Slowly but surely, the postseason picture is growing clearer.
In the wake of Week 26, the latest MLS projections from probability specialists FiveThirtyEight.com are growing more certain of matchup scenarios for the field of Audi MLS Cup Playoffs contenders. Here’s a rundown of the outlook, starting in the East.
Philadelphia Union and New York City FC are officially in, having clinched their playoff berths with weekend wins – now they’ll race neck-and-neck for the top spot. Despite their loss at Philly, Atlanta United remain near-locks to clinch a berth, are likely to host a first-round game and retain a decent (29%) shot at storming all the way to first place and all the perks that entails.
At the other end of the table, FC Cincinnati remain officially out as their trying expansion campaign winds toward its close. And their Hell is Real rivals Columbus Crew SC are a heartbeat away from joining them, with 538 giving the Yellow Football Team a less-than-1% chance of rising from their deathbed and making a run at the top seven. The odds are slightly better for the Chicago Fire, but not much: The Men in Red are bumping along in the teens and with one win in their last four, don’t appear to be making the dramatic push needed to improve their lot.
This week’s biggest winners in the East race? Easily D.C. United, who stunned the Montreal Impact 3-0 (sans the suspended Wayne Rooney) at Stade Saputo, a true six-pointer of a result that jacks D.C.’s odds of postseason qualification from 61% to 92% in a week’s time while simultanteously eroding IMFC’s odds from 59% to 40%. New England and Toronto remain in mostly positive territory but essentially tread water with their 1-1 draw.
The New York Red Bulls are still 94% likely to qualify for the proverbial second season, but Saturday’s stinging 2-0 home loss to Colorado landed a blow to their hopes of climbing into the top half of the playoff bracket – they’re probably going to have to hit the road after Decision Day presented by AT&T. Two straight losses have sunk Orlando City’s postseason hopes to 20% and the Lions welcome league leaders LAFC to town on Saturday; their clash with the Revolution a week later could be their Waterloo.
LAFC’s near-invincibility at home took a punch square in the nose from Minnesota United on Sunday, though it does little to change the Californians’ overwhelming odds of a Supporters’ Shield win and first-round playoff bye; they also remain 51% likely to win MLS Cup in 538’s calculations.
Mason Toye’s dazzling double certainly boosted the Loons’ outlook, though: MNUFC’s postseason prospects leaped from 73% to 89% with their 2-0 road win and that’s bad news for both FC Dallas and Sporting Kansas City, whose playoff odds dropped (to 64% and 15%, respectively) despite both teams winning their own games at the weekend.
The 538 algorithms remain bullish on the LA Galaxy despite Zlatan & Co.'s wild 4-3 loss at Seattle; the Galaxy retain an 86% playoff shot in their models, which keeps them a nose ahead of their Cali Clasico rivals the San Jose Earthquakes, who clock in at 78%. The Sounders, meanwhile, now sit second in the West and are rated at 96% likely to make the playoffs and more than likely to host a first-round game once they get there.
The Portland Timbers' narrow home win over Real Salt Lake nudged the Rose City side to an 84% qualification projection, though there's some squishiness hiding in there; 538's quants seem to see PTFC as capable of finishing anywhere from second in the West to eighth with comparable probability levels.
It’s a somewhat similar picture for RSL, whose playoff prospects remain solid at 88% but are projected to finish dead-even with Portland and the Galaxy on 52 points in the 4-5-6 slots, which would mean hosting rights for at least one first-round playoff game would have to be determined by tiebreakers. The Vancouver Whitecaps, it must be said, are now officially out of the reckoning.
Peruse the full 538 projection suite here.