By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Sep 7, 2022) US Soccer Players – This is the home stretch. Since this is a World Cup year, with a late fall World Cup nonetheless, the season will wrap up early. Instead of teams positioning themselves in the late summer to make that push to try and solidify their playoff spots, this is already the late season.
Some teams are responding to the challenge, like Montreal, Columbus, and Orlando. While others, Seattle and Toronto, to name two, are faltering. The schedule is running out for the teams that are hopeful of reaching the playoffs. The time to step up is now as the season ends in just over one month.
1. LAFC (1)
The club has not reached its full potential and won’t until Gareth Bale is fully fit and playing 90 minutes. Whether that happens this year or not is the question, but this team is not close to hitting its ceiling. The playoffs are assured and a Supporters’ Shield might follow. Still, this team is destined for greatness or heartache, depending on how much Bale and the club’s other veteran players can contribute the rest of the way.
2. Philadelphia Union (2)
Put Philadelphia in the top spot in the table and it would be tough to argue against it. The Union is currently on a four-game winning streak, entering on fine form, and leads the league in goals scored (63), fewest goals allowed (21), and best goal-differential (42). With three of its final four opponents out of the playoffs, Philadelphia could use the last four games to try and make a push for the Supporters’ Shield.
3. CF Montreal (6)
Montreal is firmly in second place in the Eastern table and it is no fluke. The club fell behind quickly by 2-0 to rivals Toronto FC but turned over the score and wound up with a convincing 4-3 win. Montreal is far ahead of 2nd-place New York and eight back of Philadelphia.
4. New York Red Bulls (5)
A bad home loss to Philadelphia was a bit of an aberration as New York had beaten Montreal the match prior and had won three of the four games after that. Two points ahead of NYCFC and with an extra game played, the Red Bulls need to hold onto third with a schedule that has them playing New England and at NYCFC over their next two games.
5. Austin FC (4)
Austin FC’s banner win against LAFC last month was strong but it’s quietly masked the team’s blemishes. Austin has gone 2-3-1 since the beginning of August, the other win coming against last-place Sporting KC. Austin is still in a great spot in the playoff standings, second behind LAFC, but the form must improve before mid-October.
6. FC Dallas (7)
Perhaps it’s a good thing that FC Dallas and Nashville won’t determine third place against one another. Nashville routed FC Dallas 4-0 last month and now just one point separates the two teams in the Western table. Aside from that, FC Dallas is unbeaten in its last four games against Western Conference.
7. Columbus Crew (12)
Columbus is in 6th-place in the East, but that does not reveal their strength. Columbus has lost just one game since May 21. Unfortunately, the club has more draws (nine) than wins (six). Otherwise, the Crew would be among the top three teams in the East. Still, the team is in a great spot to not just make the playoffs but to have success.
8. Nashville SC (11)
The long stretch of road games to start the season is finally paying dividends. Nashville has won its last three home games, taking advantage of its home-heavy schedule down the stretch. Nashville has a tough slate of games left, playing the Galaxy, Austin, and LAFC.
9. Portland Timbers (13)
2-1 is the best result for this club apparently. Portland has won its last three outings all by 2-1. Wins over Seattle and Austin were impressive, but the club’s best result was its win over Atlanta as the Timbers avoided the dreaded letdown.
10. Orlando City SC (14)
Orlando’s US Open Cup run has not affected the team’s MLS season hopes. Orlando has won four consecutive games heading into its Open Cup final matchup against Sacramento Republic. That has them 5th in the table, three points behind NYCFC with a game in hand.
11. New York City FC (3)
NYCFC’s momentum is going the wrong way. NYCFC lost six of its last seven and suddenly does not look like a team that can contend with Philadelphia or even Montreal. NYCFC has five games left to try and work out the kinks before the playoffs begin, but the team will essentially have to flip the switch to get back to a solid spot.
12. Real Salt Lake (8)
RSL has been taking its lumps from Western rivals. They’re 2-2-2 against Western rivals, but the team needs more points from those contests to stay in the playoff race. Two of the remaining three games this month are against Eastern teams, which might help them. If nothing else, dropped points in those games won’t boost Western teams.
13. Minnesota United (9)
Minnesota is in 5th-place in the Western Conference table, but the club failed to solidify that spot. Minnesota has lost its last two games, each by 3-0. Minnesota though has a favorable schedule from here on out. After playing Portland this week, the club’s only remaining game against a playoff team is against LAFC.
14. LA Galaxy (16)
It’s up to the Galaxy to quickly shift the story when a saved stoppage time penalty would’ve been the difference between three points and one at home to Sporting Kansas City. As it stands, three points out of the playoffs in 8th-place but with six games left favors the Galaxy to make Decision Day different this season.
15. FC Cincinnati (15)
FC Cincinnati is no longer a pushover, but the team isn’t quite able to solidify a playoff spot. Perhaps its draws are a reason why. Since June, the team has ten draws in its 14 matches, so while the team is not losing, it is also moving excruciatingly slow in the Eastern table.
16. Seattle Sounders (10)
The Sounders have not yet hit their stride in league play, and thus the team sits well outside of the playoffs. Seattle probably needs four wins from its last five games to have a realistic shot of making the playoffs, which is a lot to ask of a 9th-place team six points back of the final playoff spot. Still, they finish with games at Sporting KC and home against San Jose.
17. New England Revolution (18)
The Revs are hanging onto a playoff spot by a thread, tied with 8th-place FC Cincinnati on 38 points and two ahead of 9th-place Inter Miami. The Revs have no more games remaining against those teams and actually have just two of its five games left against playoff contenders, New York on 9/10 and Montreal on 9/17. Perhaps a light schedule will help give the Revs the push they need.
18. Inter Miami (19)
Inter Miami is within reach of the playoffs. On September 13, they have a game against Columbus, currently on 40 points and in 6th-place. Otherwise, it’s teams below them in the table. So the schedule is shaping up nicely for Inter Miami to stake its claim on a postseason berth.
19. Vancouver Whitecaps (17)
Vancouver can hold its own against the bottom half of the Western Conference with a 5-3 record against Colorado, Sporting KC, Houston, and San Jose. This might not bode well for the Galaxy and Seattle, who are currently out of the playoff picture and will each visit BC Place this month.
20. Charlotte FC (20)
Charlotte showed some promise at times during the season, but it’s turning into a grind for the club of late, winning just three games since June 11. The rest of the season figures to be more of the same, with just one of its last five against a non-playoff contender.
21. Chicago Fire (21)
Chicago’s turnaround ran into three consecutive losses and back-to-back 0-0 draws. That has them in 13th-place. Goalkeeper Gaga Slonina showed why he is English Premiership material in a scoreless draw against Columbus, where he made several spectacular saves in their latest 0-0 draw.
22. Colorado Rapids (23)
The Rapids had an interesting bookend in August, winning its first two games by 5-4 and 4-3 but losing its last two by 6-0 and 4-1. Opening September with a 0-0 draw in DC suggests a team that risks playing out the string in what woudl be a highly disappointing campaign.
23. Houston Dynamo (22)
Paulo Nagamura did not make it through an entire season as head coach as the former MLS standout was let go following a 2-1 loss at Seattle. Houston has one win and a draw over their last eight games, but other than a lopsided loss at Philadelphia at the end of July, none of those have been by more than a point.
24. San Jose Earthquakes (24)
San Jose’s season has been nothing but erratic. Only twice has San Jose had consecutive games with the same result, consecutive losses in April and again in July. Otherwise, San Jose has alternated between wins, draws, and losses. There is something to be said about not letting bad losses linger, but the lack of consistency has them a dozen points out of the final playoff spot.
25. Toronto FC (26)
Lorenzo Insigne has been scoring goal after goal, most of them amazing, and Federico Bernardeschi has been just as proficient. The two have combined for 13 goals in 18 total games. It hasn’t pushed the club into the playoff spots, in 10th-place, four points back of 7th-place New England.
26. Atlanta United (25)
Five points out of the playoffs, Atlanta could play the role of spoiler. They play Orlando, New England, NYCFC, and Philadelphia to close out the regular season. Other than the finale against the Union, wins against the other teams could disrupt the Eastern Conference table.
27. Sporting KC (28)
Finally, Sporting KC is playing better. The club actually had a solid month of August, winning three of its four contests that month. Sporting KC has Minnesota, Seattle, and FC Dallas left as they might still have a say in the playoff picture.
28. DC United (27)
Somehow, DC United beat NYCFC to close out August. That win is DC’s lone victory since July and just its seventh of the season. This season could be considered preseason for the 2023 campaign as coach Wayne Rooney is trying to establish something. One must-see game left might be the September 13 contest against Sporting KC, which will pit the last-place teams from each conference against one another.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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Photo by Atlanta United