Who’s Next? NYCFC’s Playoff Rivals

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 23: Defender Jonathan Campbell (L) #16 of Chicago Fire and midfielder Jack Harrison #11 of New York City FC vie for the ball during the match at Yankee Stadium on September 23, 2016 in New York City. New York City FC defeats Chicago Fire 4-1 and clinches their first franchise playoff birth. (Photo by Michael Stewart/Getty Images)

Now that New York City FC have made the playoffs, you would think I’d stop worrying, right?

You would be wrong.

Because now I’m worrying about who NYCFC’s playoff rivals are likely to be and what the team’s chances are for success.

As I see it, this has three parts. First, who actually are NYCFC’s playoff rivals? Second, how might NYCFC do against them? And third, what has to happen in the last two gameweeks to line NYCFC up with the right sucker? I mean, opponent.

Who Might NYCFC Play?

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think that the six teams currently above the redline in the East will still be there after October 23rd. Yes, the Philadelphia Union could lose both their games and the New England Revolution could win both of theirs. But you have to draw the line somewhere. And I draw it at New England.

So if the season ends with the standings as they are right now, NYCFC would have a first round bye, and play the winner of either Toronto FC v. Philadelphia Union, or the Impact de Montreal v. D.C. United.

Curiously, the two times Montreal and D.C. met this year, they drew, but I’m gonna give the edge to Montreal since they’re at home and they’ll have the crowd.

So that would put Montreal at Yankee Stadium for Halloween, right? Not so fast, Matt Busby. Because I also see Toronto beating Philadelphia when the Union head up to BMO (where it’ll be around 35° on game night) – and since RBNY are top of the Eastern table, they’d host the lowest remaining seed – which would be of course, Montreal.

So that’s scenario 1 involving NYCFC’s playoff rivals – NYCFC would host Toronto.

But I don’t really think the season will end with the current standings. Because I think NYCFC will beat DC United next week, that the New York Red Bulls will beat the Columbus Crew, that Philadelphia will beat Orlando City SC (everyone in Chester, Pennsylvania can exhale now), and that Montreal will draw with Toronto FC (neither team will want to risk an injury and will play it safe).

Which gives you this Eastern Conference table: RBNY, NYCFC, TFC, PHL, MON, DC.

So what would the playoffs look like if the season ended that way?

Well for starters it would mean that Philadelphia would host Montreal at Talen Energy Stadium – where it’s about a dozen degrees warmer on average than in Montreal.

During the season those teams drew both times they played in Pennsylvania, and the Union lost when they went north of the border. But again, I’m gonna go with the home team – a home team that’ll have a lot of scoring power going up against the team with the worst goal differential among NYCFC’s playoff rivals.

That win would send Philadelphia to Harrison, New Jersey, of course because, although I’ve been high on DC United lately, and although D.C. did beat Toronto in Toronto this season, I have a feeling that the return of Sebastian Giovinco and an in-form Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley will be too much for the team from Foggy Bottom to handle.

So again, NYCFC hosts Toronto.

But wait, there’s still one more gameweek to consider.

Assuming I’ve guessed correctly thus far (and I concede that’s a massive assumption), let’s add the following results to the mix. Let’s say Montreal beat New England (who will have nothing to play for). And that NYCFC beat Columbus Crew (who will want to put an end to this disappointing season). And let’s assume D.C. will beat OCSC (Jason Kreis will use the season finale to experiment, while DC will have something to play for). Plus that TFC will beat Chicago Fire (because, well, Chicago). And the Union and the Red Bulls will draw (neither will want to risk injury in a match that could very easily get very chippy very quickly).

So what would the table look like if all that happened?

NYCFC, RBNY, TFC, MON, PHL, DC.

(And everyone in Harrison, New Jersey sharpens their pencils…)

If that happened, then, Toronto would host DC United, which I already said I thought Toronto would win. And Montreal would host Philadelphia, which I already said I thought Montreal would win.

But in this scenario, NYCFC as the top seed would host Montreal at Yankee Stadium.

So how did NYCFC do against Toronto and Montreal?

Well, not so badly, actually. In another essay I identified NYCFC’s uncanny ability to play well against teams from the Great White North. This season NYCFC drew TFC both home and away. Against Montreal they drew in the Bronx and beat them in La Belle Province. In fact, of NYCFC’s playoff rivals, Montreal and Toronto had the second and third worst records against the team this season.

But it could be a little bit better

So who among NYCFC’s playoff rivals does the team have the best record against this season? DC United. A win at Yankee Stadium and a win at RFK – and potentially even more points on October 16.

What would have to happen for NYCFC to face them in the playoffs?

The simple answer is for NYCFC to finish top of the table and for DC to beat Toronto in the knock out stage.

The more complicated answer is for NYCFC to lose to DC United on October 16, and for NYCFC’s playoff rivals to finish the season the way we described above. Then DC would host Philadelphia in the knockout round. And although Philadelphia beat DC twice this year, they drew them the only time the Union headed down to RFK Stadium. So there’s a chance D.C. could squeak out a win, which, combined with a Toronto home loss to Montreal in that knock-out stage (and remember, the Impact did beat Toronto at BMO this year), plus a partial eclipse of the sun, while every left handed person in Fresno stood on their right foot while whistling a Gershwin tune – then NYCFC could host the team they had the best record against.

Or how about this.

How about NYCFC just win its last two games, build up a head of steam heading into the playoffs, and I stop looking for things to worry about.

Yeah, good luck with that.

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