It’s the penultimate weekend of MLS regular season, and the playoff picture is nowhere near being completed, especially in the Western Conference. With two Sundays to go, four teams remain in the hunt for the final spot in the East. In the West, the fifth, sixth and seventh spots are yet to be decided.
Here’s a quick preview of each match being played this Sunday:
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Seattle Sounders: Will the San Jose Earthquakes’ miraculous turnaround under Matias Almeyda go the next level with the clinching of a playoff spot? Only a point away from surpassing the red line, San Jose are statistically forced to win against a playoff-destined Seattle Sounders, who look to move as high as second in the Western Conference with two games to play, on Sunday if they want to make an already laudable reconfiguration into a generational one. With the return of Almeyda, Chris Wondolowski and Cristian Espinoza, the Quakes’ chances will be as good as they’ll get at this point of the season: a coin flip.
New England Revolution vs. NYCFC: NYCFC’s visit to Gillette Stadium is the Eastern Conference’s biggest game of the weekend. Domenec Torrent’s side are in a comfortable position – six points clear of second place Philadelphia Union. The New England Revolution, however, are a win away from clinching a playoff berth. Then again, with Bruce Arena leading the Revs, one can assume that the home team will sneak into the postseason.
Sporting Kansas City vs. Portland Timbers: After a rocky start to their season, the Portland Timbers are in the driver’s seat to make the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Timbers’ followers, clinching playoffs is not the topic of interests. After six years, Diego Valeri is reportedly playing his final days in Rose City, as contract talks between both parties have hit a roadblocks. The question now becomes: will Valeri’s uncertain future affect the Timbers’ on the field starting this Sunday against an eliminated Sporting KC?
Chicago Fire vs. Toronto FC: After 13 years, countless goals and memories, the Chicago Fire say goodbye to Bridgeview, Illinois. The Fire, who are relocating to Soldier Field next season in the hopes of drawing interest from proper Chicago’s large soccer fanbase, are not entirely out of the playoff race either. With a loss from the Revs and win at home, Veljko Paunovic and company would be only a point removed from New England. Chicago’s latest result – a scoreless draw against a poor Cincinnati – doesn’t give the impression that they’ll be able to edge a balanced Toronto, who are in the postseason yet again.
Real Salt Lake vs. Houston Dynamo: Real Salt Lake continue to produce, despite their internal turmoil. On Friday, the club parted ways with general manager Craig Waibel in the wake of a lawsuit raised by former coach Mike Petke, who made a reference that Waibel was critical of owner Dell Loy Hansen and said he was resigning from his position at the end of the season. Recent history indicates the team will respond positively to such self-inflicted roadblocks. But with only a foot across the red line, it will be interesting to see how they show up against a crumbling Houston Dynamo.
Colorado Rapids vs. FC Dallas: Robin Fraser’s new-look Colorado Rapids aren’t out yet, but their playoff chances hang on by a thread, if that. On the other side, FC Dallas – a point above San Jose – look to win out and, as a result, sneak into the playoffs. They’ll have to do so against a new Rapids scheme in which attackers and defenders alike are scoring. No easy task for a Dallas team that has allowed five goals in their last three games.
FC Cincinnati vs. Orlando City: While Carlos Vela actively looks to break the league record for the most scored goals in a season, FC Cincinnati hopes not to be the team to allow the most goals in a single season. They’re one away from doing so. With Orlando City, who need to win out in order to have any last-minute chances to qualify, Ron Jans’ side’s probabilities are slim.
Montreal Impact vs. Atlanta United: Montreal Impact are one of the four teams fighting for a spot in the Eastern Conference’s big party. With midweek Canadian Championship celebrations still fresh, the Impact may have plenty of inspiration to pick up the reaming six points (or not). Jose Martinez-less Atlanta United, on the other hand, look to bounce back from a crushing loss to NYCFC that cost them the second spot in the East.
Columbus Crew vs. Philadelphia Union: Fresh off a win against the Quakes, Jim Curtin and company look to separate themselves from Atlanta United, and seal second place in the East. The Crew, who have proven to be a threat time and time again this season, will put up a fight.
Minnesota United vs. LAFC: With a Supporters’ Shield to point towards, LAFC have every reason to take things slow until the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. That said, given that Vela is one goal away from tying Martinez’s league record, though, the Black-and-Gold will likely continue moving forward at full speed until the Mexican writes his name in the record book. If that holds true, LAFC and second place Minnesota United will be a must-watch.
New York Red Bulls vs. D.C. United: A rivalry with two games left in the regular season is never a bad thing, especially when both teams are looking to climb the standings before the playoffs. To add to a thick plot, both teams are already in good form, and only a point apart in the Eastern Conference standings.
LA Galaxy vs. Vancouver Whitecaps: Just a couple of months ago, the LA Galaxy were in serious trouble of making the playoffs. But with the improvement of their backline and the non-stop dominating play from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Galaxy now find themselves playoff bound. It’s the type of transformation the Whitecaps were looking for but were never able to accomplish in Marc Dos Santos’ first year at the helm. As expected, the home side will look to exploit that and aim for the West’s second spot.
And the East looks set for a blockbuster run into the playoffs, which begin their new structure this Fall. Only the No. 1 seeds get a bye, and two-legged affairs are joyfully a thing of the past.
As it stands, the playoffs may hinge on the massive advantage of a postage stamp pitch.
New York City FC
NYCFC has taken advantage of its schedule, winning five-straight matches including Saturday’s defeat of New England to climb into first place in the East.
Domenec Torrent now has a better points-per-match than Patrick Vieira’s strong run in charge, and NYCFC has a two-point lead on Philadelphia with a match-in-hand.
NYCFC has six matches left, and there isn’t a simple one in the bunch. Toronto, San Jose, and Atlanta come to Yankee Stadium, while the side travels to Dallas, New England, and Philly.
(A prolonged New York Yankees playoff run is going to wreak havoc on the grass, by the way, as NYCFC faces possible home games on Oct. 23-24 or Oct. 29-30).
The Union took advantage of the international break to take on Pumas of Liga MX, and their second choice team won 3-0.
Jim Curtin’s rise up the table is one of the best stories in the league, the coach rewarding Philly for its trust in him (and understanding that it hadn’t given him a full deck).
Four of five matches left on the docket are brutal, though. There are visits from LAFC and NYCFC, and trip to the Red Bulls and San Jose. If Philly holds out and finishes first, there’s no doubting their acumen for a postseason run.
Atlanta is five points back of NYCFC, but is on the same amount of matches. Given their schedule, Frank De Boer‘s men may well take the No. 1 see if they can take three points from NYCFC on Sept. 25.
The Black-and-Red only have four matches left. Wayne Rooney and Co. visit a desperate Portland next, and they’ve been pretty good about getting results away from home; DC’s nine wins/draws away trail only LAFC and NYCFC.
A Sept. 29 visit to the Red Bulls is DC’s only remaining chance to take points off a positioning rival. Even if they do that, Toronto’s slate means DC may fall out of a first round home playoff spot.
New York Red Bulls
Chris Armas’ team has a brutal road to the postseason. A point back of fourth with a match-in-hand, their standing could take a dive over the next two matches.
RBNY has consecutive matches across the country with Portland and Seattle, then visits from Philly and DC before finishing in Quebec against a Montreal side hopeful of chasing down the pack.
The keys are in their hands, but the Red Bulls have to drive across a mine field. This could end in any number of ways.
USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter did the Reds a solid by allowing Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Omar Gonzalez to stay for a pivotal two-match stretch. Greg Vanney got a near Man of the Match performance from Bradley and solid day from Gonzalez while Altidore rested up for NYCFC in a 5-1 drubbing of FC Cincinnati.
Both TFC and NYCFC will go into Wednesday’s game one little rest.
The Reds two brutal matches — away to NYCFC and LAFC — and three manageable outings against Colorado, Columbus, and Chicago. Beating NYCFC on Wednesday would seem to ensure a place in the Top Four, and a home game in Round 1.
New England‘s next game is critical, a visit to Orlando City. A draw or Revs win stings the Lions’ hopes for a late season push for the playoffs.
Montreal is dangerous on its day but tumultuous and faces a two-legged Canadian Championship with TFC for a place in the CONCACAF Champions League. It might be reasonable to prioritize that.
Orlando City has two points from its last four but also drew LAFC 2-2 this weekend. A win over New England on Saturday leads into a run-in of Houston, Cincinnati, and Chicago.
Chicago needs to win out and get help: Visits from Dallas and Toronto make this very difficult, though a finish against Orlando on Oct. 6 could be a show-stopper.
CHESTER, Pa. (AP) Kacper Przybylko and Sergio Santos assisted each other on late goals as the Philadelphia Union beat Atlanta United 3-1 Saturday night to move into first place in the Eastern Conference.
The Union (15-8-6) and Atlanta United (15-10-3) entered the game tied in points atop the conference standings. Atlanta had its four game winning streak snapped.
Przybylko gave Philadelphia a 2-1 lead in the 86th minute, finishing a cross from Santos with a hard shot that beat goalkeeper Brad Guzan inside the near post.
Santos punched home a cross by Przybylko in the 88th minute, capping the scoring.
Josef Martinez gave Atlanta the lead in the second minute of first half stoppage time. He scored in his 13th straight game, extending his MLS record. Martinez got open on a give-and-go with Darlington Nagbe, slipping past the onrushing goalkeeper and tapping it into the empty net.
The Union’s Brenden Aaronson tied it at 1 in the 61st minute, scoring on an over-the-top pass by Haris Medunjanin.
Przybylko stars again as Union hammer dire DCU (video)
Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Brenden Aaronson, who helped set up Przybylko’s goal, had the favor returned in the 16th minute. Przybylko slipped the ball down the middle, Aaronson made the turn and then fired from the top of the box for his second goal.
DC United (10-10-9) didn’t have a shot in the first half. Luciano Acosta bulled his way through the defense for his sixth goal in the 56th minute. United turned the pressure up in the second half with four shots on target but remained in fifth place in the Eastern Conference.