By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Nov 3, 2021) US Soccer Players – The last stretch of the season is proving to be important for many clubs. Five teams are fighting for three spots out West. In the East, six teams have life with two games left in the season.
Still, it is the top team in the standings that has impressed the most. New England has set some high-water marks with its impressive season and walks into the playoffs the favorites to reach MLS Cup. They’re the clear cut top team as the regular season comes to a close with everyone else trying and failing to keep pace.
1. New England Revolution (1 in October)
New England set the record for most points in a season with 73, leads the league in goals with 65, and goal-differential at +25. As favorites go, they don’t get any clearer than this. Meanwhile, this is also still MLS where strange parity can stop a record-breaking season in the playoffs. If there’s any justice in this league, the Revs will walk away with its first MLS Cup.
2. Philadelphia Union (7)
Philadelphia has done well to get through a bit of a challenging season and could finish in 2nd-place. It’s probably not worth paying close attention to the table. Otherwise, they may notice the difference in points between 1st and 2nd. October was successful as the club went 4-2-1 last month and beat Nashville, a win that could help decide home-field advantage for Philadelphia.
3. Sporting KC (4)
Sporting KC has put itself in a good position to nab the top spot in the Western Conference. The club controls its destiny. With two wins, Sporting KC would finish atop the table and get a first-round bye. That would be something considering how far ahead Seattle was for much of this season. Sporting KC did have a couple of setbacks last month, losing to Minnesota and Vancouver. That said, Sporting KC has been the best Western Conference side over the last couple of months.
4. Nashville SC (4)
October was a troublesome month for Nashville. The club started out with a comfortable lead for 2nd-place in the Eastern Conference table but saw Philadelphia charge hard and catch the second-year team. Nashville sputtered last month, with a 1-1-4 record. That’s far too many dropped points for a team with hopes of more than just reaching the playoffs. Nashville SC has just one test left before the knockout games begin, a match against playoff hopefuls the Red Bulls. Perhaps facing a team playing for its life will help Nashville snap out of it.
5. NYCFC (8)
New York City FC had some egg on its face following a 1-0 loss to rivals New York Red Bulls. However, they closed out October well, with three consecutive wins and a combined 10-1 score. Playing Philadelphia in their regular season finale will reveal much about NYCFC. A win and the club would get a home game to start the postseason. A loss, and there are problems like the potential for being New England’s opponent in the second round.
6. Seattle Sounders (2)
The shine is off of Seattle’s season, with the club all but stumbling to the finish line. The Sounders lost three times in October, to Houston, LAFC and Sporting KC, and started this month off with a listless 1-1 draw against the Galaxy. Still, the club welcomed back Jordan Morris from injury. Morris could help spark the club heading into the postseason.
7. Colorado Rapids (6)
The Rapids may have quietly gotten through the Western Conference regular season, but soon the spotlight will be firmly on the team. The Rapids weren’t a contender the way Seattle or Sporting KC have been throughout the season, but they’ve hung around. The results have not been as consistent as the team would like, 3-3-1 in October, but the Rapids are heading to the playoffs for the second consecutive season and just the third time since 2013.
8. Portland Timbers (5)
The Timbers seemed to have figured things out over an eight-game unbeaten run. They followed that up with a three-game losing streak. The losses did not keep the Timbers from clinching a playoff spot, but there’s the feeling that this team may have hit its stride a month too soon.
9. Orlando City SC (9)
October started off well for Orlando with two consecutive wins, but the club had just three points over the last four games. Orlando has yet to clinch, although a lot would have to go wrong to keep them out of the postseason. Still, Orlando’s best-case scenario is to win and hope that NYCFC loses so Orlando can finish in 4th-place and get a home playoff game. Otherwise, the postseason could be a one-and-done outing for a team that looked poised for more earlier this season.
10. Atlanta United SC (15)
That Atlanta is not only alive but in a solid position to secure a playoff spot speaks well for their setup. Atlanta went through a coaching change and had some low times, but the club has overcome it. Now, they get FC Cincinnati to close out the season and likely would clinch a playoff berth with just three points from their final two games.
11. Minnesota United SC (11)
Hope is still alive for Minnesota United. The club has a win-or-else match left against the LA Galaxy with both teams are in contention for the final playoff spot. Minnesota has 48 points to the Galaxy’s 47 which means Minnesota needs just a draw to secure a playoff spot. Still, the only reason why Minnesota is in this position is because it dropped too many points in October. Minnesota tied bottom-feeders FC Dallas as well as LAFC and lost to Colorado and Vancouver.
12. Vancouver Whitecaps (16)
In three of its past five seasons, the Whitecaps have finished either 8th or 9th in the Western Conference. Sitting in 6th-place with one game remaining, the Whitecaps could take a step forward and break that stretch of mediocrity. It’s possible that a draw against Seattle on Sunday would be enough to see the ‘Caps through to the postseason for just the second time since 2015. This team looks strong enough to take at least one point, if not all three, at BC Place.
13. LA Galaxy (4)
The LA Galaxy has a win-and-in scenario. A win over Minnesota is all the team needs to reach the postseason for the second time in three years. This team has been in this position before though with poor results. The Galaxy lost its season finale to close out the 2018 season when a win would have sent the team through to the playoffs. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has come to life down the stretch with five goals in the last six games. Your best player making the difference is always an advantage.
14. New York Red Bulls (17)
New York Red made the most out of its six goals scored in October. They went 5-1-0 in that stretch, a remarkable total given the low scoring output. New York is in 7th-place with two games left but is still in a somewhat solid position to get a playoff spot. They have a game in hand over the two teams directly behind it. Goals have been a problem all year long. Only three clubs have fewer goals than New York and are all eliminated from the playoffs.
15. Real Salt Lake (13)
If RSL misses out on the 2021 postseason, the club will have only itself to blame. The schedule makers were kind to RSL and filled October with destitute opponents. That wasn’t good enough for RSL. Against Austin, Chicago and, San Jose, all teams out of the playoffs, Real Salt Lake compiled exactly zero points. Closing out the season against Portland and Sporting KC is the revenge of the schedule makers for not already taking full advantage.
16. LAFC (20)
LAFC did well to position itself for a playoff spot, but the team failed to seal the deal. LAFC could only manage a draw against Vancouver in its home finale and needs help to reach the postseason. First on the agenda is winning at Colorado, which in and of itself is a daunting task. Colorado has lost just once at home all season. Additionally, LAFC needs the Galaxy and Real Salt Lake not to get past 48 points. The Galaxy has 47 while RSL has 45 with two games remaining.
17. CF Montreal (12)
Needing points down the stretch, CF Montreal has not been quite as inspired to collect them. The club scored six goals in five games last month and finished with a 1-1-3 record. Those points kept the club within sight of a playoff spot, and the games did come against tough teams. Still, this is a sneak into the playoffs situation.
18. Columbus Crew (19)
The defending champs can still make the postseason, but it’s going to take a lot. Winning four games in September pushed them into this position, showing how difficult 2021 turned out to be for the defending champions.
19. DC United (10)
DC’s season is all but over. The club did itself no favors in losing to Columbus 3-1 on the weekend, now needing quite a bit of help to get into the postseason. Really, the writing has been on the wall for this team for a while. NYCFC dropped a 6-0 result on DC on October 23, part of a 1-4-1 record for United.
20. San Jose Earthquakes (18)
San Jose had an up-and-down season, but it’s going to end on Decision Day. San Jose showed promise during the summer but hasn’t put up much of a fight since then. They did get to potentially play spoiler with last week’s 4-3 win over Real Salt Lake. Vancouver also has to look back at its 1-1 draw with the Quakes on October 23 as a missed opportunity.
21. Inter Miami (22)
In their first season under coach Phil Neville, Inter occasionally suggested that there would be more. Since mid-September, Inter has been all over the place, losing games by 4-0 twice and 5-1 and winning games by 3-0 and 5-1. What that means for the offseason is constrained by a punishment for violating financial rules. Federico Higuain’s retirement also means a roster adjustment.
22. Houston Dynamo (24)
Only FC Cincinnati with four has fewer wins than Houston’s six. The club though is now looking firmly in the future and feeling as positive as a six-win team can. Former standout Pat Onstad took over as general manager this week. The hope is that he can do in the front office what he did on the field. Onstad was the goalkeeper on the Dynamo’s MLS Cup-winning 2006 and 2007 sides.
23. Chicago Fire (23)
It took nearly 30 games for the Fire to figure things out. Chicago went 2-2-1 in October. While that seems like a modest total, had Chicago played at that rate for the entire 2021 season, the club would be in the throes of the playoff race. Perhaps players are playing for their jobs, particularly after the Raphael Wicky firing at the end of September. Phenom goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina has looked solid down the stretch and could help lead the Fire into a new era. At 17, Slonina has been a bright spot for an otherwise dreary stretch run.
24. Toronto FC (24)
Rumors have been swirling around Sebastian Giovinco’s potential return to Toronto FC, but it will take more than a club legend to bring back the glory days. Toronto FC is mired near the bottom of the table. Heading into the season finale, they have just six wins, the team’s fewest total since 2013, and has the second-fewest points in the league. This nightmare season cannot end soon enough.
25. Austin FC (25)
As expansion seasons go, Austin has had one. The glitzy new stadium, the club’s passionate and energetic fan base, even the green uniforms. They’re all part of an equation that will eventually need results on the field. There’s time for that to sort itself out. Stranger things have happened in this league than a team going from struggling expansion side to legit threat a few months later.
26. FC Dallas (26)
In its role of spoiler last month, FC Dallas has not fared that great. They were unable to take points from LAFC and RSL and the match against Austin was meaningless from a playoff perspective. However, FC Dallas did take points from both Minnesota and the LA Galaxy. That helped set up the Decision Day showdown between those two clubs. Otherwise, FC Dallas has become the Ricardo Pepi show as the star US national team striker has caught the attention of world soccer.
27. FC Cincinnati (27)
Three seasons into its MLS existence, and FC Cincinnati looks just as bad as ever. They’re working on an 11-game losing streak, last winning a game on September 11. Giving up 17 goals over their last four games shows one of the problems. The defense has allowed 72 goals this season, three less than it did in 2019. Under a new GM and new coach, it’s easy enough to predict a turnaround.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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Photo by Andrew Katsampes – ISIPhotos.com