Eastern Conference: Why your team will or won’t get into playoffs


Six Eastern Conference teams have clinched an Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs spot: Cincinnati, Orlando, Philadelphia, Columbus, Atlanta and New England. It's all but guaranteed a seventh (Nashville) will soon join them.

That's to say seven teams are essentially competing for the East's final two playoff slots (Toronto are eliminated). And the race will likely go down to the Decision Day wire on Oct. 21, when the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds get locked in as Wild Card opponents.

Who will make it? What are their pros and cons? Let's assess how it's all taking shape.

  • Standings: 8th place
  • Record: 37 points (11W-15L-4D)
  • Games remaining: 4
  • Next game: Sept. 30 at Orlando (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass)

WHY THEY'RE IN: Kwadwo Opoku, Bryce Duke and Mathieu Choinière – there are quality pieces on the roster. Can one of them stop the bleeding and ensure Hernán Losada's first year in charge ends in playoff soccer?

WHY THEY'RE OUT: Montréal are trending downwards, winless in their last five games (0W-3L-2D). And their schedule doesn't let up, with Orlando, Houston, Portland and Columbus – four playoff-level teams – all on the horizon. Combine form, matchups and only 30 goals scored… you get the picture.

  • Standings: 9th place
  • Record: 37 points (8W-10L-13D)
  • Games remaining: 3
  • Next game: Sept. 30 at Miami (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass)

WHY THEY'RE IN: Talles Magno is producing again with 1g/2a in NYCFC's last two matches; he registered 0g/2a across the prior four months in nearly 1,000 minutes played. The Brazilian forward is developing chemistry with U22 Initiative striker/summertime signing Mounsef Bakrar, too.

WHY THEY'RE OUT: NYCFC are fresh off a season-saving five-game home stint (3W-0L-2D), but now they travel for two of their last three matches. The club's won just one of 15 road matches this year (1W-7L-7D), an indication of their youth, top-end roster turnover and injuries.

  • Standings: 10th place
  • Record: 36 points (9W-13L-9D)
  • Games remaining: 3
  • Next game: Sept. 30 at Vancouver (10:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass)

WHY THEY'RE IN: Christian Benteke has five goals in D.C. United's last five games, concentrated as a hat trick and brace. The Belgian striker is heating up at the right time, more than doing his part aerially, in build-up play and in the final third to keep playoff dreams alive.

WHY THEY'RE OUT: There might not be enough beyond Benteke. Their other DP, fellow Premier League veteran Mateusz Klich, can provide a spark, ditto for youngsters Gabriel Pirani and Ted Ku-DiPietro. But the Black-and-Red have fallen flat the last three months, winning just twice since the calendar flipped to July (2W-5L-4D).

  • Standings: 11th place
  • Record: 34 points (8W-12L-10D)
  • Games remaining: 4
  • Next game: Sept. 30 vs. Chicago (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass)

WHY THEY'RE IN: The Red Bulls will fight like hell (it's in their DNA), and that might be enough to extend their league-record playoff streak to 14 years. Games this time of year are sometimes more about grit/determination than moments of brilliance.

WHY THEY'RE OUT: An absence of attacking stars, especially with Lewis Morgan and Dante Vanzeir out with season-ending injuries. This might be harsh on leading scorer Omir Fernandez (6g/3a), especially after he scored a brace in last weekend's 5-3 win at D.C. United. But it's hard to overlook for a team that's scored just 30 goals (third-fewest in MLS).

  • Standings: 12th place
  • Record: 34 points (8W-12L-10D)
  • Games remaining: 4
  • Next game: Sept. 30 at New York (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass)

WHY THEY'RE IN: In homegrown midfielder Brian Gutiérrez, the Fire have one of the league's best young players. The US youth international leads the team with 11 goal contributions (2g/9a), and it seems concerns of a knee injury have dissipated.

WHY THEY'RE OUT: That pre-Leagues Cup momentum when Chicago won five of six matches to surge up the table? It's evaporated, with Frank Klopas' team taking two of the 21 points available (0W-5L-2D). Oof.

  • Standings: 13th place
  • Record: 33 points (7W-10L-12D)
  • Games remaining: 5
  • Next game: Sept. 30 at New England (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass)

WHY THEY'RE IN: Four of Charlotte's five remaining games are against teams below the playoff line, so it's an easier run-in schedule. And with an attacker like Karol Swiderski, there's a match-winner in the squad.

WHY THEY'RE OUT: No team has dropped more points from a winning position this year (23), and the Crown have a nasty habit of allowing goals in late in games. Since late May, they've also gone 1W-4L-9D in league play. It hasn't been good enough in crunch time.

  • Standings: 14th place
  • Record: 32 points (9W-15L-5D)
  • Games remaining: 5
  • Next game: Sept. 30 vs. NYCFC (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass)

WHY THEY'RE IN: Most of the headlines, understandably, surround Inter Miami's new big three of Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba. But the supplementary pieces provide the backbone of this playoff push. Striker Leo Campana, U22 Initiative attacker Facundo Farías, homegrown midfielder Benjamin Cremaschi, defender Kamal Miller and goalkeeper Drake Callender have all stepped up.

WHY THEY'RE OUT: Messi and Alba, battling muscle fatigue, didn't make the matchday squad for their US Open Cup Final defeat to Houston Dynamo FC on Wednesday night. It's somewhat uncertain when they'll return, and their absences loom large since Miami are afforded almost no room for error while looking to climb the standings.