MLS playoff scenarios, predictions heading into final weekend

Posted by Jason Davis

One weekend to go, several things to sort out. The MLS season concludes with one more burst of games this weekend, and while a full six teams are guaranteed playoff soccer, much remains unresolved.

In the Western Conference, all but one playoff spot is officially booked with the final qualifier (Colorado) certain to join the party thanks to an insurmountable goals-scored advantage. The East had two teams in with three spots to be taken through this round’s results.

Seeding is top of mind for everyone because the schedule is unforgiving. Slip up and land in one of the bottom two spots, and your route to MLS Cup gets much more difficult. The fourth and fifth seeds in each conference face an extra game against one another to determine the four conference semi-finalists.

If teams can't avoid the play-in round, they’ll at the very least want to secure fourth spot and have that extra game at home. As an added wrinkle, the higher your seed (meaning the better your record), the more likely you are to host the MLS Cup -- provided you get that far.

The weekend games that matter, in chronological order:

Philadelphia v. Sporting Kansas City (Saturday, 3 p.m ET)
What they’re playing for: A Philly win gives the Union an outside shot at the playoffs, with later results ultimately determining their fate (Philadelphia will need both Houston and New England to lose). Already-qualified Kansas City can put pressure on the Red Bulls in the Supporters Shield (most points) race with a win, guaranteeing New York has to win to take home the trophy. A draw changes nothing for either team--Sporting would remain in the second spot while Philly would miss the playoffs.

Toronto v. Montreal (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET)
What they’re playing for: Toronto is playing for pride and with an eye towards spoiling a rival’s playoff chances. Montreal is in with a win. While they wouldn’t be eliminated with a draw, the Impact would find themselves at the mercy of later results to be sure of a playoff appearance.

Chivas USA v. Portland (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET)
What they’re playing for: Portland can lock up the top spot in the West and give themselves a chance at the Supporters Shield with a win. The Timbers will need the Red Bulls to lose and Sporting to lose or draw in order to walk about with the regular season points title. The motivation for Chivas USA is the usual “spoiler” element, plus a roster of players playing for their jobs in 2014.

D.C. United v. Houston (Sunday, 1:30 p.m. ET)
What they’re playing for: D.C. United’s season was effectively over a long time ago, so they’ll just be out to ruin things for Houston. The Dynamo need a win to have a chance at the playoffs, and even then, they'll need Montreal, Chicago, or New England to lose to jump into a postseason spot.

Columbus v. New England (Sunday, 4 p.m. ET)
What they’re playing for: Columbus is out after losing to the Revolution in Massachusetts last week. A Revs win ensures a playoff spot, though by the time they take the field they’ll know if three points are necessary. New England can get in even with a loss if both Philadelphia and Houston lose.

New York v. Chicago (Sunday, 5 p.m. ET)
What they’re playing for: A New York win gives the Red Bulls the Supporters Shield and the first trophy in the history of the franchise. A Chicago win gets them in a playoffs. Chicago can also secure the third seed and avoid the play-in round with a point if Montreal slips up on Saturday against TFC. If both Sporting and Portland lose on Saturday, the Red Bulls can win the Shield with a draw.

Vancouver v. Colorado (Sunday, 8 p.m. ET)
What they’re playing for: The Whitecaps are done, their fate sealed when they lost to the Rapids last week. The Rapids are effectively in the playoffs -- San Jose has a mathematical chance, but it involves scoring 12 goals against FC Dallas -- but can improve their playoff seed with a win. Depending on the result of the Sunday finale between Seattle and LA, a win could push the Rapids out of the play-in spots and earn them a bye to the conference semifinals.

Seattle v. LA Galaxy (Sunday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPNDeportes/ESPN3/WatchESPN)
What they’re playing for: Seeding, plain and simple. Both teams are already in the West playoffs, but can avoid the play-in round with a win. A draw leaves Seattle in one of the bottom two places no matter other results, while LA would be finish in fourth if the Rapids win in Vancouver.


Predictions

Eastern Conference: Chicago is playing for their playoff lives on Sunday, but the Red Bull momentum is hard to deny. With a full house expected at Red Bull Arena, Mike Petke’s team will win their first trophy. Sporting gets a result in Philadelphia, locking them into second. Meanwhile, Houston’s relatively easy finale against D.C. United gives them the leg up they need to climb over the Fire and into the playoffs. In Toronto, the home team gives the Impact all they have and earn a draw, pushing the Impact into the play-in places. New England gets point on the road in Columbus and the final standings look like this:

1. New York; 2. Sporting Kansas City; 3. Houston; 4. Montreal; 5. New England

Playoff matchups: Play-in game: Montreal v. New England; Conference Semifinals: New York v. Montreal or New England; Sporting Kansas City v. Houston

Western Conference: RSL’s season is done, meaning Jason Kreis’ team won’t be able to keep the Timbers from passing them for the West’s top seed when Portland handles Chivas USA. Thanks to an ugly draw in Seattle between the Sounders and Galaxy, and Colorado falling to a Whitecaps team playing for pride and Martin Rennie, nothing changes from spots 3-5 in the West.

1. Portland; 2. Real Salt Lake; 3. LA Galaxy; 4. Seattle; 5. Colorado

Playoff match-ups: Play-in game: Seattle v. Colorado;
Conference semifinals: Portland v. Seattle or Colorado, Real Salt Lake v. LA Galaxy

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