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How the West will be Won

A look at the surviving eight teams in the MLS Western Conference, their schedules and standings with two weeks to go.

MLS: Los Angeles Galaxy at Sporting KC Peter G. Aiken

There are three games left in the 2018 season for Sporting Kansas City. Their chase for a home playoff game is anything but assured. They could finish as high as first and as low as fifth. If they land in fifth, that would mean going on the road for the fifth straight year to play in the knockout round of the playoffs. While it’s arguable they’ve played well the last three weeks, they’ve gotten just two of a possible nine points and have put themselves in a tough spot.

With Sporting KC observing the FIFA International break this weekend, it seemed like a good time to look at the standings and the remaining games of the eight teams still alive in the MLS Western Conference playoff race.

First, a look at the table in the West with the teams that are still alive.

MLS Western Conference Standings 10/12/18

1 (x) FC Dallas 57 1.84 31 16 6 9 51 38 13
2 (x) Sporting Kansas City 53 1.71 31 15 8 8 56 38 18
3 (x) Los Angeles Football Club 53 1.71 31 15 8 8 61 46 15
4 Portland Timbers 51 1.59 32 14 9 9 50 46 4
5 Seattle Sounders FC 50 1.61 31 15 11 5 45 33 12
6 Real Salt Lake 46 1.44 32 13 12 7 51 54 -3
7 LA Galaxy 45 1.41 32 12 11 9 61 60 1
8 Vancouver Whitecaps FC 43 1.39 31 12 12 7 49 60 -11

As you can see, FC Dallas, Sporting KC and Los Angeles Football Club have all clinched playoff spots. SKC and LAFC have identical records and Sporting hold second because of the goal differential tiebreaker. It’s not the first tiebreaker, that’s wins, but that’s a good place to look next. Here are the full list of tiebreakers if teams are even on points courtesy of the MLS Rule Book.

  1. Total number of wins
  2. Goal Differential (GD)
  3. Goals For (GF)
  4. Fewest Disciplinary Points*
  5. Away Goals Differential
  6. Away Goal For
  7. Home Goals Differential
  8. Home Goal For
  9. Coin Toss (tie of two clubs) or Drawing of Lots (tie of three or more clubs)

*Disciplinary Points are complicated and haven’t been updated for 2018 yet, but SKC have committed more fouls (worth one disciplinary points each) than LAFC and FCD. However, SKC are third in the league in yellow cards (LAFC are first) and the best in the league in red cards.

The best way to get what you want when it comes to the playoffs is to gather more points and win more games and not to worry about the rest of the metrics. With that, let’s take a look at each of the eight teams and their remaining schedules.

FC Dallas - 1st Place

10/13 @ D.C. United

10/21 vs Sporting KC

10/28 @ Colorado Rapids

Possible Points: 66

Sporting KC - 2nd Place

10/17 @ Vancouver Whitecaps

10/21 @ FC Dallas

10/28 vs LAFC

Possible Points: 62

LAFC - 3rd Place

10/12 vs Houston Dynamo

10/21 vs Vancouver Whitecaps

10/28 @ Sporting KC

Possible Points: 62

Portland Timbers - 4th Place

10/21 vs Real Salt Lake

10/28 @ Vancouver Whitecaps

Possible Points: 57

Seattle Sounders - 5th Place

10/17 @ Orlando City SC

10/21 @ Houston Dynamo

10/28 vs San Jose Earthquakes

Possible Points: 59

Real Salt Lake - 6th Place

10/18 vs New England Revolution

10/28 @ Portland Timbers

Possible Points: 52

LA Galaxy - 7th Place

10/21 @ Minnesota United

10/28 vs Houston Dynamo

Possible Points: 51

Vancouver Whitecaps

10/17 vs Sporting KC

10/21 @ LAFC

10/28 vs Portland Timbers

Possible Points: 52

It Could be Rough

It’s arguable that SKC have the toughest of the remaining schedules in terms of quality of opponents and where the games are played with two of the three being on the road. The Timbers and the Whitecaps are the only other two teams playing opponents still alive in the playoff chase. Vancouver probably has the toughest schedule considering they play the 2nd, 3rd and 4th place teams and they are in need of almost all their remaining points to stay alive. That makes the game between KC and Vancouver next Wednesday pretty critical for both teams.

The Sounders likely have the easiest remaining path with all their games coming against teams eliminated from playoff contention. They could easily find themselves at home and could even squeak out a bye if everything falls right for them. That said, Dallas, KC and LAFC control their destiny. If they win out, they are in with byes. Obviously only two of the teams could do that with SKC playing them both. It’s possible none of the teams win out.

How Many Points are Needed?

When TBT’s own Bob Rusert looked at the schedule with 10 games to go, it looked like Sporting would need just 50 points to ensure a home playoff game (they already have 53). It looked like 57 points would be enough to ensure a second place finish and a bye. Five games into that stretch, teams were performing higher than expected and it was deemed 59 points would be needed to ensure a second place finish. That means they’d need to win two out of three.

The team’s official site updated the playoff math and have deemed the magic number to be five and that’s just to finish fourth. Of course that’s to guarantee a fourth place finish. It’s likely the teams around them will drop points. It’s also likely Sporting will drop points. They play two games on the road and they play the 1st, 3rd and 8th place teams. They are shockingly good on the road this year (6-6-3) but they still only win 40% of their road games.

Assuming they can win their home finale against LAFC (which is a huge assumption) they need to win at least one of their two road games too. The “easiest” road game is against Vancouver, which is a game that they will be without their highest paid player (Felipe Gutierrez), their leading goal scorer (Johnny Russell) as well as Krisztian Nemeth and Gianluca Busio.

I’m nervous. You should be nervous too. It could be a very rough stretch. Sporting KC have to get hot to make a run in the playoffs if recent history is any indication. The last two season the Seattle Sounders have gotten hot and made a run and as much as we’ve grown to hate the rave green warriors from the Pacific Northwest, they may do it again with this easy late schedule.