The last round of the 2016 regular season of the Major League Soccer (MLS) is approaching, followed by the play-offs for the championship title. While almost everything is cut and dried in the Eastern Conference of the North American professional league, the Western Conference is anticipating a thrilling showdown, with champions Portland fighting in the last chance saloon.
The last round of the regular season is coming up. The 34th groupings of the Major League Soccer will take place on the third October weekend. But in the USA this does not mean that the season has been concluded and a champion determined. The separate situations in the Eastern and Western Conferences mean the suspense lingers. For the best six teams of each Conference will determine their champion in play-offs. While the two best-placed teams of each Conference have already ascertained they will progress, the teams placed third to sixth will battle for the remaining spots in the knock-out round. Thus four teams in each of the Conferences will then determine the champions in the east and the west. These two Conference winners will then play each other in the big final for the North American title.
In the Western Conference four out of ten teams are still fighting for the remaining play-off places, while in the Eastern Conference it is just two. In the East, Philadelphia Union have to defend their position among the top six against the New York Red Bulls. The club founded in 2008, most recently reached the play-offs in 2011 and currently hold sixth position. However, with 42 points and a goal difference of one, they hold a clear advantage over New England Revolution, who meet Montreal Impact. The Revs, a founding member of the MLS, have just 39 points and a goal difference of -13. Thus reaching the play-offs, which the club most recently failed to do in 2012, is only theoretically possible. However, Philadelphia’s opponents, the New York Red Bulls, are in top position – ahead of local rivals New York City FC, Toronto FC, DC United the team from the capital Washington, Montreal and Philadelphia.
There is a four-way race for the play-offs in the Western Conference. Reigning champions Portland Timbers might experience the biggest disappointment as they are currently in seventh position with 44 points. But Portland appear more focused on the CONCAF Champions League, in which they are represented. However, the match at Vancouver Whitecaps is currently outshining everything else. The entire city is feverishly anticipating the encounter of the two teams from the same Pacific region. By defeating the Canadian competitors, ninth in the Western Conference, participation in the play-offs would have been ascertained. But that sounds easier than it is as coach Calep Porter is missing some key players. The Timbers’ coach is optimistic, however: “We can yet reach all our goals. That’s the most important fact.”
That’s mainly due to the fact that fourth-placed Real Salt Lake City have to travel to fifth-placed Seattle Sounders FC. With 46 points, 2009 champions Salt Lake City have an advantage of just one point over their competitors. The two teams have already met twice this season, both ending with 2-1 wins for the respective hosts. Failing to reach the play-offs would be a disaster for both teams. After all Salt Lake City have always made it into the play-offs since 2007, and Seattle since 2009. Top-placed FC Dallas, second-placed Colorado Rapids and third-placed title holders Los Angeles Galaxy have ensured participation in the knock-out stage.
2013 champions Sporting Kansas City are the last of the four western teams still fighting for the play-offs. The Missouri State team currently holds sixth position, ahead of seventh-placed Portland. Both teams are tied on points but Kansas has a one goal advantage.The team coached by Peter Vermes will meet eighth-placed San José Earthquakes in their final match of the regular season. The same holds true for Sporting as well as the Portland Timbers: If they win their matches at the weekend, they will be in the k.o. round of the Western Conference – no matter what the result is in Seattle.
From then on another five matches have to be won in order to be crowned MLS champions. But the most important match is not yet the final for the MLS title, but the respective vital matches for the play-offs on Sunday afternoon.