By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Oct 3, 2019) US Soccer Players - The playoffs are almost upon us. There is one matchday left in the regular season that will determine the final rankings of the bottom half of this table. Everything else will be left up to the postseason finish of most clubs.
If form holds, LAFC will host NYCFC for MLS Cup. Of course, form never seems to hold in this league. Upsets happen across MLS. The league's latest playoff revamp doesn't reward mediocrity at the same level. The higher-ranked teams have home field advantage. This changes the importance of the regular season for the better.
The downside is the schedule itself. The playoffs will pass by quickly. That means momentum and confidence will play a greater role. Regardless, if it's anything but an LAFC vs NYCFC finale, form did not hold.
1. Los Angeles Football Club (1 in September)
Unquestionably the best team in the league in 2019. The only thing left for this club to do is to remain the best team in the league come playoff time. LAFC still has a few things left to accomplish this regular season. Four goals gives the club the all-time goals scored record. As it stands, LAFC is just the second team ever to score more than 80 goals in one season. Also, Carlos Vela enters the finale with 31 goals, which tied the mark set by Josef Martinez just one year ago. Another goal and the single-season record is his.
2. New York City FC (2)
The club's season has been stellar, losing just six times this year. LAFC with four losses is the only other without double-digit losses this year. The club's reward is the top spot in the East, a bye into the conference semifinal match and home field to an extent. The club will play in Citi Field, the New York Mets' home, should the Yankees go deep into the MLB postseason, which is a possibility. That would be the only blemish thus far to an otherwise standout campaign.
3. Minnesota United (7)
Minnesota has done quite well to stay composed and difficult to play against down the stretch. Since July, Minnesota has lost just three times. None of those came at home. The club's 1-1 draw against LAFC showed its resiliency and how strong the team can play. Still, like most other clubs, Minnesota would be more comfortable and dangerous with a home playoff match. That means a result from the finale at Seattle is necessary. A dropped point or three and it tarnishes the club's fantastic season.
4. New England Revolution (5)
If it weren't for LAFC's Bob Bradley, Bruce Arena would be hands-down the MLS Coach of the Year. New England was abysmal in the early going, losing 6-1 and 5-0 in May before sacking Brad Friedel and bringing Arena aboard. New England has lost just twice since then and secured the seventh spot in the playoffs. New England has quite a bit of momentum coming into the postseason. Arena may not be done working his magic quite yet.
5. Philadelphia Union (4)
With two games left, the Union still had a shot at the top spot in the Eastern Conference. That went out the window with a loss against Columbus. Now, the Union needs to win for just the second time in its last five games to finish in 2nd-place. Either way, Philadelphia has exceeded expectations this year. A top-two finish would be its best ever.
6. Atlanta United (8)
Atlanta has cooled off a little over the last six matches, losing three of those games. Josef Martinez has missed the last two games, a 4-1 loss to NYCFC and a 1-1 draw with Montreal, due to injury but should be back come playoff time. Without him, Atlanta's chances of repeating are questionable. Even with Martinez, the club will have a tough go at it in the postseason. Atlanta has never looked as dominant this season as it had during its first two years of existence.
7. Seattle Sounders (9)
Seattle was hit-and-miss in September but needs more hitting and less missing now. Seattle did not score in three games, picking up one point. They turned things around, most recently with a 1-0 road win against a plucky San Jose on September 29. Seattle has the firepower to be an explosive side. They'll need to show it in the postseason. Jordan Morris scored in each of the club's wins last month, including the second-half stoppage-time winner against the Quakes, so perhaps he is the key to the team's attacking success.
8. LA Galaxy (6)
Which Galaxy team will show up in the playoffs? The one that won a must-win game in Real Salt Lake to clinch a playoff spot? Or the team that looked lost and confused against Vancouver? The Galaxy has been to the postseason many times before but not since 2016. The Galaxy will likely try to forge a new identity, but with a different cast of characters it's not likely to end up in a championship.
9. New York Red Bulls (14)
Like DC United, New York decided to come alive down the stretch. New York had six combined losses in July and August. They started September off with a loss, but New York had 2-0 wins over Portland and Philadelphia, teams still battling for the playoffs or playoff positioning. New York will finish at Montreal in one last attempt to try and gain some confidence ahead of the postseason. Daniel Royer scored in both wins last month and has been a steady contributor all season, so more of those antics are necessary.
10. DC United (16)
DC United seems like the least likely playoff participant simply because of its poor record down the stretch. The club turned it around in September, unofficially winning the Cascadia Cup. DC won at Portland and beat Seattle at home before a scoreless draw against rival New York to close out September. DC has not allowed a goal in its last four games. They'll close out the season against FC Cincinnati, which will give the team the perfect confidence-booster ahead of the postseason.
11. Real Salt Lake (11)
Much has changed for the club this year. RSL sacked coach Mike Petke and is now involved in an ugly lawsuit filed by the team's former leader. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando is retiring after the season as well. The team needs to muster up some of what Rimando helped the club accomplish during his decade-plus of service to have a chance at playing for MLS Cup. RSL dropped a home game against the LA Galaxy and now needs a win at Vancouver to help ensure a postseason spot. They could surprise some in the postseason. This is a team strong enough to be among the top seven out West.
12. Toronto FC
While the Reds have not been dominant, the club has stabilized its season. Toronto scored 12 goals in five September games, the most the team has scored in one month this season. More telling though, is the team's lack of losses. Toronto FC has not lost since August 3. While the club would probably like to have won more games, compiling a 3-0-6 record over that span, being tough to beat is a good quality to have come playoff time.
13. FC Dallas (12)
There is no momentum in Texas. Regardless, it's likely FC Dallas will cruise just past the finish line regardless. Fortunately for FC Dallas, San Jose and Portland will play each other, which means a Portland win gets FC Dallas through no matter what it does against Sporting KC. FC Dallas' attack is suddenly a mess. The team had seemingly turned the corner in August, closing out that month with 11 goals in three games. In September, the suddenly punchless club scored just once in four games.
14. Portland Timbers (10)
Here's what home field advantage can count for in MLS. After spending the first three months of the season on the road, Portland didn't do enough with its backloaded home schedule. The Timbers played five of six games last month at home and had just five points to show for it. Consequently, the club needs a result from its final game to get into the postseason. A draw does the job, but the team is in poor shape either way and the postseason figures to be a one-and-done scenario.
15. San Jose Earthquakes (3)
After a poor start, San Jose climbed up the table and these rankings once the team righted the wrongs. Those wrongs are showing up once more. San Jose lost all five of its games last month and now needs a bit of a miracle to get in. Not so much in that the results need to be miraculous but that the team's play has been so wretched that it does not look like a strong possibility that the team can get a win at Portland to get into the playoffs. Fortunately for San Jose, Portland has been mediocre. There's hope, but the end could very well mirror the beginning all the way through.
16. Colorado Rapids (17)
The Rapids once again had a great month, winning four and losing one match in September. Colorado also did that against playoff-bound teams like Seattle, the LA Galaxy, and FC Dallas. Tt only got the club to within three points of 7th-place. They'll need some aligning-of-planets to get into the postseason. This is a respectable finish though, considering the depths they hit earlier in 2019. The finish certainly gives hope that Robin Fraser will turn things around once he has a full year in charge.
17. Houston Dynamo (19)
Houston was toast long ago, but the team showed some effort in September, winning twice. The 2-0 win over Minnesota on September 11 was solid, but the team dropped games to playoff-bound teams LAFC and Real Salt Lake to finish the month. Mauro Manotas is putting the finishing touches on a quality season, scoring 13 goals without a lot of help. Coupled with a poor defense, the team's problems are too much to overcome.
18. Columbus Crew (23)
Columbus finally looks competent. It's too bad that it means virtually nothing. In its last 12 matches, Columbus has a record of 5-6-1 mark, not a bad stretch at all. Unfortunately, it means no last game heroics as the team is out of the playoff race. They needed this type of momentum in late spring/early summer for it to have made a difference. It does restore some confidence in the club's decision to hire Caleb Porter.
19. Vancouver Whitecaps (22)
Where has the fire been that the club showed against the LA Galaxy? The 4-3 win marked the first time the Whitecaps had scored four goals all season and just the third road win with Colorado and Cincinnati accounting for the other two. What made the game more remarkable was that four different players scored goals. If the Whitecaps had had that much balance and road prowess during the regular season, things could have been much different.
20. Montreal Impact (20)
Wilmer Cabrera was not a miracle worker, and it showed. Montreal's rough season carried over into September as the club will fittingly finish on a low. Montreal's last win came on August 28, but the win before that was July 27. The team had two losses and a draw in September. If the club can take away any consolation from last month, it was the draw with Atlanta United. The dropped point could hurt the team's playoff standing, so Montreal may have had a slight impact on the playoff picture after all.
21. Chicago Fire (18)
Chicago said farewell to Bridgeview and SeatGeek Stadium with a spirited 2-2 draw against Toronto FC. Overall though the club's exit from the stadium is a solid reflection of how much of the last decade has been for the Fire. Since Cuauhtemoc Blanco left the team after the 2009 season, Chicago has had just two postseason appearances, both losses in the knockout round. Perhaps a fresh start in the Windy City will help the team revive itself. With plenty to improve upon, expect Chicago to start the 2020 rankings in the bottom four.
22. Orlando City SC (21)
Three draws in four games is what Orlando had to show for September. Within those results, there is hope and failure. Orlando did well to draw LAFC and New England, two strong playoff-bound teams. They also failed to beat FC Cincinnati, the league's worst side. Following Decision Day, the team can once again go back to the drawing board and try to energize its solid fan base once more.
23. Sporting KC (15)
Sporting KC tried to revive its postseason hopes with a strong August, going 4-2-0 that month. The team's true colors showed up in September. Sporting KC lost four consecutive games and suffered through a terrible 7-2 loss at the LA Galaxy. Sporting KC allowed 16 goals last month, a terrible figure. Peter Vermes still has the confidence of the front office, but his effectiveness as coach is certainly waning.
24. FC Cincinnati (24)
The misery will end soon. FC Cincinnati won't make its home fans suffer one last time, closing out the season on the road. A loss at DC United will remind everyone just how awful this year was. This was almost Chivas USA in 2005 bad, with the amount of hope and expectations and buildup the team had. FC Cincinnati did have six wins, four more than Chivas, but the season was a disaster from start to finish.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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