State of the MLS Run In: 3 Weeks To Go

Can Sparkles' intensitivity carry the Union to the postseason? - USA TODAY Sports

This is it. Are you ready to crunch some numbers and then eat some Crunchberries and then do some crunches to burn off the calories? Because it is CRUNCH TIME.

Previous Edition

In this edition the Philadephia Union get a firm grip on the final Eastern playoff spot with consecutive 1-0 victories, including a momentous away win over Sporting KC. That leaves fellow contenders New England and Chicago on the outside looking in, with just three games left to try to chase down the Union. Though Montreal's continuing dismal form means their odds are creeping down into the territory where one of the chasers passing them up is no longer unthinkable. In the West, the roster of playoff teams is pretty stable, with only the surging San Jose with a realistic shot to chase down Colorado or Los Angeles, but neither of those teams looks likely to give up a playoff spot.

Playoff & Trophy Probabilities

This is each team's up to date odds of making the playoffs, earning a top 3 spot, winning the Supporter's Shield, earning a (US) CCL bid, and winning the MLS Cup based on simulating the remainder of the season 10,000 times. A fuller explanation of the methodology is available here.

Avg Pts Playoff % Diff Top 3 % MLS Cup % Shield % CCL %
Seattle W 56.8 99.9 -- 85.7 12.4 35.1 55.5
New York E 56.0 100.0 +0.2 99.0 14.2 16.7 50.1
Sporting KC E 55.6 100.0 +0.2 94.9 15.6 14.7 47.3
Portland W 55.3 99.8 +3.4 80.3 15.5 20.7 47.4
Real Salt Lake W 55.1 99.9 +4.3 77.1 13.3 9.7 36.3
Los Angeles W 53.1 91.2 -2.0 35.5 9.1 1.8 20.5
Colorado W 52.0 86.1 +14.6 20.9 5.6 0.4 12.6
Houston E 51.6 95.6 +6.8 45.5 4.8 0.1 15.1
Montreal E 51.1 88.0 -5.4 44.5 4.4 0.8 --
Philadelphia E 49.3 72.4 +37.7 13.5 2.9 -- 9.0
San Jose 48.3 18.8 +9.9 0.6 0.5 -- 1.3
Chicago 46.9 20.6 -3.2 0.9 0.6 -- 1.6
New England 46.2 22.2 -33.2 1.8 1.1 -- 3.0
FC Dallas 45.3 1.0 -22.4 -- 0.0 -- 0.1
Vancouver 44.2 1.3 -11.9 -- 0.0 -- --
Columbus 43.5 1.2 -5.2 -- 0.0 -- 0.1
Chivas USA 29.9 -- -- -- -- -- --
Toronto FC 28.3 -- -- -- -- -- --
DC United 18.0 -- -- -- -- -- 100.0
Avg Pts for Playoffs (W) 51.3
Avg Pts for Playoffs (E) 48.9

While the playoff races are becoming less interesting, the race for the Supporters Shield remains tense, mostly because nobody's running away with it. After a home draw and a punishing away loss to Colorado, the Sounders are still leading the race but by significantly less than in the last update. Fortunately for them, none of the other contenders are playing well either. KC had the aforementioned home loss to Philly, and then last weekend none of New York, Portland, or Real Salt Lake were able to get a win. The Timbers are the only team to significantly gain in the odds, since their draw was on the road.

And you'll note that despite being projected to finish with fewer points than the Red Bulls or Sporks, Portland has better Shield odds. That's because only they have a match against leaders Seattle still on the schedule, and that gives them an advantage. The other teams need two good things to happen: Seattle losing games and them winning games, and that requires multiplying those probabilities together. But for Portland, that's only one event. Beat Seattle and they've done both jobs at once... that's the importance of those proverbial 6-pointers.

The other big move is in the CCL odds. Thanks to DC United's shocking away win over Real Salt Lake in the US Open Cup final we have the perverse situation of the worst team in MLS (at least in league play) having a 100% chance of a CCL spot. That reduces the odds for everyone else, particularly RSL but also teams who would benefit if RSL won the Cup and then won the Shield and/or made the final, trickling spare spots down the table.

The biggest games of the week coming up for the playoff race will be San Jose/Colorado on Wednesday and Montreal/New England on the weekend. In both cases the chasing team absolutely has to get a win to try to fight a playoff spot away from their opponent. And Seattle's two matches this week will not only decide the Cascadia Cup, they will have a huge influence on the Shield race. Getting a home win against Vancouver will be critical in the Shield race (and would clinch the Cup) and getting at least a draw in Portland would fend off the Timbers' pursuit.

Teams Eliminated

Teams that have been eliminated by three decreasingly stringent standards. Read here for more details.

Still the same group of mathematically eliminated teams as Dallas, Vanouver, and Columbus hold on for dear life, but none of them have a realistic shot. I'm edging up the targets for effective elimination in each conference, but there are still no teams added to the Effective or Projected lists as everyone is staying just ahead of the 1% mark. And at this point teams might not reach projected elimination until they're mathematically eliminated. I guess that's a sign of a dramatic playoff chase? Or maybe a sign I should move the cutoff to 2%.

  • Mathematical Elimination (Unable to make the playoffs in any scenario)
    Chivas USA, Toronto FC, DC United
  • Effective Elimination (Unable to make 46(E)/49(W) points even with perfect play)
    DC United, Toronto FC, Chivas USA
  • Projected Elimination (less than 1% chance of making the playoffs in simulation)
    DC United, Chivas USA, Toronto FC

Remaining Strength of Schedule

Using the same simulation, we can also determine remaining schedule strength by seeing how a league average team would do with each team's remaining schedule. Teams at the top have schedules against which an average team got the most PPG, meaning we think they have the easiest remaining schedule.

Your new leaders in the easiest schedule race are the Dynamo, which helps give them the edge on Montreal for the last spot in the top 3 in the East despite the Impact's game in hand. Then there's the Timbers, who have 2 of their last 3 at home. . and the away game is at Chivas. I'd expect them to finish the season on a high note and a top 2 spot in the West now looks very likely. At the other end, Vancouver aren't getting any favors with 4 final games against West playoff teams and at this point the Cascadia Cup is almost certainly all they have to play for.

Seattle's schedule has moved away from 'really hard' to 'average' after getting the games against New York and Colorado out of the way. That's probably helped by the home match against Vancouver, and I'd expect it to move back to one of the hardest schedules in the league after that game is done.

Avg Team Points Matches Pts / Match
Houston 4.665 3 1.555
Portland 4.659 3 1.553
Los Angeles 4.546 3 1.515
FC Dallas 4.458 3 1.486
DC United 4.356 3 1.452
San Jose 4.263 3 1.421
Toronto FC 2.801 2 1.4
Real Salt Lake 2.778 2 1.389
New York 2.773 2 1.386
Sporting KC 4.052 3 1.351
Seattle 5.336 4 1.334
Philadelphia 3.954 3 1.318
Chicago 3.952 3 1.317
Montreal 5.231 4 1.308
Columbus 2.576 2 1.288
New England 3.854 3 1.285
Chivas USA 2.484 2 1.242
Colorado 3.634 3 1.211
Vancouver 3.172 3 1.057


Cascadia Cup Odds

Some big movement in the Cascadia Cup after a long break, as the draw in Vancouver means the Timbers are officially eliminated from the race. And the Whitecaps only getting a draw means Seattle only needs to draw this week to reclaim the Cup.

Odds
Seattle 85.8%
Vancouver 14.2%
Portland --


Seattle's First Round Matchup

In the last update, Seattle was heavily favored for the #1 seed and therefore a matchup with the winner of the wild card match, which was likely to be the Galaxy. Despite Seattle's mauling at the hands of the Rapids, that's still the case, though the odds of a Rapids matchup raise slightly as they look more likely to win that game. That comes at the expense of probabilities of facing FC Dallas and Vancouver, which fade along with their playoff prospects.

Odds
Los Angeles 28.4%
Colorado 26.9%
Real Salt Lake 22.1%
Portland 16.9%
San Jose 5.1%
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