A slight change of format for The Chase this week. Instead of taking a table view on the playoff race, we’re going to highlight the match ups that will have an impact on the playoff race.
Before we start here is a reminder of what the Eastern Conference table looks like:
As promised, corrected Eastern Conference playoff table. pic.twitter.com/Ldz3gzAFbf— MLS Magic Number (@MLSmagicnumber) September 19, 2016
The Magic Number for the East this week is 50. Down from 52 last week and we have the first opportunity for a team to clinch. Toronto needs a win or a combination of dropped points from the lower teams to clinch the first playoff spot. We could get into all the nitty gritty details of the plethora of ways they could clinch, but there are plenty of games left in the season and we’ll just rest assured knowing Toronto is going to clinch.
Before we look in on the games this week, here is a recap of last week’s Eastern conference games.
New England is chasing the last playoff spot and needs to make up points, but playing on the road to the best team in the league is a bonus game. Any points they would have gotten from this game would have been extra than they would have been expecting.
It must be said that Chicago is much better at home than they are on the road, and DC was able to steal 1 point when it looked very likely they were taking none, but this will be a game that DC will look back on and wish they could have back. This time of year, you need to be beating the worst team in the conference.
Saturday 9/17 - Portland 2-1 Philadelphia Union
Unlike New England’s trip to Frisco, the Union should be holding themselves to a higher level. To win MLS Cup, the Union will need to travel to tough locations and get wins. They did force Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson into making a handful of decent saves, but Josh Yaro could have been sent off a number of times before he actually did, and it could have been a much higher scoreline.
Saturday 9/17 - New York City FC 2-2 FC Dallas
A respectable point against the best team in the league for NYC, it keeps them moving in the right direction and at this point a playoff spot is looking increasingly realistic. The one thing they’ll regret is a win would have put them firmly in the driver’s seat for that second first round bye.
This one is a dagger. Instead of keeping themselves ahead of the chasing pack and actually inching towards the spots that get to host the first round games, Orlando lost to a team that many thought were out of the playoff picture, but now look to be surging late. Is it too little too late for the reigning Eastern Conference champions though?
Saturday 9/17 - Montreal Impact 1-3 New England Revolution
This is the type of result that makes New England not worry about the midweek loss to FC Dallas. They now find themselves holding the last playoff spot, within striking distance of Montreal in fifth and are actually creeping up on the Union. Montreal losing at home is not a good look. For a team that once looked like a leader in the East they are slumping at the worst time.
A game that both teams will be okay with considering other results in the conference, but a game both will wish swung their way. The point a piece allows each to remain as they were and crawl towards their playoff goals, but those extra two points would have created a real gap for Toronto at the top (not to mention would have clinched a playoff spot), and for New York would have put them ahead of their light blue clad rivals.
Friday 9/23 - New York City vs Chicago Fire
Plain and simple, NYC need to take advantage of this game. They haven’t been dominant at home and can’t let a team that is absolutely dreadful on the road come in and steal points, especially when Chicago’s season is pretty much over.
Saturday 9/24 - Toronto FC vs Philadelphia Union
Another tough road game for the Union, compounded by the fact that Toronto knows exactly what they have to do to be the first Eastern Conference team to clinch a playoff spot. A loss and the Union will need to stop looking ahead of them and focus solely on making sure those chasing don’t catch up. A winless September looks very likely at this stage.
Saturday 9/24 - New York Red Bulls vs Montreal Impact
This is probably the match up of the weekend. Neither are red hot, but could use this game to propel them to where they want to go. Montreal needs a morale booster to help pull away from the chasers, while New York wants to make a play at the conference title. There is a lot of tension in the game and there could be fireworks in this one.
Saturday 9/24 - D.C. United vs Orlando City SC
At this stage in the season, in the position that both of these teams are in, it is now must win territory. Even a draw would allow too much of a gap to start to form with the teams they are chasing. Both these teams should be pushing forward and it could be a goal fest.
Sunday 9/24 - Columbus Crew SC vs New England Revolution
One of the most intriguing match ups of the weekend in this one. Both teams are coming off huge road victories and while New England is starting to feel good about their playoff spot, Columbus is holding on to the slimmest of hopes. A win for the home side would mean a log jam for that sixth spot will start to form and with an extra game in hand, Columbus could start to dream. If New England pulls out the 3 points, it would almost certainly put Columbus too far adrift, eliminating one more team that New England has to compete with.