Say what you will bout playoffs in soccer. I personally think that allowing 10 out of 19 teams to make the playoffs is excessive, and running the risk of devaluing the regular season. But, because of that playoff system, there is intrigue in places like Philadelphia and Toronto, for teams that would otherwise be going through the motions of a mid-table finish.
In MLS’s Eastern Conference, the weaker of the two, five teams are fighting for the final three spots, with five games remaining. Because of the unbalanced schedule, they play each other regularly. It is going to be a fun fight to the finish.
New England Revolution: 3rd, 42 points
Games remaining: At Kansas City, Columbus, at Montreal, at Houston, Toronto
In addition to having the most points in this picture, the Revs have the benefit of a fairly easy schedule. Sporting Park won’t be an easy trip, but SKC have struggled of late. Their last four matches are very winnable, and they face two of the teams chasing them at home. It’s hard to see the Revs missing the playoffs unless they lose at home.
Expected finish: 3rd, 52 points. Before the hiccup this weekend at Columbus, the Revs were one of the hottest teams in MLS. I think they can carry that momentum through and avoid the play-in game.
New York Red Bulls: 4th, 41 points
Games remaining: At LA, Toronto, Houston, Columbus, at Kansas City
If the Red Bulls can keep up their current form and win their remaining home matches, they should be in the clear. In recent weeks, they’ve dispatched with SKC, DC, and Seattle at Red Bull Arena. The upcoming three game stretch of Toronto, Houston, and Columbus should be easy by comparison. It will be difficult to find points in their two remaining away games, but New York will hope that doesn’t matter.
Expected finish: 4th, 50 points. The Red Bulls will take care of business at home, and Bradley Wright-Phillips will break the MLS single-season scoring record.
Columbus Crew: 5th, 40 points
Games remaining: Montreal, at New England, at Philly, at New York, Philly
There are no excuses for the Crew not to win their next match against Montreal. If they still have a shot at the playoffs when the Union come to Columbus for the final game of the season, I can’t see them disappointing their fans and missing out. Beyond that, nothing will come easy for Columbus; their final four games are against their rivals in this race, with three on the road. If they can win one of those matches on the road, particularly the one in Philly, they should make the playoffs.
Expected finish: 5th, 47 points. I don’t see the Crew doing much on the road, but a draw in Philly should just see them through to a one-off at Red Bull Arena.
Philadelphia Union: 6th, 38 points
Games remaining: At DC, Chicago, Columbus, Kansas City, at Columbus
Expected finish: 7th, 43 points. That 0-0 draw against Houston was not a good look, and I don’t know if the Union can play up to their schedule down the stretch.
Toronto FC: 7th, 37 points
Games remaining: Portland, at LA, Houston, at New York, Montreal, at New England
No one is really sure what to expect from TFC down the stretch. In theory, their game in hand puts them on equal footing with Columbus, but can you count on the Reds to make the most of that? TFC’s Sunday win over Chivas might have been stabilizing…or it might just have been a reflection on their opponent. Jermain Defoe is back in Toronto, but will he play? For all the questions, this much is clear: they need to claim points on the road. If they win their three home games (Portland will be the toughest challenge), that’s 46 points. I think they’ll need more than that in order to make the playoffs for the first time in their history.
Expected finish: 6th, 45 points. Maybe I expect too much from TFC, but I think they’re capable of making a late push.