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MLS Playoffs — What Every Team Needs To Do To Make The Postseason

The business end of the MLS season is upon us, and with the MLS playoffs kicking off in just under a month, every game matters. Only six sides have officially been eliminated from playoff contention going into the international break and the race for the Supporter’s Shield is very much alive. Following Match Week 32, let’s break down what every team is playing for from here on out.

MLS Playoffs Picture Going into Matchweek 33

Eastern Conference

1. Philadelphia Union: 64 Points

Remaining Opponents: Charlotte FC, Toronto FC

The Union have been one of the standout teams this season, leading both conferences with the most goals scored and the fewest goals conceded. The Supporter’s Shield is very much within reach despite the club having only the 19th highest total salary in the league. If the Union accrues more points than LAFC over the final two games of the season, the club will have won two Supporter’s Shields in the last three seasons. Regardless, this year the club’s eyes will be firmly set on lifting MLS Cup for the first time in club history.

2. CF Montréal: 59 Points

Remaining Opponents: DC United, Inter Miami

While still in the race for the Supporter’s Shield, Montréal is the underdog. With at least second place in the East confirmed, two losses for the Union, as well as two wins for Montréal, would give Wilfried Nancy’s side a first-round bye in the MLS Cup Playoffs. After finishing 10th and missing the playoffs in 2021, the Canadian side has proven itself to be one of the most consistent sides in MLS this season and could be dangerous in the playoffs.

3. New York Red Bulls: 50 Points

Remaining Opponents: Columbus Crew, Charlotte FC

New York has clinched a playoff spot and is only fighting to maintain its seeding at this point. With NYCFC hot on its tail, both matches against Columbus and Charlotte may be must-wins, especially after the Red Bulls’ 2-0 loss in the Hudson River Derby. Fortunately, Orlando and NYCFC will play each other on Oct. 2, so dropped points for either side in that game will only help the Red Bulls.

4. NYCFC: 49 Points

Remaining Opponents: Orlando City FC, Inter Miami

Last season’s MLS Cup champion NYCFC is fresh off a Campeones Cup win over Atlas and a crucial win in the Hudson River Derby, and trails rivals New York Red Bulls by just one point with two games remaining. Despite losing star forward and last season’s top scorer Taty Castellanos, who moved to LaLiga side Girona FC midseason, NYCFC is yet to officially clinch a playoff spot, but good results against either Orlando or Atlanta would do just that, and outperforming the Red Bulls in the final two games could even see NYCFC earn the third spot in the East. 

5. Cincinnati FC: 46 Points

Remaining Opponents: Chicago Fire, DC United

Having never qualified for the MLS Cup playoffs in its history, FC Cincinnati finds itself in unfamiliar territory this season. Led by 23-year-old forward Brandon Vázquez, Cincinnati could still be caught, but promising matches against Chicago and DC United, who are currently 12th and 14th in the East, respectively, should give fans some hope for this season. 

6. Orlando City FC: 45 Points

Remaining Opponents: NYCFC, Inter Miami, Columbus Crew

One of four teams in the Eastern Conference with three games left, Orlando could theoretically still not make the playoffs as all of its remaining opponents also are in the playoff hunt. Years of mediocrity have given way thanks to manager Oscar Pareja, and now Orlando looks like a perennial contender, especially after winning the U.S. Open Cup earlier this month. This season will already live long in the memories of fans, but a playoff run could make it unforgettable.

7. Inter Miami: 42 Points

Remaining Opponents: Toronto FC, Orlando City FC, CF Montréal

Gonzalo Higuaín’s 94th-minute winner gave Inter Miami a crucial win against DC United in the club’s playoff hunt. Three difficult games remain, and with Columbus, Atlanta, Charlotte and even New England still within striking distance, getting good results to keep itself in the top seven will be crucial. A tough run of games against Toronto, Orlando and Montréal could prove costly at this point in the season, but four points might just be enough to qualify in the right circumstances.

8. Columbus Crew: 42 Points

Remaining Opponents: New York Red Bulls, Charlotte FC, Orlando City

Columbus’ 15 draws this season is the most in MLS, and the Crew have the second-fewest losses only trailing Philadelphia. Five winless games in September hurt, but a win against Charlotte puts Columbus in a much better position to advance.

9. Atlanta United: 40 Points

Remaining Opponents: New England Revolution, NYCFC

Atlanta enters the international break on the outside looking in. Most other teams fighting for a playoff spot have three games remaining, putting Atlanta in a tough position. Both remaining games against New England and NYCFC will likely prove to be must-wins if Atlanta wants any hope of making the playoffs, but Atlanta’s injury-plagued season admittedly looks doomed for failure.

10. Charlotte FC: 38 Points

Remaining Opponents: Philadelphia Union, Columbus Crew, New York Red Bulls

A valiant effort from Charlotte will likely see it fall just short of the playoffs in its debut season as the newest expansion team will need a miracle to qualify. A difficult run of games against Philadelphia, Columbus and New York does not look promising, but you never know. Solid attendance and a strong supporter base make this season a success for the club, and fans will be able to look back at the win against Premier League side Chelsea for years to come.

11. New England Revolution: 38 Points

Remaining Opponents: Atlanta United, Chicago Fire

Similarly to Charlotte, New England needs a miracle, except in the Revs’ case, they have one fewer game to help themselves. Two wins would put them on 44 points, and they would need Miami, Columbus and Atlanta to all lose every game or at least not accrue more than one point and Charlotte to only beat Columbus. Is it possible? Barely. Would we put our money on it happening? Probably not. After winning last season’s Supporter’s Shield, not even making the playoffs would be a massive disappointment.

12. Chicago Fire: 35 Points

Remaining Opponents: FC Cincinnati, New England Revolution

Chicago found itself toward the bottom of the table for almost the entire season. The Fire are an extremely young team with promising moments, but ultimately not enough to be competitive. Now officially eliminated from playoff contention, the club’s eyes will be on next season as young goalkeeping phenom Gaga Slonina’s loan spell with Chicago ends in three months. The 18-year-old should look to continue in MLS as getting consistent minutes will be crucial to his development at such a young age.

13. Toronto FC: 34 Points

Remaining Opponents: Inter Miami, Philadelphia Union

Toronto’s mediocrity was painful at times, and despite the high-profile additions of Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi and Domenico Criscito, among others, did little to stop Toronto from missing this season’s playoffs. Bob Bradley’s side has a wealth of talent, but putting it all together has proven difficult this season.

14. DC United: 27 Points

Remaining Opponents: CF Montréal, FC Cincinnati

Nearing the end of what has been an immensely difficult season from beginning to end, DC United is comfortably the worst team in MLS at the time of writing. With just two games left, DC is the only club in the entire league to average less than one point per game. New manager Wayne Rooney will have his work cut out for him as he works to rebuild his team for next year.

Western Conference

1. LAFC: 64 Points

Remaining Opponents: Portland Timbers, Nashville SC

LAFC has the most wins in the league with 20 and even before high-profile additions during the summer was comfortably one of the best sides in the league. Since Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini joined the side, however, results have dipped. Since Aug. 21, LAFC has just seven points from a possible 21. The club is still level on points with Philadelphia Union for the Supporters’ Shield, but with the amount of talent on its roster, it is truly MLS Cup or bust for LAFC.

2. Austin FC: 55 Points

Remaining Opponents: Vancouver Whitecaps, Colorado Rapids

This year's surprise story has without a doubt been Austin FC. Almost doubling its points total from its inaugural season in 2021, Austin is led by MVP candidate Sebastián Driussi who is averaging a goal every 128.7 minutes and has scored just under a third of Austin’s goals this season. Just two points from its last two games will secure second place ahead of in-state rival FC Dallas, but unfortunately for Austin, LAFC is a bit too far ahead to compete for the top spot in the West.

3. FC Dallas: 50 Points

Remaining Opponents: Colorado Rapids, Sporting Kansas City

After losing Ricardo Pepi at the beginning of 2022, Jesús Ferreira came into the FC Dallas side and immediately made an impact. The 21-year-old has scored 18 goals this season and is a massive part of FC Dallas’ fantastic campaign thus far. FC Dallas has a small chance of catching Austin FC, but eyes will be looking backward as Nashville, Portland and Minnesota all have a chance of catching Dallas. With that being said, four points from its last two games would secure third in the West.

4. Nashville SC: 47 Points

Remaining Opponents: Houston Dynamo, LAFC

Last season’s joint-best defense in the league dropped off dramatically, falling to fifth in the same metric for this campaign. However, while the defense has slumped, midfielder Hany Mukhtar has been otherworldy. His 23 goals and seven assists in 31 games are simply stunning and make him a fantastic candidate for MVP this season. Three points would guarantee safety, but realistically even a point should do the trick. Much easier said than done, especially with LAFC still to play; we’d still bet on Nashville to at least qualify for the playoffs.

5. LA Galaxy: 46 Points

Remaining Opponents: Real Salt Lake, Houston Dynamo

The Galaxy are MLS bluebloods. A rich history of top players and a wealth of success has oddly lent itself to an organization that has become reliant on superstar names and not on results. This season is no exception. Star men Chicharito and Riqui Puig have contributed but not as much as their salaries would indicate. LA finds itself just inside the playoff bubble after a season filled with inconsistency. The Galaxy's latest win against San Jose gives them a good chance of making the playoffs, but dropping points, especially against Real Salt Lake, could prove catastrophic.

6. Portland Timbers: 46 Points

Remaining Opponents: LAFC, Real Salt Lake

A side in a similar position as Nashville, Portland is in a good spot to make the playoffs, but if things go wrong, it could all fall apart very quickly. A loss to LAFC could put the Timbers in a must-win situation against Real Salt Lake, who just might be taking Portland’s spot. While on a good run of form at the moment, the international break could pose a threat to the club’s rhythm come October. 

7. Minnesota United: 45 Points

Remaining Opponents: San Jose Earthquakes, Vancouver Whitecaps

Minnesota has enjoyed a good season thus far and looks good to continue into the playoffs. At best, the top four could be a possibility, but if disaster strikes and Minnesota drops points against both San Jose and Vancouver, the Loons could find themselves on the outside looking in.

8. Real Salt Lake: 43 Points

Remaining Opponents: LA Galaxy, Portland Timbers

Real Salt Lake has reinvigorated its fanbase this season, and regardless of the playoffs, this season will go down as a success for the club and its culture. With that being said, Real is still in the hunt, albeit with a small chance. The two opponents who are both fighting to retain their respective spots in the playoffs will be tough to overcome, but conversely, two wins would do wonders as it would mean not just points picked up for Salt Lake, but dropped points for its direct competitors. Compared with other teams on the outside, Real Salt Lake might just have the opportunity of a lifetime.

9. Seattle Sounders: 40 Points

Remaining Opponents: Sporting Kansas City, San Jose Earthquakes

Seattle has made the playoffs every year since its debut in MLS. However, this season, that run looks to be coming to a crashing end. After becoming the first MLS club to win the Concacaf Champions League earlier this year, Seattle has been plagued by injuries, especially in midfield. The Sounders have the second most losses in the Western Conference and are tied with Toronto FC for 4th most overall, but are somehow just managing to hang on. However, after tying Cincinnati 1-1, qualification is definitely a long shot, and Seattle simply cannot afford any more mistakes from here on out. 

10. Vancouver Whitecaps: 40 Points

Remaining Opponents: Austin FC, Minnesota United

Unfortunately for Vancouver, a maximum of 46 points means Minnesota, LA and Salt Lake would all need to do a lot of losing for the Whitecaps to have any chance of making the playoffs. The third worst defense in the Western Conference has cost Vancouver, and it looks like this season will likely end without a trip to the postseason. 

11. Colorado Rapids: 39 Points

Remaining Opponents: FC Dallas, Austin FC

Following the Galaxy's 3-2 win against San Jose, Colorado has officially been eliminated from playoff contention. Robin Fraser's side had a respectable home record but has picked up just one road win all season. Even if the Rapids pick up two wins against very good FC Dallas and Austin FC sides, Minnesota would hold the first tiebreaker with wins. 

12. Sporting Kansas City: 37 Points

Remaining Opponents: Seattle Sounders, FC Dallas

Sporting KC has officially been knocked out of playoff contention despite last losing a game on Aug. 13 against Austin FC. A combination of bad offense and bad defense usually results in a side that struggles to win games. Over simplifications aside, KC surprised many this year after being Western Conference semifinalists last season. The season had its bright spots such as Erik Thommy and William Agada, but the club struggled to remain competitive.

13. Houston Dynamo: 33 Points

Remaining Opponents: Nashville SC, LA Galaxy

Houston struggled throughout the season, losing 17 matches, only two less than DC United. Star man Héctor Herrera didn’t have the impact the club was hoping he would, and the results told the story. A rebuild will happen in the coming years and, hopefully, Houston will be competing for the playoffs again soon.

14. San Jose Earthquakes: 31 Points

Remaining Opponents: Minnesota United, Seattle Sounders

A mediocre squad and very little investment in success from ownership is a recipe for failure and it seems like San Jose has the worst batch in the league. At no point this season did San Jose even look like a threat for the playoffs, and if the club wants any hope of turning it around, ownership will need to get involved. Investing in the team will pay off, but inadequacy in the front office breeds poor results on the field. Oh well, maybe next year.

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