What you need to know

Inter Miami vs. Nashville SC set for Saturday

Lionel Messi and Inter Miami will take on Hany Mukhtar and Nashville SC at GEODIS Park on Saturday at 9 pm ET. Here’s how to watch and stream.

Sign up for The Daily Kickoff in your inbox! The Daily Kickoff is more than an article – it can be delivered to your email account as well.

We're in the final stretch now. Which team will push itself over the playoff line?

Most teams have about 11 or so games remaining to sort out their place in the standings. When MLS play returns on Sunday we’ll officially be in the homestretch of the 2023 regular season. A lot has changed since we last had a full slate of MLS games, but what hasn’t changed is that 11 teams are still below the Audi MLS Cup Playoff line. Not even the good playoff line, the “you still have to win a Wild Card game because you finished eighth or ninth” playoff line. Still, you take what you can get, right? No one below the line will complain about playing their way into a Wild Card spot over the last third of the season here. How good are the chances of that actually happening though?

Eastern Conference

30 points, 24 games played

Here’s our starting point in the East. Their underlying numbers have been among the best in the league at times this year. Their on-field performance hasn’t quite lined up though, and they just terminated DP forward Taxi Fountas’ contract. D.C. are currently on pace for about 43 points but it wouldn’t be surprising to see that pace lessen. Along with eighth-place Chicago (32 points, 23 games played), the current Wild Card teams in the East feel catchable if you’re chasing them.

29 points, 23 games played

Montréal are only kind of chasing D.C. United at this point. They’re actually very slightly better on points per game. It’s a one-point gap for now and Montréal’s moves for Mahala Opoku and young center back Fernando Álvarez could give them a boost. Opoku especially. 

For now, they have a slight lead on the other chasers. Maybe that will be enough in the end?

26 points, 23 games played

If you’ve checked in on this newsletter at any point this year, you probably know the drill on the Red Bulls by now: “Fantastic underlying numbers, one of the best defensive teams in the league, etc. etc.” If there ever was a time for any of that to actually come to fruition, now’s that time. It’s not hard to imagine it considering those numbers and the fact that New York have found a way to make the playoffs every year but one since the end of 2002. But things do feel a little more perilous than usual right now. Of course, the last time we thought the Red Bulls might miss the playoffs, they suddenly racked up a ton of points down the stretch and brute forced their way into the field. It wouldn’t be a shock to see it happen again.

26 points, 23 games played

Charlotte opted to spend the transfer window looking for age and experience abroad. They brought in 29-year-old left back Jere Uronen from Stade Brestois in Ligue 1, 32-year-old midfielder Brecht Dejaegere from Toulouse in Ligue 1 and 34-year-old Rangers midfielder Scott Arfield. None of those moves feel like blockbuster signings, but they should, in theory, help steady one of the league’s worst defenses. If they do… I’m honestly still not sure that will be enough to get them over the line. Then again, I didn’t think Charlotte had a Leagues Cup run in them and they made it all the way to the quarterfinals.

26 points, 24 games played 

NYCFC have 10 games to sort out one of the most disappointing attacks in the league. They brought in two forwards, Mounsef Bakrar and Julián Fernández, to help them do that. They seem promising, but both are young players on U22 deals. It’s fair to worry that, for a group already ranked among the league’s youngest, deciding to get younger may not be the answer. Then again, they brought back a little experience, too. Maxi Moralez is back in The Bronx and that could be enough to kickstart a run.

19 points, 24 games played

Don’t think so.

18 points, 22 games played 

Alright. Fine. They’ve convinced me. They’re never losing again and I feel ridiculous for ever suggesting they could. They’ll need to grab about 25 points or so over these final 12 games, but who cares because it feels like they’re just gonna grab 36.

Western Conference

29 points, 23 games played 

The West is so cluttered at this point that ninth-place Houston could easily jump to fifth place Houston by the end of this weekend. There’s a three-point gap between the Dynamo and Austin FC right now. Still, they’re sitting on the line heading into the final stretch, so we’ll start here. I think this team is solid and growing and totally catchable for the few teams below them. Then again, I think Houston are better than everyone below them. Except for one team…

28 points, 22 games played

If Minnesota don’t make the playoffs… I don’t know what I’ll do, but it’ll be drastic. I’m calling it. This is my stone-cold lock of the century of the week. Their underlying numbers are fantastic, Bebelo Reynoso is hot at the right time, Bongokuhle Hlongwane rules and the team as a whole seems to be improving. I could even see this team jumping up to fifth by the time this is over.

26 points, 25 games played

This is not a lock. It seems, like last year, SKC dug themselves too deep of a hole and are going to come up short. I just can’t see it, honestly. They haven’t truly put it together for a consistent stretch all season, and I don’t know why that would change over their final nine games. I’ll put it this way: If we’re putting the playoff line at 43 points, they’ll need to be on about a 1.88-points-per-game pace from here on out just to get there. St. Louis, the conference leaders, are on a 1.78-points-per-game pace.

26 points, 23 games played

I’m a noted Portland doubter and have been for a while, but that always comes with a caveat that I’m generally 100% wrong about Portland 95% of the time. That said, it’s hard to see them outplaying the teams in front of them. That also said, when has that ever mattered when you can win every game from here on out by a 1-0 scoreline and make the playoffs? It’s definitely a long shot on paper, though.

22 points, 22 games played

You could have talked me into a miracle run a couple of weeks ago. Then Gastón Brugman got hurt, and, well, I think that’s probably that for the 2023 LA Galaxy. They’ll need to be on pretty much a league-best pace the rest of the way without a key presence in midfield.

19 points, 23 games played

I do not think the Colorado Rapids will make the playoffs.

Other things

Toronto FC goalkeeper Johnson out 4-6 weeks with hand fracture: Toronto FC's already tough season just got tougher, as veteran goalkeeper Sean Johnson suffered a hand fracture during training on Tuesday and is expected to miss approximately four to six weeks. He will be assessed by a hand specialist later in the week to determine if surgery is necessary.

The Reading Rainbow
Full Time

Good luck out there. If you’re going to create memories, create them with outstanding hair.