Only MLS league games will be reflected in the rankings. Rankings are voted on by MLSsoccer.com editorial staff; words by Jonathan Sigal.
BIGGEST MOVERS: COL, MIA, SKC +3; NE -5
HIGH: 1 | LOW: 11
Nothing but congratulations to Philadelphia, who wrapped up the Supporters’ Shield with a win on Decision Day presented by AT&T. That first trophy in club history makes them the odds-on favorite in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, and they’ll have home-field advantage throughout. Can anyone stop head coach Jim Curtin’s team?
Previous: 2-0 win vs. NE | Next: Round One vs. Lower seeded play-in winner on 11/24
HIGH: 1 | LOW: 6
Toronto are limping into the playoffs results-wise, but that’s not an indictment on their quality. It’s rather because the injury bug decimated their starting XI at times. Plus, with MVP candidate Alejandro Pozuelo coming off a 9g, 10a season, they have a true difference-maker that can take them far.
Previous: 2-1 loss at RBNY | Next: Round One vs. Higher seeded play-in winner on 11/24
HIGH: 3 | LOW: 18
Winners of three straight and six of their past eight, Sporting locked up the West’s No. 1 seed on Decision Day. We’ll call it a return to status quo, since that’s also where they slotted in 2018 before a sharp drop (11th) a season ago. To really go far, they’ll hope Alan Pulido’s knee injury isn’t too serious.
HIGH: 1 | LOW: 9
When the Crew have everyone healthy and all the pistons are moving as designed, they’re an absolute delight to watch. Since Columbus went 9W-1L-0D at MAPFRE Stadium this year, they’ll be the heavy favorites when hosting RBNY for a Round One matchup.
HIGH: 1 | LOW: 8
Seattle have a well-documented history of reaching another level when the playoffs arrive, and the same is expected from Brian Schmetzer’s group in 2020. They can not only defend their MLS Cup victory, but win their third in five years. Now that would be true dynasty status.
HIGH: 2 | LOW: 14
Portland have won just twice in their last seven games, so they’ll need to find another gear as the West’s No. 3 seed. They’re looking to avoid a Round One exit for the second year running. Look for leadership from Diego Valeri and Diego Chara, with their combined 515 MLS appearances, to lead the way.
HIGH: 4 | LOW: 23
Orlando slipped down to the East’s No. 4 seed on Decision Day, but they already had a home playoff game wrapped up. With the transformation project head coach Oscar Pareja has orchestrated, perhaps more magic awaits the Lions, especially from those like Nani and Mauricio Pereyra.
HIGH: 3 | LOW: 13
New York City FC are the league’s hottest team heading into the playoffs, having won four straight and scoring a combined nine goals in their last two games. They’ll need to get a road result at Orlando in Round One, and their fine form suggests it’s certainly possible.
HIGH: 1 | LOW: 15
LAFC are the West’s No. 7 seed, but their talent is much higher than that. Now they’ll get a chance for revenge against Seattle in Round One, with the memory of a spoiled 2019 season still fresh for Bob Bradley’s bunch. And yet international call-ups with Uruguay and Ecuador could spoil everything, with key players poised to miss due to travel around Conmebol World Cup qualifiers.
HIGH: 4 | LOW: 13
International call-ups loom large for Minnesota, though the good news is they’re unbeaten in eight games (4W-0L-4D). Kevin Molino and Emanuel Reynoso also appear to be in top form, and their game-changing abilities could spark the Loons in their second straight playoff appearance.
HIGH: 11 | LOW: 26
Last week’s 3-2 win at Orlando City was arguably Nashville’s result of the season. The expansion side clawed back with two late goals, and that fighting spirit should serve them well during the club’s first playoff appearance. They’ll host at Nissan Stadium, which has been a fortress of sorts in 2020.
HIGH: 7 | LOW: 21
The Rapids are rolling into the playoffs with three straight wins, and they would’ve qualified on total points (28), even after enduring a month-long break because of a COVID-19 outbreak. Colorado’s perhaps not an MLS Cup favorite, but they’re a dangerous side.
HIGH: 11 | LOW: 21
The spark behind a late-season surge for the New York Red Bulls? None other than Brian White, who has a team-leading five goals and scored in four of their last five games. Alongside outside back Kyle Duncan, he’s been a real bright spot for the East’s No. 6 seed.
HIGH: 7 | LOW: 18
Dig a bit deeper into the FC Dallas schedule, and you’ll discover they actually fared the best in 2020 against Sporting Kansas City, the West’s No. 1 seed, with a 2W-0L-1D record. That suggests they could go on a playoff run, but first they must solve beating Portland on the road.
HIGH: 8 | LOW: 18
The Revs could’ve snuck into the East’s No. 5 seed, but now they’re in the No. 7 spot and await a Play-In Round match. That produced a match at Gillette Stadium against Montreal, but the good news is they’ve won three straight against Thierry Henry’s team this season.
HIGH: 10 | LOW: 26
Just about everyone (even San Jose!) has made their plea on social media, so we’ll do it as well: Wondo, please don’t retire. With playoffs officially here, they’re the West’s No. 8 seed and the MLS goal king’s final game is inching closer. He said he’d retire after 2020, but maybe a change of heart awaits.
HIGH: 14 | LOW: 21
For Montreal to make any playoff run, they’ll need a new-look central midfield to step up. Samuel Piette got red-carded in their Decision Day victory, and Victor Wanyama has joined Kenya for a pair of Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. Solve that riddle – and it’s a tough one – and the Impact could sneak through.
HIGH: 19 | LOW: 26
Miami were the last team into the playoffs, seriously. With the Eastern Conference’s No. 10 seed, they now have nothing to lose. Just ask head coach Diego Alonso, who said as much after a Decision Day victory amid Tropical Storm Eta made them the seventh expansion team to qualify for the playoffs in their debut season.
HIGH: 19 | LOW: 26
If the Whitecaps were in the Eastern Conference, their points per game total (1.17) would’ve given them the No. 9 seed and they’d be in the playoffs. But that’s not how things work, alas, so they’ve missed the playoffs for the third straight year and enter yet another pivotal offseason.
Previous: 3-0 win vs. LA | Next: End of season
HIGH: 15 | LOW: 25
Chicago were poised to sneak into the playoffs down the stretch, but ended the year with a 0W-2L-4D record. The good news is they played a much-improved brand of soccer under head coach Raphael Wicky, and Robert Beric has a serious case for MLS Newcomer of the Year after scoring 12 goals.
HIGH: 11 | LOW: 21
Three losses to end the year, and six in their last eight games. Real Salt Lake only have themselves to blame for going from the West’s No. 3 seed in 2019 to watching the playoffs from home. Also: shoutout to center back Nedum Onuoha, who recently retired. What a career, what a man.
Previous: 2-0 loss vs. SKC | Next: End of season
HIGH: 14 | LOW: 26
We’ll focus on the positive for D.C. United, who showed incredible fighting spirit under interim head coach Chad Ashton and nearly earned the East’s No. 10 seed. But the Black-and-Red faced too deep of a hole, so they’re left facing a pivotal offseason. The big question: Who gets the head coaching gig?
Previous: 3-2 loss vs. MTL | Next: End of season
HIGH: 1 | LOW: 24
The list of questions hanging over Atlanta United is far longer than this space allows, though we’ll highlight one in particular: How many of their 2020 players are back next year? Josef Martinez’s ACL tear loomed large, but the roster issues ran deeper than that – plus there's the ongoing head coach search.
Previous: 2-1 loss at CLB | Next: End of season
HIGH: 6 | LOW: 25
The first instinct is to call LA’s 2020 season one to forget, but that disregards what caused the Galaxy to fall flat. There are deeper reasons behind why head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto is gone, and it’s not as simple as a) a bad defense and b) Chicharito’s early MLS struggles. Correctly diagnose/treat them, then solutions start to emerge.
HIGH: 8 | LOW: 25
The Dynamo finished bottom of the Western Conference standings, meaning they’ve now missed the playoffs six of the past seven years (2017 is the sole exception). There’s a 2018 U.S. Open Cup trophy in between there, but these are lean times. Look no further than how 2020 included their lowest-ever overall standings finish (25th place).
Previous: 2-1 loss vs. COL | Next: End of season
HIGH: 18 | LOW: 26
Bottom of the league two years running, surely the only way for FC Cincinnati to go is up ... right? They’re now fully focused on year No. 3, and were the first MLS team to announce wholesale offseason roster moves. Their season’s barely a few days old and loose ends are already being trimmed.
Previous: 2-1 loss at MIA | Next: End of season