Who among the pack of playoff-chasing teams will win the race to qualify for the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, and in what seeding order? With the prominent exception of runaway league leaders LAFC – who have already clinched a spot in the postseason well ahead of the rest – that remains to be seen.
But here’s one key data point that should factor into your predictions and premonitions.
We have calculated the strength of the remaining schedules for all 24 teams from now through Decision Day presented by AT&T on Oct. 6. And it offers sobering information for the likes of Minnesota United, the San Jose Earthquakes and Philadelphia Union as well as reasons for optimism among fans of the Chicago Fire, Portland Timbers and Montreal Impact.
This graphic reflects the complete table of each team's strength of schedule for the final weeks of the season, calculated by taking the 2019 average points per game at home and on the road for each team's opponent. A higher number means the schedule is more difficult, while a lower one means it's easier.
Minnesota face the most rugged close to their campaign, a seven-game span highlighted by trips to Portland and Seattle and both home and away meetings with LAFC. The Loons currently sit in fifth place in the Western Conference, and will have to find and maintain a solid level of form to improve on that positioning.
Philly must host Atlanta, LAFC and NYCFC and will jet across the continent to San Jose in between intra-conference visits to the New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew SC. The Quakes have a rugged three-game away swing vs. Real Salt Lake, NYCFC and Atlanta in September and must enter the Providence Park maelstrom for a Decision Day tangle with the Timbers.
Conversely, Portland are buoyed by their backloaded home slate, a consequence of the historic venue’s expansion and remodeling – though they’ve lost two in a row in their downtown abode and still have one more road trip, to Sporting KC on Sept. 29.
The Fire have just five games in which to attempt what would be an amazing late rush into the playoff places, but visits to Columbus, Cincinnati and Orlando help give them a fighting chance. Something similar can be said of the Impact, who close with four of five at home – their only remaining trip being the long journey to meet the LA Galaxy on Sept. 21.
If you're interested in what the SOS chart looked like before the season kicked off, that can be viewed here.