For the first time in Major League Soccer history, we could see both defending MLS Cup finalists miss the playoffs the year after they played in the title game.
Reigning MLS Cup champions Portland Timbers and runners-up Columbus Crew SC are now both under the red line with just three weeks remaining in the 2016 regular season.
They still have four games remaining, but ninth-place Columbus look cooked. Their 3-0 loss at D.C. on Wednesday dropped them eight points behind United for the sixth and final playoff berth in the East. At this point, a return to the postseason would be miraculous.
Things aren’t exactly rosy in Portland, either. Seattle’s win against Chicago on Wednesday night propelled the Sounders above the red line for the first time this season, dropping the Timbers into seventh in the West. Seattle still hold in a game in hand on the Timbers, who have just three matches remaining – at Colorado this weekend (9 pm ET, MLS LIVE), then a home game against the Rapids on Oct. 17 and an away date at Vancouver on Oct. 23 sandwiched around a must-win CCL game against Saprissa on Oct. 19.
Portland, who are winless on the road this season, no longer control their own destiny. They could win out and still miss the playoffs, and could realistically be on the outside even if they take six of a possible nine points.
If both Portland and Columbus miss the playoffs, it’d mark the first time in MLS history that both finalists from the previous year did not qualify for the postseason.
In fact, of the 40 MLS Cup finalists in league history, only five have missed the playoffs the following year. Two defending champs – D.C. in 2000 and the LA Galaxy in 2006 – have missed the playoffs the year after winning the title, while three runners-up – Chicago in 2004, Kansas City in 2005 and the New York Red Bulls in 2009 – have pulled the same feat the year after losing MLS Cup.
It didn’t get much better for those teams the following year, either. Only two of the five teams that missed the playoffs the year after making Cup returned to the postseason the next year.