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State of the MLS Run In: 7 Weeks to Go

The playoff races hold stable this week, if Toronto continuing to nosedive could be called stability. Vancouver and Portland remain in a tense fight over the Draw City title and a chance at the #5 seed in the West.

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Previous Edition

Overall, I'd say the state of the State of the MLS Run In was that for many weeks the playoff races were mostly unchanged, with the likely playoff teams winning steadily. Then we had a rather turbulent week last week when Toronto started their freefall and Portland clambered into playoff contention in the West at Vancouver's expense. Now we're back to a holding pattern. Vancouver and Portland both drew. The major shield contenders won. And Toronto kept falling.

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 62.7 100.0 -- 98.9 16.9 43.7 85.8
Los Angeles W 62.6 100.0 -- 98.4 27.3 49.7 85.8
DC United E 57.4 100.0 -- 99.4 14.4 3.0 90.2
Real Salt Lake W 57.2 100.0 +0.6 84.3 10.4 3.5 40.7
FC Dallas W 52.1 97.1 -0.5 17.3 6.6 0.2 11.8
Sporting KC E 50.7 95.0 -4.1 71.5 6.7 0.0 14.0
New England E 48.8 62.4 +20.9 47.7 4.3 -- 6.9
Philadelphia E 47.0 69.7 +24.9 32.5 4.9 -- 56.7
New York E 46.0 60.3 +8.2 22.4 2.3 -- 2.9
Columbus 45.7 52.8 +3.7 19.8 2.9 -- 3.3
Portland W 45.1 51.4 -0.7 0.6 1.6 -- 1.6
Vancouver 44.4 40.3 +2.9 0.5 0.8 -- --
Toronto FC 42.6 20.6 -40.2 4.0 0.6 -- --
Houston 40.9 10.9 +0.1 1.8 0.1 -- 0.1
Chicago 40.0 7.5 -13.3 1.0 0.2 -- 0.2
Colorado 39.3 5.6 -1.9 -- -- -- --
San Jose 38.3 5.6 -0.3 -- 0.1 -- 0.1
Chivas USA 31.3 -- -0.1 -- -- -- --
Montreal 29.3 -- -- -- -- -- --
Avg Pts for Playoffs (W) 46.8
Avg Pts for Playoffs (E) 46.1

The only major playoff odds moves were in the East, where Toronto — who just two weeks ago were 80% likely to make the playoffs — have now flipped the script to 20% after losing 4 of their last 5 matches. The main beneficiaries are New England — who have started the Jermaine Jones era brightly — and Philadelphia — who have kicked off the terrible bad lucked that plagued them all season and are getting results commensurate with their play.

Interestingly, the derpy week from Vancouver and Portland and the strong play from the two East contenders has had an effect on the apparent strength of the conferences. We're used to seeing Eastern Conference teams in predicted playoff positions despite having fewer points than Western teams that aren't making the playoffs. I mean, we've seen that dynamic literally for years. Now for the first time I can remember, we're seeing a predicted West playoff team (Portland) with fewer projected points than an East team that doesn't make it (Columbus). And the Avg Points for Playoffs cutoffs are now essentially equal.

I'd still say the West is overall the stronger conference, but it has a much weaker middle class. Four of the top five teams are from the West. But so are three of the bottom four. Of the middle ten teams, eight are from the East. Only the non-Seattle Cascadia teams in the West are projected to finish with between 40 and 50 points.

The Supporters Shield race is now a two-team contest for real. Sporting KC are in as much of a freefall as Toronto (though their point total means they're still pretty safe for the playoffs). And DC United isn't making up enough ground to pass up both of Seattle and LA. Right now the probability edge goes to the Galaxy despite Seattle's lead, because the Galaxy continue to destroy teams. Granted, they had a man and goal advantage over Colorado for over 90 minutes. But they're still crushing teams 11 on 11. It's looking extremely likely that the Shield race comes down to the two-game series between the contenders to finish the season.

Teams Eliminated

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

Still far away from mathematical elimination, but Montreal's loss to Houston means that we have our first Effectively eliminated team. Even if they win out, they'll only get 44 points, which is below our projected playoff cutoff. Chivas hits it exactly, so anything but perfect results from now on and they're effectively eliminated.

And no new projected eliminations as San Jose and Houston continue to grind out results to stay above water.

  • Mathematical Elimination (Unable to make the playoffs in any scenario)
  • Effective Elimination (Unable to make 45 points even with perfect play)
    Montreal (new)
  • Projected Elimination (less than 2% chance of making the playoffs in simulation)
    Chivas TBD, Montreal

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.

The Union benefits the most from a weak schedule with 6 of their final 8 games at home. That should let them coast into a playoff spot after what looked like a lost season through much of the year. Unfortunately, some of their bizarre midseason roster additions and the firing of John Hackworth will probably be cited as the reasons for the turnaround, when really they had a brutal early season schedule and a ton of bad luck finishing.

The Sounders now have the hardest schedule remaining. That's rough, but fortunately their only real standings concern at this point is winning the Shield. And the team they're competing with — the Galaxy — have the 6th hardest schedule after burning through an easy run against Chivas and (10-man) Colorado. Again, much of that difficulty comes from the fact that they still play each other twice.

Elsewhere in the West, Vancouver and Portland have essentially equivalent schedules. So that playoff run is likely to go down to the wire and it makes the head to head match on September 20 one of the bigger games left on the regular season calendar.

Avg Team Points Matches Pts / Match
Philadelphia 10.676 7 1.525
Real Salt Lake 10.449 7 1.493
Sporting KC 8.794 6 1.466
Chicago 11.504 8 1.438
Chivas USA 10.046 7 1.435
New York 11.42 8 1.428
Colorado 9.91 7 1.416
Houston 11.291 8 1.411
New England 9.782 7 1.397
Vancouver 11.062 8 1.383
Portland 9.604 7 1.372
Toronto FC 10.955 8 1.369
Montreal 10.771 8 1.346
Los Angeles 10.678 8 1.335
Columbus 9.326 7 1.332
DC United 9.161 7 1.309
San Jose 11.66 9 1.296
FC Dallas 8.985 7 1.284
Seattle 10.015 8 1.252

Cascadia Cup Odds

The Cup race is still in a holding pattern. Seattle has a 1 point lead and a game at home left against the Whitecaps. The Caps have a game in hand, but it's on the road at Portland on the 20th. If Seattle wins their game, it doesn't matter what happens in the other match. If Vancouver loses to Portland, then even a draw at CenturyLink will win the Cup for the Sounders.

Seattle 70.4%
Vancouver 29.6%
Portland :(

Seattle's First Round Matchup

The momentum is still with another RSL playoff matchup — either via LA taking the Shield with Seattle finishing 2nd and RSL 3rd; or (preferably for Sounders fans) Seattle taking the #1 seed, Dallas overtaking the 3 spot and RSL coming through the wild card.

Real Salt Lake 48.7%
FC Dallas 27.1%
Portland 11.4%
Vancouver 7.1%
Los Angeles 4.4%

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