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