On Monday we found out that Miguel Almiron will be out, at the minimum, for three weeks. Since “at minimum” always guarantees more time to be added on, so I think we can safely assume that Almiron is gone for just about the rest of the regular season.
Is that terrifying given that we haven’t actually clinched a playoff spot yet? Yes.
Would you like some good news? Don’t care, here’s some anyway.
Atlanta United can still win the Eastern Conference and the Supporters’ Shield. And they have the chance to do so on the last game of the season at home in a sold-out Mercedes Benz Stadium against Toronto FC in the most consequential and highly-anticipated regular season MLS match in recent memory.
Let me lay out the scenario for you:
After their loss at the Revs last week Toronto now have a magic number of 3. That means they clinch the East and the Shield if they win a game, any game, before the end of the year. They have three remaining matches: Red Bulls at home, Impact at home, and Atlanta away. It is possible (again, a little unlikely but still possible) that Toronto comes out of those first two matches with less than three points. They could lose both, draw and lose, or draw both. Any of those scenarios happens and the mathematical possibility remains that Atlanta could swoop in and steal it all. But the likelihood of that happening rests upon a herculean feat. What’s the feat you ask? Well…
Atlanta can’t lose another match this season. They can draw once. Other than that, they have to win.
Here are our remaining matches: Philly at home on Wednesday, away to the Revs on Saturday, Minnesota at home the following Tuesday, away to Red Bulls that Sunday, and, finally, Toronto at home a week later. That stretch includes three matches in a single week (one of which is a big away trip), an international break with vital World Cup qualifiers to be played, and a match against a desperate NY Red Bulls squad. All of this without Miguel Almiron.
Still, if Atlanta were to win all their remaining matches and Toronto were to lose all of its remaining matches the two would play for the Eastern Conference and the Supporters’ Shield on the last match of the season.
Would that be the biggest MLS regular season match in the history of the league? Hard to say. It seems to be a safe bet though that a winner-take-all final match of the season in front of 70,000 fans to accomplish the single greatest season for an expansion franchise in American professional sports history might be pretty significant.
If Atlanta wins that match, after having won all their prior matches, they finish with 64 points to Toronto’s 62. Notably, if Toronto draw both remaining matches only to lose to Atlanta on the last match of the season, the two would finish tied atop the East, with the winner being decided by goal difference. Atlanta trail Toronto in that category by six (34 to 28). Atlanta score a lot of goals and have two games-in-hand on Toronto so the two teams would likely be very very close by the time the final match rolls around.
Last scenario I promise: if Toronto loses both remaining matches Atlanta can drop points once and still tie Toronto atop the East and claim the Shield through a tiebreaker. So if we draw on the road, as we’ve been known to do, all is not lost so long as Toronto keeps losing.
Again, all of this is meaningless if Toronto find their car keys and win a damn game.
Ultimately, what I’m saying to you is this: Atlanta will probably make the playoffs, will probably do well, and may even win MLS Cup. Oddly enough, if they accomplished all of those things they would not be the first expansion team in league history to do so. We all know Seattle made the playoffs in their first year and set the standard for attendance. We have now broken all those attendance records and will soon match them on the playoff berth. Chicago, though, won both the MLS Cup and the Open Cup in its inaugural season. We’re not going to pull off that double this year, thanks to Miami FC.
But there is one thing that no expansion franchise has ever done in MLS history, and only one—win the Supporters’ Shield. Atlanta United have a chance to do that. It would be one of the great feats in modern sports history. It would surely cement them as the greatest American expansion franchise in any league thus far.
They could do it. They just can’t lose another game. And they have to do it without Miguel Almiron.
Hold on to your butts.