MLS Playoff Possibilities

Photograph by Matt Kremkau

MLS_logo.svgTwo weeks remain in Major League Soccer‘s regular season, and while the playoff participants are settled in the East Conference, they are anything but in the West Conference. The battle sfor second place, and a first-round bye, will also be sorted out over the next two weeks. It’s useful to remember that the first tiebreaker in MLS is victories, not goal differential.

Western Conference

Four teams are fighting for the last two playoff berths and are separated by a single point. Here’s how they stand with two weeks to go:

Houston Dynamo (11-10-10, 43 points, +8 GD)

Houston has been at the top of the conference, but now is fourth after a September swoon. The Dynamo’s saving grace might be that they have a game in hand on competitors because of a game rescheduled because of Hurricane Harvey. Two wins in their final three matches would see them through to the playoffs, but the Dynamo have the toughest remaining schedule of the bunch.

Games to play: Kansas City, Oct. 11; at Kansas City, Oct. 15; Chicago, Oct. 22

Dallas (10-9-13, 43, 0 GD)

Last year’s Supporters’ Shield winner picked up where it left off to start the season. But the club has suffered a lengthy and puzzling slide since, winning one of its last 13 matches. During this stretch, Dallas has been shut out six times, and Maxi Urruti has provided just one goal. Still, two wins would have Dallas back in the playoffs.

Games to play: At Seattle, Oct. 15; Los Angeles, Oct. 22

Real Salt Lake (12-14-6, 42, -6 GD)

Salt Lake has undergone an impressive turnaround with Coach Mike Petke. RSL has the worst defensive record in the league, but this reflects its early-season woes and not improved recent form. Unlike the teams above it, Salt Lake needs a slip up elsewhere to make the playoffs, but it will win tiebreakers with any of the other three.

Games to play: At Colorado, Oct. 15; Kansas City, Oct. 22

San Jose Earthquakes (12-14-6, 42, -22 GD)

San Jose has hovered right around this spot in the standings all season. Inconsistency has been the defining quality — its longest winning streak is two games. The Earthquakes’ goal differential is not only the worst among this group, but the worst in the conference. That fact would keep it below RSL, but it has more wins than Houston or Dallas.

Games to play: At Vancouver, Oct. 15; Minnesota, Oct. 22

Second-Place Races

In the two years since MLS went to its current playoff format, MLS Cup has been won by teams that went through the knockout round. All the same, this year’s sides will be looking to finish second and avoid the risk of being eliminated after one game.

Eastern Conference

This race is New York City‘s to lose. NYCFC (16-8-8, 56, +14 GD) can secure second place for a second year in a row with four points from its final two games (at New England, Oct. 15; Columbus, Oct. 22). The Pigeons are being chased by Atlanta (15-9-8, 53, +30 GD) and Chicago (15-10-7, 52, +16 GD). Columbus (15-12-5, 50, +3 GD) has only an outside shot at finishing second, but because it plays NYCFC, the Crew will play a big part in how this race shakes out.

Western Conference 

Things are tighter in this conference, with Kansas City (12-7-12, 48, +13 GD) in the driver’s seat for the second spot. Like Houston, SKC has an extra game to play down the stretch, and it could still catch Vancouver for first place. Portland (13-11-8, 47, +5 GD) and Seattle (12-9-11, 47, +6 GD) are the most likely candidates to pip Sporting, but every team down through San Jose is mathematically still able to finish second.