So, we are down to the final week of the regular season. It’s been a long haul: come Sunday, it will have been 239 days since Opening Day. On that long-ago day, Atlanta United found itself worst in the league, but has been sitting on the top of the standings almost uninterrupted since mid-May.
But there’s still everything to play for, and not just for the Five Stripes. Last week’s games cleared things up a bit, but not entirely. Ten teams have now booked their places in the playoffs, and 2 teams in each conference are vying for the final spots. Atlanta and the New York Red Bulls are still both chasing a new points record and the Supporters’ Shield, but there is quite a lot for all the other teams to play for, and there are two rather juicy contests to keep an eye on.
Here’s how the Eastern Conference looks:
With Atlanta and the New York Red Bulls both winning last week (albeit by an own goal and a dumb PK respectively), nothing changed at the top. We all know that of course, and our own TiotalFootball has dug into the odds of how it’s likely to turn out.
There are three teams left with a chance to take the 3rd seed, one of which is the late-surging (but not too surprising) D.C. United. Here’s the first key tilt: the other two teams in that chase, New York City FC and the Philadelphia Union, play each other in Philly.
If NYCFC takes at least 1 point in that game, they finish 3rd. If Philadelphia win, they finish 3rd. The loser of this game drops to 5th if D.C. beat the Chicago Fire. In the event of a tie and a D.C. win, the Union fall into 5th place.
D.C. could also end up in 6th place if they lose and the Columbus Crew win against Minnesota United. They would remain in 5th place only if they tie and Philadelphia wins. Technically, the Crew could pass them in that situation, but they would have to win by at least 14 goals, a highly unlikely scenario.
Columbus have to be careful too, as only a win guarantees them a place in the playoffs. If the Crew lose or tie, and the Montreal Impact beat the New England Revolution, they are out and Montreal is in.
Over in the West, things got marginally tidier last week, with the Portland Timbers clinching a playoff berth, but not much else got any clearer. Here are the current standings:
The big game in the West is the top of the table clash between Sporting KC and Los Angeles FC. If SKC win, they take the conference. If they tie, they are virtually assured of taking the top seed, given that FC Dallas would have to win by 16 goals to jump them. Similarly, LAFC also hold a strong goal difference advantage over FCD and would almost certainly win the conference with a win.
FCD did themselves some damage last weekend by losing 3-0 to SKC, falling from 1st to 3rd. Regaining 1st place now looks out of reach, and they need to combine a win at the Colorado Rapids with an LAFC tie or loss to get a first round bye. At worst, a win ensures the best seed in the first round. A tie secures a home game in that round. A loss would mean they could drop even further to 5th if Portland win over the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The Seattle Sounders have a decent chance at gaining a first round bye. 1st place is out of reach but 1 point would be enough to take 2nd if LAFC and FCD both lose. They also get to 2nd with a win and LAFC and FCD both taking 1 point or less. On the flip side, they could fall to 5th with a loss and a Portland win. A tie would also do that if Portland win by at least 7, unlikely but not impossible given the newly unmotivated Whitecaps.
Portland, for their part, can finish no worse than their current 5th place. Theoretically, 2nd place is achievable, but they are 10 goals in the hole for that. A win gets them a first round home game if FCD or Seattle lose. If both lose, they take 3rd.
Real Salt Lake hurt their chances significantly last week by allowing the Timbers to thump them 3-0. That was their last regular season game so all they can do is sit at home and watch the LA Galaxy play the Houston Dynamo. If LA wins, RSL are out. An LA tie or loss gets RSL in by the skin of their teeth.
So there you have it. Sunday is going to be an entertaining day.