2016 MLS Playoff Predictions…
by Luis Eduardo Flores
Just at a blink of an eye, the 2016 MLS season is almost over. Some teams have already secured their elimination from the playoffs and now we have a better idea as to who is sticking around for a shot at the conference championships.
First, let’s start off with the shock of having last season’s finalists as weaker contenders in comparison to last year. Over in the Western Conference, the reigning MLS Cup champions are borderline between playoff contention and elimination. Meanwhile, FC Dallas is at the top of the mountain with ambitions to reach the playoffs. Seriously, what happened to the Timbers? During Week 26, FCD handed the Timbers a 1-3 defeat. That really speaks volumes about the Timbers current shape. Sure, one can argue that last July FCD defeated 4-1, yet the Timbers went on to win the MLS Cup. History is reliable, but not what will determine the outcome of future events. The stats are speaking for themselves. Currently, Portland has lost four of its six matches. They have committed over 300 fouls and conceded over 40 goals.
The Timbers have six remaining regular season matches. In order to qualify for the playoffs, the following must occur. The Timbers have to WIN every match and not concede a single goal. In addition, the Timbers need to win by at least two goals to increase their chances of making it. Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake will also have to lose by big margins in order for the Timbers to stay within contention. It’ll be nice if FCD and the LA Galaxy lost matches as well, but it’s not happening. Let’s face it, they are too powerful to drop points so easily, so expecting them to lose is a long shot. By the looks of the Western Conference standings, we might not see the Timbers in the final.
In the Eastern Conference we see a very similar scenario. The Eastern Conference Champions have eight remaining matches and they are at the bottom of their conference. The Columbus Crew were expected to pull off the same results as they did last year. Instead, they are a shadow of their 2015 predecessors. As mentioned before, history does not determine the outcome of future events, but seriously. How does one of the most dominate teams in MLS become one of the weakest teams in a matter of months. There is virtually no chance for the Crew to get a spot in the playoffs, even if the decimate their remaining opponents. Simply, they are out of playoffs.
The truth is that the Timbers and Crew should just make the best of the matches that they have left and end their season with at least a win. They are too far behind in points to move up two spots for the knockout round.
Now let’s move on to the top dogs of the East and West. In the east, both New York teams are dominating the conference. Both teams already have spots in the playoffs, it’s all of matter of who claims 1st place in the conference by end of the season. Toronto FC, Philadelphia Union, Montreal Impact, DC United, Orlando City are dueling it for 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th place. DCU and Orlando City have the toughest tasks, as they can’t afford more loses. It’s simple, whomever ends up with the most wins and least conceded goals has the last ticket into the playoffs. RSL, the Rapids, and the LA Galaxy have sufficient points to hold on to their spots. Their only concern should be Sporting KC. If SKC can pull off huge shutout wins, one of those teams can kiss their playoff hopes goodbye.
So, for the Eastern Conference, at the current rate, New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls will meet each other at the conference finals, since both teams are already in the semi-finals. Toronto FC has the biggest chance in knocking the Red Bulls out of the semi-finals into the knockout round, as long as the Red Bulls either lose or draw their remaining matches and concede frequent goals.
The Red Bulls have the toughest schedule, as they still have to face Toronto, DCU, Montreal, and the Union (twice) before the end of the season. All four teams are right behind the Red Bulls by just a few wins and points. So the possibility of the Red Bulls being forced into the knockout round is still high. NYCFC’s biggest challenges will be FCD and DCU. One lose can bring NYC down one spot. Other than those teams, NYC should have no problem getting through the Crew and Chicago Fire.
Currently, it looks like NYCFC and the Red Bulls will await the winners of the knockout round. All that the New York teams will compete for at the moment are 1st place, that’s really it. Toronto FC and the Union look stable enough to not worry about their position in the East. The Impact and DCU only have to worry about Orlando City. One lose can take the Impact or DCU out of the playoff picture and Orlando will sneak its way in that way. Let’s give Orlando City the benefit of the doubt.
In the end, it’s still tough to have a clear picture of which teams will make it into the knockout round. The current knockout round contenders are still at risk of losing their spot, so their matches are going to be interesting to watch. One goal can make a huge difference in all of their matches, and that is just an understatement.