This years MLS season is so balanced, that it could get very complicated in terms of who qualifies for the playoffs. If teams finish on the same number of points - there is a list of tie-breakers the league uses to decide who gets a playoff spot. In the East - assuming SKC and NY are already in the playoffs (NY have qualified), there are currently 6 teams within 7 points of each other, and only 2 (3 for Montreal) games left. There is a very good chance that there will be teams tied on points at the end of the regular season. I'll run through the tie-breakers and how they could come into play in the Eastern Conference.
Current point totals :-
Houston (48), Montreal (46), Chicago (46), Philly (46), NE (45), Columbus (41) - 3 teams tied on 46, and Philly at the bottom showing that the tie-breakers may not be kind to us. Points are close, but you have to think Columbus have a lot of work to do to get in. Here are the tie-breakers in the order they will be applied.
1. Most Wins
Houston 13, Montreal 13, Chicago 13, Philly 12, NE 12, Columbus 12. Not much difference, and it may be unlikely this will be the tie-breaker. This is the tie-breaker that has Philly bottom of the 3 46pt teams. We are unlikely to win this tie-breaker against any team with only the 2 games left.
2. Goals Scored
MLS has Goals scored ahead of goal differential to try and get more goals scored. However, is a team that has scored 50 goals but let in 50 better than a team that has scored 49 goals and given up 35? Maybe MLS should care less about what the Soccer haters say and think what makes a team better.
Montreal 48, NE 45, Chicago 44, Union 40, Columbus 40, Houston 39. Union not doing too great here with only 2 games left, it's unlikely we will climb that ranking. If Columbus finishes level with the Union - it's likely that they will have a better goals for than us. Only Houston looks positive for the Union. Montreal are in nice shape, as are NE (considering both scored 5 against the Union - that games are ominous for this tie-breaker).
3. Goal Differential (Goals scored minus goals allowed)
NE 9, Houston 2, Montreal 2, Union 0, Columbus -2, Chicago -3. If it goes this far, its not too great news for Chicago. NE have a huge advantage (again, that 5-1 win against the Union was a big difference here). Union can look to this as a possible "winning" tie-breaker against all but NE.
4. Fewest Disciplinary Points
A little rant before discussing this tie-breaker. Who in their right mind thinks that a) Disciplinary points are a good tie-breaker for any league situation (as far as I know there isn't another league in the world that does this) and b) if it is used, why is it so high on the list? This should be just before a coin toss.
Houston 473, Montreal 515, Chicago 551, NE 555, Union 597, Columbus 624. Looking good for Houston and Montreal. Columbus are in big trouble if this is the tie-breaker that decides their position. Union will only beat Columbus with it - Chicago and NE may want to be a little less physical in the last 2 games, although NE will easily win other tie-breakers against Chicago. It would be a travesty in my opinion, if this decides who makes the playoffs and which playoff position you have.
5. Road Goals
In this case, i think MLS get it right, and value road goals ahead of home goals.
Columbus 21, Montreal 19, NE 19, Union 18, Chicago 16, Houston 15. The Union have a chance to climb this ranking against Montreal. Will look good if we are tied against Houston, however Houston have been "less dirty" so won't matter.
6. Road Goal Differential
NE -3, Philadelphia -6, Houston -8, Montreal -8, Columbus -9, Chicago -10. Columbus being so low shows how Goals scored and GD can vary dramatically - are Columbus a better road team than Union/NE because they scored more but obviously conceded far more?
7 & 8. Home Goals and Home Goal Differential
These 2 are pointless to list, because if overall and then away goals scored/differential doesn't separate a team, then the home won't either (has to be identical)
9. Coin Toss (2 teams) or Drawing of Lots (3 or more)
Unlikely to be needed - but maybe with the Unions luck at playing teams with 10 men so often, and having so many "weakened teams" to go against this year, maybe this would be our best chance at a tie-breaker win.
Overall, points may leave a lot of teams level, and wins are very similar too - but goals scored and goal differential should separate them. If not, then there seems to be a big enough split in the disciplinary points that there will be no need to look further than that, even though for this article I did. In terms of the Union, the tie-breakers don't look very promising in the Unions favor. In that case, the Union need to have more points than at least 3 of the teams mentioned in the article. Anything else, and it looks like the Union will be solely looking towards 2014 come November.
For more in depth information on the final fixtures in MLS, and more information on the playoff races, keep an eye out for any "The Chase" articles on Reckless Challenge.