With just three weeks left in the MLS season, it is a bit of a surprise that we have yet to see a team clinch a playoff spot. With sixteen out of nineteen teams still in the running, the competitiveness in the next wave of matches will be intense. Pay close attention to the New York Red Bulls, Seattle Sounders, and Real Salt Lake as they attempt to punch their tickets to the postseason with a win this week.
In the Eastern Conference, the New York Red Bulls remain in first place with 52 points after 31 games played, while Sporting Kansas City, Houston Dynamo, Montreal Impact, and Chicago Fire make up the rest of the playoff zone with 48, 47, 46, and 43 points respectively. Despite being 10 points clear of the cutoff, the Red Bulls are a game ahead of Philadelphia Union, and as such they are not ensured a spot in the playoffs. Columbus Crew and New England Revolution are also fighting to clinch a spot in this year’s playoffs at 41 points, while Toronto FC and D.C. United trail far behind.
Things are even tighter in the Western Conference, where just 6 points separate leaders Real Salt Lake and 6th-placed San Jose Earthquakes. Real Salt Lake are in first with 51 points, ahead of Seattle Sounders FC on goal difference, but it is important to keep in mind that the Sounders have played just 29 games, two behind Salt Lake. Portland Timbers, LA Galaxy, and the Colorado Rapids make up places 3-5 with 49, 45, and 45 points respectively, while San Jose, Vancouver, and FC Dallas make up the final 3 teams still in the running to feature in the MLS Playoffs. Check out the full standings here.
New York Red Bulls vs. New England Revolution
You can rest assured that Red Bull Arena will be rocking on Saturday at 7pm ET, when the Revolution come to town to face the Red Bulls. Not only will it once again spark the I-95 rivalry, but this time the Red Bulls will be fighting for a chance to punch their ticket to the MLS postseason. The odds are in New York’s favor, as the Revolution have not won a game at Red Bull Arena in six years. The New York Red Bulls are on a recent hot-streak, having not lost a match in their last five fixtures. It is also worth noting that the Red Bulls lead the entire league with a total of 52 points, and will certainly be looking to strengthen their position as the league’s best team.
Real Salt Lake vs. FC Dallas
Tied for first place in the Western Conference with 51 points, Real Salt Lake will come into this game hungry to stand alone at the top of the standings and put themselves in prime position for the Supporters Shield. On the other hand, FC Dallas will look to keep their playoff hopes alive; they currently stand in 8th place in the West, five points behind the Rapids for the last and final playoff spot. The club from Dallas will try to stop their skid of three consecutive games lost, which may prove to be a struggle for a team that is 2-8-5 on the road. In the two games between these teams this season we have seen each club come away with a win. It’ll be interesting to see who comes away with the tiebreaker tonight.
Colorado Rapids vs. Seattle Sounders FC
A Western Conference showdown lies ahead for MLS fans. The Colorado Rapids will play host to the traveling Seattle Sounders in a match that will no doubt be a nail-biter from start to finish. For the Rapids, they come into this match holding the fifth and final playoff spot in the West. They will look to give themselves a little breathing room in the standings as the 6th placed San Jose Earthquakes are poised to make a late playoff push. They’ll attempt to bounce back from a 1-0 loss at the hands of the Portland Timbers.
On the opposing side of the pitch will be the mighty Sounders. The club from Seattle will try to break their tie with Real Salt Lake atop the Western Conference standings, clinch a playoff spot, and put themselves in a position to make a run for the Supporters Shield. The previous two match-ups between these teams this season saw a narrow Seattle victory on April 20 and 1-1 draw on July 20; it should be an interesting one out at Dick’s Sporting Good Park.
Unfortunately, the international break next week will conflict with the remainder of the MLS season as we enter the final stretch of World Cup qualifying. As a result, many crucial players will be missing from squads that are still pushing for a spot in the postseason playoffs, and important matches such as Sounders vs Timbers will have to be played without them. But USMNT coach Jürgen Klinsmann expressed no regret for calling up players from these clubs, telling the media last Tuesday:
“I see the MLS schedule, but it makes no difference to us. This is World Cup qualifiers. We will call up who we need to.”