How's the MLS playoff picture looking? 538's latest predictions shed light

With Heineken Rivalry Week in the books, new playoff projections from FiveThirtyEight are out for all 24 Major League Soccer clubs. 

There’s plenty to digest now that teams have anywhere between five and eight games remaining in their 2019 regular seasons. Let’s dive right on in.

Eastern Conference

Starting with the Eastern Conference, Atlanta United, New York City FC and the Philadelphia Union are all given a 99 percent chance or greater of making it. They’ve set the pace and seem to be duking it out for seeding in the Nos. 1-3 range. That top spot is extremely valuable, too, as it guarantees a first-round bye and home-field advantage. Atlanta and NYCFC (45 percent) are given the same odds to clinch that, so keep an eye out for a heated race to the finish line.

The next group in the East is where it gets interesting. The fourth-place New York Red Bulls are at 91 percent. That’s despite losing last weekend’s Hudson River Derby and not stringing together consecutive wins since early June. Then, Toronto FC (71 percent) and the New England Revolution (67 percent) are both trending up following big wins on the weekend. They’ll square off this coming Saturday at Gillette Stadium (7:30 pm | TSN 1/4, MLS LIVE on ESPN+) in a match that could drastically impact playoff seeding.

There’s a faint flicker of optimism for D.C. United, who are given 61 percent odds of making the playoffs. They’re currently in fifth place, but have just three wins since mid-May and are 1-5-1 across their last seven matches. Ben Olsen’s group is sliding fast, seemingly accelerated by news that Wayne Rooney will become a player/coach at Derby County in the winter. The Montreal Impact (59 percent) are also struggling after dropping to 1-7-1 in their last nine games, though are still alive in the fight for a final spot. Perhaps new head coach Wilmer Cabrera can right the ship.

To round out the East, hopes are slim for Orlando City (29 percent) and the Chicago Fire (14 percent). It’s approaching desperation time for two clubs that have been playoff outsiders for quite some time. For "Hell is Real" rivals Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati, they’re both at 1 percent or lower. They’re not yet mathematically eliminated, but it’s also time to look ahead to 2020.

Western Conference

Moving out to the Western Conference, a playoff spot is locked up for LAFC and Bob Bradley's team is closing in on the Supporters’ Shield. After that, just three points separate second and seventh place, and things are similarly jam-packed in FiveThirtyEight’s projections.

Real Salt Lake and the Seattle Sounders are both at 94 percent after big Heineken Rivalry Week wins, while the LA Galaxy (93 percent) are also trending up. The partnership between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristian Pavon seems to be growing, too. 

After that trio comes the Portland Timbers (82 percent), who are currently narrowly outside of the playoff race in eight place. Seven of their eight remaining games are at Providence Park, so some home cooking could still spark a late-season run for Giovanni Savarese’s team. 

Then it’s a tight race between the San Jose Earthquakes (74 percent), Minnesota United (73 percent) and FC Dallas (70 percent) for playoff spots. All three clubs have slumped some as of late, but remain capable of rattling off wins.

The hole Sporting Kansas City dug early on might be too deep, as they’re listed at 19 percent. Then again, Peter Vermes’ team has won back-to-back games and are only six points out of a playoff spot. This is MLS, and things can change quickly.

To round out the West, the Houston Dynamo, Vancouver Whitecaps and Colorado Rapids are all given a 1 percent chance or worse. For one reason or another, it’s been a rough year for that trio.


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