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Breaking down the MLS Cup playoff race

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In 2017, Toronto FC accomplished something that was nearly unprecedented in Major League Soccer by going wire to wire as the favorites to hoist MLS Cup throughout the entire season.

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Fast forward to this year, and even though there’s a slight chance (roughly 23 percent according to FiveThirtyEight) of TFC making the postseason, we are likely to see a new MLS Cup champion in 2018.

With the Eastern Conference boasting three clear favorites to make a run at MLS Cup, Atlanta United, the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC, the title race is wide open.

Throw in two or three teams out West right now, and it makes for quite the intriguing conversation as the postseason looms.

Below, Pro Soccer Talk takes a look at the MLS Cup playoff race, and which clubs have a serious chance at taking home the silverware in 2018.

Before we can examine the MLS Cup contenders though, we have to determine which clubs will likely end up in the postseason.

Let’s start in the East.

This is how the current playoff table looks in the East.

Eastern Conference

1. Atlanta United
2. New York Red Bulls
3. New York City FC
4. Columbus Crew
5. Philadelphia Union
6. Montreal Impact

7. New England Revolution
8. D.C. United
9. Toronto FC

Teams 1 through 4 are essentially locked into the playoffs barring something utterly catastrophic, so that leaves spots 5 and 6 left open in the East.

The Chicago Fire and Orlando City SC are the only two clubs that look incapable of reaching the postseason, so that leaves nine teams in the running for six places.

The Philadelphia Union are looking to be more and more of a sure thing after a recent surge of form has seen the club win four of its last five MLS matches, including a win over NYCFC and two victories against the New England Revolution — who are firmly in the East playoff hunt.

Currently, FiveThirtyEight has the Union’s chance of making the postseason at 85 percent.

That leaves one spot left open.

The Impact are an anomaly in a sense because of the way that the team plays. In June, the Canadian side was one of the hottest clubs in MLS, but the Impact have since cooled off and been on the end of some unlucky results.

Over their last six matches, the Impact have just one win to show, allowing teams like the Revs, D.C. United and Toronto to stay in the playoff race.

The Revs haven’t won since June 30, making their path to the postseason difficult given their current form, and although D.C. has reason to be excited due to Wayne Rooney‘s arrival, Ben Olsen’s side has a congested fixture list and a poor road record (1-9-5).

While Toronto likely has the most difficult schedule of the bunch down the stretch, Greg Vanney’s side has the experience and talent necessary to overturn their current hole, which is why they are the most likely team to finish above the red line.

This is what the final East table will look like.

1. Atlanta United
2. New York Red Bulls
3. New York City FC
4. Philadelphia Union
5. Columbus Crew
6. Toronto FC

This is how the current playoff table looks in the West.

Western Conference

1. FC Dallas
2. Sporting KC
3. Los Angeles FC
4. Real Salt Lake
5. Seattle Sounders
6. LA Galaxy

7. Portland Timbers
8. Vancouver Whitecaps

Similarly to the East, teams 1 through 4 are absolute locks, and with the Sounders being the best team in MLS not named Atlanta over the last two months, they are a near lock as well.

Brian Schmetzer’s Sounders are unbeaten in their last 10, continuing a trend of brilliance during the second half of the season, which the club has exemplified over the last several seasons.

That makes for a three-team race in a battle for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The LA Galaxy have as much attacking talent as anyone in MLS, and yet the club hasn’t won a match in August, making the path to the postseason challenging.

The Timbers have lost four straight, three of which came against West opponents.

Meanwhile, the Whitecaps are unbeaten in five, but have one of the flimsiest back lines in MLS.

Despite some of the issues with the Timbers at the moment, they are still loaded with talent and have three games in hand over the Galaxy, which makes me believe that they will nab the final playoff spot.

This is what the final West table will look like.

1. FC Dallas
2. Sporting KC
3. Seattle Sounders
4. Los Angeles FC
5. Portland Timbers
6. Real Salt Lake

Man City lose John Stones to injury

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Reigning Premier League champions Manchester City are down to the bare bones at center back.

John Stones will be out “four to five weeks” with a muscle injury, according to City boss Pep Guardiola.

Speaking ahead of City’s UEFA Champions League clash at Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday, City’s manager confirmed the injury happened in training.

With Aymeric Laporte out until January at the earliest, Man City have a real problem at center back with Nicolas Otamendi their only experienced central defender left.

The Argentine defender has struggled early this season and was awful in their shock defeat at Norwich on Saturday.

Midfielder Fernandinho will likely slot in at center back in the coming weeks, and that was likely going to the case anyway with Stones and Otamendi playing so poorly together. After losing Vincent Kompany this summer and then failing to sign Harry Maguire, not adding a new center back was a massive oversight by City.

That sound you can hear is Liverpool’s fans celebrating, as Jurgen Klopp’s side already have a five point lead atop the Premier League table.

Neymar’s Champions League ban reduced

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Neymar will be able to feature in four of Paris Saint-Germain’s UEFA Champions League group stage games.

[ MORE: UCL score picks ]

PSG, who kick off their Group A games against Real Madrid on Tuesday, appealed against Neymar’s ban after he took to social media to criticize the officials following their Round of 16 second leg defeat to Manchester United last March.

Initially he was banned three games by UEFA, but after a successful appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), he will now be available for four of their six UCL group games as they also face Galatasaray and Club Brugge.

After scoring a sensational overhead kick goal in stoppage time on his return to action for PSG on Saturday, all of a sudden things are looking a lot rosier for Neymar.

That said, his wishes to move on this summer haven’t been forgotten by PSG’s Ultras. During their win against Strasbourg at the Parc des Prince they hurled abuse at him and held up banners lashing out at the Brazilian superstar.

Schedule for 2019 Club World Cup announced

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The schedule for the 2019 FIFA World Club Cup has been confirmed.

Liverpool will represent UEFA in the global competition in Qatar from December 11-21, as Jurgen Klopp‘s side will play at least two games.

The Premier League side will face either Liga MX side Monterrey or the winner of Al Saad SC/Hienghene Sport in the semifinal on Dec. 17, then four days later will play in either the third-place match or the final.

Below is the schedule in full.

First round
Match 1: Al Sadd SC v Hienghene Sport – December 11

Second round
Match 2: Monterrey v. Winner of Match 1 – December 14
Match 3: AFC Champions v. Esperance Sportive de Tunis – December 14

Fifth-place match
Match 4: Loser Match 2 v. Loser Match 3 – December 17

Match 5: CONMEBOL champions v. Winners of Match 3 – December 17
Match 6: Winners Match 2 v. Liverpool – December 18

Third-place match
Match 7: Loser Match 6 v. Loser Match 5 – December 21

Match 8: Winners Match 6 v. Winners Match 5 – December 21

Rooney lambasts MLS over domestic salaries

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It is quite clear Wayne Rooney is leaving Major League Soccer in December to head back to England.

Before he leaves for a player-coach role at Derby County, he’s hellbent on having his say. He is keen to air some grievances.

Like a free-spirited floor manager who is working out his notice before moving on, Rooney has once again taken a shot at MLS. This time he has hit out over salaries domestic players in the U.S. and Canada receive.

In an interview with ESPN, Rooney, 33, doubled down after his recent criticism of travel issues regarding charter flights not being available for all away trips.

“I feel that American players get underpaid,” Rooney said. “I feel they deserve to get more money to stay in line with football in the rest of the world and in terms of the American sports. I’m not saying it to benefit me, I obviously won’t be in the league next season. I think it’s only fair to those players who are putting in the same work as all have to earn the right to earn more money for doing it.”

Has Rooney got a point? He has, but it is a complex area to delve in to.

With more money set aside in recent seasons for Targeted Allocation Money (TAM), it is easier for MLS franchises to spend more money on overseas additions, and they often do that rather than use it on domestic players.

If you are a non-Designated Player in MLS, the maximum salary you can earn is $10,192-a-week. Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and others clearly don’t have to worry about their salary as DPs, but it is commendable that they are lending their voices to the cause. Rooney could just sit their and take his DP salary, but he’s not. So, he’s obviously seen something that needs to be addressed.

Do MLS players deserve to be paid higher? Of course. But it is still a growing league and is far away from the average salary in Europe’s top leagues. The average wage in MLS is around $7,000 per week, while in the Premier League it is around $70,000 per week.

With MLS expanding to new markets and attracting new interest from all over the globe, you’d expect the players who helped make the league what it is, the veteran U.S. and Canadian players, to be rewarded for their loyalty. But in the current system, it doesn’t work like that.

Why is Rooney speaking out now? The current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) runs out on Jan. 31, 2020 and there is talk of a strike unless more charter flights and freedom of movement between MLS teams is granted.

Given his profile, having Rooney lead the charge makes sense. Expect to hear a lot more about the MLS’ upcoming CBA talks with the MLS Players Association (MLSPA).