The tables have turned in Major League Soccer in 2017.
The Eastern Conference currently contains the two most dominant teams in the league and a third that most people have forgotten about in recent weeks.
Based off recent results, some people think the East’s spot in MLS Cup may come down to Toronto FC and Atlanta United, but even with two powers flexing their muscle, there’s still plenty of room for the unexpected nature of the MLS playoffs to brush them away from the ultimate goal.
With just a month left in the regular season, we took a look at where the playoff contenders in the East stand.
The Supporters’ Shield could belong to Toronto FC before the end of September, which also means the road to MLS Cup runs through BMO Field.
Toronto’s 11-game unbeaten run was ended by rival Montreal on Wednesday night, and the loss could serve as a reminder that anything is possible this time of year. If the Reds aren’t on their game at any point from now until December, they could be taken advantage of.
With everything expected to be wrapped up by the next international break, don’t expect the October 22 match with Atlanta United to be a playoff preview.
New York City FC
We’ve forgotten about New York City FC in the last month or so with Atlanta and Toronto receiving much of the spotlight, but Patrick Vieira’s men remain in second place with 51 points entering the weekend.
NYCFC will have to do plenty of work to hold on to the No. 2 seed with Atlanta surging up the standings, but they’re capable of doing so. Every game left is key for the third-year club, but the September 30 trip to Chicago and the match with the Crew at Yankee Stadium on October 22 are the most important.
If Vieira and Co. can earn results against Chicago and Columbus as well as take points from Houston, Montreal and New England, they should be able to hold on to No. 2 by a thread.
After bouncing between the top two in the first half of the campaign, the Fire are holding on to third place with dear life after winning one of seven games in a stretch from July 22 to August 26.
The biggest game left for the Fire is on September 30 at home against NYCFC, but before then, they have to focus on road trips to Philadelphia and San Jose.
It’s a scheduling rarity, but the Fire have more games left against Western Conference contenders than Eastern Conference playoff hopefuls. That’s why the game at home with NYCFC is so crucial. Outside of that game, the Fire will be relying on their own results and matches elsewhere to hold onto third, or potentially jump into second.
The team in MLS that everyone is talking about currently resides in fourth place with a target of second place helped by its game in hand on NYCFC and the Fire. With four games left at home, Atlanta should find itself in the top three by season’s end.
However, the real tests for the Five Stripes will come on September 30 and October 15 when they go on the road to face the New England Revolution and the New York Red Bulls. If the flashy attacking style can translate to the brisker temperatures in the Northeast, Atlanta could be an unstoppable force in the postseason.
The Crew have flown under the radar in the East despite putting together a six-game unbeaten run. Gregg Berhalter’s men have the biggest opportunity to bury a fellow competitor this weekend as the New York Red Bulls come to Mapfre Stadium.
A win at home over a direct rival in the playoff race would open up a five-point gap between the Crew and the Red Bulls with three games left on the schedule for the Ohio side. Earning three points is imperative as well because the Red Bulls have two games in hand.
If the Crew can beat the Red Bulls and then D.C. United the following week, they’ll be in decent shape, but they’ll still need points from away trips to Orlando and NYCFC to secure a spot in the bottom half of the top six.
New York Red Bulls
Thanks to Montreal’s win in Toronto on Wednesday night, the Red Bulls are now under pressure for the final spot in the East and could be on the brink of losing a spot above the red line with a loss to Columbus.
The Red Bulls do have games in hand to cash in after Saturday night with two games against D.C., home clashes with Atlanta and Vancouver and a trip to Toronto. On paper, it’s set up for the Red Bulls to at least challenge for the top six.
However, the club has to be aware of the hangover from the Open Cup final loss and it can’t let the current five-game winless run in league play affect it. If either affects Jesse Marsch’s men in the next month, there could be a whole new level of frustration developing in the fan base.
The Impact keep kicking and punching against all odds and it is back in the thick of the playoff race after an unexpected 5-3 win over Toronto on Wednesday night.
The Impact have had a four-game winning streak and a four-game losing streak since the start of August, and they haven’t been incredibly consistent all season.
If Mauro Biello’s men can come out of Atlanta in tact on Saturday, they have a chance to make a surge with NYCFC at home and Colorado on the road next week. That would set the stage for a thrilling final two weeks with another road trip to Toronto and New England at home on Decision Day.
The odds are stacked against the Impact, but there’s still hope for them even if they lose on Saturday, albeit a glimmering ounce of hope lingering in the distance.