Union make roster moves; An early look at the playoffs

While I was in the middle of writing this post, the Union waived third-string goalkeeper Brian Perk. There were no quotes from anyone in the team's press release, so hopefully we'll find out more from Peter Nowak tomorrow.

The Union also announced today that they've signed J.T. Noone to an official contract. He has trained with the Union quite a bit this year, but was officially on the roster of the minor-league Harrisburg City Islanders until today.

The All-Star game is done with, and the European clubs that have been touring the U.S. will soon head back across the Atlantic. Now it's time to turn our focus back to domestic affairs. So let's do something we haven't really done yet on here: break down the standings and the playoff races.

Yes, I said races - not just in Major League Soccer, but in Women's Professional Soccer as well. The Independence are playing some really good soccer right now, including last Saturday's 4-1 thrashing of Sky Blue FC in West Chester.

It looks like Paul Riley's team is on track for a playoff berth, and they deserve more attention on here than I've been able to give them so far. Let's start, though, with the situation in MLS. The current table is here. Open it in another window as we go through this, because MLS' playoff structure is a bit complicated.

Eight teams qualify, with a home-and-away, aggregate goals quarterfinal round and a one-game semifinal round before the MLS Cup Final In theory, the semifinals are played for the Eastern and Western Conference championships. In practice, it's stupid to call Real Salt Lake the Eastern Conference champion, as we did after they won at Chicago to make last year's Final. So we'll just call the games the semifinals.

The process of who qualifies also isn't so straightforward. The easy part is that the top two teams from each conference make it, and host the second leg of the quarterfinals. The highest remaining seeds then host he semifinals, and the Final is played at a neutral site (Toronto this year).

For those of you who don't know, the two-game aggregate goal format is used in a lot of knockout competitions around the world, most notably the Champions League. Hosting the second leg is considered a home-field advantage because you know what you have to do after the first game.

(Having said that, the one difference between the Champions League and the MLS Cup playoffs is that away goals are not used as a tiebreaker. If the MLS series is tied on aggregate after 180 minutes, we go to extra time and penalties.)

After the top two teams in each conference, the remaining four slots go to the four teams with the most points regardless of conference. This can make for some interesting matchups if one conference doesn't qualify four teams.

In that scenario, the fifth team from the better conference becomes the lowest seed in the worse conference. If, in theory, the worse conference only sends two teams, the fifth and sixth teams in the better conference become the third and fourth teams in the worse conference.

Confused? Then let's put some real teams into this thing. Using the current table, these would be the playoff seeds if the season ended today:

Eastern Conference Bracket

1. Columbus, 34 points
2. New York, 26 points
3. Toronto FC, 23 points
4. Colorado, 23 points

Western Conference Bracket

1. Los Angeles, 40 points
2. Real Salt Lake, 31 points
3. FC Dallas, 26 points
4. San Jose, 23 points

Now, you might look at the standings and ask why San Jose goes over Colorado when the two teams have the same number of points. The astute among you might also have already noted that both teams have a +2 goal difference, which is the first tiebreaker. The second tiebreaker is goals scored, and San Jose has a 20-18 edge.

You might then look at the standings and note that Toronto only has a +1 goal differential. They get the third seed because teams playing in their own conference's bracket are seeded higher no matter the goal difference.

Where do the Union fit in all this? A rather long way down the ladder, unfortunately. They have 14 points right now from 14 games, with four wins, two draws and eight losses. Philadelphia sits in sixth place in the East. The Union also have fewer points than the last-place team of the eight in the West: Chivas USA, with 15 points.

There is a big caveat, though: every team in the West has played at least 15 games. Seven have played at least 16 and four have played at least 17. In the East, Chicago has also played only 14 games, while New England has played 15 games. Three teams have played 16 games and two have played 17 games.

So the Union have a long way to go. They aren't out of the race by any means, especially because of the number of home games left. But this gives you an idea of the work ahead if they want to make the postseason.

Let's turn now to Women's Professional Soccer. The standings are here.

The playoff format in WPS is a lot simpler than MLS - and actually rather interesting. In the first round, the No. 4 seed played at the No. 3. The winner of that game plays at the No. 2 seed, and the winner of that game plays at the No. 1 seed for the championship. That gives some real meaning to the end-of-season standings, and also allows clubs to throw all their marketing efforts into one playoff game.

FC Gold Pride, based in the Bay Area, have a commanding lead in first place with 39 points. The Independence are in second place with 27 points, and hold a healthy eight-point advantage over third-place Boston. Sky Blue, based in northern New Jersey, are in fourth with 18 points.

So we can be pretty sure that FC Gold Pride and the Independence will make the playoffs, barring a dramatic collapse. The rest of the race will be wide open, though, as last-place Atlanta has 16 points. So there are five teams playing for two spots.

The Independence's first playoff game would be on either Wednesday, September 22 or Thursday, September 23. It so happens that those dates are right in the middle of a 10-day break between games for the Union, which would present a nice opportunity for the Independence to command the attention of local soccer fans.

It also means that PPL Park will be available if there is interest on the part of the Independence and Union in playing the game there. I have heard grumblings from more than a few soccer fans that West Chester is too far away from the city for them to be able to get to games easily. John A. Farrell Stadium also has no public transportation access; the closest SEPTA bus route is almost a mile's walk away.

I am sure that renting PPL Park for a game would cost a fair bit of money, certainly more than using Farrell Stadium. Although WPS has done a better job of limiting its spending than the WUSA did, the league is operating at a loss nonetheless. The league announced layoffs in its front office earlier this week, including new media manager Amamda Vandervort.

Nonetheless, I would hope that something can be worked out if the opportunity presents itself. The Independence are playing some really good soccer right now, and have legitimate stars of the game in Caroline Seger and Amy Rodriguez. A playoff game at PPL Park, even on a school night, would give the team a chance to draw in a broader audience of soccer fans for the biggest game in club history.

Speaking of PPL Park, here's the train schedule for tomorrow's Union game. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m., and I'll be hosting a live chat starting at around 3:15. If you aren't going to the game, I hope you'll join me.

If you are going to the game, you should know that my chats are accessible on certain mobile devices, including iPhones. If you can get your phone to load the full-site version of this blog, give it a try tomorrow afternoon. It would be great to hear from fans in the stands.

I'm also planning to stop by the Sons of Ben tailgate for a while. If you're there, be sure to say hello.

Pregame service

From Center City

Market East Suburban 30th Street Chester
11:29 a.m. 11:34 a.m. 11:38 a.m. 12:03 p.m.
12:29 p.m.. 12:34 p.m. 12:38 p.m. 1:04 p.m.
1:29 p.m. 1:34 p.m. 1:38 p.m. 2:03 p.m.
2:28 p.m. 2:34 p.m. 2:38 p.m. 3:04 p.m.

From Newark, Wilmington, Marcus Hook and Chester

Newark Wilmington Marcus Hook Chester
----------- ----------- 11:47 a.m. 11:53 a.m.
----------- 12:36 p.m. 12:48 p.m. 12:54 p.m.
----------- ----------- 1:47 p.m. 1:53 p.m.
----------- 2:36 p.m. 2:48 p.m. 2:54 p.m.

Postgame service

To Center City

Chester 30th Street Suburban Market East
5:53 p.m. 6:20 p.m. 6:25 p.m. 6:30 p.m..
6:54 p.m. 7:20 p.m. 7:25 p.m. 7:30 p.m.
7:53 p.m. 8:20 p.m. 8:25 p.m. 8:30 p.m.

To Marcus Hook, Wilmington and Newark

Chester Marcus Hook Wilmington Newark
6:03 p.m. 6:09 p.m. 6:21 p.m. -----------
7:04 p.m. 7:10 p.m. ----------- -----------
8:03 p.m. 8:09 p.m. 8:21 p.m. -----------