MLS Playoff Watch: Breaking down the Eastern Conference's battle of bubble teams

By Ridge Mahoney

No Eastern Conference team has yet clinched a playoff spot but as many as three could do so this weekend with a month of the regular season still to be played.

Conference leader Toronto FC (47 pts.) and co-second place New York City FC and New York Red Bulls (both 45 pts.) can confirm their slots this weekend. Philadelphia is another four points back in fourth and will probably need at least a couple of games to nail down its slot but fifth-place Montreal is not assured of anything.

So it seems four teams will  battle for the two remaining slots and to thanks the schedule-makers, there are four head-to-head meetings on the docket along with several games against common opponents to further muddle the picture.

Here are positions five through eight and the games remaining for each team:

5. Montreal (9-9-11, 38 pts.): @NYRB, SJ*, @OCSC, TFC, @NE.
6. New England: (9-12-9, 36): @CLB, SKC, @CHI, MTL.
7. D.C. United (7-9-13, 34): OCSC; CLB*, @TFC, NYCFC, @OCSC.
8. Orlando City (7-9-13, 34): @DC, @TFC*, MTL, @PHL, DC.

Under a revised tiebreaker format adopted in 2014, teams tied on points are separated by: 1) most wins; b) goal difference; c) goals scored; d) fewest disciplinary points. In our projected finish, the tiebreakers aren’t needed but in the real world they certainly could be.

Here’s a breakdown of each team, how it’s done against remaining opponents, and outlook for the final month of play:

MONTREAL. The Impact plays two teams -- New England and Orlando City -- that can knock it out of postseason contention, and it starts off its final slog at Red Bull Arena, where it lost, 3-1, on Aug. 13. It also lost at RBA in 2015 and 2014, and heads there this weekend in a funk: just one win in the last seven games. That was a big win, handing TFC a 1-0 loss at BMO Field Aug. 27, but otherwise Montreal hasn’t looked very sharp or confident.

A home game against the struggling Quakes falls next Wednesday, after which Montreal travels to the heat of Orlando, where it won, 2-1, in May. But just three weeks ago, the Lions clawed the Impact, 4-1, at Stade Saputo, even though Didier Drogba opened the scoring in the second minute.

After the international break, Montreal hosts TFC and finishes the season at New England. Unless Drogba and Ignacio Piattiheat up, which they can certainly do, this will be known as La Grande Fizzle in Quebec.

Projected points down the stretch: 4.
Final points total: 42.

NEW ENGLAND. Only the Revs have just four games to play, but their road games are at Columbus and Chicago, which are seven and nine points, respectively, out of the playoff tier. They also host Sporting Kansas City of the Western Conference and close out the season at home against the Impact.

New England has split its two games with Crew SC and swept a pair from the Fire, both at Gillette Stadium. It has won only two road games this year, but one of them is a 3-1 triumph in Stade Saputo last weekend that drew it to within two points of Montreal.

The Revs have won three in a row and though that is their longest streak of the season, they have reeled off impressive late-season runs before. The 2014 team that reached the MLS Cup final went unbeaten in their last five games, winning four of them. However, last year, they won just one of their last five, and that won’t get it done in 2016.

Sorely needed are the fire and experience of Kei Kamara and Gerson Koffie to keep the spine of the team strong.

Projected points down the stretch: 8.
Final points total: 44.

D.C. UNITED. Tied with Orlando in all categories, United needs at least four points from their head-to-head meetings and also needs to catch either Montreal or the Revs to get in. With only seven wins it probably won’t win any tiebreakers.

The home game against Orlando City on Saturday will be emotionally and physically draining, yet United needs to come back on just a few days’ rest to host Crew SC. In three midweek league matches this year, it has lost twice and tied once, and amazingly, has not won back-to-back games all season. If that trend continues, United probably misses out on the playoffs.

United has shown a lot of grit the past two weeks by rallying to tie the Red Bulls and Fire on the road, but it has lost twice already to TFC this season and was blasted at BMO Field, 4-1, on its last visit. It also has a very tough home game against New York City FC, which it battled courageously a few weeks ago at Yankee Stadium in a 3-2 defeat.

Projected points down the stretch: 9.
Final points total: 43.

ORLANDO CITY. The Lions haven’t played United this season and for what it’s worth D.C. won two of the three 2015 meetings, the last of which was played 15 months ago. A lot has happened since then to both teams.

In their last two games, OCSC has conceded four goals apiece to the Galaxy and Columbus. This followed back-to-back wins over New York City FC and Montreal that apparently set them on a playoff course. But they have only three wins since the All-Star break and, like United, a big pile of ties is dragging them down.

Also like United, the Lions have a midweek game after the showdown at RFK on Saturday, but their task is much tougher: at Toronto FC. Next up is at home against Montreal, sure to be simmering about the 4-1 beatdown handed out by OCSC Sept. 7. Then it’s back up north to play at Philadelphia and then home to Florida for the season finale against D.C.

That’s a lot of travel and stress packed into a month and is bound to be a severe test for head coach Jason Kreis and a wonderfully talented yet maddeningly inconsistent squad.

Projected points down the stretch: 7.
Final points total: 41.

5. NEW ENGLAND, 44 pts.
6. D.C. UNITED, 43 pts.
7. MONTREAL, 42 pts.
8. ORLANDO CITY, 41 pts.
4 comments about "MLS Playoff Watch: Breaking down the Eastern Conference's battle of bubble teams".
  1. Mark Buckley, September 21, 2016 at 10:03 a.m.

    Wow, I am a 20 year DC United fan and I am stunned to see them projected to make the playoffs. The "lame-stream" soccer media seems to lean toward the team with the big crowds (Orlando, Seattle), big names (Kaka), and well liked coaches (Kreis, Marsh). Thanks Ridge!
    (I still don't know if they can make it)

  2. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, September 22, 2016 at 2:41 p.m.

    They're 7-9-13 so I wouldn't get too excited. The fact they are close to a playoff spot just shows that too many teams make the playoffs in MLS.

  3. EDS SB, September 21, 2016 at 11:56 a.m.

    Totally lost. I'm sure I read about five different articles on the MLS website this weekend about Toronto being the first eastern conf. team to clinch a playoff spot. Someone's math is off.

  4. Ridge Mahoney replied, September 21, 2016 at 2:36 p.m.

    It is still mathematically possible for DC or Orlando to pass TFC.

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications