No matter how many different angles you take to attempt deciphering the MLS Cup Playoff chase and trying to figure out which teams will claim the five available spots in each conference, just know this - nothing is likely to be decided until the final weekend. The clubs still jockeying for position in the crowded Eastern Conference are all capable of beating each other at any time on any day. Take for example the Philadelphia Union. Winless in their last five matches (0-3-2), the Union went into Kansas City on Friday night, got outplayed for most of the match and still came away with all three points in a 1-0 victory. Here's a look at each of the Eastern Conference competitors and where they may end up.
New York Red Bulls
Games remaining: 10/5 v New England, 10/20 @ Houston, 10/27 v Chicago
The Red Bulls have been up and down this season but seem poised to capture the top spot in the East. They're not only leading the Conference but they're somehow currently in the lead for the Supporter's Shield with 52 points. I can see New York coming up with a win, tie, and win in their final three matches to lock down the East on 59 points.
Sporting Kansas City
Games remaining: 10/5 @ Columbus, 10/9 @ Houston, 10/18 v DC, 10/26 @ Philadelphia
Sporting just isn't the same club without Roger Espinoza and Kei Kamara. Claudio Bieler has also fallen off the grid since the first few months of the season and all of a sudden SKC has just as many issues as everyone else does. Losing to Philadelphia at home on Friday night exposed their inability to finish chances consistently. If they can finish with an unspectacular TLWT, they'll end up with 53 points and a battle with Houston for the third spot.
Games remaining: 10/4 @ Houston, 10/12 v New England, 10/16 @ Los Angeles, 10/19 v Philadelphia, 10/26 @ Toronto FC
They've got at least one game in hand on everyone but they've been floundering as well over the last month. The Fire let them off the hook on Saturday night. They've lost their last two league games at home in ugly fashion so nothing is for sure here either. Regrouping down the stretch to finish LWLWW seems realistic but you just never know. That would place them second with 55 points.
Games remaining: 10/4 v Montreal, 10/9 v Sporting KC, 10/20 v New York, 10/27 @ DC
They always seem to be there one way or another and they're likely to get in again this year. It's possible they can make the Final as a 4th or 5th seed, just like they did last year. They've got some tough games remaining but playing at home should help. It's also possible that Houston can win out but it's more likely that the other top contenders will steal some points in Texas over the next three games. WWTW gets them to 54 points and a sure spot in post season.
Games remaining: 10/5 v Toronto FC, 10/12 @ DC, 10/19 @ Montreal, 10/26 v Sporting KC
Winning in KC was huge for them since the next two games are certainly winnable. The last two matches could be trouble however. They're arguably less talented than Chicago and New England and possibly even Columbus but they may have ground out enough ugly results to claim the five spot. Two wins, a loss, and a draw would leave them with 49 points and a last weekend dogfight.
Games remaining: 10/5 v Sporting KC, 10/19 @ New England, 10/27 v New England
Left for dead just a few weeks ago, wins over Chicago and Montreal revitalized them after ditching Robert Warzycha. They're 4-1-0 since firing the manager on September 2 but only have three games left. Drawing with Sporting and splitting with New England would leave them with 45 points and short of a playoff appearance. They managed to get Houston at the right time, Montreal on the skids, the Fire a man down, and a weak FC Dallas squad to get back into the race but they'll still need to win out to even have a chance.
New England Revolution
Games remaining: 10/5 @ New York, 10/12 @ Montreal, 10/19 v Columbus, 10/27 @ Columbus
Trips to Montreal and New York over the next two weeks may do them in. After starting the season being unable to score, they've resurfaced thanks to a good stretch with Kelyn Rowe, Diego Fagundez, Juan Agudelo, and Saer Sene getting hot to crawl back into the picture. They'll need to score often to stay alive. I can see a LLWL to close out the year on 44 points but a win over New York or Montreal wouldn't shock me either.
Games remaining: 10/4 @ DC, 10/12 @ FC Dallas, 10/19 v Toronto FC, 10/27 @ New York
Even as they continue to find ways to drop points at home and on the road, the next three games still seem winnable. DC United plays Real Salt Lake in the US Open Cup Final tomorrow and they rested starters this past weekend in an embarrassing loss to Toronto FC. Bouncing back with a full first choice eleven three days later doesn't seem likely so one would have to believe Chicago will win that match-up. FC Dallas seems to have packed it in with three consecutive losses after allowing 4 goals at home to Columbus. Toronto FC is....well Toronto FC. The final match in New York may determine the Fire's fate even if they do manage to gain maximum points over the next three games.
While addressing rumors of a coaching change, anything less than a win in DC will likely doom post season chances so any thought of a coaching move with three games remaining seems ridiculous. Expecting a new coach to come in and win out with a road game in New York to close the season seems like something only a desperate franchise would do. Something like that would certainly defy logic. Just like issuing editorials calling out fans for being too negative flies against any thread of common sense.
But I digress. A final four record of WWWL would put the Fire on 49 points and a tie with Philadelphia for the five spot. The first tie-breaker is most wins, followed by goals for, and goal differential. Anything can happen and it may be a bit of a reach to expect three consecutive wins over the next three weeks but the Fire have done it once this season and against better competition to boot. Wins over Colorado, Columbus, and San Jose in June/July is proof of that.
Of course, I will probably print this out next Monday, crumple it up, place all the team names in a hat, and choose randomly to determine the order of finish.
|1||New York Red Bulls||52||31||1.68||15||9||7||48||37||11||27||15||21||-4|
|2||Sporting Kansas City||48||30||1.6||14||10||6||43||29||14||28||13||15||1|
|7||New England Revolution||41||30||1.37||11||11||8||42||34||8||26||12||16||-4|
The current odds.....http://www.sportsclubstats.com/USA/MLS.html
The Fire clock in at a whopping 15.6%