Valentin Castellanos, Joseph Mora challenge for ball

The race for the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs is on course for a skin-tight finish as the 2019 regular season enters its home stretch, according to the latest predictions and projections from

To boil it all down succinctly, it’s LAFC vs. the field for the league title, though a surprise or two lurks in the East.

With Week 23 in the books, the second-year club remain dominant in both the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings. The industry-leading quants at 538 give them probabilities of greater than 99% for winning both the Shield and earning a first-round playoff bye as the top seed in their side of the bracket, as well as a 50% probability of winning MLS Cup.

Bob Bradley’s stylish side are head and shoulders above the rest, with 538 models projecting them to finish on 77 points, which would smash the all-time MLS points record of 71 set by the New York Red Bulls last season, which itself broke the record set by Toronto FC the previous year.

Behind LAFC there’s a tightly-banded belt of three in the West, with the Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake and the Seattle Sounders predicted in a three-way tie on 53 points and ranked in the aforementioned order via goal differential. Minnesota United and the LA Galaxy would finish just behind that trio, with the upstart San Jose Earthquakes nipping past FC Dallas for the seventh and final postseason slot.

In terms of tops in the East, it looks like a three-way race at present – but 538 projects New York City FC to edge Atlanta United and the Philadelphia Union for first place and the opening-round bye, with ATL taking second by the tightest of margins ahead of Philly. The Red Bulls, D.C. United and Montreal Impact follow in the middle of the pack, while TFC hold off the New England Revolution by a hair’s breadth to secure the final spot in the postseason.

As for fans of the Houston Dynamo, Chicago Fire, Orlando City and Sporting KC? Brace yourself for some sobering numbers from 538. Check out the site’s full rundown for all that and more.