Charlotte, RBNY, Montreal, SKC, and Minnesota all win to reshape playoff races
October 09, 2023
THE WEEKEND in MLS was a pivotal time and we now know most of what is on the line for Decision Day on October 21 after the international window. While the top seeds are clinched, the play-in game races are wide open in both conferences while nothing is settled in the west.
Over this past weekend, we saw the Galaxy, Austin FC, DC United, and Inter Miami suffer eliminations.
We also saw Nashville secure the playoffs and not have to go into the play-in game.
Anyway, here are some thoughts on it all.
Farewell Inter Miami
Inter Miami will not make the playoffs after its 1-0 loss to Cincinnati on Saturday. It seemed as if when Messi arrived that no one could or would beat them. Even without Messi, there were some big high moments.
But in the end, it was just too much. Messi’s injury was huge, but the team just didn’t have the defense to get it done. Also, the team was completely worn down. They had too many games too quickly. The emotional tole of the Leagues Cup triumph and the Open Cup final was too much to then add into league games.
Gracias por el apoyo de siempre ???????? pic.twitter.com/RMxqdnNYY9— Inter Miami CF (@InterMiamiCF) October 8, 2023
Despite all that, this season was an enormous success for Inter Miami since the arrival of Messi, Tata Martino, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, and the impressive young core behind them. Together, they flexed their muscles and will enter 2024 as the favorites as some defensive upgrades along with a preseason should put Miami in a great position.
The Leagues Cup put them into the Concacaf Cup and the International Cup with South American teams. Just getting there was a huge priority.
With two games remaining, Miami will now try to play the spoiler in the Eastern Conference with two games against a Charlotte team pushing for the playoffs.
RBNY, Charlotte, and Montreal get hot
Two weeks ago, the bottom half of the Eastern Conference was a ugly spectacle of teams who refused to win and played as if they didn’t want to go to the playoffs.
Now over the past two games, Montreal, Charlotte, and the Red Bulls are playing like world beaters are this has made the playoff race impossible to read. Even the Chicago Fire, who lost to Charlotte 2-0 over the weekend, won two games before that and are in the reach of the playoffs.
Two weeks ago, NYCFC was playing the only decent soccer among the teams in this race, but now after an ugly 2-0 loss to DC United, they can only max out at 41 points. That means they need to pound the Fire in their last game while hoping Charlotte, the Red Bulls, and Montreal fail to win. That seems unlikely, but we are talking about MLS – one of the most unpredictable leagues in the world.
Here are some thoughts on these teams.
Montreal: Hernan Losada’s team saved their best performance of the season for Saturday night in a 4-1 pounding of the Portland Timbers. The Timbers looked like a team that was in its second straight road game and had to fly across the continent to play this game. The travel at this point of the season does play a factor and Portland was completely off. Montreal, meanwhile, was desperate and took advantage.
In their 4-1 victory over Portland tonight, @cfmontreal had four different goal scorers aged 24 or younger for the first time in club history - Sunusi Ibrahim, Kwadwo Opoku, Mathieu Choinière, and Mason Toye. pic.twitter.com/cXs7IIqtCI— MLS Communications (@MLS_PR) October 8, 2023
The problem, of course, is that Montreal now must play its final game of the season on the road against a good Columbus team that is strong at home. Montreal is in a tough spot, but again, this is MLS and you can’t predict a Columbus win (after Columbus is prone to conceding late goals).
The New York Red Bulls: The Red Bulls defeated Toronto 3-0 which is surprising because it was expected. Typically, the MetroBulls have always found a way to choke away results when they should. It’s part of their identity dating back to 1996. RBNY has been dealt a favorable hand over the past two games (a clinched Cincinnati team that wasn’t focused, and a horrific Toronto team that is amid the worst half season in league history). To their credit, RBNY handled it very well.
But now they have to go on the road against Nashville and win? Yeah, Nashville has clinched the seven spot and cannot move up or down on Decision Day and after Saturday’s 0-0 draw against Philadelphia, they haven’t scored in three games. But a Red Bull win would be one of the team’s best regular season wins of all time if it can pull it off.
The good news for RBNY is that they’re getting great performances from players like Frankie Amaya, Luquinas, Elias Manoel, and John Tolkin. But it remains to be seen if they have the ability to pull off a win here.
Finally, there is Charlotte. Charlotte has pulled off two wins in a row (Toronto, and lately away Chicago) and now has two games against Inter Miami. It’s not going to be easy, even with Inter Miami out. Miami is going to want to end the season strong. The good news for Charlotte is that they’re getting very good production out of their forwards and they’re scoring good goals. Inter Miami’s defense is still not great. Still, for Charlotte to win two games against Inter Miami seems unlikely. Especially with Karol Swiderski, Jere Uronen, and Bill Tuiloma away on international duty in Europe. Those players will all miss the first game against Miami away. Then they’ll be only just arriving for the second game.
As for Chicago and NYCFC, these two teams could make things very difficult in the East for the others if one of them manages to win. If Chicago wins, they’re probably going to get in. It’s hard to see both Montreal and the Red Bulls winning. NYCFC, meanwhile, faded just when it seemed as if they were going to coast into the playoffs.
Trying to read the tea leaves and make a prediction (which is pointless in this league), I think Chicago wins, RBNY draw, Charlotte get three points from two games, and Montreal lose to Columbus. That would put Chicago hosting Charlotte in the play-in game.
Farwell Wayne Rooney
DC United did win the Wooden Spoon this year but also did not make the playoffs. They finished their season with a 2-0 win over NYCFC. Following the game, Wayne Rooney announced his departure from the club as its head coach.
I believe that Rooney really likes DC United and being part of the organization. But it never seemed like he was going to be here long-term since his family never moved stateside with him. He was always in the mix for just about every Championship job opening the past two years too.
D.C. United and Head Coach Wayne Rooney have mutually agreed to part ways.https://t.co/ykE3Qp2FDb— D.C. United (@dcunited) October 8, 2023
DC United still needs a lot of work. Christian Benteke made this team seem better than they really were. Whether or not they get there will come down to the players they add and the new coach they hire. It could go either way.
On another note, it was hard not to be impressed with DC United’s 16-year-old central defender Matai Akinmboni in this game. He’s still a little raw, but he could have a big upside.
Atlanta draws Columbus
Atlanta played Columbus to a 1-1 draw on Saturday. Both teams have a lot of talent on paper but come up short in different ways. Atlanta frequently doesn’t get the performances it should get. Columbus frequently doesn’t get the results it should get.
This game reflected this. Columbus outplayed Atlanta badly in this game but they couldn’t find a second goal to put it away. Then they let the guard down and, as has been the case with them, surrender a late goal to squander two points they should have earned. In this case, it was defending a set piece that Miles Robinson was able convert for a late equalizer.
CAN. YOU. BELIEVE. IT. pic.twitter.com/jEC3XNjEkA— x - Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) October 8, 2023
When you look ahead into the playoffs, Columbus is in better shape because when the intensity of the games increases, the finishing should be better. It’s harder for Atlanta to go from a team that doesn’t perform well in tough games to a team that does.
Orlando downs New England
Orlando sank New England 3-2 in a game that wasn’t that close. Orlando is on a torrid run into the playoffs and will finish second behind Cincinnati. Duncan McGuire opened the scoring with his 11th goal of the season and 13 goals in all competitions. Now he will head to the U.S. U-23 camp where he could/should take a big role there to be the guy who finishes off chances.
The lurking issue behind Orlando is that Oscar Pareja is not under contract beyond this year. The team has made so much progress under him that it needs to be a priority for ownership to get it done. The problem is that there are a lot of job openings throughout the league and more on the way. Pareja holds all the cards for a big payday.
One of those teams with an opening is the New England Revolution. This team is limping badly heading into the playoffs and they are coming up way short in every game they play against one of the playoff teams. Unless things change, it could be a quick out for them in the postseason.
Farewell LA Galaxy, Hello Minnesota
The Galaxy had their backs against the wall on Saturday and crumbled with a humiliating 5-2 loss away to Minnesota. Greg Vanney drew the playoffs as the line in the sand earlier in the season, and now he must answer tough questions, which cannot be explained simply by injuries. This comes as a season when the club fired its president, Chris Klein. It’s hard to think of an organization during a time of change where it would look at the head coach and be happy with everything.
I think the Galaxy are going to do what they typically do, spend a lot of money to get the fan base excited and earn headlines. But recently, this has only led to disappointment. It’s way too early to say how it will work out this time.
As for Minnesota, this was an epic new manager bounce. Seven games in a row without a win, fire Adrian Heath, and then get a blow out win behind four goals from Teemu Pukki. These things are typically temporary, but Minnesota has a chance to get into the postseason with an away win over Sporting KC next week. So, how temporary is this bounce?
FC Dallas drawing their way
FC Dallas got a 57th minute goal from Jadar Obrian to force a 1-1 draw against San Jose after Jeremey Ebobisse scored in the third minute. For Ebobisse, it was his 10th of the season after scoring 17 goals last year. For Dallas, it was their fourth draw in a row.
For Dallas, they have two games remaining and the first is against a bad Colorado team and the second is against a crumbling Galaxy. Dallas might not be finding wins, but the odds are they’ll find a way to win one of these two games. That should be enough to get them in. Two wins would probably put them into the playoffs and past the play-in game.
FC Dallas could be a tough out in the playoffs, there is still a lot of talent on the team, they play hard, and can make good plays. This was an excellent pass from Jesus Ferreira on the goal. The question is whether they can raise their level again.
Really nice goal for Dallas. Minnesota and SKC winning make this game a lot more important. Dallas has San Jose on the ropes. I’m watching this one now pic.twitter.com/Mp4ulmN3RB— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) October 8, 2023
West’s playoff races
Minnesota and Sporting Kansas City are even on 41 points, one point behind Dallas, and two points behind San Jose and Portland who are at 43 points.
This is going to be very interesting because Sporting hosts Minnesota on Decision Day, and if that game produces a winner, it’s going to put the heat on someone. Sporting KC was handed a huge lifeline on Saturday against RSL, who were reduced to 10 players in just the third minute when Justen Glad was sent off. On the ensuing free kick, RSL's wall turned to Swiss Cheese. It was a complete gift that now sends them into the final game at home with a chance to qualify for the play-in game with a win.
San Jose hosts Austin FC in the final game of the season. Austin is eliminated and has the next two weeks to stew and think about what they’re going to do in the offseason. San Jose was given a solid hand, just like Dallas who has two games remaining against eliminated teams.
The deciding factor could be Portland, which has a tough assignment against Houston on Decision Day. Houston is playing for a top four finish and the right to host a second-round game (as well as home field advantage in the first round). If Portland only eeks out a draw, they will finish with a -10 goal differential. That makes them very vulnerable to a Minnesota/Sporting winner.
Portland really should have done a better job away against Montreal.
Elsewhere in the West
It might be time to get back onto the LAFC bandwagon. This team trounced Austin in Texas and for the first time in months played like the team that was the best in the league in 2022. Denis Bouanga looked like he did at the start of the season. A second-place finish in the West would make LAFC a tough out.
I remain skeptical of St. Louis in the playoffs.
Houston can and should be a tough out in the playoffs and they are beyond their Open Cup hangover after a 5-1 beatdown of Colorado.
Finally, Vancouver went to Seattle and came away with a 0-0 draw despite playing without Andres Cubas. Vancouver is an improved team, but needs to be at 100% to be a threat in the playoffs. Seattle is on one of the most unconvincing seven-game unbeaten runs you will find. It is misleading. They have only one three times, and those wins were against the worst of the West in Austin, the Galaxy, and Colorado. The team’s offense is sputtering, and the core is older these days. Perhaps they can turn back the clock in the postseason, but it gets harder and harder every year. The 2022 Concacaf Champions League seems like so long ago.