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State of the MLS Run In: 10 Weeks to Go

Our updated postseason odds see little movement. And the East remains a much easier run than the West, leaving the Timbers to wonder whether it's possible to convince Garber that they actually play in Portland, Maine.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Previous Edition

Alright, now the playoffs are near enough to take a serious look at where the probabilities lie (pun intended). We're over the 2/3 mark of the season and near half the teams in the league will be down to single digit games remaining after this week's action. So we can talk seriously about who's in and who's out of the playoff, Shield, and CCL chases.

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 % Change Top 3 % MLS Cup % Shield % CCL %
Seattle W 58.9 99.3 -- 89.0 14.2 35.0 80.2
Sporting KC E 58.7 100.0 +0.1 99.3 18.5 27.7 81.2
Real Salt Lake W 56.8 99.0 +5.1 78.2 11.8 14.1 52.7
DC United E 54.8 99.6 -- 93.9 13.5 7.5 45.5
Los Angeles W 54.8 96.1 -3.0 64.1 12.9 9.7 40.5
FC Dallas W 53.9 95.3 +16.8 53.1 11.9 4.9 32.2
Toronto FC E 49.4 89.5 +5.0 60.6 4.7 0.5 --
Vancouver W 48.4 63.8 +17.4 12.6 3.1 0.6 --
Columbus E 45.0 64.2 +5.9 15.7 2.7 -- 3.0
Portland 44.7 26.4 +4.9 2.0 1.0 -- 1.4
New York E 44.6 61.9 -6.8 16.1 3.1 -- 3.2
Colorado 42.8 13.8 -25.2 0.7 0.4 -- 0.5
Philadelphia 42.0 35.8 +0.6 7.3 1.3 -- 57.9
New England 41.1 25.4 -4.7 4.2 0.4 -- 0.5
San Jose 39.7 5.9 -14.0 0.2 0.2 -- 0.2
Chicago 39.4 15.6 -2.2 2.2 0.3 -- 0.4
Houston 37.8 8.1 +2.3 0.7 0.1 -- 0.1
Chivas USA 35.8 0.5 -2.0 -- -- -- --
Montreal 28.9 0.1 -- -- -- -- --
Avg Pts for Playoffs (W) 48.7
Avg Pts for Playoffs (E) 44.6

Not much change in the expected order of finish in this update. Seattle edges to the top spot (from #2) despite the loss at RSL, due mainly to the fact that Sporting previously failed to beat Philadelphia or Vancouver, and losing on the road to RSL is a pretty likely outcome so was already mostly baked into the odds.

There's also no change in the composition of the playoff teams — we're predicting the same 10 as in the last update. In fact, the West playoff race is starting to settle. The top 4 of Seattle, RSL, LA, and FCD are all at least 95% likely to make the playoffs, and the combined percentage of all 4 of them making it is over 90%. That means there's very likely only one playoff spot left for Colorado, Vancouver, and Portland to fight over. Vancouver is currently in the pole position for that spot thanks to a 6 game undefeated streak which included 4 road draws and that win over Sporting.

The East is much less settled with New York and Columbus just a few steps ahead of Philadelphia and New England for the final two spots. We can comfortably call Montreal done, and things are looking dire for Chicago and perennial late bloomer Houston, who probably left their hot streak for too late this time.

Seattle has also jumped up in the Shield odds (despite this weekend's loss to chaser RSL). That's mostly thanks to a big drop by Los Angeles, who failed to beat San Jose at home and got kicked around by the Crew in Columbus. It's easy to overly focus on Seattle's bad results, but every Shield-competing team is sprinkling in bad results and it's keeping the Sounders a nose ahead in the race.

I should note that I fixed the CCL algorithm since the last update to match the new rule of the non-Shield-winning conference champion making it rather than the loser of the final. That had the effect of inflating the odds of the teams at the top of the standings and depressing the odds of those at the bottom, since squeaking into the playoffs and making the final is no longer a route to CCL. So Seattle is comfortably over 80% thanks both to the likelihood of winning the West and the upcoming Open Cup final, which is the Union's only potential route to CONCACAF (with a just over 50% chance thanks to home field advantage).

Teams Eliminated

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

No Mathematical eliminations at this point, obviously. That almost never happens until a couple of weeks until the end of the season, even for terrible teams. But Montreal is edging up to effective elimination (meaning it's impossible for them to even get close to our projected playoff cutoff for their conference). And both Chivas and Montreal are our first teams eliminated by projection, meaning they have less than a 2% chance to make the playoffs in the simulation. Meaning it's time to start looking to next season, even though it's technically possible for them to make it.

  • Mathematical Elimination (Unable to make the playoffs in any scenario)
  • Effective Elimination (Unable to make 43(E)/47(W) points even with perfect play)
  • Projected Elimination (less than 2% chance of making the playoffs in simulation)
    Chivas TBD (new), Montreal (new)

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.

In the last edition the 5 easiest schedules were all in the East and the disparity is even worse this time, with the East having the 6 easiest schedules. And 8 Eastern teams have schedules easier than the 2nd easiest West schedule (which is Vancouver's). Obviously that reflects the generally easier run in the East, which has more bad teams and much worse median teams. As an illustration, the Timbers — who are clawing for their playoff lives — are predicted to finish with fractionally more points than New York — who are favorites to make the postseason.

Within the West, the fact that LA has the easiest remaining schedules isn't a comfort to Seattle. But RSL's schedule has hardened after playing 5 of their last 6 matches at home. They still have a pretty smooth run, with 2 games against Chivas and 2 against San Jose remaining, but they have a few tough road games left, including a game at Seattle that could decide the Shield.

Avg Team Points Matches Pts / Match
Columbus 15.119 10 1.512
Philadelphia 15.077 10 1.508
Toronto FC 17.942 12 1.495
Sporting KC 14.802 10 1.48
New York 15.875 11 1.443
New England 15.701 11 1.427
Los Angeles 18.311 13 1.409
Houston 15.268 11 1.388
Chicago 15.149 11 1.377
Vancouver 14.929 11 1.357
Portland 13.525 10 1.353
Chivas USA 14.878 11 1.353
Seattle 16.208 12 1.351
Montreal 14.852 11 1.35
Real Salt Lake 13.48 10 1.348
Colorado 13.022 10 1.302
FC Dallas 12.652 10 1.265
DC United 13.747 11 1.25
San Jose 16.163 13 1.243

Cascadia Cup Odds

No Cascadia action since the last update, with some slight jitter in the odds thanks to the changing strengths of the teams. This weekend's game against Portland remains a near must-win for Seattle to get a leg up on Vancouver before the Whitecaps take over the schedule with an appearance in all three Cup games remaining.

Vancouver 67.6%
Seattle 20.3%
Portland 12.1%

Seattle's First Round Matchup

Still early for this, but as the West playoff chase settles the odds of an LA matchup increase greatly and an RSL matchup go down (as the Lakers are much more likely to finish adjacent to the Sounders in the standings). The odds-on matchup is FC Dallas, which would be the first time Seattle has faced Dallas in the postseason.

FC Dallas 24.9%
Los Angeles 24.2%
Real Salt Lake 20.3%
Vancouver 17.7%
Portland 7.3%
Colorado 3.2%
San Jose 1.8%
Chivas USA 0.1%

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