The race to the MLS Playoffs 2017 is heating up fast in the Western Conference. What had been a clear cut group of six in the west three weeks ago, has become a picture of eight. The best part now is there are two races within the conference. Who said you needed promotion and relegation to keep the end of the season entertaining?
MLS Playoffs 2017: Western Conference Race Heating Up
Race To The Top
The race for the top four spots, or better described as a home playoff game guaranteed, truly has about five of the eight teams vying for them. You have resurgent Vancouver now in first place, Portland in second and Seattle now in third. Sporting KC follow them in fourth, and Houston in fifth.
Houston for a second looked to go top of the Western Conference after a dominating 3-0 win at home against the Earthquakes, since then they’ve only picked up one point, including an embarrassing loss at home to the Colorado Rapids. With their remaining schedule, it’s only going to get more difficult. Their best chance to pick up points before their final three matches will be against the LA Galaxy and Minnesota United. After that they have to play Sporting KC twice in four days and then end with a trip to a playoff desperate Chicago.
My bet frankly, is not on Houston to interrupt the top four. You could guarantee they pick up six points (maybe) against LA and Minnesota. But that’s not always guaranteed at this point in the year. What seems more likely is that there is significant movement within the top four, with Houston staying put in the fifth spot.
Here is the remaining run in for those four teams:
- Portland Timbers: RSL (A), ORL, SJ (A), DC, VAN
- Seattle Sounders: FCD (A), RSL (A), VAN, PHI (A), FCD, COL
- Vancouver Whitecaps: CLB, COL, SEA (A), SKC (A), NYRB (A), SJ, POR (A)
- Sporting KC: NER, NYRB (USOC), LA, VAN, MIN (A), HOU (A), HOU, RSL (A)
Vancouver has a few away games but none are really jammed together making travel difficult. They’ve http://lastwordonsoccer.com/category/sounders/been on a tear recently and it’s really hard to see them not finishing in the top two at this point. Portland has a pretty nice run in, but not as many opportunities to pick up points compared to Vancouver and Sporting KC
Seattle is the intriguing one here. I think they could even end up fourth with the injury to Jordan Morris causing issues. They haven’t been creating clear cut chances, and Nico Lodeiro just doesn’t have as much influence when he’s placed out wide. It would all be glossed over if they could have a striker that was scoring goals consistently, but they don’t. And their best striker is likely out through the month of October thanks to his hamstring injury. So that leaves some room for Sporting KC to come in behind them.
Sporting KC have some fixture congestion though. They start a 3 match in 8 day run, including the US Open Cup Final smack in the middle of it. Thankfully for them, their bookend opponents are pretty weak. At the moment, they only have two teams in playoff positions on their remaining schedule: Vancouver and Houston. That bodes well for them, including having four of their final seven at home.
It will be intriguing to see how this all plays out with the top four, but I still think it’s pretty set that this will be the top four, it’s just a matter of where the placement goes.
Battle at the Bottom
The bottom of the Western Conference has given life to some teams below the red line, especially the massive drop of FC Dallas. When FC Dallas and Sporting KC faced off in their US Open Cup Quarterfinal on July 11th, fivethirtyeight.com had them with a 96% of making the postseason, including a 65% probability of getting a top two spot in the Western Conference.
Now they’re down to just a 73% probability of making the postseason. Still good, but that doesn’t highlight the fact that they’ve only picked up six points in nine matches since that night in Kansas City. Throw in a goal differential over those 9 matches of -11, it doesn’t look good for them.
Houston as we mentioned above is in fifth, and even though they haven’t been convincing either lately, they’re still in good enough shape that they should make the postseason. The most intriguing team here is the San Jose Earthquakes. Real Salt Lake are right below them, but have played an extra game than the ‘Quakes. It would take a significant winning streak, combined with the continued free-fall of an FC Dallas or Houston for RSL to get into the postseason. But San Jose are still on the cusp.
Four of San Jose’s final six games are at home, where they’ve been really good this year. They’ve only lost one match at the place they dub ‘Avaya-castle,” as it has been a fortress for them. Take into account their horrific road form under Chris Leitch, they should be thankful they have as many home games remaining. Here is a look at the run in for all four of these “bottom four” in current standing order:
- Houston Dynamo: SJ (A), NYCFC (A), LA, MIN, SKC, SKC (A), CHI
- FC Dallas: SEA, MIN (A), COL, ORL (A), COL (A), SEA (A), LA
- San Jose Earthquakes: HOU, DC (A), CHI, POR, VAN (A), MIN
- Real Salt Lake: POR, SEA, LA (A), COL (A), SKC
Let’s be real here, it would take a miracle for one of the bottom two teams to jump into the playoffs. But the longer FC Dallas keeps up with the whole free-fall thing they’ve been experiencing, the longer teams like San Jose stay alive.
So what do you guys think? How does it shake out? Respond in the comments below and let us know!