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MLS 195 43 MLS Power Rankings: Playoff Outlook 31947404 Quest for the cup Quest+for+the+cup MLS

Nineteen teams started the quest for MLS Cup back in March. Nine of them dropped out over the weekend as MLS concluded its regular season. The onus now falls on the final 10 to generate the energy and the resolve to push through the fatigue and sustain a push for a berth in the final on Dec. 6.


All of those factors -- and many more -- combine to make the postseason particularly unpredictable. Houston and LA Galaxy have met in the past two finals, but the other eight teams will hope to upset that pattern and state their own claims for a championship.
In this week's edition of the MLS Power Rankings, we look at the remaining teams and offer reasons why they may or may not emerge victorious at the end of this draining campaign.


--Kyle McCarthy

Harry How - Getty Images
MLS 195 43 MLS Power Rankings: Playoff Outlook 31949105 New York Red Bulls New+York+Red+Bulls MLS

Why the Red Bulls can win MLS Cup: New York finished atop the regular season table and won the first trophy in team history. It accomplished that feat and banished the Curse of Caricola by relying on Tim Cahill, Thierry Henry, Jamison Olave and a cast of reliable performers. This is a deep, potent team capable of tearing the opposition asunder. And if everyone else isn't firing, then Cahill and Henry can do it by themselves.


Why they might not: The rampant attacking displays often leave the Red Bulls a bit exposed at the back. Markus Holgersson, in particular, presents an enticing target on the break given his lack of pace. Frailty presents another concern with Henry (particularly on turf) and Olave somewhat prone to picking up knocks.

Houston Chronicle, Smiley N. Pool - AP Images
MLS 195 43 MLS Power Rankings: Playoff Outlook 31947403 Real Salt Lake Real+Salt+Lake MLS

Why Real Salt Lake can win MLS Cup: Few, if any, MLS teams match the RSL’s cohesiveness. This mix of familiar veterans and fresher faces understands how to play with each other and underscore their individual collective strengths. Those qualities manifest in the best ways: gritty defiance at the back with Nat Borchers and Nick Rimando leading the way, tidy, possession-oriented work in midfield with Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales and the necessary sharpness through the predatory Alvaro Saborio.


Why they probably won't: If Morales and Saborio aren't firing, then RSL flails around a bit in front of goal. Morales, in particular, receives the sort of scrutiny designed to limit his effectiveness in fraught matches. Limiting the influence of those two players leaves RSL -- a stout, but not infallible, defensive unit -- under pressure.

Thearon W. Henderson - Getty Images
MLS 195 43 MLS Power Rankings: Playoff Outlook 31947402 Los Angeles Galaxy Los+Angeles+Galaxy MLS

Why the Galaxy can win MLS Cup: Two gleaming trophies serve as a testament to the Galaxy's postseason proficiency. Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane (one of the league's top MVP candidates) boast the ability to decide any match by themselves or as a duo. Jaime Penedo offers a considerable upgrade in goal for the quest for the three-peat.


Why they probably won't: This group showed signs of wavering during the regular season, particularly in defense and in the wide areas. If the concerns at the back linger, the Galaxy – no matter the wattage of its stars – will fall short in their quest to make history.

Victor Decolongon - Getty Images
MLS 195 43 MLS Power Rankings: Playoff Outlook 31949106 Sporting KC Sporting+KC MLS

Why Sporting can win MLS Cup: No team relishes the prospect of playing against Sporting's carefully crafted, high pressure 4-3-3 system. The setup prompts enticing opportunities in the attacking third by generating turnovers high up the field and relieves responsibility from the defense by restricting opportunities. Avoiding bogey team Houston in the Eastern Conference semifinals helps, too.


Why they probably won't: All of that pressure yields fewer goals than it should due to a glaring lack of incisiveness in the final third. The fitness concerns surrounding Claudio Bieler and the summer sale of Kei Kamara leave Sporting searching for potency. Opposing teams can enjoy success if they sit deeply, soak up pressure and wait for the right time to counter when Sporting commits too many men forward.

Jonathan Daniel - Getty Images
MLS 195 43 MLS Power Rankings: Playoff Outlook 31949103 Portland Timbers Portland+Timbers MLS

Why the Timbers can win MLS Cup: Caleb Porter's side clinched the top seed in the Western Conference with a mixture of class (primarily from Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri) and grit (every single player in the side). The Timbers keep the ball well (a boon to a surprisingly defiant rearguard) and present marking problems on set pieces, two traits that usually aid postseason charges.


Why they probably won't: Porter can't find a productive striker to lead the line. The need for goals from midfield poses a problem given the reduced space likely afforded to Valeri during the postseason. There are also concerns about the fullbacks and the perilous road to the final (involving a possible Western Conference semifinal tie with Cascadia rivals Seattle).

Cooper Neill - Getty Images
MLS 195 43 MLS Power Rankings: Playoff Outlook 31949107 New England Revolution New+England+Revolution MLS

Why the Revolution can win MLS Cup: This team – a youthful side capable of absorbing pressure with Jose Goncalves leading the defensive efforts and then breaking swiftly with Juan Agudelo, Diego Fagundez, Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe – operates within principles well suited to the postseason. Its stirring end to the regular season (4-0-2) reinforces the potential danger posed.


Why they probably won't: Those tidy attacking players occasionally float out of the game when the opposition sets out to disrupt their rhythm in possession. Eastern Conference semifinal opponents Sporting Kansas City thrives in those sorts of encounters, as evidenced by its extended record of success against the Revs on home soil.

The Columbus Dispatch, Alex Holt -
MLS 195 43 MLS Power Rankings: Playoff Outlook 31946406 Seattle Sounders Seattle+Sounders MLS

Why the Sounders can win MLS Cup: Only LA Galaxy and New York can compete with Seattle in terms of potential matchwinners. Clint Dempsey grabbed his first Seattle goal in the 1-1 draw with the Galaxy to finally show some signs of life, while Eddie Johnson (if he isn't getting thrown out of practice), Obafemi Martins (if he is healthy enough to play a role), Mauro Rosales (if he's fit enough for 90 minutes) can play their parts, too.


Why they probably won't: Those four players seemingly can't find their way onto the field at the same time for one reason or another. And the rest of the side struggled with pervasive defensive issues during an underwhelming stretch to end the regular season. Oh, and the idea of playing Portland in the Western Conference semifinals on short rest isn't particularly advisable, either.


Editor's note: The Seattle Sounders advanced to Major League Soccer's playoff round after defeating the Colorado Rapids 2-0 on Wednesday.

Brad White/ - Getty Images
MLS 195 43 MLS Power Rankings: Playoff Outlook 31946404 Colorado Rapids Colorado+Rapids MLS

Why the Rapids can win MLS Cup: Oscar Pareja's youthful side boasts the sort of speed capable of frightening opposing defenses. Just ask Seattle. If Deshorn Brown can continue to find space on the break during the postseason (and somehow oust the Sounders along the way), the Rapids could grab a foothold and manage their way through the game with good work in possession.


Why they probably won't: A dearth of experience can lead to greater ambition, but it often leaves teams exposed against more seasoned competition. Injuries to Dillon Powers (concussion-like symptoms) and Vicente Sanchez (shoulder) could hinder the efforts ahead of a difficult trip to CenturyLink Field on Wednesday.


Editor's note: The Colorado Rapids were eliminated from playoff contetion after losing to the Seattle Sounders 2-0 during Wednesday's playoff play-in match.

Justin Edmonds - Getty Images
MLS 195 43 MLS Power Rankings: Playoff Outlook 31946405 Houston Dynamo Houston+Dynamo MLS

Why the Dynamo can win MLS Cup: Dominic Kinnear waves his magic wand when the postseason commences and transforms his side into a genuine contender. Houston did not reach the past two MLS Cups by accident: this is a defiant, rugged team capable of imposing its will on the opposition and settling the ball down occasionally with Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia pulling the strings in midfield.


Why they probably won't: Cracks started to appear in the miserly defensive foundation as the season wound to a close. Those fissures could prove deadly given the absence of a reliable poacher in front of goal.


Editor's note: The Houston Dynamo advanced to Major League Soccer's playoff round after defeating the Montreal Impact 3-0 on Thursday.

Bob Levey - Getty Images
MLS 195 43 MLS Power Rankings: Playoff Outlook 31946407 Montreal Impact Montreal+Impact MLS

Why the Impact can win MLS Cup: Any team with Marco Di Vaio and (possibly) Alessandro Nesta possesses a chance to cause an upset or two. And the Impact showed the potential to compete with the best teams in the league during the first half of the season.


Why they probably won't: Nesta is uncertain to feature against Houston on Wednesday with a right calf injury. His teammates, for the most part, are out of energy and form after a woeful conclusion to the campaign.


Editor's note: The Houston Dynamo advanced to Major League Soccer's playoff round after defeating the Montreal Impact 3-0 on Thursday.

Derek Leung - Getty Images
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