Image courtesy of Getty.
There are few certainties in the MLS playoff race heading into the final two weekends of the season. New York and Sporting Kansas City will take part. Several other teams will join them. A few more will miss out entirely.
Further verdicts remain difficult to draw. The compressed standings in both conferences create the possibility of widespread upheaval with one result going either way. There are likelihoods in play, but no firm guidelines to set forth with just a fortnight remaining.
At this stage of the campaign, favors fall upon teams willing to dispatch their business accordingly. There are few guarantees on the table right now, but this one is etched in stone: a pair of victories will improve your position substantially heading into the postseason.
New York, Sporting Kansas City, Houston jostle for top three seeds in the East
RBNY: at Houston, vs. Chicago
SKC: vs. D.C. United, at Philadelphia
HOU: vs. New York, at D.C. United
New York holds a slim advantage in the race for top spot heading into the final two weeks, but a defeat in Houston on Sunday could break the race wide open. Sporting Kansas City could apply further pressure with a straightforward home victory over D.C. United on Friday. A couple of extra goals would help the cause: Sporting currently sits one goal behind the Red Bulls in the goals scored category, the second tiebreaker.
If Houston collect maximum points over the Red Bulls on Sunday, the Dynamo can maintain touching distance with the top two. The third seed — barring an outright collapse by either New York or Sporting — looks more likely given the Dynamo’s current points deficit and its disadvantage in both total wins (first tiebreaker) and goals scored.
Chicago, Montréal hold narrow edges in five-way battle for fourth and fifth spot
MTL: vs. Philadelphia, at Toronto FC
CHI: vs. Toronto FC, at New York
PHL: at Montréal, vs. Sporting Kansas City
NE: vs. Columbus, at Columbus
CLB: at New England, vs. New England
The calculus for all five of these teams is fairly simple: win two games, then see what happens. If four of these five teams embark on a season ending tear (quite unlikely, indeed), then Montréal and Chicago will stand atop the heap.
It is difficult to envision Montréal rattling off two wins in a row at this stage given its recent form (see: the reserve-laden 1-0 defeat at LA Galaxy on Wednesday), but a favorable schedule – a home match against the goal-shy Union and a visit to TFC on the final day – and a strong position on tiebreakers at least gives the Impact a fighting chance. One win might even do it. Chicago fattened up on D.C. United and FC Dallas over the past couple of weeks to move into a promising position. Another victory over Toronto FC this weekend – combined with its superior wins total – leaves the Fire in reasonable stead.
Philadelphia likely needs a minimum of four points (and likely six) from its pair of difficult assignments to have a chance. New England essentially needs six points against the Crew given the state of play, though it could edge out the Fire or the Union on goals scored if four points somehow suffices for a fifth-place tie. Columbus needs two wins against the Revs and a whole lot of losses by everyone else to have a prayer.
Four teams in the mix for top three seeds out and one nasty door prize out West
PDX: vs. Real Salt Lake, at Chivas USA
RSL: at Portland, vs. Chivas USA
LAG: vs. San Jose, at Seattle
SEA: at FC Dallas, vs. LA Galaxy
The top two sides in the Western Conference tangle at JELD-WEN Field on Saturday with an opportunity to stake a claim to the top seed. A draw should suffice for Portland with a visit to Chivas USA on the docket to end the season, but the Timbers’ iffy road form and their wins deficit provides plenty of incentive to take care of business at home and remove all doubt. RSL remains in good shape for the second seed even with a defeat: Jason Kreis’ side closes the season at home to Chivas USA in midweek (a likely victory) and possesses an edge on goals scored over the other two contenders if Portland finishes first.
LA Galaxy and Seattle look likely to qualify for the playoffs absent a total meltdown (and the Sounders sure are trying). Their ultimate playoff fate – two v. three in some order or four vs. five – hinges on the meeting at CenturyLink Park to conclude their respective seasons. Seattle will need to finish with more points (or wins) than any of its counterparts to avoid the goals scored tiebreaker. Any type of setback in Frisco on Saturday places Seattle in a must-win spot to avoid the fourth (or even fifth) seed heading into the final weekend of the season.
Colorado, Vancouver duel to the death as San Jose hopes for a chance to pounce
COL: vs. Vancouver, at Vancouver
SJ: at LA Galaxy, vs. FC Dallas
VAN: at Colorado, vs. Colorado
Colorado scuffed away a chance to essentially secure its playoff destiny in the 1-0 defeat at San Jose last week. Now the Rapids confront a tricky home-and-home test with a Vancouver side in line to hop over them with four points over the two matches (based on the goals scored tiebreaker). The good news for Colorado: one victory would eliminate the Whitecaps, require the Earthquakes to win both games to qualify (due to San Jose’s vastly inferior goals scored record).
San Jose needs considerable help from the Whitecaps to claim the final playoff spot due to tiebreakers. One victory in two matches would suffice if Vancouver picks up exactly four points. More than likely, the Earthquakes will need at least four (if both Colorado-Vancouver matches in draws) and probably six (in a bid to edge out a Colorado side with four points gained or a Vancouver outfit with two wins) points to snatch an improbable postseason place.