Let’s get right to it, shall we? The top four teams in each conference will have home field advantage for the first round of the playoffs. FC Cincinnati will be the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Behind them is a logjam of five teams who are separated by just two points. One more is lurking on the far edge, but still within striking distance of moving up. Here’s a look at each:
Orlando City-51 points, 4 games remaining: The Lions might be slightly clear of the teams behind them, but thanks to their recent form it is a tenuous lead. They have just a win and a draw in September and, outside of the comeback against the Crew, have had trouble scoring goals of late. They have home games with Montreal and New England and go on the road to Nashville and hapless Toronto. I can see this schedule helping them stay in the top four.
Philadelphia Union-50 points, 4 games remaining: A disappointing draw at home Wednesday night against FC Dallas prevented the defending Eastern Conference champions from leapfrogging Orlando and creating a bit of space back to the other three teams in the logjam. They won’t be taking any momentum into their Saturday night matchup with the Crew and will have to recover quickly from what was a hard-fought midweek game. Fatigue could be a factor down the stretch for Philadelphia. The game against Dallas was their 44th across all competitions so far this season. In 2022, they played a total of just 38. After their trip to Columbus, they host Atlanta and Nashville, before finishing the season on the road to New England. Although they have not lost in September (a win and four draws), they’ve only scored once in their last two games. I’m not convinced they’re going to hang on for a top-4 seeding.
Crew-49 points, 4 games remaining: Twenty minutes of poor defense and bad decision making is all that keeps this team from sitting in second place. So, let’s throw out those twenty minutes and look at the big picture. Since returning from the Leagues Cup break, they have four wins, two losses, and a draw, with three clean sheets. Beginning on Saturday, the Crew runs the gauntlet of Philadelphia at home, before going on the road to take on New England and Atlanta all in a week’s time. They end the regular season at Lower.com Field with Montreal. It won’t be easy, but I see them coming out of this with home field advantage for that first round playoff series.
Atlanta United-49 points, 3 games remaining: Although they are in the middle of this battle for home field advantage, The Five Stripes have a problem. They have played one more game than the teams in front of them. By the time they play again on October 4th, New England may have passed them-the Revs have actually played two fewer games than Atlanta. Their remaining schedule is also not in their favor. They go on the road to Philadelphia and Cincinnati and host the Crew. I think they have the most difficult road to gaining home field out of any of the teams around them. BUT, despite all of that, this team is my sleeper in the Eastern Conference. They were very active in the summer transfer window and are not the same team we saw early in the season. They’ve lost just once in their last seven games and have scored twelve goals in their last four.
New England-49 points, 5 games remaining: Because they’ve played fewer games than the teams in front of them, the Revs appear to be in a very good position to make a real push for home field advantage. But this is not the same team that once was a solid second in the Eastern Conference. Head coach Bruce Arena resigned amid controversy on September 9th, the players protested and refused to train for a day, and they’ve won just once in their last six MLS games. For those remaining games, they host Charlotte and the Crew before going on the road to Orlando and Nashville. They finish up at home against Philadelphia. Unless they can turn things around, I can see this team dropping into seventh.
Nashville-44 points, 5 games remaining: The Boys in Gold are lurking just five points back and ready to pounce on a higher seeding if any of the others slip. Although the matchups are not easy, they play four of their remaining five games at home where they’ve lost just twice. Nashville has not been defeated since Atlanta pounded them in late August-they have a win and three draws in September. Their matchup with New England in the penultimate regular season game could decide which will be the higher seed.
MLS playoffs begin with a wild card game between the eighth and ninth-place teams in each conference on October 25th and 26th. The wild card game winners will move on to face the top seed in each conference in the best-of-3 first round, which begins October 28th. After the first round, the playoffs become single elimination. No margin for error-you lose, you go home. The MLS Cup final will be played December 9th. The site for that game has yet to be determined.