Zlatan Ibrahimovic - LA Galaxy - celebrates a goal - tight shot - Sept. 16, 2019
Kelvin Kuo-USA Today Sports Images

Wiebe: Five big MLS playoff questions for this weekend's slate

Last Friday, I gave you my six biggest matches remaining in the regular season.

For this weekend, I chose the LA Galaxy vs. Montreal Impact (Saturday, 10:30 pm ET | TVAS, MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US). I still feel good about that choice, despite the fact the Galaxy are basically in at this point. That’s because Montreal are still alive, but need a miracle. It’s must-win territory for the Impact and Wilmer Cabrera. More on that in a second.

My honorable mention was Portland Timbers vs. Minnesota United (Sunday, 3:55 pm ET | ESPN, TSN2). That match is even bigger thanks to yet another home loss by the Timbers, who have real reason to be nervous since home isn’t feeling so sweet these days. Week 29, here we go.

Who is playing for their playoff lives and who is playing for seeding?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been watching the 538 playoff odds closely for the past two months or so. Finally, they’re starting to settle a bit.

We already know LAFC, NYCFC, the Philadelphia Union and Atlanta United are IN the playoffs. That’s fact. Here’s what the 538 model thinks it knows halfway through Week 29:

If you buy the math, that leaves two playoff spots in the West and one in East truly up for grabs with three regular-season weeks left. Here are the teams competing for those spots, with percentage probabilities above 10 percent (i.e. it could happen, but it won’t).

WEST (2 spots): Portland (75%), San Jose (74%), FC Dallas (59%)

EAST (1 spot): New England (63%), Chicago (22%), Montreal (10%)

What’s all this mean?

Well, it means we could see death blows dealt to playoff chances this weekend. If the Revs win at home and Montreal and Chicago don’t pick up road dubs in LA and Cincinnati, the Impact and Fire are almost certainly done. The gap will be too much to overcome, according to the model.

Meanwhile, in the West, a Dallas win and losses (or draws) by either San Jose or Portland will shuffle those probabilities. Same deal the other direction. You better believe Luchi Gonzalez will be scoreboard watching for that Timbers-Minnesota match. If Portland lose (again), Dallas could open up a four-point gap and would hold their playoff destiny in their own hands.

Who will win the Golden Boot presented by Audi?

All of a sudden, we’ve got a three-horse race. No cart horses here, thank you very much. Thoroughbred goalscorers only. And we thought 27 goals was a lot. Ha! Everybody’s trying to set a new record, and 32 is definitely within reach given this trio’s propensity to score in bunches.

Here’s a quick guide, if you need it.

Carlos Vela (LAFC)

  • 28 goals
  • REMAINING SCHEDULE: TOR, HOU, @MIN, COL
  • FORM: 12 G in last 10 games played

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy)

  • 26 goals
  • REMAINING SCHEDULE: MTL, @RSL, VAN, @HOU
  • FORM: 10 G last six games

Josef Martinez (Atlanta United)

  • 26 goals
  • REMAINING SCHEDULE: SJ, @NYC, @MTL, NE
  • FORM: 21 G in last 15 games, at least one goal in every game

While you mull this one over and make a choice – my gut tells me Josef Martinez, again – I’m going to let Susannah Collins give her two cents. Let’s just say she isn’t picking Vela…

Which teams haven’t dropped below the playoff line in 2019?

Here’s Kevin from Milwaukee to quiz you on the season so far…

“One of the things I love about MLS is the parity. Year over year and even week to week, you never know what's going to happen. Here's an example: this season, only four teams have been above the playoff line at the end of every single week. Can you name them? Hint: three in the West, one in the East.”

You can find the answer at the end of this column…

Which players will I have my eye on this weekend?

MID Keaton Parks (New York City FC) – The Plano native heads home to Texas to take on FC Dallas Sunday (6 pm ET | UniMás, Twitter, TUDN), MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada), just a week after scoring his first MLS goal. Should be a special occasion for the Parks clan. I was already watching Parks’ development closely, but when Dome Torrent says something like this about a 22-year-old American, it’s time to suggest you do the same.

FWD Gustavo Bou (New England Revolution) – Simple calculations – the Revs’ results without Bou’s seven goals in 10 games – tell you New England would be sitting on six fewer points sans their big summer signing. That’d put Bruce Arena’s squad below the playoff line and three points back of the Impact and Fire.

But the Revs have Bou, and that’s made most, if not all, the difference. Advanced analytics don’t love this team, which tells you moments of brilliance, of which the Argentine has had many, may be the difference between the sort of mediocrity that lands a team outside the postseason looking in and the sort that lands one a trip somewhere for a playoff game.

All of which is to say it’s worth watching him play. This weekend it helps that Revs-Real Salt Lake (Saturday, 7:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada) is dripping with playoff implications.

MID Michael Bradley (Toronto FC) – We only get the Bradley Bowl once a year, barring dueling runs to MLS Cup. Last September, LAFC went to BMO Field and won 4-2. Who wants to win this game more? Father or son? To be safe, let’s just say it’s someone with a shaved head!

Jokes aside, LAFC haven’t won in four games. They’re at home. They need a win, not for the Shield, but to get back on track. I can’t wait to see how Bob attacks Toronto FC tactically. He knows his son better than anyone. Take away Michael’s metronomic passing and backline-opening passes to the flanks and the Reds may struggle to get Alejandro Pozuelo and Jozy Altidore involved in the game. I think I hear Latif Blessing’s music…

What’s the must-watch ESPN+ game of the weekend?

Instead of picking just one – impossible this time of year – I’m just going to plot out how I recommend you use your subscription this weekend. Because we’ve all got lives outside of soccer, or at least I assume you do, I’m skipping games that aren’t as neutral friendly (i.e. the playoff implications are low).

I’d say start on Saturday with New England-Real Salt Lake on Saturday at 7:30 pm ET. Both teams are trying to cling to something. For the Revs, that’s a playoff spot. For RSL, that’s a home game. New England doesn’t have a shutout in two months, so there are goals here.

Next, you’ll flip back and forth between Galaxy-Impact and LAFC-Toronto FC, both at 10:30 pm ET. Personally, I’d start with the latter because I think the soccer will be better. That’s not to say the game down the road in Carson is out of sight, out of mind. You’ve got to be monitoring Twitter for signs that Zlatan is on. If he is, then you make the switch immediately.

As for Sunday, Matchday Central (3:30 pm ET on MLS channels) gets you started then you’ve got a couple national TV games to watch back-to-back. Your MLS night ends with Red Bulls-Philly (6:30 pm ET) in its entirety, then the final hour of D.C. United-Seattle (8 pm ET) before flipping back to Matchday Central for the Week 29 wrap at 9:45 pm ET, where we’ll have live look-ins at the final 15 minutes of the match.

Enjoy the weekend, everyone!

Finally, here’s the answer to Kevin in Milwaukee’s question: LAFC, Seattle, Minnesota, and D.C. United.

Of course, all that matters is where you finish on Decision Day presented by AT&T. Three more weekends to go before the playoff field is set.

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