineup or are we stuck with a combo of Je-Vaughn Watson and Atiba Harris at full back? Up top may be another story as Blas Perez may be more of a bench player down the stretch while David Texeira and Tesho Akindele continue to get runs out there together.
Just like a year ago, where Diaz fits in all of this is a mystery but we do know the team can perform without him if need be. Still, a healthy and active Diaz is likely the difference of getting to a MLS Cup or sitting at home after one round.