MLS Weekend Preview
Four Races to Monitor on Final Day of MLS Season
October 21, 2016
THE FINAL GAMES of the 2016 Major League Soccer regular season will take place on Sunday with all games kicking off at 4pm ET. Like last year, there is a lot to play for—including the Supporters’ Shield and the Golden Boot award. The biggest scramble, however, will be in the Western Conference as four teams fight for three playoff spots.
Here's a guide to the big four races on Sunday as well as predictions and playoff outlooks.
It all comes down to FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids. Dallas has a two-point edge over Colorado but a draw on the final day should be enough for the Shield unless Colorado can win by four in its final game.
FC Dallas is out west to take on the Los Angeles Galaxy which has nothing to play for as it can do no better or worse than third place in the conference. Still, it will be a tough task for Oscar Pareja’s team given that it played a midweek CONCACAF Champions League match and the Galaxy remain a very difficult opponent at the Stubhub Center.
Dallas is coming off the disastrous news that star midfielder Mauro Diaz tore his Achilles tendon last weekend in a thrilling 2-1 win over Seattle and will be out until 2017. Combined with the summer departure of Fabian Castillo, Dallas has lost a huge amount of its firepower heading into the playoffs. Central midfielder Kellyn Acosta was forced out of the game against Seattle in the first half. He should play against the Galaxy but how fit will he be?
Meanwhile, Colorado hosts the woeful Houston Dynamo which has been in last place most of this season and will finish way outside the playoffs under interim head coach Wade Barrett. This will easily be the most high-pressure game for Pablo Mastroeni this season and how his team will respond is an open question.
Both Colorado and Dallas have a ton to play for and it will be close. Dallas probably needs just a draw but the team is undermanned. Colorado has a much more favorable schedule on the final day.
Eastern Conference Bye
The New York Red Bulls essentially won the Eastern Conference regular season title last weekend by defeating Columbus. But the second spot in the East is still up for grabs between New York City FC and Toronto FC—both of which desperately want a bye for the first round of the playoffs. As of now, NYCFC has a one-point lead on Toronto but Toronto will win a tiebreaker based on a superior goal differential. (That 7-0 loss to the Red Bulls is turning out to have been very costly to NYCFC).
Both teams have very winnable games on Sunday against teams already eliminated from the playoffs. NYCFC hosts Columbus while Toronto hosts the last-place Chicago Fire, which is coming off an upset win over New England.
While both NYCFC and Toronto are favored, both are limping into the final week. Toronto has not won in five games (four draws and one loss), but Sebastian Giovinco returned to the team last week in a 2-2 draw against Montreal and combined with Jozy Altidore, the Toronto attack should be too much for Chicago to handle.
But what to make of NYCFC? Patrick Viera’s team has surpassed expectations this year but is still susceptible to absolutely terrible performances. Last weekend, in an important game against a surging D.C. United squad, NYCFC looked particularly poor in the first half of a 3-1 loss. While Columbus has had a bad year, it still has speed and talent that could be difficult for New York City FC’s defense.
Final Western Conference Spot
The best race on the day comes down to the sixth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Defending champion Portland is even on 44 points with sixth place Sporting Kansas City but SKC has the edge on a one-goal differential tiebreaker. But the competition also involves fourth place Real Salt Lake (46 points) and fifth place Seattle (45 points) which will face each other in front of a huge crowd at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. In theory, four teams are chasing three spots and any of these teams can be eliminated.
For Portland, it most likely requires a result on the road. That has been the team’s downfall and it is currently winless away from home this season. A draw will likely not be enough since it is chasing a Kansas City team that has a huge scheduling advantage going against San Jose at home on Sunday. But if Portland is going to win on the road, Vancouver offers the best chance as it hasn’t won in its last five home games.
A Portland road win and Sporting Kansas City at home could make for a wild finish as fourth place Real Salt Lake would then have its postseason chances jeopardized. Jeff Cassar’s team has played terrible soccer down the stretch and is winless in six games. Now heading into Seattle, it is the decided underdog.
These scenarios should make everything fun and unpredictable for neutral fans who like drama.
The Golden Boot
The final race to follow on Sunday doesn’t involve teams but rather two players going for the league's Golden Boot award for the leading scorer. The winner of this race could then have a strong argument to win the MVP trophy.
Right now, Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips holds the edge at 23 goals, one ahead of NYCFC striker David Villa.
Wright-Phillips has been the league’s best striker from the run of play this year and has dominated the stretch. He has 14 goals in his last 12 games and none of this 23 goals have come from the penalty spot (Villla has scored five from the spot).
Now Villa has been no slouch with nine goals in his last five games, but the edge here has to go to Wright-Phillips. If the Red Bulls earn a penalty against Philadelphia on Sunday, Sacha Kljestan might let Wright-Phillips take it to boost his teammate.
Colorado Rapids 2-0 Houston Dynamo
Los Angeles Galaxy 1-1 FC Dallas
New England Revolution 0-2 Montreal Impact
New York City FC 2-2 Columbus Crew SC
Orlando City SC 1-1 DC United
Philadelphia Union 1-3 New York Red Bulls
Seattle Sounders 3-0 Real Salt Lake
Sporting Kansas City 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes
Toronto FC 3-0 Chicago Fire
Vancouver Whitecaps 1-1 Portland Timbers
Here is my predicted finish for both conferences.
1. New York Red Bulls
2. Toronto FC
3. New York City FC
4. Montreal Impact
5. D.C. United
6. Philadelphia Union
1. FC Dallas
2. Colorado Rapids
3. Los Angeles Galaxy
4. Seattle Sounders
5. Sporting Kansas City
6. Real Salt Lake