Voices: Sam Jones

Audi MLS Cup Playoff lives on the line: Your guide to a massive Wednesday night

Only a few more Watchgridometers to go. Remember, it’s our combination of watchability tiers and the Plusometer. It’s all kind of convoluted and poorly organized, but it’s also a pretty good way to get the gist of what’s going on each match day.

The Plusometer originally began as a scientific way to quantify the potential watchability of any given game on ESPN+, but can also be used for all other channels. Using the elements of "Potential for very good/very bad soccer," "Chances created," "NARRATIVE," "Aesthetics" and "Totally subjective bonus points," I assign each element a score out of 10 and each game a score out of 50. Twenty-five is average potential. Fifty is greatest game of all-time potential. Yes, I do actually calculate each game. No, I don't know why. Respect for the form, maybe?

We've also added the much-lauded "Playoffocity" rating from 0.0 to 10.0 that lets you know just how crucial each game is to the playoff race. Ten would be a playoff spot deciding game on Decision Day. The Watchgridometer only grows in stature, influence and arbitrary metrics.

Editor's note: This story originally ran in The Daily Kickoff. Subscribe here to receive your daily dose of MLS news and analysis direct to your inbox.

Tier One
The delightful hum of a soccer broadcast on television

Soccer is nice to have on. And sometimes you look up and see something fun.

FC Cincinnati vs. Nashville SC – 7:30 pm ET
Plusometer Score:
Playoffocity: 7.0

Nashville should take care of business here. But that hasn’t been a given lately. We’re now at one month and a day since the Boys in Gold picked up a win. In the six games since they beat up on Inter Miami, they’ve drawn five times before falling 1-0 to Philadelphia last weekend. They heavily rotated their lineup for that one. That risk better pay off against Cincy. WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+

Toronto FC vs. Philadelphia Union – 7:30 pm ET
Plusometer Score: 27/50
Playoffocity: 2.3+

The Union have a bit of a tougher test than Nashville but have been trending in the opposite direction for a while now. Philadelphia are equal on points with Nashville for the second spot but ahead on wins and that shouldn’t change tonight if both teams come out with any amount of focus.

So, yeah, maybe expect losses from both teams now that I’ve written that. WATCH ON: TSN1, MLS LIVE on ESPN+

FC Dallas vs. Real Salt Lake – 8 pm ET
Plusometer Score: 25/50
Playoffocity: 7.2

RSL aren’t in a bad spot but they are in a pressure-filled position. They have two games in hand on now seventh-place LAFC and one game in hand on eighth-place Vancouver. A win tonight would put them one point ahead of both. They should be able to handle Dallas, but it seems like Ricardo Pepi may be good to start in this one? Never count out El Tren. WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+

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Tier Two
The joy of stumbling onto a match you previously weren't invested in, but are now

Every now and then, you go into a game not asking for much and come away with more than you ever imagined.

Atlanta United vs. Inter Miami CF – 7:30 pm ET
Plusometer Score: 35/50
Playoffocity: 7.2

Gonzalo Pineda seemed to be holding in genuine excitement about Atlanta’s training sessions since they surrendered a 1-0 lead to NYCFC in the 90th minute last week. Maybe it was the spark they needed to see out the rest of the season? They could be anywhere from fifth to eighth by the end of the night.

Meanwhile, Inter Miami aren’t technically eliminated from playoff contention yet, and just finished a week where they outscored their opponents 8-1. Do not look at who their opponents were. They could have more for Atlanta than expected. WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+

Columbus Crew vs. Orlando City SC — 7:30 pm ET
Plusometer Score: 36/50
Playoffocity: 7.4

The Crew aren’t officially done yet and could absolutely play spoiler here for Orlando. The Lions could end up in second by the end of the night or in fifth place having played a game more than the three teams below them.

Things have been going pretty well in Orlando as of late, though. They’re undefeated in five, and four of those have been against playoff contenders. They still haven’t quite found the extra gear we know they have, but it does seem like they’re inching closer to it. If they can find it at the right time, they’re a legitimate MLS Cup threat. WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+

Portland Timbers vs. San Jose Earthquakes – 10 pm ET
Plusometer Score: 34/50
Playoffocity: 7.0

The Timbers are kind of in trouble here?

They’re still fourth in the West, but after regressing back to the team the underlying numbers indicate they are for the last three games (all losses), they’re just two points above the playoff line. If they don’t take care of business against San Jose, it could be time to be genuinely nervous. Their final two games come against a probable playoff team in RSL and the scariest team in the league (exclusively to the Timbers), Austin FC. WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+

Tier Three
The satisfaction of expectations being met

Sometimes you want the best and you get it.

New England Revolution vs. Colorado Rapids – 7 pm ET
Plusometer Score: 39/50
Playoffocity: 4.1

This matchup feels like a fever dream this late in the season. But here we are getting to watch two of the league’s five best teams go at it in a cross-conference game.

For the Revs, a win would see them break the MLS record for single-season points (72), currently held by 2019 LAFC. For Colorado, the window to a first-round bye is very much still open after Seattle’s loss last night. They have something to play for here and their intensity should reflect that. WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+

D.C. United vs. New York Red Bulls – 7:30 pm ET
Plusometer Score: 44/50
Playoffocity: 9.4



I had someone DM me last time I praised this game and said something about “setting the sport back years” and I laughed really hard and then felt sad someone could so clearly fail to grasp:

  1. The entertainment value of a demolition derby.
  2. The beauty of two teams taking a tactical trend to its logical conclusion and clubbing each other over the head for 90 minutes.

This game may end with like 30 percent pass completion as these two teams attempt to counter-press the team that’s pressing while counter-pressing the other team’s pressing until the whistle finally blows and one team is above the playoff line and one isn’t. It’s a true six-pointer in a true collision of far too similar forces.

This game is like when a clone fights the original version of themselves and they can’t do anything but punch each other in the face because they have the same moves. I love it dearly. WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+

NYCFC vs. Chicago Fire FC – 7:30 pm ET
Plusometer Score: 41/50
Playoffocity: 7.2+

And now the part of the week where Chicago, with nothing to play for, choose to drag everyone else down with them. It’s my favorite part of the week.

The last time these two teams met, NYCFC sleepwalked through a 2-0 loss. They seemed to get back on track last week with a draw against Atlanta and 6-0 bludgeonthwomp of D.C.United, but no one can make you throw away all your newly acquired good habits like your worst friend, Chicago Fire FC. We’ll see if NYCFC can overcome it this time. WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+

Sporting KC vs. LA Galaxy – 8:30 pm ET
Plusometer Score: 43/50
Playoffocity: 8.6

There are going to be a ton of chances in this one. And with SKC playing for a chance to jump in the driver’s seat for a Round One bye and LA only two points above the playoff line, the intensity should be peaking here. This is the most fun non-Red Bulls/D.C. game of the night and the one most likely to be fun for actual aesthetically pleasing reasons. WATCH ON: FS1, FOX Deportes

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Minnesota United – 10 pm ET
Plusometer Score: 42/50
Playoffocity: 9.7

A game between the sixth and eighth seeds in the West with just one point separating the pair is about as “six-pointer” as it gets. America’s team, the Vancouver Whitecaps, are still looking to complete a remarkable turnaround, and Minnesota United are looking to finish the year much stronger than they started it. Throw in a little MLS After Dark potential and we could be looking at something special between two dynamic teams. WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+